“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes. ”
— Albert Einstein
What is Business Analysis?
Not a day goes by when we are not confronted with the question on the exact nature of Business Analysis. A completely justifiable question, we think. Most people just google business analysis, and what they get is the usual Wikipedia entry combined with ads for trainings and tools, templates for business analysts as well as various event notes. Sadly, there is very few information on how and why Business Analysis is of inestimable value for companies trying to reach their real objectives.
Business Analysis is its own discipline fulfilling an obvious neccessity, that is, making sure a solution does actually help to solve a business problem, e.g. optimizing a business process, while at the same time being consistent with the strategic orientation of the company. All this means that the possible solution itself must first be questioned.
What About Common Sense?
It may seem as if a healthy dose of common sense might suffice in such a case. Possibly, but there is one problem: It is a long way to really understanding a problem. A lot of information must be processed and a number of different perspectives needs to be elicited and evaluated. Sounds easy in theory, but in practice it is missing in many cases, as it often does with Business Analysis. An example:
Some time ago, we conducted a large scale project for one of our clients, implementing Business Analysis in the company. The first thing we did was to ascertain who in the company was already performing Business Analysis in one way or another, who the most important stakeholders were, how the company was structured, which departments there were, how they interacted with each other and so forth. As you can see, we did nothing but gather information that was already there but that knowbody before us seemed to feel the need for to look at closely. In this alone, there were countless Eureka effects, and blockades made visible. Different areas of responsibility areas could be defined and discussed, new questions could instantly be transmitted to the right place at the right time and much more.
This step, as easy as it sounds, only makes sense and only yields positive results if you know how to obtain the information needed, and how to process them afterwards. In other words, you need a manual, a methodology defining your approach.
What is the Point of All This?
Business Analysis helps to get something right the first time doing it. This way you save on the most important resources, people and money, and you provide for shorter communication paths. You close the gaps between business communities, avoid misunderstandings and ambiguities and ensure that the real need of the company is determined and fulfilled. What our client from the banking industry needed was to make knowledge available and exchangeable for all, without falling back to an IT or tool-based solution. In the beginning nobody really knew what the solution let alone the problem was. But everybody knew the something was not right, that operations somehow did not run smoothly.
Many Roads Lead to Rome
Part of the secret of the success of Business Analysis is its holistic approach combined with an eye for detail. If a need manifests itself, a Business Analyst is expected not to accept but to dig deeper: What is the story behind this sudden need? Which problems are expected to be soved? What problems lie behind the problem, and what is its driving force? How could a possible solution look like? What training or qualification would be neccessary? Will the solution possibly cause new problems to appear?
It is these, and maybe a thousand more questions that Business Analysts ask themselves before going on a quest for possible solutions, or better put: solutions. Business Analysts will not only try to find “the one” solution, but a number of solutions. You could call Business Analysts solution agnostics: All possible option are examined and evaluated in order to find out which of them works best.
In the case of your client we took a close look at who was in charge of communications, how communications paths were structured. Then we pondered how to organize communications more effective.
I Have A Solution, So What is the Problem?
Business Analysis does not only help big companies but can also be of great help for small issues and challenges. Let us look at the following statements and see in which if these cases you already had the answer before knowing the real problem:
- Only this software will help us work more efficiently
- We need a new website
- We need a new supplier
Of course, a new website will improve outside perception of a company. But not as much as the real solution possibly would do. Early intervention and a close look at all the facts makes finding a better, a long-term solution possible. Maybe there is room for development in internal marketing? Maybe the employees simply do not know each other well enough, and a small kitchen, a room for personal exchange would solve the problem?
In our example the company had many branches, so a technical solution was needed to properly connect and unite the various locations all around the world, as well as the employees working at these locations.
It’s About Time, And Timing
When should you call a Business Analyst? When you are beginning to realize that operating departments and IT are not communicating? If there is a certain amount of uncertainty concerning areas of responsibility? Ideally, you integrate a Business Analysts as early as possible. This way you can find the cause of the problem as well as its solution at the earliest possible time.
Successful companies have fully integrated Business Analysis into their company with its own department, and why not? Business Analysis bears a number of advantages; it saves you money and time, it guarantees that the solution you find is the right one, and that the solution does not create more problems.
There are two ways of applying Business Analysis, prior to a project or during operation. For some, Business Analysis is a key element of their work, for others it is just a tool supporting them in the evaluation and strategy implementation. The company in our example meanwhile has its own designated Business Analysis department and is very pleased with this decision. The best problem solvers are those on the inside, those who know how things work, who know the company inside out, who know where to ask and dig deeper. Knowing and understanding Business Analysis also is of help to those googleing business analysis, reminding them to stop and think about what it actually is they want to solve.