zondag 22 november 2015

Book Review: Business Analysis

3rd Edition, edited by Debra Paul, James Cadle and Donald Yeates

Preamble: the island and the continental species

When BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT deems a book worth publishing, it is certainly worth reviewing from a continental point of view. Why? Because experience shows that the UK’s  business analyst has not exactly  the same profile as the variety on the mainland.
On the British Isles, a business analyst covers a much wider scope: “One of the most important aspects of a business analysis project is to decide what the focus is and which areas need to be investigated. For example, on some projects the focus may be to explore possible improvements on how part of the organization works. In this case, we might begin by examining all of the current working practices, including the staffing and job roles, and the work may focus on analysing and evaluating the options for the future business system. Another project may focus on the IT system needs and whilst understanding the situation and all of the stakeholder perspectives is important, the potential for the use of IT to improve the business system will dominate the analysis.” (p .59)
Clearly, the island species covers a far broader scope than the continental one. Of the hundreds of business analysts I have met on projects, in training courses and seminars, ninety percent come from an IT background. In the application or OLTP world, I have met with dozens of ex-developers who became functional analysts and expanded their horizon towards business analysis. In the OLAP or analytics world, there is dominant share of DBAs who became business analysts. Suddenly I realise that I am more of an island species as I evolved from sales, marketing and finance into business analysis and studied computer science to make sure I can communicate with the designers and developers.

A comprehensive introduction

The editors take you on a journey through the analysis practice, defining the concept, the competencies and introducing strategy analysis, business analysis as a process, touching the investigation techniques and introducing stakeholder analysis. After modelling the business process, defining the solution and making the business and financial case, the requirements are discussed as well as a brief introduction to modelling the requirements and delivering the requirements and the business solution.
Delivering this body of knowledge in fourteen chapters on 280 pages indicates this book is a foundation for practitioners.

Models, models and… models

The 280 page book is packed with models, 112 of them are illustrated and explained as well as integrated in a logical process flow of the business analysis practice.
In that sense, the foreword of president of the IIBA UK Chapter, Adrian Reed, hits the spot when he calls it “an extremely useful resource that will referenced by new and experienced practitioners alike”.
Novice analysts can use this book as an introduction to the business analysis practice in the broadest sense while experienced business analysts will consider it a valuable placeholder for useful frameworks, concepts and material for further study. The Reference and Further Reading sections at the end of each chapter contain extremely useful material.  With regards to “further reading”  there is a caveat I need to share with you. It‘s not about the book itself but more about models in general.

A caveat about models

Let me tell you a little story from my marketing practice to illustrate my point.
A very familiar model in portfolio management is the Boston Consultancy Group’s  Share Matrix. It is used on a strategic level to analyse business units and in the marketing practice, the product portfolio is often represented and analysed via this model.
For those not familiar with the model, here’s a little reference to the theory: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Growth%E2%80%93share_matrix
When I worked for a multinational FMCG company I discovered what I called “Cinderella brands”. These were brands with a small market share, low growth and considered a dead end street for the marketer’s career. You could find product managers with little ambition in that position, fixing up and manoeuvring to keep the brand afloat while people higher up in the organization where waiting for the right moment to axe the brand. I managed to convince the people with the axe that an appropriate marketing approach cold not just save the brand but grow it into a profitable niche product, sometimes contributing more than their so-called cash cows. We built the business case on processed cheese with a budget on a shoestring and proved our point that a model can never take over from thorough analysis and critical thinking. After that, nobody mentioned “dogs” anymore, “Cinderella” became the household name for forgotten brands with unrealized potential. (And we got much more business from the multinational.)
The illustration below from an academic author shows exactly what can go wrong when models take over from scrutiny and  critical thinking.

These are the questions to ask when you look at a growth share market:
·          Who says cash cows don’t need substantial investment to maintain their dominant market share and keep up with market growth? Ask Nokia if you doubt it.
·           Who says dogs need to have a negative cash flow? Sure,  if your marketing spend is based on the same mental models as those for stars and cows you will be right but guerrilla marketing techniques may prove the  opposite.
·           Who says stars’ growth will continue for eternity? Ever read “Crossing the Chasm” by Geoffrey Moore? Especially in high tech marketing, novelties may only appeal to the techies but never reach the mainstream market…
In fact, question marks are in the only quadrant in the above model where some form of nuance can be observed…  Notice the expression “analyse … whether…”
In conclusion:  follow the editors’ further reading advice. It will help you to become a mature business analyst providing your customers not only the “know what” and some of the “know how” as described in the book, but also the “know why”. Wisdom may be harder to quantify but its value is beyond doubt in the business analysis practice. By the way, from the same editor, I recommend “Business Analysis Techniques” to increase your know how.

Regular updates needed

The business analysis practice evolves rapidly and the only criticism I can come up with is the lack of an accompanying website with extra updates and reference material. Let me add at least two of them:  a benefit map and the business canvass models are very much in the business analysis practice today.
To conclude, all you continental business analysts out there, buy the book and increase your knowledge by an order of magnitude.
Available at http://shop.bcs.org, paperback ISBN: 978-1-78017-277-4

2 opmerkingen:

  1. I fully agree. Many business analysts are developers who have worked on an application and can only see IT development as the solution to a business problem. These guys already propose a solution before the interview is finished.

  2. Maybe it is useful to define "model" first: “A simplified rendition of a complex reality which enables prediction of general behaviour”.

    In aero-/hydrodynamics, models are made for this reason only, and they are accompanied with a detailed list and formulae of what you can and CANNOT say about reality when watching behaviour of the model. Descisions regarding reality are only applied after specific TESTS on the (virtual) model and application in a PROTOTYPE environment. Between model and reality exists a PROCESS, which forces you to watch, measure and think. Actors in this process are fully aware of this, and EXPECT reality to do the opposite of the model, or at least something different. They are watching for this all the time, that’s their job.

    Because this process COSTS time, effort and... money, it is usually omitted in business, but the dynamic nature of the current reality (CD’s and dumb-phones did not exist 30 years ago, were mainstream 10 years ago and who’s buying now?) forces you to think twice about dumping the “dog” too early.

    Only a Leader who realises the model might be the problem, not the solution, wil search for knowledge and experience that will help the business to stay alive.

    Only a Business Analyst who’s aware of this process will shy away from instant (IT-related?) solutions and search for an efficient process that fits the customer.

    The trick is to be that leader or that Business Analyst, AND find each other...