Defining the Analysts Role – Business or Systems.doc


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Defining the Analysts Role – Business or Systems.doc

  1. 1. Defining Analysts Role – Business or Systems? About Systemation Founded in 1959 and headquartered in Denver, Colorado, Systemation is a results-driven training and consulting company that maximizes the project-related performance of individuals and organizations. Known for instilling highly practical, immediately usable processes and techniques, Systemation has proven to be an innovative agent of business transformation for many government entities and Fortune 1000 companies, including Verizon, Barclays Bank, JPM Chase, Mattel, State of Oregon, Travelers, Bridgestone, Amgen and Whirlpool. More information on Systemation and its business analysis and project management assessments, workshops, certificate programs and consulting services can be found at
  2. 2. The role of understanding and communicating information about business functions, and the software/hardware that supports them, has become essential to competing effectively and efficiently in the market today. Strategic business and systems analysis is a major differentiator for profitable companies. This role, identified as Business Analyst, Business Systems Analyst, or a host of other similar titles, has emerged as “critical” to success in meeting stakeholder and stockholder expectations. In fact, successful project management requires robust business analysis. In 1994, the Standish Group, an IT Research organization, published the first ever CHAOS Report documenting the findings of an extensive investigation into the outcome of IT projects in small, medium and large organizations. Each year since then, they have performed the same research and continue to publish their results as summarized in the table below. Project Outcome 1994 2004 Challenged 53% 53% Failed/Cancelled 31% 18% Finished Successfully 16% 29% The increase in successful projects can be directly attributed to the rise of the Project Manager as a key role within an organization and more specifically the IT department. Project Management Institute, and a plethora of training, tools and techniques have made the profession what it is today. Project Managers are pushed harder than ever to deliver in terms of budget, time and resource allocation. Although more projects now succeed than fail, the fact that the same percentage of projects (53%) are still challenged almost 12 years after the original study, could lead one to believe that we are “trying to do many of the same old things, while expecting different results.” The question may then be asked, “If project management is improving the way projects are handled, why are there still so many challenges?” As lessons learned, the CHAOS report also lists the top 10 reasons why projects fail or are challenged. Year after year, the following make the top of the list of project pitfalls. • Lack of user involvement • Missing or Incomplete Requirements • Changing or Unmanaged Requirements These components have more to do with understanding the business and the user’s needs than they do with the other project challenges like lack of sponsorship, budget constraints, and unrealistic timeframes. To overcome these obstacles, an organization would simply have to get the users more involved and define better requirements, right? Well, it’s a lot more complex than that.
  3. 3. Defining Business Systems To best understand business analysis, we have to understand or define the systems that are being analyzed. Systems, which were independent or stand-alone in the past, now offer very sophisticated relationships with various data sources and interconnectivity. In addition, systems have become amazingly complex, as technologies have provided opportunity for bigger, better and faster. Regardless of these advancements, systems can still be defined at the most basic of levels from two key perspectives. • Business systems as processes – Business systems can be defined as the group of related functional tasks, manual or automated, which are designed to achieve a specific and successful business outcome. • Business systems as technology – Business systems can also be defined as the collection of hardware, software and networking components which allow the transmission of information, again designed to achieve a specific and successful business outcome. The key thing to remember in business systems today, is that no matter how fantastic the technologies have become, people still need to interact with them. More importantly, to be successful, these technologies have to meet a definable business need. Finally, if a bad business process is automated with technology, the result will just be a faster, automated bad business process. Therefore, it is critical for analysts to review the business processes and the technologies used or being considered to define the business needs, document requirements, and provide the best recommendations for system improvements. Unfortunately, this critical analysis work is often overlooked for what seems like the faster approach of designing a technology solution as soon as a problem is identified. Many, many organizations have used this approach only to realize later that money, time and resources were allocated to projects that upon completion don’t fulfill the majority of the business needs. To fix this, a new project is initiated within a short period of time to replace, upgrade or fix the poorly defined, poorly implemented system, lacking the features and functionality critical to the business and users. The same “solve the problem with a technical solution” approach is used and the replacement system doesn’t do much better than the last. More money and time are wasted re- engineering the redesign, often with no better outcome the second, third or fourth attempt. Eventually people start to loose faith that the systems will ever provide the functionality they need. In addition, their skills and efficiency in performing their jobs are constantly challenged in the name of improvement. After feeling the pain a time or two (sometimes more), it’s only natural to search for a better approach. So what might that be? In one word, Analysis! Analysis - A Critical Role in All Projects There have been several industry-recognized models built to offer structured methods for developing system solutions. Two of the most well known include the System Development Life Cycle (SDLC) which is vendor neutral and is a foundation for many other proprietary methodologies, and the Rational Unified Process (RUP), an iterative software development process (now owned by IBM) based on Uniform Modeling Language (UML) components. The role of analysis in both methods is highly regarded for the purpose of investigating the business and technical environment to discover and document requirements. Throughout this process, various elicitation techniques and modeling tools are used to acquire and organize data into useful information. While project management is focusing on the planning part of making a project work, the analyst is focusing on getting the users involved, and assembling a quality requirements document. If done properly, an analysis focus could mean that organizations begin to overcome many of their project challenges, and shift that 53% figure into greater numbers for success.
  4. 4. The Job of All Analysts Recognizing that analysts are one of the hottest job titles within business and systems environments today, it would be helpful to know what to look for in an analyst, or what skills to acquire to be a good candidate. Often, individuals that become analysts start out as Subject Matter Experts SMEs within a particular business unit or are versed in a wide range of technical solutions. Whatever the case, any analysts worth their salt must possess the following capabilities: • Strong written and verbal communicator • Ability to interact with others and adapt to/interact with various levels of business users • Identify key stakeholders and establish proper communication channels to gather information relevant to the study, maintain user involvement and working relationship • Identify and maintain scope of study based on defined business objectives, avoid scope creep • Interview, use questioning techniques, good listening skills and note taking ability • Facilitate meetings with stakeholders to gather information, document process, collect and/ or validate requirements, gain user buy-in • Review various information components to discover what critical as-is system functionality to keep, fix, delete or add for the future to-be system • Use various modeling tools or methodologies to collect and organize information • Avoid analysis paralysis by determining appropriate level of detail for study and when to move on to next phase of process • Provide relevant projections/estimates to project manager for study portion of project • Write unambiguous, testable, traceable, and feasible statements of requirements • Identify, organize, document, validate and manage requirements documentation • Write or present proposals for approval to carry out study or move onto design/development with requirements documentation • Support quality assurance and user acceptance testing processes by identifying expected outcomes, writing test scripts and being involved in the testing process Most organizations have realized that it’s impossible to gather the appropriate information without an analyst performing these critical job functions. Regardless of the job title assigned, organizations see the value in having analysts whose focus is on the business community, its users, customers and processes. They also realize that it’s critical to have an analyst focused on the technical aspects and sophisticated components that support the business. This leads to a more specific definition between a Business Analyst and Business Systems Analyst, roles that work hand-and-hand to make the business needs understood so that they can be properly matched with the best technical solutions.
  5. 5. Business Analysts The job of a Business Analyst focuses on analyzing the functional business processes. Other titles often given this position might include Process Improvement Specialist, Process Engineer, and Process Analyst. When taking this approach, the person performing as a Business Analyst will often have some experience, if not an extensive amount of domain knowledge within a particular business unit or department. This is helpful so that the analyst can best understand the underlying details and specifics, the workflows, handoffs, inputs and outputs, measurements, statistics and other characteristics of the business process that an outsider would take a long time to fully appreciate. Often a person who has achieved a certain level within a particular job gains an expertise, and they can then be trained to perform the analysis work necessary to improve efficiencies, create cost saving and achieve other objectives for that area. It is not always possible or practical for an analyst to always carry specific business domain knowledge. There are instances when an analyst making too many assumptions about system functionality can override the benefits of expertise. An analyst may become too “attached” to systems they previously helped design, implement or support and therefore won’t make the most objective decisions when re-engineering. A good analyst should be able to adapt to just about any environment and apply a broad range of skills to properly and thoroughly discover key information, organize, document and manage requirements. Specifically a business analyst often performs any or all of the following: • Recognize business goals and objectives, as well as background of organization/department under study, market, products, competition, customer, financials, stakeholders, what has changed, etc. • Focus on business processes and procedures • Identify cost savings opportunities, increase efficiencies, decrease errors/issues • Identify and interact with business users at various levels to gather and validate information and determine requirements • Identify impact on other areas both internally as well as outside the organization • Recognize exposure or potential risks associated with process changes • Understand available and applicable technologies (while not necessarily being technical) • Act as a liaison between the business unit customer/users and the technology department • Document and management requirements from a “What is needed” perspective
  6. 6. Business Systems Analysts In contrast a Business Systems Analyst carries some technical component along with the title. Basically this means that the job emphasis includes knowledge of various software and hardware components that represent a major portion of all business systems today. Not too terribly long ago a mainframe operator or programmer would sit down with a user, ask what they need, write the code before requirements were ever defined, present the resulting screen or report to the user and modify the code based on user requests. While this may have worked somewhat well at a time when JAD (Joint Application Development) or RAD (Rapid Application Development) were the buzz words of the day, technical systems have now become much more sophisticated and complex. The “code before requirements” approach is still often taken, only to realize that more iterations than necessary are completed before the user is somewhat satisfied. In addition, more and more organizations are considering “buy versus build” solutions to leverage software vendor’s expertise, limit their resource involvement, and refocus on core business support. This makes requirements more important than ever. A Business Systems Analyst should have technical knowledge while being versatile enough to recognize various options without jumping into coding or technical solution selection until requirements have been defined. Other job titles might include Data Analyst, Technology Analyst, or the name of a particular technology followed by Analyst for instance, Call Center Analyst, Database Analyst, Programmer Analyst. Each title has a slightly different connotation, but all fall within the technical umbrella. A Business Systems Analyst job description often includes any or all of the following: • Interact with business users and communicate using appropriate level of system terminology • Fully understand and possibly even specialize in specific system architecture, software or hardware system components • Identify user’s data access, security, tracking and auditing requirements • Identify disk storage space requirements, expansion capacities, data transmission speeds, throughput statistics, network baselines, transactions processing times, access times, etc. • Identify access methods using various user interfaces including screens, forms, reports, voice prompts, queries, notifications, web, etc. • Write system based requirements from a “what is needed” perspective • Translate business requirements into technical specifications which define “how” the requirements will be fulfilled using hardware, software, reporting, interface or other component. • Assemble data into meaningful information and disseminate to others in layman’s terms • Determine feasibility of technical requests • Help troubleshoot, problem solve or brainstorm possible solutions
  7. 7. Going Above and Beyond Although the brief “job descriptions” list a lot of important work, the job of an analyst may also straddle a number of other functions within the organization, possibly because they possess such expertise and insight into the business as its systems as a whole. Often these people are called upon to also assist if not perform the following tasks on a regular basis: Testing, training, writing documentation like policies and procedures, interface and report design, system development, installation, programming, implementation, support and maintenance, system administration, change management, and project management. What is important is that analysis work should be performed consistently and thoroughly for each project where success is the desired outcome, whether grouped with other job duties or limited to a specific job title. Just about every project big and small could benefit from some element of analysis to get users involved and identify, document and manage requirements. Getting to Success As organizations are striving to stay competitive, comply with regulations, enhance customer service, stretch their limited budgets, increase productivity, leverage technology and generally do more with less, the last thing on the agenda would be significant challenges or outright project failure. Project management can only account for one portion of increasing that success rate. Proper analysis will be critical if we are ever to get that challenge value of 53% to budget. To see major improvements in corporate and IT projects the following items are critical to address: • Analysis is a separate function from project management and stands on its own as a valued job description, such as Business Analyst or Systems Analyst. • A business environment/culture is created which encourages user’s to work with analysts to offer information, identify business and system needs and validate written requirements. • Analysts are provided with appropriate training, and exposure to industry recognized tools and techniques to assist in successful job performance. • Adequate time, resources and budget are allocated to the analysis process to achieve high quality requirements documentation. • Requirements are defined before the design process or a solution is selected. • Analysts gain industry-recognized certification from the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) to measure competence and application of knowledge. Implementing these key components might mean the difference between failure, challenge and success on your organization’s next project. One thing is for sure…it makes perfect business sense to increase organizational competency in business and/or systems analysis!