May 19, 2014

The Business Analyst’s Value Proposition

Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in a client’s brainstorm session on creating a Business Analyst’s Elevator pitch on “What exactly is a Business Analyst (BA) and what value can a BA provide to my project or organization?” This client has a large and well-established PMO (Project Management Office) of around 150 total BAs and Project Managers. It desires to have a world-class PMO and one of the first steps they have undertaken is to create a level of understanding and acceptance of the PMO’s value proposition throughout an organization of over 4,500 employees which utilize the PMO as a shared service for various projects. Coming to a common understanding is no simple task given all of the different ways business analysts are understood and utilized throughout this large organization!

One of the images that emerged during our discussions was that of the BA as a Swiss Army knife. BAs have a whole set of tools (think swiss army knife attachments) that enable us to dig deeper into ideas to understand complex business problems and cut through the messy status quo. Need someone with technical knowledge to perform detailed testing on a project prior to implementation…call on a BA. Need someone to lead a group of stakeholders through a requirements session to get at the core goals and objectives of a project… call on a BA. Need someone to mock-up a high-fidelity prototype of a mobile app to ensure it meets all the business requirements prior to development…call on a BA.

Every BA brings a slightly different set of tools and specialty, but we all use a standard set of practices to deliver results through team collaboration. We have the specialized knowledge and techniques to act as a guide and lead the business through unknown or unmapped territory, to get it to its desired destination. The BA has the ability to help an organization understand its current state and provide a road map for getting to the desire future state to realize its business goals and objectives. The value of business analysis is in realization of benefits, avoidance of cost, identification of new opportunities, understanding of required capabilities and modeling the organization.

To accomplish these objectives, we have some of the following swiss army knife tools/attachments:

  • Creating Use Cases/User Stories
  • Eliciting and Documenting Requirements
  • Crafting Process/Context Diagrams
  • Designing Mockups/Prototypes
  • Formulating Acceptance Criteria

As a BA, I have learned that a detailed picture can truly communicate a 1,000 words of documentation. For that reason, I like to diagram out a process flow or create a visual mock-up of the desired solution along with my requirements documentation to make sure everyone understands the requirements and the goals of the project. Given the tools at their disposure, BAs have the ability to tailor the deliverables to the right audience so that they can be understood and utilized, not just put on a shelf somewhere.

As baseball season is now upon us, I also like to think of BAs as a switch-hitting, multi-position super-utility player. Every championship organization has one of these players! Someone who can excel at multiple positions on the field and can fill in gaps wherever the need is greatest. The BA is commonly called upon to play a hybrid role within an organization. The following roles are ones that I have played on my current assignment to provide the most value at the critical junctures with the game (or project) on the line!

  • BA/Project Manager (PM)
  • BA/Quality Analyst (QA)
  • BA/Data Analyst
  • BA/User Experience (UX) Designer

It helps an organization greatly when a BA can fill multiple roles when they are needed on a project, to be able to switch-hit when required to drive a project forward towards a successful outcome. In my current assignment, I’ve been tasked with helping my client understand their enterprise-wide data to inform strategic business decisions (i.e. product spin-offs and divestitures). My primary role has been as a data analyst to provide value via high-level reporting that executives can utilize to make informed business decisions.

So, back to the point of this blog…here is my refined BA elevator pitch for you,

“Have you or your team ever been so bogged down in a project or business problem that you’ve had trouble finding time for your actual day-to-day activities? The business analyst is here to help you get the most out of you and your staff’s valuable time. The BA can define specifically WHAT is needed to deliver the value you seek from your project and document it in a way that drives common understanding across various business teams. This means that you, your key stakeholders, and technical teams all know exactly what will be delivered. The end result? Higher quality outcomes with less re-work or maintenance, delivered faster, while keeping your staff focused on what they do best.”

So, who needs a trusty “swiss army knife” BA?

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