The Power and the Passion: Why a good BA is crucial to project success

Empower a passionate BA, give them the space and resources they need to do their job well, and take their recommendations seriously.

©iStock.com/lolostock 

©iStock.com/lolostock 

Recently I’ve tuned into several conversations on whether Business Analysis is a role or a discipline. Is BA just a collection of activities and documents that can help ensure the right product is built and the end users are happy? Or is it a clearly defined role with the drive to ensure all options are explored, all stakeholders are engaged and consulted, and all benefits are realised?

The spectrum of activities that could be considered ‘business analysis’ is so wide that there is an understandable move towards divvying up the work amongst existing project team members.

Surely, a good project manager should be able to profile stakeholders and run requirements elicitation workshops? Equally a good developer should be able to write a specification?

Here are some typical BA activities with a focus on the meaning of the words:

Stakeholder Engagement

Engagement is more than just getting people to turn up at workshops and review documents. Engagement means uncovering each stakeholder’s preferred learning style to get their attention. This could be via email, in person, using a diagram or model, in a group or individually. Engagement means identifying and pulling that ‘what’s in it for me’ trigger for each stakeholder.

A good BA will identify the pain points for each stakeholder group, and actively help them make the connection between how things are now, and how they could be.

Requirements Elicitation

A good BA will develop great working relationships with the stakeholders that matter. They will understand the difference between actually eliciting requirements and simply documenting them., They will work to gain the crucial element of trust that is required.

To elicit is to draw out, to evoke, induce, trigger or extract. It’s not just about listening and writing. It’s about having the courage to ask ‘stupid questions’. It’s about using trust and rapport to really delve deep into the who, what, how, why and when.

A good BA will create the conditions and environment to help the stakeholder or user to verbalise the requirements themselves. They will also ensure they’ve captured the needs correctly by continually verifying their understanding of what has been stated, and will be completely open and adaptable to change when it occurs.

Requirements Documentation

The word ‘documentation’ can have a past tense feel about it. Often people feel like this part of a project is just a necessary evil, something to do after the dust has settled as a wrap up process.

Requirements documentation is different. It aims to communicate a set of requirements that are both future-oriented and, by the very nature of the way they are constructed and the words that are used to express them, testable, measurable, justifiable. If a requirement doesn’t have these characteristics, a good BA will find out how to make sure it does. A good BA will ask ‘how would I test to see if this requirement has been met?’ and ‘who asked for this requirement and why?’

It is common to see reports and charts showing the amount of money spent on rectifying defects at different stages of a project. In general the earlier a fault is detected, the better, and cheaper it is to fix. What if you could depend on someone to create a set of requirements that minimises defects down the line? That someone is a good BA.

So who has the Power and the Passion?

How do you ensure that these essential activities are done well? How do you make sure that the span of business analysis activities are undertaken by someone who cares enough to do them well?

By giving the Power to a Passionate BA.

Don’t just wing it. Invest inadequately in this role at your peril. Don’t be afraid to ask a BA candidate about their passion. Ask them what gives them the most satisfaction in their role as a BA. By definition, a good BA will be passionate about getting it right. They will get immense personal satisfaction out of seeing an end user take advantage of new functionality that meets their requirements. To lay the foundations for this satisfaction, it’s in their interest to engage, elicit and document well in the first place.

Once you’re confident you’ve got the right person on board, don’t hesitate to empower them. Give them the space and resources they need to do their job well, and take their recommendations seriously.

Business Analysis is not just another best-practice. A good BA won’t just ‘do’ - they will ‘be’.