How Organizations Can Tackle the Top 4 Business Challenges Facing Business Analysts
Business Improvement Architect’s research survey of eighty-one Business Analysts attending Project World/Business Analyst World 2004 in Toronto, Canada, identified that ‘Business Requirements Not Well-Managed’ and ‘Lack of Clarity in the Scope of the Business Functions’ are the top two challenges facing their organizations in managing business requirements. These challenges were mentioned respectively forty-nine percent (49%) and forty-eight percent (48%) of the time by respondents.
The bia™ research provides a snapshot of the issues facing organizations in the management of business requirements. The next top challenges were ‘Not Bringing in Business Analysts in Sufficient Time’ (37%) and ‘Conflict Between Business Groups’ (36%).
Other significant challenges identified through this research were:
- Project changes are poorly managed
- Project does not address all stakeholder needs
- Poor project management skills
- Test strategy not well defined
- Project not linked to organizational goals
When asked what they felt would improve their ability to manage customer requirements, survey respondents identified ‘Business Requirements Well-Documented’ most often (53%) followed by ‘Having a Good Process to Determine Customer Requirements’ (51%).
The bia™ findings clearly indicate the need for organizations to understand the importance of the Business Analyst role in successful projects. Here are some strategies for organizations to implement that will reduce the negative impact of the these top five challenges:
Challenge #1 – Business Requirements Not Well-Managed
The customer may not fully understand all of the project’s requirements at the beginning of the project. The customer may use imprecise language such as “ I guess, I want” or “Maybe we should consider” or may not fully articulate what is required. Requirements may be vague, incomplete and may not be specific enough to be measurable.
This ambiguity often leads to products or services delivered to the customer that:
- May be technically sound but fall short by not improving the business process.
- Does not meet customer expectations
- Results in increased cost—does not address the needs, so there will be another initiative, and another. (Misunderstandings regarding requirements must be revealed and cleared up as early as possible because the cost of fixing them goes up exponentially as the project progresses.)
- Result in credibility erosion of the team or the organization.
Requirements can be better managed by:
- Investing enough time at the beginning of the project to ensure the requirements are understood and documented, in a Business Requirements Document (BRD). The customer group must then sign off the BRD.
- Creating a checklist template to collect customer requirements. This approach helps the requirements gathering process and reduces the possibility of things being missed during the interview process.
- Ensuring that the “requirements gathering process” is separated from the “design process.” Understanding the requirements is not the same as determining how to design a solution to address the requirements. The “design process” comes after the requirements gathering process.
- Involving a customer representative from all of the affected departments or business functions. This involvement should exist throughout the project to increase understanding of the project’s goal and ensure any changes to the requirements are in the best interest of the product or service design requirements.May be technically sound but fall short by not improving the business process.
Challenge #2– Lack of Clarity in the Scope of the Business Functions
In the translation of the customer’s needs into the delivered product or service, vague requirements may not be properly understood. The subsequent design documents may, therefore, be poorly defined and documented.
Business Analysts recognize their role as one of defining the business solution boundaries– i.e., ensure the project scope definition aligns with the proposed solution to support the business needs. This is then translated into the Business Requirements Document. This BRD is approved and signed off by the customer as an agreement on the requirements.
Additional challenges are:
- Requirements that have not been well documented due to assumptions being made that the requirement is obvious.
- That detailed documentation is not required because the solution is temporary – i.e., it will work for now.
The challenge here is for the Business Analyst to fully integrate the costs associated with satisfying the requirements with the investment to clarify the Business Function Scope right up front.
Organizational issues add another layer of complexity in the BA’s ability to manage requirements. The pace of change in organizations is indicative of market pressures. Senior management pushes project teams to deliver projects quickly and more efficiently. Changing technology and the complexity of projects are other ongoing challenges.
The BA must work with the Project Manager to reduce the impact of these challenges during the Business Requirements Analysis process. An effective way to do so is to capture challenges and document them in the Project Scope Statement. The resulting document will articulate the full scope requirements as reflected in the BRD and there will be a much greater understanding and clarity of the project’s scope among all stakeholders and business functions.
Challenge #3– Not Bringing in Business Analysts in Sufficient Time
It is important that the roles of Business Analyst and Project Manager are recognized as separate and distinct. However, their ability to work effectively as a team for the sole purpose of ensuring customer satisfaction brings about overall project success.
Project Teams work within the framework of a Project Management process, using a methodology for managing projects. This process ultimately defines how the proposed solution will be delivered.
The deliverables from the Business Requirements Document are further defined in the Project Scope Statement document. This is approved by the Sponsor and then used for project planning purposes. The Project Team breaks down the deliverables into tasks/activities and documents them into a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS).
For this to all work in harmony, the Business Analyst must be brought onto the project team at the very beginning of the project and remain as an integral part of the team until the project is completed and closed. During the Business Requirement Analysis process the BA will help develop the scope statement by identifying the customer requirements. The requirements may have already been identified in a BRD. Then the BA must remain with the team, ensuring that the ever-changing needs of customers are heard and managed.
Challenge #4– Conflict Between Business Groups
The BA role can often be referred to as: Systems Analyst, User Support Analyst, Business Systems Specialist, Project Manager, Business Leader, IT Specialist, etc. The BA’s key responsibility is to perform a sequence of analysis techniques in order to obtain customer requirements.
For a BA to be effective, the reporting relationships should be clear across various levels within the organization. For example, the BA may be working with administrative staff, examining their requirements for increased productivity and then later in the day working with senior management, analyzing their need for more detailed reports.
The BA’s primary role is to elicit, structure, validate and communicate business and user requirements. Essentially, the BA role “bridges the gap” between the customer/user community (high level requirements) and the technical community (technical requirements). As a result, customer acceptance of a final product or service is highly dependant on the BA’s ability to translate those needs into a proposed business solution. The BA must remain sensitive to all customer/user needs and not judge these needs. It therefore becomes apparent that a BA must establish rapport and trust with the customer and with the various business units directly impacted by the project.
Since the role of Business Analysts is an invaluable asset, there is a real need for organizations to invest in training and development of this role.
The results of the survey strongly suggest the need to train Business Analysts on the Business Requirements Analysis Process. This includes how to:
- Determine, collect, analyze and document the business requirements.
- Manage on-going stakeholder expectations and business requirements changes.
The Business Analyst role is important for most projects. Business Analysts ensure that the stakeholder needs are identified and fully met throughout the project. This translates into more successful projects because their customer’s expectations are realized. The need for training BAs led BIA to develop and offer a full certificate curriculum for Business Analysts that provides the basics plus more advanced and soft skills training including: Communications Skills, Project Management and Business Process Improvement as well Testing Methodologies for Business Analysts.