The Right Path Forward: How to Conduct Business Analysis Effectively
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As technology continues to evolve and change in our world, so must businesses in today’s world. It is impossible for businesses to not evaluate their market position and take action to address the changing climate. This article speaks to the business analyst's responsibility to identify and evaluate their customer’s needs to define the right path forward in order to meet their goals.
We would all agree that the first step in every IT endeavor is to understand what your customer is asking for, that is, what are they requesting you to do for them. In other words, what are the business problems, and how are you going to fix them? The business analyst approach to elicitation matters in ensuring we capture and state accurately what our customer has requested. Equally important is for the business analyst to document the current state of affairs. Understanding the current state of the business ensures that we will correctly analyze and identify the business challenges (aka business problems).
Furthermore, the resulting evaluation of business needs is dependent on the desired future state description, which must contain the following in order to achieve consensus from stakeholders: The solution scope, the outcomes to meet the business need, and the resulting value of the change. The future state should also include any technology, processes, policies, interfaces, etc., that might impact the current state of the organization.
The IIBA’s BABOK defines this knowledge area as Strategy Analysis and contains the following four tasks that should be performed as part of this knowledge area:
- Analyze current state
- Define future state
- Assess risks
- Define change strategy
Determining the “right path forward”, requires understanding the current state of the business and its challenges affecting performance, the desired future state, the risk of doing nothing, and the recommended best way to make the change happen. Ultimately, the resulting conclusion, once the Strategy Analysis tasks have been completed, is to define the change strategy.
Here is a simple example:
Problem (Current State): An organization is challenged to provide its vendors with new market products within a reasonable timeframe of 3-6 months.
- Current Business system platform was deprecated and cumbersome to use
- New products required 12-18 months for development and distribution
- Capability to interface with vendor systems was limited; leaving only manual means to provide feedback and communication
Solution (Future State): Implement a modern web-capable system with configurable products and a user-friendly interface.
- Identify vendor system with relevant business products
- Ensure the new system has a demonstrated capability to configure and distribute new products within 6 months
- Ensure the new system is built on newer web base technology with multiple interface options for vendors
- Provide users with built-in automated workflow for ease of use and enhanced experience
Once the current enterprise problems are understood and the future state is clear, BAs conduct gap analysis, devise strategies to define the scope of work and plan the BA work, and elicit, prioritize and describe requirements in detail. They then drive the change and assess the effectiveness of the change.
In other words, the purpose of the BABoK standard described above is merely to lay the groundwork and foundation for your customer’s business case in order to achieve their goals. It must also provide supporting evidence and recommendation on the “right path forward” based on the elicited requirements, requirements analysis, assessed alternative solutions, and recommended solution approach to the desired change.
Possible solution recommendations resulting from the Strategy Analysis Knowledge area are:
- Rent a solution (Software as a Service - Saas)
- Buy a solution
- Build a solution
- Buy and customize a solution (Hybrid)
In summary, there are advantages and disadvantages to each approach; the resulting business case or strategic plan should clearly delineate which course of action is the right path forward based on the information presented in the aforementioned plan as a result of the Strategy Analysis tasks.