Bridges Over Troubled Waters

Bridges Over Troubled Waters

Full-blown business analysts are, like homo erectus, an end point in an evolutionary process. But it’s an evolution that is very much a work in progress

Sidebar: New Attitude, New Job

The big picture is what counts now

Four years ago Sean Kennedy got himself an executive coach. "I was having trouble on my team. People were crying, and I suspected it was me not them with the problem," confesses Kennedy.

The coach introduced him to Human Synergistics' Life Styles Inventory tool, intended to identify and manage behaviours. Gradually Kennedy found himself changing the way he operated. He also found he was increasingly interested in people management and less focused on technical delivery — a shift that prompted his move into business analysis.

Having worked in various technical, project and program management roles and also in strategic architecture development at Accenture for 12 years and NAB for five, he moved across to head AAPT's business analyst team earlier this year. With him went a whole new attitude about his function. "All my life I've been paid to deliver a task outcome, a deliverable. This is more about trying to stand back and identify who can help you; who can you work collaboratively with," says Kennedy.

At present he runs a team of about 40 business analysts, 20 of whom are permanent. It is a significant group, especially compared with the 200 people in IT at AAPT. Even more so when compared with the situation at NAB where eight business analysts were employed as part of a 1500-person systems delivery team, according to Kennedy.

He says that AAPT is in essence striving to create an internal consulting company, housing the business analysts in a separate business unit in order to reduce the risk of conflict with either the business or IT. Kennedy also has tiers of business analysts including business consultants who are engaged with the portfolio managers in the business who crystallize the needs of the business for portfolio planning. "Then you move to the concept phase where you have a BA who is in there for the long haul and has a long-term relationship with the business. This lead BA will initiate the program with the systems architect and at that point a project manager and senior business analyst are allocated and it goes into the sausage machine — ours or outsourced. The lead BA then goes back to the business and takes on a governance role."

Besides clearly allocating roles for the different BAs, Kennedy has set out a modus operandi for the business analysts in order to reduce the opportunity for friction. "The way I mechanically approach this is via a communications plan setting out the outcome they are hoping to achieve. This becomes the charter for the program and also identifies the outcomes for other stakeholders. It identifies what value looks like and what success looks like."

Kennedy explains that a holistic approach is required as successful outcomes may look quite different to different stakeholders. So for example where business value may arise from delivering a value-for-money solution that grows revenues, for IT the value comes from delivering a sustainable solution or one that reduces costs. Meanwhile, success for the business analysts arises from the "positive legacy we need to leave behind".

Given those three value propositions Kennedy acknowledges that, "it is always a trade-off but the important thing is when initiating a project, if you don't make a conscious choice, people will make implicit choices. You have to put it all on the table at the beginning", which includes coaching the business owner to understand how other stakeholders might also benefit from any change.

"If the general manager is only given KRAs [key result areas] and incentives for his own team, it's easy to set it up as a competitive unit against IT or other groups," he says.

And that spells trouble.


SIDEBAR: A Business Analyst by Any Other Name

As business analysts seek to professionalize, a couple of organizations have sprung up to help them

The Australian Business Analysis Association (ABAA) was set up in 2003, and to quote its president, Peter Gibbins, has "grown gently" to its current population of 60 paid-up members. Meanwhile, in June 2006 an Australian chapter of the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) was formed, with John Katsiris as its acting president.

According to Gibbins, who is currently on a BA contract with Customs in Canberra, business analysis has developed as a profession over the past 10 to 15 years, although the roots of the profession hark back to project managers or subject matter experts, he says. He acknowledges that at present just about anyone can hang up a shingle and profess to being a BA, something he says tarnished the view of the profession when so-called business analysts popped out of the woodwork to help enterprises through their Y2K and GST challenges.

In an attempt to professionalize the role, the ABAA is attempting to develop a competency framework, which it hopes to then tie to accredited training courses. According to Gibbins the role of BA is predicated on the soft skills — eliciting a clear understanding of what the business does and what it needs, then turning that into an agreed written paper setting out requirements, which is then given to the person who will deliver against that set of requirements.

"I try and not get into the solutions space. It's one of the greatest pitfalls for BAs," Gibbins says. "You can't go into the problem solving space before you get into the business understanding space."

The IIBA has taken a different tack, assembling an international body of knowledge that it provides to map out the role, function and capabilities of business analysts. Katsiris says that August would provide the first opportunity for Australians to become certified by the IIBA with programs organized for Sydney and Melbourne. "One of our key goals is to build professionalism around business analysis and also increase the maturity levels, and so contribute to better results," he says.


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