How to measure the performance of a BA?

June 9, 2011

Further to the interesting panel discussion on measuring the performance of a BA during the BA World, at Bangalore, India, I thought I would like to add my ideas / thoughts on how the performance of a BA can actually be measured – from a BA and an HR perspective.

My thoughts are that one needs to measure performance and potential. Any performance measurement generally follows an approach where you measure against results, and the potential is measured against competencies.

Performance measurement for a BA therefore has two options.

  1. Measuring the CSAT score (The BA is responsible for this directly)
  2. Measuring the number of times a BRD is modified during the validation stage

A third option that may also be looked at is as given below, though I believe that the two above is quite adequate and clear is measuring the number of times a sponsor is unable to make a decision when the BRD is submitted for final inspection

When it comes to potential, we have the 53 competencies from the IIBA or the Eight Competencies Model as given by Glenn Brule. Organizations could also consider their own appropriate mix that uses parts of this framework and define the levels of competencies that are desired.

Based on the above – it should be easy to design an assessment tool to measure the performance of a BA.

Would be happy to know what you think.

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The Business Analyst – A Leader without the Title!

April 11, 2011

Robin Sharma, a prolific writer in the leadership area wrote a book, and is one that I really like – “The leader who had no title.” As I was pondering about this book and also the quaint title, it dawned on me that a business analyst is really a leader without the title – and is always leading from within.

A definition of leadership that I read somewhere says – Leadership is ultimately about creating a way for people to contribute to making something extraordinary happen. In my work thus far, I have often faced this challenge where I had to lead and found myself short on authority; nevertheless a bit of facilitation skill development that I had stood me in good stead, and helped me achieve the bit that I have, and now I understand it a lot better – what I started doing was to create an environment where people could contribute – contribute everything really; the business case, the vision, the scope, and most importantly their “real” requirements.

All traits of leadership is woven into the skills of a Business Analyst. We have to use influence to get others to work to accomplish a task – many a times these tasks may not be what they like doing; that too without the authority of position. Most people in leadership positions have the authority of position (designation) on their side to help them in influencing others. Business analysts are generally in a position of not having authority to help them influence, so they have to be very innovative and creative.

What does “A leader without a title” imply?

The role of a BA primarily is doing analysis, recommending solutions, and utilizing the right tools. In projects, it usually means eliciting the requirements to create a product or solution that is expected to delight users / customers, while making their tasks simpler, and also achieving benefit for the organization. Sounds fairly simple, is it really so?

The BA works with business users and technical teams simultaneously – and both groups see the BA as part of their team (and in some situations visualize the BA as a person on the opposite side), which poses interpersonal challenges to some degree.

Many a times I have heard BA’s using the phrase – “I feel like the meat in the sandwich, being crushed from both sides,” and I usually retort = “It is eventually the meat that provides the taste.”

Is this all – yeah – but to be able to do this a BA needs

  1. attentive and centered listening, and as if this itself was not tough, do this while challenging the brain to process information in parallel
  2. influencing people, dealing with hidden agendas, resolving conflicts that range from professional to political to personal
  3. influencing people to perform tasks (that they may not really always like too)
  4. interrogating people and yet building and maintaining relationships
  5. educating and training people – many of them would not want to be educated or trained in the subject

In short, a BA is expected to push people towards results using a high degree of influencing skill.

As Scott Adams says – “You don’t have to be a ‘person of influence’ to be influential. In fact the most influential people in my life are probably not even aware of the things they’ve taught me.”

In essence the BA is expected to do everything that a CEO or a leader is expected to do, and he has one additional handicap – no authority. The handicap reminds me of the ultimate leadership sport – Golf. It is all about handicaps, and you learn to play better than the handicap to win. The BA does precisely the same thing, lead better even without the authority. Truly, a leader without a title.

Imagine if corporates eventually got the BA’s to take on the mantle of a leader and also provide them authority – how much more effective they could be as a leader.


The Role of a Business Analyst

April 9, 2011

A “Business Analyst” (BA) is a role that can mean different things to different people. In some companies, the BA plays a technical role with very little business knowledge; while in other companies, the BA has a full understanding of the business with very little knowledge of the IT systems and architecture.

In today’s times – the BA has come to become a person of great value to an organization, and who is a generalist capable of functioning competently in diverse roles. Typically, these people have a broad educational background and a diverse skill set with a wide range of work experience in different jobs and industries. In essence, they are able to visualize the “big picture” – that is – understand the business from different perspectives, as well as the technology side of what can be effectively used to improve the business.

The Business Analyst Skills in a broad perspective comprises of the person being a Business Planner, Systems Analyst, Project Manager, Subject Area Expert, Organization Analyst, Financial Analyst, Technology Architect, Data Analyst, Application Analyst, Application Designer, and Process Analyst.

As we drill down deeper into the specific roles of a BA and understand the essential skills required for each of the roles, it would give a clear picture.

The major roles of a BA, as defined by certification experts are:-

1. Define and Scope Business Areas
The BA must be sure that the project scope is clear and complete before the start of detailed requirements gathering. The BA may be given the scope pre-defined by the project sponsor or may be responsible for defining and documenting the scope as part of the requirements gathering task.

Defining and documenting the project scope requires the BA to understand why the project has been initiated, and the objectives of the project. An important contribution of the BA to the project is the analyzing of the business problem without “jumping” to a solution.

In addition, a complete project scope will name and define all the stakeholders that will be involved with the project, including people, systems, internal departments, and external organizations.

Other important components of the project scope documentation include the project viewpoint, project assumptions, and business risks. These components give the BA the information necessary to prioritize and focus the requirements gathering.
Finally the project scope should include a high-level description of the business processes. It may also include a list of items that specifically will not be included in the scope. This gives the entire project team a complete understanding of the work that the BA will be doing during the detailed requirements gathering phase.

One additional task required of the BA, is the creation of an organized system for maintaining project information. A glossary should be started along with a filing system for maintaining all of the information that will be gathered during the project.

Essential Skills Required:

a. Facilitation skills to bring multiple groups together to scope project and get consensus
b. Ability to document the project scope using business terminology
c. Project scope documentation techniques

2. Elicit Requirements
The most important task of a BA is to gather the detailed requirements that clearly and completely define the project. We use the word gather because the BA must be sure to ask the right questions of the right people to gather accurate requirements. Further, we use the word elicit, since the BA must be able to get people to say all that they have to and not leave anything as assumptions.

It is critical that the BA initially gathers Business Requirements and completely understand the business needs before defining a software solution.

The BA must assess the type of project, the people involved, and the volume of information required; and then determine how and where to find the requirements. BAs have a variety of techniques available to them including interviews, facilitated information gathering sessions, surveys, questionnaires, observation, and existing documentation from which to choose. In addition, the BA will often have many people with whom to talk and several existing automated systems about which to learn.
Gathering complete, detailed requirements is an iterative process that involves the BA asking questions, pondering answers, asking follow-up questions, and bringing divergent opinions to consensus. It also involves prioritizing the requirements to assure that the most critical issues are addressed by the project solution.

Essential Skills Required:
a. Asking the right questions
b. Active listening
c. Interviewing techniques
d. Facilitation techniques
e. Documentation
f. Ability to categorize requirements

3. Analyze and Document Requirements
Requirements are analyzed and documented using an iterative approach. As each of the requirements is documented, additional questions will arise requiring the analyst to probe deeper. There are many different approaches to documenting requirements. The BA is responsible for following their organization’s standard documentation format or for creating their own. When developing a documentation format, the BA must consider the best format for communicating with the information technology team and the best format for communicating with the business area experts. Both groups must be able to read and review the document and clearly understand the requirements. Some requirements are more appropriately documented in textual descriptions, others in diagrams or graphical displays. The BA must also determine the appropriate level of detail for the documentation.

Ideally, the entire organization uses a consistent documentation format and approach. This makes the review process easier for people working on multiple projects. It also allows the organization to constantly improve the format as quality enhancements are discovered. The BA is often the person leading the development and maintaining the standard documentation format.

Typically there are many requirements. To organize them and make them easy to review, they are divided into categories or groupings. It may be good to categorize requirements into Business, Functional, and Technical.

Essential Skills Required:
a. Analysis Skills
b. Understand the system development methodology
c. Utilize modelling techniques
d. Categorization skills
e. Prototype user interfaces
f. Develop a textual template for requirements

4. Communicate Requirements
The BA should be the best communicator on the project team. The role is to act as a liaison between the business area experts and the technical team. This role requires the BA to “speak” both languages. The BA must also work very closely with the Project Manager to ensure that the project plan is adhered to and scope creeps / changes are approved and documented.
As the requirements documentation is being created, the BA will conduct informal and formal requirements reviews. These review sessions increase the quality of the document by finding missing or unclear requirements. It is important that the information is presented to the business and technical audiences in a manner that is most appropriate for their understanding. Summaries of the requirements or various graphical representations may be appropriate as part of the reviews. Understanding your audience is critical to the successful communication of the requirements.

Essential Skills Required:
a. Run effective meetings
b. Active listening skills
c. Precision questioning techniques
d. Conduct formal and informal presentations
e. Write clear emails, memos, and status reports
f. Conduct a comprehensive requirements review
g. Change management
h. Write review summaries

5. Identify Solution
The BA should work closely with the Business Area Experts to make a recommendation for a solution and work with the technical team to design it. This recommendation may include software changes to existing systems, new software, procedural or workflow changes, or some combination of the above. If software automation is part of the solution, the BA should assist with the screen design, report design, and all user interface issues by providing detailed functional requirements.

If a software package is going to be purchased, the BA works with the Business Area Experts, IT personnel, and the potential vendors to discuss the requirements and verify that the package selected will meet the needs. The BA may also be responsible for writing the Request for Proposal (RFP). Detailed business and functional requirements should be completed to accurately reflect the needs for the software and a thorough review should be conducted.

Essential Skills Required:
a. High level understanding of the software design
b. Ability to evaluate vendor software packages
c. Ability to estimate solution costs and benefits and build a business case for implementation

6. Verify Solution meets the Requirements
The BA should remain involved in the project even after the technical team takes over. The BA reviews the technical designs proposed by the design team for usability issues and to assure that the requirements are being satisfied. Once the solution is developed into software, the BA is uniquely qualified to assess the software and determine how well it meets the original project objectives.

The BA should work closely with the Quality Assurance team and to assist with the entire testing process. Testing is based on requirements, so the BA’s intimate knowledge of the requirements allows accurate design of test cases. If there is no Quality Assurance team available, the BA can still assist with User Acceptance testing, the time when the Business Area Experts are asked to approve the software for implementation. As the software is tested, the BA ensures that it is clearly documented and reports defects and variances from requirements.

Essential Skills Required:
a. Basic understanding of system design concepts
b. Knowledge of software usability principles
c. Understanding of testing principles
d. Ability to write and review test cases

– Sanjay Dugar

MD, Disha Consulting Ventures Pvt. Ltd.

(E): dugars@dishacv.com