Of all the tools and techniques available to a business analyst, two tools and one technique are essential. One tool defines the question that drives analysis, one technique balances off the three forces that drive the selection of all the other tools, and the final tool ensures that the BA's conclusions are communicated effectively.
Business analysts have a wide variety of tools to help understand and describe the problems their organizations face and then deliver a solution (Learning Tree even has a Business Analysis Modeling training covering the members of an essential modeling toolkit). One of the first tools developed for business analysis remains essential for analysts because it defines the question that drives the business case. After using that tool to pick the question, the analyst has to balance off the three forces that drive the selection of the tools used in the business case to answer that question. In the end, though, none of the BA's work matters if it can't be communicated...and there's another tool that ensures that communication is effective.
Defining the Business Case: The First Tool
The IIBA's BABOK defines the business case as the tool that "justifies the investment required to deliver a proposed solution," a tool that "assesses and evaluates the available options to solve the business issue." However, creating the business case depends on what the BABOK calls the "problem statement" -- asking "the right question." The problem statement drives every other action taken in developing the business case. The first tool that the BA needs, then, is the one that ensures you "ask the right question."
The tool that does that has been around since the start of business analysis: the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis. However, a practical SWOT analysis doesn't just blindly list an organization's strengths, weaknesses, etc. Instead, a proper SWOT analysis does two key things -- it aligns:
- External opportunities with internal strengths
- External threats with internal weaknesses
Done right, a SWOT analysis leads to questions like "Which opportunities make sense for us?" and "Which threats pose the most risk for us?" These questions, in turn, lead to problem statements like "How should we pursue this opportunity?" or "How do we reduce our weakness in this area?" Or "How can we turn this weakness into a strength?".
A SWOT analysis ensures that you're working on a problem that matters to your organization and, as a result, are asking the questions that matter to your organization.
Identifying the Right Modeling Tools: The Critical Technique
Only some tools will be helpful for any problem statement and any organization. For example, analysis that addresses profitably in a for-profit organization will be required for almost any activity. That, however, still leaves you with several tools to pick from (for example, should profitability be addressed through discounted cash flows or return on investment, to mention two).
Picking the suitable model comes down to being familiar with various tools and being clear about the three forces that control which one is "the right tool." That's a three-step process:
- Identifying the issues the problem statement raises
- Matching those issues to the models that address those issues
- Selecting the modeling tools that provide the information on your stakeholder's value
Identifying the intersection between the analysis required by the problem statement, the output of a particular modeling tool, and the evidence your stakeholders will find useful is a critical technique for business analysts. Without it, you'll spend time working with a tool that doesn't produce valuable results for your stakeholders -- a waste of both your time and your organization's resources.
Communicating Effectively: The Final Tool
The final part of the analysis process is effectively communicating your results. 'Effective' here doesn't mean being concise or clear (though those are good things to do). Here, 'effective' means "actually useful to your audience." There's no point in communicating anything unless your stakeholders believe that what you're saying matters and that they can use your input to make a decision.
The tool you need here has three parts: Audience, Scenario, and Purpose (we discuss this tool in depth in Learning Tree's technical writing course). First, of course, the audience for your analysis is always your starting point. Frequently, BAs write what matters to them...but that's probably not what matters to their stakeholders -- the stakeholders are not, after all, business analysts. So, as with picking the right modeling tool, knowing what matters to your audience (your stakeholders) is the first step in deciding what you will communicate and how you will do it.
The second communication step is identifying how your stakeholders will use the information you convey: The stakeholders' scenario. When stakeholders pick between competing proposals, what inputs are helpful to their decision-making process? For example, do they want complex numbers around return on investment? Or do they want to know how this proposal supports the organization's strategic intent? Only if you understand how your stakeholders will use your information can you provide them with the information they'll find helpful (and provide it in a format that makes sense to them).
Finally, you must understand your stakeholders' purpose: Are they looking for growth? Or is stability during challenging times the critical success factor? Are stakeholders seeking a strategic solution to determine the company's long-term future? Or do they need a tactical advantage to address an immediate problem? Determining your stakeholders' purpose establishes, among other things, the scope of what you'll communicate.
As a business analyst, these two tools (using SWOT analysis to define the right question, using Audience/Scenario/Purpose to communicate effectively) and this one technique (identifying the right tools that address the question in a meaningful way for your stakeholders) are essential. These tools and techniques ensure your work makes a difference to your organization.
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This piece was originally posted on June 12, 2018, and has been refreshed with updated styling.