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Friday, January 4, 2019

Considering value both good and bad

If we consider that the ultimate goal of the business analyst is to add value to the organization, and we accept that as our basic premise, then it would seem that our primary job is to define value, and especially the value that we are intending to deliver.
And if we are "adding" value to the organization then clearly we have to have a mechanism to measure the value as it is before we make a change and again afterwards so that we can determine what has been added.
Since "value" is somewhat nebulous and what is valuable to one person may not be valuable to another, being very specific about the value we are adding becomes important both in terms of goal achievement, and also general politics.
Where is value derived? Lower cost of operation without reduction in productivity. Increased sales without additional costs to achieve those sales. Increased market share. Clearly the common "value" for an organization revolves around the bottom line. The value received from the project or program can be measured with ROI or other financial assessment.
However there are other value assessments: increasing the morale of the employees through various programs which makes the organization a more valuable place to work and attracts high-value employees. Successful programs that enhance the reputation of the organization which increases the value of that organization. Projects and programs that are cognizant of the community and the environment which also enhance the organization's reputation with the general public.
And sometimes these different value assessments are in conflict. For example a project that is intended ultimately to reduce cost thus providing a significant ROI, might cause workplace unrest and lower the value of the organization as a destination for new employees and in fact might cause current ways to leave thus reducing the value of the organization by each employee that departs.
What would be the ratio of bottom-line value lost employee value? Clearly there is some kind of relationship, and decisions need to be made based on the increase in value on one side of the scale and the decrease on the other.
What is the business analysts role in all this? Impact analysis. Not only do we have to examine what is impacted, both positively and negatively, as a result of any value increasing project, but also the measurements of the impact on the organization so that management can do a valid comparison. In other words if there is a 3% increase in sales, that value can be clearly understood. But if there is a loss of seven employees as a result of changes be made to increase the sales, what numbers can we use to compare?
Perhaps we need some kind of analysis called "Value on Investment (VOI)"
as the business and mostly would also have to take into consideration the long-term effect of a change to the organization. The ROI or Cost Benefit Analysis or other assessments focus primarily on the initial project or program cost and the benefits that are accrued, without much concern with the long view. Costs are certainly factored in, such as long-term costs of a new facility, but what about the continuing erosion of value over time?
For example if the program has a negative effect on the employees that negative effect may not be noticeable immediately since most employees will take time before they actually depart, and it will take time to find a new place, however the dissatisfaction will continue to grow and increased turnover rate will be the result perhaps some time down the line, and it will continue. Then the organization is in a vicious cycle of trying to deal with the turnover rate, making various employee related changes which do nothing to address the original issues that occurred when the programmer project was executed.
Employee retention is not the only value item that they deteriorate over time such that it may not be related directly in the corporate find to a specific project. The organization's reputation may take an immediate hit and then recover, but then we see that the reputation deteriorates over time as the lingering memory of the ill advised project stays with the general public.
Clearly this is not an easy job to do: prognosticate what the impact will be immediately and then over the course of time. However, just the exercise of stepping back and evaluating all of the impacts of a given project or program both now and in the future adds value to the organization by making the decision process that much more rational. And remember, if the results turn out that the project will generate a negative value in excess of the positive value and the project or program is canceled, the business analyst adds value to the organization in terms of saving money which can be redirected to something more valuable.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Decision Making and the Business Analyst

While business analysts do have to make decisions about what they are going to do and how they are going to do it, they don't generally make decisions about the problem, the solution, or what is going to be done. Those decisions are left to those roles with authority: the project manager, the problem owner, upper-level management, and others. That being said, the business analyst is almost always intricately involved with any decisions that are made about solving the business problem.
It is good to remember the three roles that are necessary in any decision to be made. First of all there is the decision-maker, the one who has the authority to make the final decision. Then there are those who are advisors and provide advice and counsel to the decision-maker. And the third role is that of informer, the one who provides the information to the decision-maker and the advisors.
These are roles, rather than individuals, and all three roles could be played by the same person. For example you are deciding what movie to see. You are the decision-maker, making the decision on which one to choose, you are also the information gatherer checking the start time of the movies and the location they are playing, and you are the advisor checking on reviews and watching trailers.
In a business decision making context, it is highly unlikely that the business analyst will play the role of decision-maker, but in most business decisions business analysts play the roles of advisor or information gatherer or both.
The important aspect of business decision-making for the business analyst is to recognize which of the roles the business analyst is playing so that they played the appropriate role: offering advice and suggestions when playing the advisor, and offering unbiased, objective information when playing the information provider.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Introducing Doctor BA to a larger audience

For those of you who have been reading the blog here, you are probably also familiar with the column on the Website "Ask Doctor BA".  I am expanding the venue of Doctor BA's answers at the behest of Modern Analyst (  They have published two Doctor BA articles providing a more in-depth look at some of the questions business analysts have.  The first published in March, is on BA tools ( ).  The second which was published April 1 is on BA decision making. (
Check them out and comment on what you like or don't like or disagree with.  Also post some more questions for Doctor BA to answer.  I'm sure he will be willing to respond.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Looking for Bad News

According to John Kotter in his seminal book “Leading Change” most organizations tend to be complacent and avoid bad news. Back in the 1980s, I was with a corporation that bought into the concept that expressing issues as “problems” was bad for organization morale and increased anxiety among employees and depressed creative solutions. The recommendation by the psychologist that proposed this issue was to substitute the words “challenges” or “opportunities” for the word “problems”. That substitution became a policy at this particular company and we were all advised to use the word “opportunity” instead of the word “problem”. I’m not sure how seriously we in IT took the edict. There certainly were a lot of jokes and sarcastic comments made about problems and opportunities, but in the end the substitution did take effect and most people were in fact using “opportunity” instead of “problem”. I don’t know whether employee morale improved, or anxiety decreased, but there certainly was an attitude that things were getting better around at the company, because we had no problems to talk about. Of course with no problems to talk about, there was also no compelling reason to make change, since change only occurs when a problem has been identified, and that led to a form of complacency. And this is the issue that John Kotter was talking about.
Change becomes very difficult if everyone is satisfied with the way things are. There seems to be a trend in many organizations to shield managers from bad news. This is especially true in IT where the engineers would rather solve a problem then bring it to management’s attention.
Business analysts confront this issue on a regular basis. A business analyst is told to find a way to improve a business process and when gathering information from the system users in the process workers finds that they have no need of improvement because everything is going fine.
While we tend to avoid seeking out the bad and try to follow the good advice for making friends and informing people which is to look for the good in everyone, as business analysts we should be looking for things that are not right, processes that could be improved, systems that are simply “bad”: not flexible enough for today’s business, too slow to keep up with the competition, to archaic or clumsy to use it efficiently (even though the users of the system may be completely satisfied with it because they have learned to overcome its idiosyncrasies), or simply not in tune with current technology.
To get the necessary changes approved and implemented we need to address the problems as problems. “Opportunities” can be skipped, delayed, subjugated to other opportunities, or simply ignored. After all, missing an opportunity does not hurt, it just does not help. A missed opportunity may fall into the category of “coulda, woulda, shoulda”. But a problem has to be addressed because failure to do so will hurt.
Of course, we as business analysts have to recognize that we will not be the most popular of people when we present the “bad news” to management. But often, as Kotter suggests, may be the only way to make effective change to the organization.