Going beyond training

Coaching and mentoring are vital for the success of business analysts.
Read time 5min 30sec

Organisations today need more than mere training for their business analysts. The problem with the current situation is that qualified business and IT people undergo training to become business analysts and in most cases they gain the theoretical knowledge to do the job, but with little practical and contextualised skills development to go with it.

Business analysts have been playing an increasingly important role in addressing the communication gap that exists between IT and business people. That miscommunication has cost the industry billions in failed, late or inadequate business software development projects.

Analysts are supposed to understand the requirements of both business and IT people and translate the information from one to the other. They do that by producing a requirements document.

Business people explain the issues they`re experiencing and business analysts translate those into requirements for IT. Solution developers then use that document to accurately produce solutions required by the business users.

When business analysts get it wrong

And therein lies the rub. If business analysts get it wrong, the software development project is doomed before coding begins and long before business users get to see the solution.

Yet the project must most often go through all or many of its phases and arrive on users` desks before mistakes are realised. It`s an expensive and time-consuming process.

A number of factors compound this problem:

* There is a shortage of skilled business analysts, resulting in excessive salaries.
* Many young inexperienced and inadequately skilled people are being drawn into business analysis like bees to a honey pot.
* People with unsuitable temperaments are being enticed into the role.
* Freshly trained business analysts are not productive from day one as they lack the skills that come with experience.
* There is a lack of appropriate training to develop business analysis skills in the context of their own organisations.

Yet organisations are employing them as fast as training institutions can churn business analysts out and as fast as they can get their own people, from systems super-users to developers, trained up.

They really need the business analysts, but they also really need them to do the job as effectively as possible.

Coaching or mentoring is the only possible way to get them trained in sufficient numbers and get them working at the required level of expertise and quality as quickly as possible. But many people may misinterpret the concept or believe its cost will make it impractical.

Getting it right

If business analysts get it wrong, the software development project is doomed before coding begins and long before business users get to see the solution.

Robin Grace is principal consultant at IndigoCube.

Mentoring is not assigning a freshly trained business analyst to work under an experienced colleague. Experienced business analysts are already under pressure to get their own jobs done. They don`t have time to deal with their colleagues` problems or answer what, to them, amount to trivial questions.

The net result in those scenarios is that green business analysts are assigned to smaller, less significant projects to gain experience, but that makes them less productive.

In addition, a few months after their training, with workloads building and deadlines looming, business analysts revert to what they know. Their ingrained behaviour resurfaces and they revert to methods they employed or learned before their business analyst training. It is said we learn from our mistakes, but freshly trained business analysts are never going to learn if they do not have an experienced person identifying their mistakes, and offering measures to correct them.

When business analysts revert to their original behaviour, they effectively undermine the value and expense of their training and they fail to deliver.

This phenomenon highlights the gap, a missing component, between training and integrating them back into their employers` organisations. Not only should they be trained to gain the knowledge and coached to garner a certain amount of relevant practical experience, but their behaviour and ultimately that of the organisation needs to change too.

Businesses waste a fortune

Failure to do so means wasted money and time. The industry average to train a business analyst varies between $2 000 at the low end and $5 000 at the high end, and it takes anywhere between three months and a year to complete the training.

But consider too the cost of mistakes that inexperienced business analysts will make on the job. The industry average for IT maintenance projects requires 50% of the total IT budget, and 50% of that goes to rectifying mistakes resulting from poor requirements.

For example, an organisation with a total annual IT budget of R1 million will spend R500 000 on maintenance projects and R250 000 of that rectifying the errors resulting from poor requirements.

That`s a relatively small annual IT budget but even an organisation similar to the example will have R250 000 to invest in mentoring and coaching, which is the best possible solution to the problem and will generate pay back within 12 months.

Add to this the statistics from the Standish Group, the creator of "The Chaos Report". Its study found that 45% of features of a system were never used and only 20% of features were used often or always. If this is true, then it is imperative to control the requirements to ensure the 45% that are never used are never created in the first place. To look at this from another perspective is to say that 45% of the development effort has been nothing more than a waste of time. That is a disconcerting thought. Business analysts are critical in ensuring that does not occur.

Lifeline for business analysts

Coaches and mentors present business analysts with a practical lifeline that helps translate their knowledge into experience.

With enough guided practise, the process becomes second nature and it`s at that point that behaviour has changed.

Contracting professional business analyst coaches, with up to seven freshly trained business analysts being assigned to one professional mentor, will see them working on even critical projects with the highest success rate to maximise the training investment and their salaries.

* Robin Grace is principal consultant 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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