Imagine that you are filling out a form online. It loads, you start entering your information but there’s a typo, so you hit backspace to clear it, only to have the website jump back to the previous page, erasing all your information. You’re left wondering “What did I do?” and you’re possibly irritated that you have to reenter the information. Maybe you didn’t even bother to reenter information and instead decided to leave the website. A business analyst would have the mindset of the user, and may help uncover these bugs and get them resolved long before the users see them.
Or, imagine you own a restaurant. And you want to incentivize your employees to cover each other’s shift. Right now, no one wants to cover shifts which makes work stressful for people on shift and makes you work harder to get shifts covered. A business analyst may investigate the scenario and recommend implementing an incentive program that tracks who covers what shifts and give employees tailored options of something like a free meal, a monetary bonus, or priority scheduled days off over other employees for Holidays when the restaurant is open on Holidays. Yes, money invested was required, but the return on investment saved stress, time, employees, and money, in the long run.
Have you solved these types of problems yourself, did they work out? Did you save the resources you intended to save?
Or how about a scenario more complex, and one we will follow through the rest of this article. Imagine you work on an Air Force government program and your focus is to provide the right people with the right information at the right time. Basically, to provide end-users with innovative software capabilities that automates, streamlines, and routes data to improve mission effectiveness so users can conduct their job functions with enhanced effectiveness in their part of the mission. To showcase an example, our team reviewed a process that specific users currently do manually using excel spreadsheet data. Our mission is to provide connectedness that enhances that capability through automating redundant processes on a web-based platform, integrating multiple data points and make a configurable display of relevant information. The web-based application includes features such as importing and exporting bulk data spreadsheets, creating, editing, and deleting entries, data validation, searching, sorting, plotting geographically, coordinate conversion, and several other features that the users benefit from. This solution gave them everything they could already do, added capabilities they couldn’t do before, like plot to a map view and data validation, and it automates data import and export functions, reducing their workload to get to the same result in fractions of the time.
Now, let’s take a look at how this problem starts to become dissected from a business analysts’ standpoint.
Business Analyst’s (BA’s) are primed to tackle projects like these because the goal of a Business Analyst is to systematically highlight problems and recommend valuable solutions, at a sustainable and continuous pace.
To do this Business Analyst’s need to first understand 3 things to make analysis possible and a goal achievable
- who your primary stakeholders are (customers, end users, project sponsors)
- what the current environment looks like, called the “current state” (functions as they relate to the problem set, highlighting what is missing)
- what your stakeholders want the end result to accomplish, called the “future state” (provide the most amount of value in the shortest amount of time)
These 3 questions are the basis for methods called gap analysis, vision, and roadmap.
We’ll come back to these methods later, but keep in mind these 3 questions help business analysts create a gap analysis, a vision of the problem and solution, and a roadmap of steps to achieve this vision.
Okay, that’s what Business Analyst’s do, and what they need to do it, but what is Business Analysis exactly?
Business Analysis according to the International Institute of Business Analysis is “a set of tasks and techniques used to work as a liaison among stakeholders to understand the structure, policies, and operations of an organization, and recommend solutions that enable the organization to achieve its goals.” – http://www.iiba.org/Careers/Careers/business-analysis-evolution-of-a-profession.aspx
Put another way, business analysis’ function is to enable change through defined needs while recommending value adding solutions to stakeholders.
In this context, it becomes clear what Business Analysis provides an organization. Business Analysis is a systematic way to enable change in direction from where you are, to where you want to be. With focus on answering the 3 foundational questions, identified stakeholders, the current state, and the desired state (using gap analysis). Business Analysts help visualize the path necessary to get from here, the current state, to there, the future state, with all the relevant decision makers involved in making decisions.
Agile Mindset – Focusing on Solutions for the Future
Traditionally to complete long-term government projects, the government used a Waterfall strategy which is a step by step, do one thing then the next, process. This step-by-step process works well when developing a single product that has set functions and will not be changing often, for instance an airplane. With an airplane, there are well defined requirements such as distance of flight, velocity, rate of speed, fuel capacity, weight capacity, and uses. These requirements are mapped to build and maintain such a product with relatively set know resource requirements. Several years are spent designing, developing, testing, implementing, and maintaining these “system of systems” type of products. And for the most part these production lines and processes are fairly routine practices, albeit still complex.
There’s an Albert Einstein quote that sums this concept up well however, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that made them”. Meaning we cannot continue to build computer systems as we do airplanes because they must be designed with adaptability in mind.
Agile by definition is a method of quick and appropriate responses to people’s needs to accomplish a task. This includes reacting to these needs at a sustainable pace in a continuously iterative cycle. In contrast to Waterfall methods, adapting the mindset is critical to stay relevant with warfighter needs, mission needs, and keeping up with technology’s pace. The cadence of innovation and development demands new capability at the same pace. Air Force users need solutions in days and weeks, not in years. And this is where a vision in Agile becomes increasingly necessary as does Business Analysis.
At Ortman Consulting we focus on “solutions rather than systems”. And to do that, we use Agile as a means to adapt to these changes. The critical puzzle pieces for focusing on solutions from a Business Analysis perspective are broken down into 4 values, called the Agile mindset.
These Agile values are:
- Individuals and interactions rather than process and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiations
- Responding to change over following a plan.
All 4 of these values can basically be broken down to say:
- People talking to people
- People working with software
- People working with people
- People adapting to people
When working in Air Force space, Business Analyst’s need to have an agile mindset for several reasons. Missions and people change quite rapidly, while the overall goals remain. Rapid innovation cannot afford to simply start over every time there is a personnel change. Development must be completed iteratively, quickly, in short sprints as they are called using the Agile method to reach the long-term goal. This is also where a roadmap is necessary to ensure the team is continuously working towards the vision defined. Iterative development followed by user feedback to either redirect the approach, scrap it, or deliver the product quicker because the new capability is too valuable to have long intervals of feedback. Also known as “Lean Startup”. Developing software and methods to analyze components of this problem is much different than building airplanes.
The importance of an Agile mindset brings together the 3 terms we have been following: gap analysis, vision, and roadmap. Business Analyst’s bridge these gaps by working with the stakeholders, the users, and the developers to understand the problem clearly, to communicate the problem and formulate a vision that everyone sees as valuable and then plans out with these key stakeholders and developers, a roadmap to systematically and sustainably work towards the agreed upon vision. When thinking about Business Analysis using the Agile method – “be stubborn with your goals, and flexible with your methods”.