Why Business Analysis and politics don’t mix.
After thirty years of practice in all sorts and flavours of organisations there’s one that stands out as a tough conundrum for any business analyst and by extension enterprise architect as well as project managers. It’s the political organisation, so eloquently described by Henry Mintzberg.
The problem with these organisations for a business analyst, project manager or enterprise architect is identical: setting priorities to determine the first iteration of the development cycle. This lack of priority ranking may lead to scope creep, projects that never deliver the product or a user community that is not on board, etc…
Forces in a political organisation
|Wouldn't we all like to work in Tom Davenports Analytical Organisation?|
You don’t need much time to determine if you’re in a political organisation. Look for committees that make the ultimate decisions, look for a lack of accountable individuals, slow decision making processes and a track record of projects that failed to deliver the intended product. Of course government bodies are by definition political but you will also find them in the private sector.
How to recognise a political organisation before you’re even at the reception desk?Maybe this table can help:
Political organisations, by definition, don’t have shared goals. Each alderman, state secretary, each manager, wants to score his goals without letting the team take any credit for it. Because re-election or promotion matter… And political organisations always differ on the cause and effect chains which shows clearly in analytical projects.
Setting priorities in a political organisation
You can imagine that this is the toughest conundrum to solve; if you can’t prioritise “because everything is important” you can’t even start an analysis track. Unless you simply want to sell billable hours… And prepare for a debriefing and passing the buck, dodging any responsibility.
But if you’re a hired gun that may be exactly why you’ve been hired: to take the blame for the organisation’s ineptness to take responsibility and make choices even if they go against some members of the team. (I use “team” for want of a better word in a political organisation)
In this post, I am giving you a few tips and tricks to force the “team” to come up with priorities.
But first some context. The organisation is looking for a new way to analyse structured and unstructured data; Therefore it needs a modern data architecture. Your job as business analyst (and by extension project manager and enterprise architect) is to know what the strategic priorities of the organisation are. This needs to match with the available data and information needs. You need to check the feasibility and then choose the first iteration to deliver analytical results. A best practice is to check the organisation’s strategy, its initiatives to improve the organisation’s position in case of a commercial entity or the level of societal utility in case of a governmental or non for profit organisation.
Imagine the first intake with the project sponsor, the product owner and any other stakeholder who has been identified in the project structure.
Here’s the dialogue:
Business Analyst: At the kick off of this analysis track, I’d like to determine with you the first iteration: where we start analysing, designing and building the first deliverables.
The “team”: (silence)
Business Analyst: Do you have a project portfolio and do you use program management to prioritise the management actions? Do you have mission and vision statement for this project?
The “team”: We thought you could formulate the vision and the mission for the project. And no we don’t have a project portfolio. We do have an Excel sheet with a list of all the projects and their status.
Business Analyst: Could we infer from the status what the priorities are?
The “team”: No.
Business Analyst: What if we look at the budget per management project. Maybe the size says something about the priority? Or what if look at rejected project proposals and the reasons? Maybe that says something about the criteria.
The “team”: Not necessarily. First of all, all management project requests are answered positively and funds are allocated to these projects. Some projects may have big budgets but that doesn’t indicate anything about their importance.
Business Analyst: What about the number of full time equivalents allocated to each project?
The “team”: A high number may indicate something about the complexity or the scope but that doesn’t tell you what priority the project has.
Business Analyst: I think this one may help us out: have you indicated the origins of leakages and losses in your business processes and could those numbers give us a hint of what’s important to the management team?
The “team”: Leaks and losses are handled by the management team and as such are equally important.
Business Analyst: Does the amount of data, the connection with business processes and the variety in the data give us a clue where we should start the project?
The “team”: That’s we are hiring you as a Business Analyst.
Now it gets tricky and you make the call, as The Clash sing: “Should I stay or should I go”
Here are few of the killer questions and remarks that will lead you to the exit:
- What projects will get or got the most press coverage?
- What if you had to choose, right now?
- Do you expect me to deliver a successful end result if you don’t know what you want?
More on decision making contexts in the book “Business Analysis for Business Intelligence” p. 203 – 213
Is there way out? Maybe.
The only escape route I can think of is to start with a stakeholder analysis. Try defining the primary stakeholders and map them on a RACI matrix. If that works, you can develop your first iteration with some confidence, knowing that danger is always on the road ahead..
|Example of a stakeholder analysis that turns out well: the CEO’s desk is where the buck stops.|
If a stakeholder analysis is inconclusive, there must be someone who’s not involved in the official decision making unit (DMU) who is the primary influencer. Now you’ll have to get out of your comfort zone as an analyst and start thinking like an account manager.
I was lucky to have training in the Miller Heiman Strategic Selling method as well as the Holden Power Base Selling method. It sharpened my skills for identifying and influencing these hidden decision makers. So here’s my advice: check out these two books. They will increase your efficiency in political organisations with an order of magnitude.
The new strategic selling is an update of the original, worth reading for any novice in business analysis and project management.
This is Jim Holden’s original book. Of course, as things go in this business, there were many to follow up on his success. Start here anyway.