“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the leader adjusts the sails!” – by John Maxwell aptly describes the crucial role of a leader in transforming a vision to reality. Leadership in organisations has been a topic of grave interest to work and organization psychologists and been extensively researched. While leadership approaches prior to the 80s mainly focused on a leader’s traits, style and the contingency of circumstances, more recent models have evolved to include individual charisma and transformational effects that leaders can have on an organisation (Deanne and Paul, 2013). Similar to changing leadership trends, organisations themselves have undergone major changes owing to globalisation and development in information technology. More and more organisations today are flexible and adopting a ‘boundaryless’ approach that replaces the traditional hierarchies in order to adapt to the ever volatile economic environment (Anderson et al., 2001).
Changes in the organisational structure meant that business leadership can no longer be the domain of a few handful but required buttress of an array of leaders across varying levels of the organisation. Thus, 21st century leadership has evolved to be mightily different from its leading ones in that it encompasses the influx of big data and digital revolution, customer centric models and focus on individual growth in the workforce (Hass et al., 2008). The need of the hour is the art of flexibility and adaptability to maintain the intricate balance between changing market forces, customer wants and employee needs. Increased globalisation and complexity demands of a leader not the art of how much they know but how fast they can learn, how fast can they extract relevant information all the while establishing a conducive environment for relationship-building and collaboration (Nevins and Stumpf, 2020).
While there is no doubt that successful leaders are the prime ingredients of a successful business, how can organisations best approach the challenges of 21st century leadership? The answer to this lies in combining the disciplines of project management leadership and business analysis. Gone are the days when the focus was on technology as a sole criterion for project leadership while overlooking the critical role of business analysis (Hass et al., 2008). There have been far too many cases of projects failing not for the lack of technical expertise but for the lack of understanding business needs and its repercussions on a project(insert ref). Today, business analysis is no longer a choice but an integral part of any business that wants to successfully lead complex, mission-critical enterprise wide projects into fruition.
What exactly does a BA do?
A Business Analyst forms the primary liaison in bridging the gap between the business, technology and project teams (Podeswa, 2010). As defined by the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA – add reference), business analysis is the practice of empowering change in an enterprise in a way that delivers value to the stakeholders by characterizing needs and prescribing solutions. The discipline aims to entrust enterprises in articulating their business goals and align them to the investment in technology (Hily and Laware, 2006).
The roles and responsibilities of a business analyst can be quite broad and all-encompassing in nature and like mentioned in BABOK(add-ref), any person can be performing business analysis irrespective of their job title or organisational role.
In essence, the fundamental roles and responsibilities of a Business Analyst (BA) spans through the following 7 phases (Hass, 2011):
1. Strategic Planning
The BA plays a key role in the strategic planning activities of an enterprise. In conjunction with the leadership team, BA elicits the current state of the business and envisions the desired future state along with the required capabilities and measurable objectives that would help achieve them.
2. Enterprise Analysis
During the Enterprise analysis phase, business architects and business analysts get together to brainstorm innovative business solutions to achieve the realised strategies. Business analysts play a pivotal role in identifying new opportunities and selecting the most valuable projects for execution.
3. Planning and requirements elicitation
This phase is ideally headed by the BAs to describe in as much detail the business needs, scope, approach, perform stakeholder analysis and requirements elicitation.
4. Requirements analysis and specification
During this phase, the BA drives the focus from what needs to be built to how it will be built. Requirements elicited are thoroughly decomposed into various categories and evaluated for desired qualities. BA’s role here is to promote an approach of collaboration and innovation to achieve the required performance metrics.
5. Requirements Documentation
This is an important phase as the requirements documentation forms the blueprint or point-of-reference for anyone and everyone involved in the project. The BA has to ensure that while some requirements may require the use of technical or scientific language, the overall tone remains simple, concise and easy to understand.
6. Requirements Validation
A crucial step towards building the right project, this phase takes an in-depth look into the requirement models and documentation to ensure it serves the business needs and encompasses all aspects needed to move towards system development.
7. Solution deployment and change management
This can be a challenging aspect of a BA’s role in that it demands a level of understanding of the requirements, complexity of the project and urgency of the solution to manage changes in requirements.
Skills of a Business Analyst
With a paradigm shift in the role of IT from focusing on technical competence to actually driving business effectiveness, the role played by a Business Analyst has become even more prominent and critical. Thus, the need of the hour is a “trilingual” business analyst who can proficiently speak the languages of the business, technology as well as customers to help make great investments in business and technology (Hass, 2011).
The varied set of skills, competencies and knowledge base that is required of a business analyst can be categorised into 3 broad categories (Paul et al., 2014):
1. Behavioural skills and personal qualities:
These encompass the interpersonal skills and communication capabilities of a business analyst which are as important as the business and technical skills, if not more. The BA must be able to communicate the requirements to the technical team in a clear and straight-forward manner with no room for ambiguity. BA must possess a niche for relationship-building that is conducive for an environment of trust and comfort where people can share information and ideas for change. Most importantly, a BA must be able to take ownership and accountability for his vision, influence the stakeholders in case of opposing views and lead the team in successfully seeing his vision to completion.
2. Business Knowledge
Vital to a BA’s role in offering effective guidance for an organisation’s growth is a strong background of domain knowledge and subject-matter expertise. Given that the fundamental component of any business is finance, it is imperative that a BA also has a good working knowledge of the economy and business finance.
These include the technical skillsets required of a BA that is applied throughout the lifecycle of a project. The disciplines of project management and business analysis closely overlap in that a BA may be asked to fill in for the role of a project manager in small teams, be required to understand project planning and prepare documentation for scope and requirements, perform stakeholder analysis, build conceptual business models, also facilitate and manage changes to business (Elgendy, 2014).
Techniques required to become a successful BA:
Cadle et al. (2010) provide a comprehensive list of techniques to master business analysis that tackle the following areas:
1. Strategy analysis:
In the face of changing markets and unpredictability that organisations operate in, it is strategic analysis that gives businesses a direction as to where they are heading, the missions to be accomplished along with the timeframe and resources needed (Paul et al., 2014). Two of the most popular techniques used for strategy analysis are the SWOT and MOST techniques.
a. SWOT analysis:
SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunities, Threats) analysis method is used to combine and put together an overall audit of internal and external factors affecting the business.
It is usually summarised and represented in a 2*2 matrix. The internal environment of an organisation is thoroughly analysed and placed under the relevant Strengths and Weakness boxes whereas the external factors are taken into account under Opportunities and Threats (Dharmalingam, 2018).
b. MOST analysis:
While the external environment poses threats as well as opportunities to an organisation’s strategy, its success depends on another important factor i.e, the internal environment and its capability to align with the environment an organisation operates in.
MOST (Mission, Objectives, Strategy, Tactics) analysis method is a powerful tool which draws focus on an organisation’s mission as to what it intends to achieve, a set of measurable objectives against those goals, along with a coherent, well-defined set of strategies to achieve the objectives and mission.
2. Business Process Modelling:
A business process is the set of tasks carried out by an organisation to deliver its products and services. It is therefore imperative that everyone involved in the project understands the ‘as-is’ workflow, work on improving them to get to the ‘to-be’ model.
A Business Process Model helps an organisation do exactly that by representing a process as a workflow diagram comprising 5 key components: the tasks that make up the process, process flow, the decision points, the actors carrying out the tasks and the outcome of the process.
2 types of notations used in BPM are:
- a. UML – Unified Modelling Language activity diagram
- b. BPMN – Business Process Modelling Notation
Example of a UML diagram for a
3. External environment analysis
To understand their relative position wrt competitors and the current market trends, organisations need to perform a thorough analysis of the external environment.
PESTLE analysis is one of the most popular frameworks for external environment analysis due to its ease and simplicity in taking into account the Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal and Environmental driving factors that affect an organisation’s strategy.
Challenges of a BA role:
Any discussion of a business analyst role is incomplete without addressing the pitfalls of filling this difficult and vital function. Some of the challenges a BA must look out for are (Hass, 2011):
1. Lack of knowledge and skills:
As a BA treads on the twin paths of business and technology, he is expected to keep tabs on a vast range of topics in both domains. Focusing on any one can prove to be detrimental to the other.
Solution: With time, relevant training and certifications, a BA can strive to achieve strong foothold in both domains, provided efforts for the same are persistent from day one (Famuyide, 2013).
2. Barrier Vs Bridge
While the role of a BA is to be a bridge/facilitator between the business and technology communities, sometimes in their haste to assume power and influence over decisions, they become the barriers for communication.
Solution: BAs must strive to be fair and un-biased in their decisions while keeping them transparent.
3. Analysis paralysis
With the large influx of information available today, it can be very easy and tempting for a BA to fall into the trap of over-analysis by dragging the analysis phase.
Solution: It is more beneficial for a BA to adopt an iterative approach by incorporating feedback from business and technology perspectives in an incremental manner rather than going for that one long-drawn all-inclusive analysis.
4. Changing requirements
Given the dynamic environment a business operates in coupled with the estimation difficulties of software projects, requirement changes occur more often than not.
Solution: In order to effectively manage changing business requirements, a BA must take an in-depth look into the requirements elicitation process, stakeholder analysis and change management processes and take a call on the changes required (Ics.ie., 2020).
The digital revolution, big data movement and other technological landscapes that businesses today operate in opens up new horizons for BAs to work in a wide variety of industries and domains such as pharmaceutical, finance, IT, public sectors etc (Lubwama, 2020).
While the designations and roles played may differ from organisation to organisation, some of the opportunities for a BA are (Mhatre, 2018):
- Consultant – Suitable for BAs who have interest in specialising in a particular domain/technology.
- Lead Business Analyst/Project Manager – Apt for BAs who want to progress towards management profile which involves managing teams and streamlining processes.
- Data Scientist – This career path is for those with a penchant for retrieving relevant information from data dumps and deriving actionable insights that aid decision making (Collabera, 2020).
- Agile/Scrum team roles – Suitable for BAs with experience working in Scrum teams that can aid in the implementation of agile methodologies.
From analyst to leader:
Pressures and Strategies to cope with them:
While the profession of business analysis can be rewarding, it can sometimes be equally taxing. Some of the pressures faced by a BA during his day-to-day activities are:
1. Working with Project Managers:
Pullan (2015) in her research paper explores the large area of overlap among the disciplines of project management and business analysis that could lead to some friction between the two. She summarised the main causes of arguments as follows:
Strategy: There must be a clear bifurcation of responsibilities as to who does what, good communication with regular updates and a respect of each other’s knowledge and skillsets in order to build a good working rapport between a PM and BA.
2. Dealing with difficult stakeholders:
In a survey conducted by Hudson (2019), stakeholder issues came in as the top-most pressure point for a BA. It would be unrealistic to deny the effects of politics and powerplay when groups of people are involved. Thus the most challenging part of a BA’s role is to maintain the intricate balance between a project’s goals and a stakeholder’s wants and needs.
Strategy: Conduct a thorough analysis to know and understand all the key influencers along with their goals and arrive at change-initiatives that take advantage of positive political influences and neutralise the negative ones (Hass et al., 2008).
3. Time constraints
In a survey conducted by Pullan (2015), a staggering 57% of the analysts believed that there was no sufficient time for analysis. This usually stems from lack of clarity of project objectives, overlapping distribution of responsibilities, non-involvement of BAs during early project stages etc.
Strategy: Early involvement of BA from strategic planning phase, preparation of work breakdown structure and time plan for analysis tasks, clear delineation and agreed ownership of BA tasks.
4. Competing priorities and lack of resources
More often than not a BA is pulled up to do tasks outside his defined functions for he is seen as the “Jack of all”. While this definitely helps in reassuring his credibility as a BA, it could lead to conflicting priorities with an overhead of insufficient resources at his disposal.
Strategy: Obtain a clear governance and vision from senior stakeholders, ask questions and communicate any obstacles in the way to achieve that, push for resources that might not only add value to BAs role but also the organisation as a whole (Pullan and Archer, 2013).
Role of BA in 30 years:
The concept of BA dates back to the mid-1950s when the term intelligence was first used by artificial intelligence researchers. However, it was only during the 1990s the term business intelligence gained momentum among IT and business communities. The late 2000s saw the emergence of business analytics as the key analytics component of BI (Chen et al., 2012 and Cao et al., 2015).
The global economic crisis and internet boom of the 21st century can be considered as catalysts that not only brought about a network of complexities and an unyielding, competitive economic environment like never before but also a need for extraordinary creative leaders equipped to handle the complexities. Thus came the emergence of two disciplines business analysis and complex project management (Hass,2011).
The first decade of 2000s mainly saw BAs in generalist IT or business focused roles who strove to make changes in technology or policies for business process improvement. However, studies (Schwaber et al., 2008) have revealed that the industry has now progressed to grooming more strategic BA roles such as enterprise analysts, business/technology analysts, business architects etc, to leverage the dynamics of the new economy.
The importance of BA only continues to grow from here on with Davenport (2013) coining BBD (Before Big Data) and ABD (After Big Data) eras to signify the long route we have come from being an agricultural economy to the industrial economy and now the data economy. Thus, the companies that perceive this direction of change and get onboard will be the ones best positioned to unleash and realise the creativity and innovation needed to tackle 21st century challenges.
Looking Ahead: BAs of the Future
As John P. Kotter puts it, “The rate of change is not going to slow down anytime soon. If anything, competition in most industries will probably speed up even more in the next few decades”. Thus, in the face of rising complexity and an ever competitive global environment, the mantra “embrace the change before the change, changes you” makes more sense than ever. To this end, BAs are unstoppable forces that not only help change the way we do projects but deliver innovative solutions that add value to the customer and wealth to the organisations.
Thus, BAs of the future move towards exciting new horizons, donning the hats of visionaries, strategists, innovators and transformational leaders that empower businesses to rapidly innovate and emerge on top.