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Analysts must fix their failing ways

Research and analyst firms agree that business analysts are doing a less than ideal job.
Read time 5min 10sec

While the individual figures may differ marginally, the primary research and analyst firms paint a picture of business analysis in crisis.

Standish Group found that between $45 and $145 billion is spent annually on failed and cancelled projects.

Carnegie Mellon notes that 25% to 40% of all spending on projects is wasted as a result of rework.

Gartner says 50% of projects are rolled back out of production and 40% of problems are found by end-users.

Forrester Research states that poorly defined applications contribute to 66% project failure rate.

Meta Group attributes between 60% and 80% of project failures directly to poor requirements gathering, analysis and management.

Yet, according to the International Institute of Business Analysis in its Body of Knowledge: "Business analysis is a set of tasks, knowledge and techniques required to identify business needs and determine solutions to business problems. Solutions often include a systems development component, but may also consist of process improvement or organisational change."

Even when they do it well, they don't

Even when business analysts do deliver the project, they still come under fire.

Standish's Jim Johnson discovered that 45% of features in the software studied were never used, while another 19% were rarely used and that the unnecessary increase in features had a resultant impact on the complexity, size and cost of the software build.

The problems driving this current scenario include the poor application of standards for business requirements, poor quality assurance on requirements, IT's inability to understand the output from business analysts, businesspeople who do not understand what is required of them, and inadequately trained business analysts.

The only way to remedy the situation is to live up to a business analyst's vision statement that says: "Offer business analysis services to an organisation of such quality that the business users will get solutions that meet their requirements first time, every time through a full and unambiguous set of requirements definitions."

The implication is that business analysis must become a successful, repeatable process that delivers measurable high-quality requirements through setting and meeting standards in people, tasks and techniques.

The best fix

As business analysts become more useful to the organisations in which they work, they will drive their own value and acceptance as necessary role players in improving business functions and processes.

Robin Grace is principal consultant, business analysis practice at IndigoCube.

The best method for achieving those goals is to establish a centre of excellence.

The findings of a survey conducted by USAG/SAP in 2006 states: "Organisations with centralised [centres of excellence] have better consistency and coordination, leading directly to less duplication of effort. These organisations configure and develop their IT systems by business process or functional area rather than by business unit, leading to more efficient and more streamlined systems operations."

IBM had a great deal of success when it established a project management centre of excellence in 2006. It is now looking at centres of excellence to cover more areas that include business analysis and discovery, master data management, business process innovation, risk and compliance, and process management.

A model for a business analysis centre of excellence with which I've had a good deal of success in the past includes four components: standards, full lifecycle governance, personnel development, and services.

Each of those components further encompasses several properties aimed at benefiting business analysts and the organisations for which they work.

For business analysts it means regular skills assessments, education and training, coaching and on-the-job training, team building, and a career path with descriptions of their positions, grades, competencies, and established skills requirements.

Organisations get business analysts who:

* Will be able to assist the business with defining requirements in the programme analysis stage;
* Will be capable of identifying problems before embarking on projects or attempting solutions;
* Assist portfolio management teams in process support and facilitation;
* Manage benefits so that the business identifies the measurable and pragmatic benefits, standardised practices and methodologies, tools that support processes and don't determine them, performance metrics and reporting, knowledge management, and continuous improvements

More than the sum of their parts

These result in a number of services to the business. It gains the ability to develop competitive analyses, business architectures, produce feasibility studies and business cases, develop project investment decision packages, and gain workshop facilitators.

Putting that system in place means that business analysts will progress beyond where most current businesspeople peg them: as requirements gatherers. They will become project, enterprise and strategic resources.

As business analysts become more useful to the organisations in which they work, and as businesspeople realise the value that they can deliver, they will drive their own value and acceptance as necessary role players in improving business functions and processes.

The method for developing a centre of excellence, which should take between three and five years, is to:

1. Assess the current state of the organisation in terms of its business analysis capability,
2. Create a vision with multiple milestones, and
3. Develop a plan to reach them.

Another useful tip is to start small. Don't try to roll out a business analysis centre of excellence across the entire organisation. Begin with a single division, business unit or line of business, achieve smaller successes and use them to promote the roll out of the centre of excellence to other areas.

Businesspeople are under pressure to show quick gains and wins, so start with shorter execution phases that are measurable. Requirements elicitation and management are primed to support that.

Executive buy-in is critical and so is working to an external, measurable goal that can demonstrate the rapid improvements.

Following this plan, in my experience, results in other lines of business or divisions seeking to become part of the centre of excellence as they see the benefits their counterparts achieve.

* Robin Grace is principal consultant, business analysis practice at IndigoCube.

Robin Grace

Principal consultant, IndigoCube.

Robin Grace is principal consultant at IndigoCube. He entered the IT industry via the Van Zyl and Pritchard Cobol Course in 1979, rising through the normal IT ranks to the position of systems analyst. He has been involved with methods and methodologies ever since reading up on James Martin's Bubble Diagrams for Data Modelling. Grace has used, consulted on and taught on many methods since then, worked for Comcon as method manager and spent many years working for Mike Bergen & Associates as a consultant, involved with information engineering among its various clients. He believes the importance of business analysis is under-recognised in the industry. He has been exposed to methods as diverse as catalysis to information engineering, and more recently UML and BPM.

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