Monday, February 27, 2012

Business Analysis Improvement Comes From Above…

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.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

“Assess Me….Please.” Four Principles You Can Use to Achieve BA Assessment Success.

by Lori Lindbergh, PhD

Did you hear about the recent study that found that most employees go to work each morning wanting to participate in an employee or organizational assessment? NOT….just kidding; however, I think this should be the case. Please, let me clarify….

We have most likely been over assessed at work and may have participated in a number of workplace assessments that did not result in much action or create the changes our management team promised. However, we should not immediately blame the assessment for the inaction. Analyst participation in a well-designed, well-executed BA practice assessment will provide management with valuable information to help foster organizational change by highlighting critical gaps in business analysis practices and challenges that reduce performance outcomes. When your management team senses the collective enthusiasm and motivation to participate in a BA practice assessment, they may be moved to act.

You may not be able to control what your management team does; however, without assessment information, your management team and coworkers, as well as hired consultants, may formulate incorrect conclusions about what your organization needs to improve its business outcomes. You have the ability to change this. By applying these four principles, you can help your organization achieve maximum value from a BA practice assessment.

1.  It’s About What You Actually Do, Not About What You Think You Can Do.

Assessing the effectiveness of business analysis practices involves more than assessing individual BA skills or the effectiveness of BA training programs. It involves evaluating the skills and practices analysts AND management are actually applying on the job, which may not necessarily be consistent with what you or your managers perceive.

Research supports that even highly competent/skilled employees may have difficulty applying skills in unsupportive organizational environments or in organizations with undefined processes, inconsistent management expectations and ineffective tools. Therefore, be sure not to confuse a BA practice assessment with a competency assessment. When responding to items included in a practice assessment, you should not think about your own skill level, but how consistently you apply a particular practice in your workplace. For example, you may feel highly competent in performing requirements analysis; however, you may not have the opportunity to perform this skill in your organization. In this case, you should indicate you do not perform this practice on your projects. This rating will indicate your organization’s BA practices do not support requirements analysis activities on projects and will not be a reflection on your competence as a BA.

2.  Bring the Quantitative Ratings to Life.

BA practice assessments should provide focus groups and other opportunities for analysts to provide narrative comments to substantiate and support numeric responses. It is important for you to take the time to provide thoughtful, quality comments and suggestions. These will add insight to the numbers and bring the quantitative ratings to life. Always take the time to make your voice heard and provide constructive suggestions to improve BA practices in your organization. Furthermore, don’t forget to provide comments on the current practices in your organization that support effective practices so your organization can continue to build on these strengths.

3.  Get Your Coworkers and Managers Involved.

To ensure your organization continues to implement the most relevant training and BA practice development solutions and opportunities, encourage your coworkers to participate fully in the assessment. We are all busy and assessments take time from our real jobs; however, there is strength in numbers. Analysts can make a difference and influence decisions by coming together in a constructive fashion and providing management with valuable insight about the workplace.

When a BA practice assessment involves manager ratings, encourage your manager to participate fully. This will help your manager demonstrate a commitment to continuous BA practice improvement and achievement of performance outcomes. Managers often have a different perspective of analyst performance and their own management support they provide analysts. These differences may interfere with the organization’s BA practice development and could go undetected without adequate manager participation in the assessment.

4.  Establish WIIFE – What’s In It For Everyone – Empowerment and Improved Outcomes.

Research has shown that when the findings of assessments are used appropriately to improve BA practices and foster a supportive organizational environment, analysts feel more empowered to act, which ultimately leads to improved business outcomes. If you and your coworkers do not participate fully in a BA practice assessment and provide the quality information management needs, training and improvement decisions will be based solely on anecdotal information and best practices, which may not always address specific areas of concern in the organization.

Why not be a part of your organization’s BA practice development and performance improvement efforts? With such a direct effect on your job performance, it makes sense to want to contribute and help guide your organization’s improvement efforts.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Use a BA Assessment as Your GPS Navigator: Actions = Results

by Kitty Hass
At some point, we’ve all experienced the situation, “If you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you get there?” However, with BA practice improvement, we all know where we want to go; it’s the “how we get there” that is critical. Not many people plan to drive from New York to Florida by way of California, unless that was your intended route. You would use at least twice as much budget and duration, and your customers (passengers) may become a little unruly. Unfortunately, when you have a faulty BA improvement roadmap, this scenario could happen; thus, the value of a world-class organizational maturity assessment.
According to the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) at Carnegie Mellon University, world class organizational maturity assessments are based on the following appraisal principles: 
  • Start with an appraisal reference model
  • Use a formalized appraisal process
  • Involve senior management as the assessment sponsor
  • Focus the assessment on the sponsor’s business objectives
  • Observe strict confidentiality and non-attribution of data
  • Approach the assessment collaboratively and positively
  • Focus on follow-on and decision-making activities by producing actionable, measureable business results.
Following these appraisal principles will act as your GPS Navigator to help you develop the most efficient route to your desired BA improvement goals: One that meets all stakeholders’ needs and fits within the overall culture of the organization. This is not to say you won’t have a few minor construction detours and speed bumps along the way.

How are Capabilities Baselined?

The gold standard of assessments has been developed and used globally for decades by the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) at Carnegie Mellon University. A world-class maturity assessment uses a staged reference model similar to the SEI CMMI (Capability Maturity Model Integrated) to baseline capabilities. The reference model must be continuously validated to ensure it truly represents the varying state of BA practices in organizations. The power of a staged BA Practice Maturity Model lies in its ability to:
  • Provide a proven sequence of improvements, beginning with basic BA practices and progressing through a predefined and proven path of successive levels, each serving as a foundation for the next
  • Each succeeding level involves more complex projects, therefore requiring more sophisticated BA practices
  • Permit benchmark comparisons across and among organizations by the use of maturity levels
  • Provide a single rating (maturity level) that summarizes appraisal results.
(Check out an example of a staged BA Practice MaturityModel.)

How can we Measure Improvement Results?

Regardless of the type of trip or improvement effort you undertake, it is important to evaluate the results of your effort. Did you choose the best route, get great gas mileage, spend too much money, or have enough fun? BE sure to establish measures to evaluate the value of your investment prior to the start of your BA practice assessment.

The SEI reports that after investing in an assessment and implementing the process improvement recommendations, 30 different organizations have achieved a percentage change in one or more of six categories of performance measured below (See the table to the right). You can’t argue the value of these results!

If you are looking for true practice improvement, a small investment upfront could payoff big down the road. Remember, don’t skimp on your assessment investments. It’s much easier and more efficient to travel on a well-marked road to practice improvement versus having to turn left after the third tree on the right next to the fifth mailbox on the left after the second fork in the road. You better hope that all those trees are still standing.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Do we have to do a BA Practice Maturity Assessment? We already know we are a Level 1 maturity (AdHoc).

by Kitty Hass

The answer……Absolutely. Knowing your organization’s BA practices are adhoc and immature is not enough, because simply knowing is not actionable. Similar to stepping on a scale and seeing an undesirable number on the dial, you know you need to lose weight, but how? It’s one thing to know you need improvement, and another very different thing to know how to put a roadmap together that has real positive impacts to you and your organization. When all BA practices are immature, where do you start?

An organizational maturity assessment is an effective strategy for improving BA practices because it produces an achievement oriented roadmap for improvements that is customized to an organization’s culture, current situation, and business goals.  Good assessments should provide answers to questions such as:
  • How can our BA practices enable us to achieve even higher levels of profit, better achieve our mission, and meet our strategic goals and objectives
  • What are our critical strengths and weaknesses?
  • What areas do we need to concentrate on so that we can immediately increase business benefits from projects?
o   Do we need to change our existing BA practices,
o   add new tools and technologies, or
o   provide additional training for our staff?

How can we best serve our customers and attain both project and organizational success in terms of value to our customers and wealth to our organization?

Once you Understand your Current Situation, then what?

To lose weight effectively and become fit, you must first evaluate your current health status, physical capabilities, nutritional status, etc., to develop your fitness plan. The same is true for achieving BA practice maturity. Science-based assessments should be used for your evaluation. They provide guidance for efficient, effective improvement across a single or multiple disciplines for a project, a program, a business unit or an organization.  Maturity
assessments help an organization:
  • Understand its current situation in terms of capabilities
  • Establish a capability baseline
  • Benchmark your capabilities against competitors in your industry to reveal your marketplace position
  • Identify appropriate areas for improvement
  • Select high-priority improvement actions, and
  • Build organizational readiness for change.  
Why care about Mature Capabilities?
There is no question that optimal physical fitness is directly correlated with fewer health problems and increased quality of life and longevity. The same is true of more mature BA practices. Higher maturity levels are directly correlated to more effective business alignment of projects, higher quality business solutions, increased customer satisfaction, increased creativity and innovation, and an increase in the business benefits that result from implementation of new business solutions. According to the Software Engineering Institute (SEI), specifically, maturity assessments that imbed scientific verification consistently bring about these benefits:
  • Improved budget and schedule predictability 
  • Improved cycle time 
  • Increased productivity
  • Improved quality (as measured by defects)
  • Increased customer satisfaction
  • Improved team morale
  • Decreased cost of quality
  • Increased return on project investment in terms of value to the customer and wealth to the organization.
I don’t think any one of us would argue that our organization could not use a few more of these benefits, just as we all could use the long-term benefits provided by optimal fitness. Remember, always start your organization’s journey to BA practice maturity with a thorough, scientific assessment. Don’t simply hop on a treadmill, as most people do, and hope for the best!