When you are assigned a complex project that has a short timeframe (as often happens), it can be nerve wracking - I know this from experience. It’s like driving a racing car - you have to push close to the limits but any error can throw you completely off the track. I’ve found that following a few practices helps me complete such projects on time:
- Determine the business context which will be affected by the change to status quo
- Define the scope of the solution required to satisfy the identified business need
- Plan short iterations to verify the project direction
- Align the solution with the existing business processes and IT infrastructure
Completing this step successfully often determines the success or failure of the project.
Many organizations that operate in a competitive environment have well defined and standardized processes. Many others don’t however, so be prepared to discover them. Explore the business processes which may be affected by the new solution. Learn which systems are used by the business within these processes. Embedding new solutions into these business landscapes should be considered thoroughly to reduce resistance to changes and exclude redundancy in project management, solution delivery and transition to the new state. If done right, it also gives a business analyst an opportunity to find ways to add value to the business.
The rationale for the project should be identified by the project manager, while the business analyst should identify business drivers and actual business needs.
This is the exciting part of the project, but defining solution scope has never been an easy task. Short timeframes and technological changes which may happen during your project make it even more challenging.
In general, to cope with this task the project team needs a solid foundation to build on - well documented processes and good infrastructure. Knowing and using best industry practices can often point you towards defining a sustainable solution and save exploration and research time.
When it comes to defining solution scope, my approach is to use only the “must” requirements for the “initial” solution, and prioritise the remaining “should” requirements into subsequent phased releases (“final” solution).
You must work closely with the solution architect and play an active role in exploring available options. Often the overlap between business analysis and system architecture saves a lot of time - I have saved up to a third of project time by ensuring that the architect could use my documents as a useful starting point in producing a detailed design of the solution.
I’m still on the fence with regards to the Agile method. Its value is clear in software development (at least for certain kinds of projects) but when it comes to business analysis, I’m not so sure. However, short iterations are one useful technique in Agile which can reduce project time. Use them to get a summary of the completed and outstanding tasks, evaluate changes to the project scope, and identify feasible shortcuts.
Project manager and business analyst need to present a unified front in dealing with business stakeholders. Face to face communication is essential to make short iterations work for analysing the current situation, required changes and making decisions on the next steps. Informal communication style helps too - really, there’s just no time for strict formalities if you want to get things done. It’s very important for the project manager to arrange a “green corridor” for access to authorities and clear the way for the team to focus on delivering rather than struggling with bureaucracy.
As a business analyst, you also have to do your share to deliver results quickly by being professional and active (Pro and Active) in all your activities (industry research, compliance requirements and so on). Make sure that communication is well maintained between everyone involved in the project.
Aligning business and IT infrastructure
Most of the time new solutions are embedded into the existing environment. It’s a good idea to make maximum use of the existing components and processes to make the introduction of the new solution less intrusive and to minimise the number of temporary patches and business interruptions.
I try to present the solution in terms of interacting services to achieve this. I transform business references to applications and systems into services and show how they could interact. This approach allows me to show the business users how all pieces of the business, including external parties and outsourced services, come together and how the new solution will improve overall efficiency.
The four steps above are not exhaustive. However, they work well to reduce the pressure of tight deadlines and deliver better results at the same time.
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