One of the greatest challenges in developing and implementing IT projects is delivering the outcomes that the business actually needs. Lack of initial clarity in business analysis causes delays and cost overruns and all too often drives 'solutions' that aren’t as useful or valuable as anticipated. That generates another round of 'fix-up' projects, creating an ongoing cycle of frustration rather than strategic business growth.
Achieving clarity is a core competency for anyone involved with business analysis, because clarity is the foundation of successful IT projects. To build that foundation, you have to gather the right stakeholders, and together you have to address three essential questions:
1. Why is the business change required?
You can’t arrive at your destination unless you know where you want to go. Starting with the end in mind is the first step toward establishing clear goals for each IT project and keeping the project focused, so it doesn’t suffer from 'scope creep.'
What are your business goals for this project, in terms of budget and timing? Even more important, what is the problem you want to solve?
Once you’ve clearly defined the problem, you can identify specific goals – your success criteria. To do that, you’ll want to think about:
- What will be different?
- Who cares about the result, and why?
- Why is the project necessary?
- How will you know it’s finished?
2. What is the nature of the business change?
Successful business analysis is as much about defining capabilities as it is finding solutions. This includes understanding the type of change required for people, processes, systems and information. That means you have to consider your IT project within its broader context – the entire business.
Taking a holistic view will help you to clearly define how this particular change will contribute to the business as a whole; the impact it will have and how far-reaching it will. It’s easy to focus on what will be new, but remember that change also includes what’s being retired and what’s being reused.
Business analysis also involves 'separation of concerns' - distinguishing knowledge assets such as data and business rules from behavioural considerations that can be automated. It’s important to use business language to describe these things rather than technical language, so that business people understand the nature of the business change.
3. How will the business change be achieved?
Now that you’ve determined exactly what needs to be changed and why, you’re prepared to identify the best way to achieve project goals. Essentially, you’re identifying how to configure your people, processes, systems and information to provide the new desired business service. You’ll want to consider:
- Process – the sequence of activities that transforms inputs into outputs.
- Decision logic – rules and policies that direct and guide your company’s decision-making.
- Information – the inputs and outputs of the project.
- Performance – quality requirements such as usability and reliability.
Bonus: Who? Collaboration is key to successful business analysis
Assembling the right people and asking the right questions is paramount. How your team works together, and how well they’re engaged in the process, will determine the ultimate value of your project.