Join Haydn Thomas for an in-depth discussion in this video Capturing business information, part of Business Analysis Foundations.
- If you're heading to a sports game you would check to see who was playing where they are on the table, what's their track record, which team was most likely to cause an upset. Too many time in organizations I have seen projects propose solutions without understanding the background, context, and rationale that support particular decisions. Normally the root cause of this is a lack of investigation and analysis. Most people don't go out of their way to make bad decisions. They just don't have enough or the right sort of information to allow them to make better or more informed decisions.
As a business analyst, a large part of your role is centered on fact finding and gathering information, from withing your organization and industry to assist others in the project to make better judgments. It's not decision or solution driven in its own right, but the information uncovered may be helpful in initiating further investigation, and preparing you to speak with the project stakeholders more intelligently. The most effective way to capture business information is to look for information that's already written down and readily available.
Great sources of this information can be found on company websites, intranet sites, annual reports, strategic objectives, business plans, annual operational plans, processes and tools used. This existing documentation will help us with the as-is view. So when you are gathering requirements from stakeholders, you can identify the areas of change to the status quo. You can also look for industry magazines, blogs, research companies, and product/solution providers.
They are often useful sources of external information. You should do all of this before you even speak to a stakeholder. The benefit of the business analyst reading and understanding background information before speaking to a stakeholder is that it gives you an air of confidence and understanding of the language and words used in your organization. What stakeholders are living with now and how their requirements fit in the overall context and intent of the project. I find it helps to put some of the information you find into high level diagrams, as the saying goes, "A picture is worth a thousand words." Using diagrams can help to confirm perceptions and the direction of the project.
So let's run through the top five diagrams that every business analyst need in their toolbox, and look at how you can leverage them to enable more informed decision-making. The first is organizational charts. These represent the organizational hierarchy currently in place. Organizational charts can be used to identify the functional areas, who we may need to speak to, who reports in to who, and informs potential new work groups to be created. Next is stakeholder maps.
A stakeholder map depicts the relationship of the stakeholders to the solution and to one another. Stakeholder maps visualize the temporary structures that are put in place for a project to show who is responsible for what and how different artifacts get reviewed, approved, and ready for implementation. Then we have context diagrams. In today's world of integrate organizations, it's difficult to work on one area without impacting others. A context diagram is a useful tool for confirming scope and ensuring you address all necessary integration requirements in your analysis.
Next are business use-case diagrams. A use-case diagram is useful on a project where there are many use-cases. They help you get the big picture of who is using what, and what they can execute. The diagram can be used to establish context before an individual use-case review meeting or to confirm the functional scope of the project. Finally, there are business process or activity diagrams. Activity diagrams grab the process down into detail and are great for being sure you don't miss any steps. They are good compliments to use-case diagrams since they provide a visual picture of the text describing the basic, alternate, and exception flows of a process.
Examining information about the organization in this way helps us in other areas. And this is where you, as the business analyst, can really contribute to your project success in the following five areas. First is project and scope definition. Here we concentrate on learning about issues and opportunities for improvement in the context of a larger framework. We use background information to build our business case and justify the project. And knowledge of some historical background gives credibility to our proposal.
Knowledge of what has changed allows us to focus on where and when problems began, or new business requirements surfaced. Second is planning the analysis. The perspective we gain in our early analysis helps identify additional information needs, where to collect that information, and define analysis work. Thirdly, there's procedure analysis. Using a top-down approach allows us to gain perspective and direct the work of digging for details within departments, processes, and systems.
Number four is stakeholder interviews. We are better able to recognize the general culture, values, and interactions of people, both internal and external to the organization. And lastly, number five is solution design. Here our analysis allows us to understand the strategic plan and business objectives. It guides the analysis work to identify the best possible solution to fulfill the business needs, and helps steer clear of jumping directly to a solution. Too many organizations limit their project options by predetermining solutions too early in the project life cycle.
By locating and sharing readily available information, you'll be helping those making the decisions on the project understand the background, context, and rationale to support their decisions. It's a bit like having both teams' statistics set out in front of you, and constantly updating throughout the game. I know coaches need these in making the best decisions for the team. If you do this in your projects, your sponsor will treat you as a trusted adviser.
Discover where business analysis lives in the project life cycle, how to initiate a project, the best way to gather requirements, and smart strategies to monitor results and test outcomes.
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- Understanding what business analysts do
- Defining business opportunities and objectives
- Identifying stakeholders
- Gathering requirements through observation and brainstorming
- Validating requirements
- Developing project acceptance criteria
- Implementing, testing, and closing your project<br><br>
- The PMI Registered Education Provider logo is a registered mark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.