by Lori Lindbergh, PhD
And I don’t mean from a higher power above; although, we often ask for and need this type of help! What I mean by from above, is from your senior management team using higher-order, critical thinking and systems-thinking skills. All too often, BA performance improvement solutions are implemented from the bottom up or the middle up with little or no senior management involvement or commitment. When BA performance problems arise, many managers and executives instinctively think that training and process/technology implementation will fix the performance problem. However, without conducting a thorough BA practice assessment, executives fail to see the complete state of their organization’s BA practices and what is needed for sustained BA practice improvement (Read: The State of BA Practices in Organizations). Down the road, they may eventually question the value of the training and improvements that were implemented because the organization’s business results are still not what they had expected.
Executives must understand that anecdotal and disconnected integration of training and process improvement solutions will only take an organization so far. It is up to them to create an organizational environment in which analysts are empowered to act, can easily apply the BA skills learned in training, and are rewarded by the overall organization for doing so.
Take a look at the four-quadrant diagram with Systems Thinking on the horizontal axis and Critical Thinking on the vertical axis. By systems thinking, I mean understanding that your organization is an integrated system and treating BA practice improvement as an organizational improvement and overall organizational cultural change. By critical thinking, I mean improving the quality of your thinking, questioning your thinking and the thinking of others, integrating research into your BA practice improvement, and looking outside of your comfort zone to identify key interrelationships between BA practices and organizational culture. These interrelationships are what make improvement solutions work in some organizations and not in others.
Let’s examine the quadrants in a little more detail so you can determine in which quadrant your senior management team is located.
“Something is better than Nothing” BA Improvement.
The lower left quadrant involves haphazardly implementing BA improvements based on one-dimensional assessments, anecdotal information, or case studies of what other organizations have implemented. If your management team is located in this quadrant, your BA improvement efforts are essentially hit-or-miss and may be more reactive in nature. Your organization has most likely implemented some BA training, cool BA tools, and a few fad-like solutions. Most organizations start in this quadrant, which is a great place to start; however, if your executives allow your organization to stay in this quadrant, your BA improvement efforts will hit the wall; you will always feel like you are taking one-step-forward and three-steps back.
“Force-Fit” BA Improvement.
The upper left quadrant involves what we are starting to see a little more often. Force-fit BA improvement is somewhat better than the hit-or miss strategy. If your management team is in this quadrant, your organization may be examining research studies and may be thinking more creatively and questioning conventional ways; however, the perspective may still be somewhat one-dimensional. You will most likely see relevant BA improvements forced into an overall organizational culture that may be unwilling and unsupportive of changes in business practices. If your executives allow your organization to stay in this quadrant, your organization will see some improvement, but will eventually resemble a hamster on a wheel, status quo, and hit a BA improvement plateau.
“Organizational” BA Improvement.
The lower right quadrant involves a new focus on organizational business analysis. The project management industry began to consider PM as an organizational construct a while back; however, even today not much research exists at this level, nor is there true integration between PM and organizational culture. In most organizations, business analysis as a formal practice is somewhat new; therefore, we would expect that few management teams are located in this quadrant. Additionally, most BA practice maturity assessments available are still one-dimensional and lack a systems perspective. This quadrant is a great place to be; however, if your executives allow your organization to stay in this quadrant, your organization’s BA improvement efforts may hit the green most of the time, but some of your putts will still come up short.
“Applied Capability” BA Improvement.
The upper right quadrant is where your management team really needs to be. The focus in this quadrant is on organizational Applied Capability (Learn more about Applied Capability). This focus gets to the heart of what is truly going on in your organizational system so your executives can implement the improvements and actions that best address the issues and challenges specific to your organization: The actions that are linked to improved project and business outcomes. These actions may be less obvious and not what you would think. To move into this quadrant, your executives need to use integrated, research-based assessments that examine how to create the perfect balance between BA workforce competency, BA practice maturity, and overall organizational culture that will lead to improved business results in their organization.
Remember, becoming a more critical, systems thinker requires deliberate action. One size does not fit all! BA Applied Capability will help your management team understand critical interrelationships and target areas for improvement that account for differences across organizations. Armed with this information, executives can develop a more deliberate, actionable approach to allocating BA performance improvement and training resources that will lead to better project outcomes and ultimately improve business results.