I began my career at Cap Gemini Ernst & Young where doing business analysis and implementing large scale systems was my job. At that time, I just thought everyone intrinsically knew you had to understand the business and all the requirements before you begin designing a system (whether custom built or off the shelf). When I got out in the real world that”s when I realized corporate America had not yet fully embraced the idea of conducting business analysis internally and the profession itself was actually in its infancy. I was ever so grateful for the appearance of the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) in the 2003 / 2004 timeframe to start to bring a level of legitimacy to a profession that was deeply needed in IT shops across the country.
In some ways, I feel I have grown along side the profession. Very early in my career the IIBA did not exist, then mid-way in my career it came to fruition, and now as they continue to drive new, and different conversations about the role of business analysis in the modern corporation; I find myself in the same position – attempting to provide leadership in an ever evolving and still much needed field.
I give you this background to give you context to my ah-ha moment as I sat in yellow belt training. To me, it is a rigorous and well tested process for conducting business analysis whether the solution is technology or not.
As we walked through the methodology it sounded curiously familiar to the Enterprise Analysis chapter in the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BA BOK). The interesting part is that regardless of what you call the activities, every organization should be doing them and have people proficient in doing them.
The six sigma continuous improvement methodology follows the DMAIC approach which involves:
Define simply has to do with defining the problem. As business analysts” we can use problem statements to define this, we also typically scope a project from a business perspective where you may create a context level dataflow diagram. The purpose of this activity is to simply understand the problem and put some boundaries around what you are trying to solve.
The Measure activity is what really intrigued me and seems to be the area we have been missing in the business analysis world. Many times we present information based on hunches or previous experience whereas with measure, you focus on the facts. This is an extremely powerful aspect of the six sigma methodology. It says, ‘you think there is a problem, but let”s find out if there really is”. In other words, what may at first seem like a problem may not be the problem at all but you can only determine that through gathering metrics. The six sigma methodology recommends things like the time series plot and pareto charts. If you are not familiar with these types of artifacts, I recommend taking a class or at a minimum, googling to get more information.
Analyze again provides power and I think this is an area we are still struggling with as business analysts. In this field, there continues to be this behavior where a solution is decided before true analysis is even done. As an example, on a project I was on, the leadership team insisted the problem was the technology supporting a specific business area. Essentially, they said the technology was no good. After doing a root cause analysis, it was determined the real issues had to do with amount of time it took to make a request and receive a response from the IT team. The technology itself was not the problem, the process around it was.
Improve has to do with offering up solutions. Again, it is important to look at all possible solutions to a particular problem. From the example above, one the solutions was to improve the process and response time for the business from the IT team. Although it may not be widely supported in your organization, I still challenge you to look at a problem from all the angles and provide objective solutions (even if the solution has already been dictated to you). At the very least, you may uncover some additional requirements through your detailed analysis. There are several benefits you will reap from this approach. As you begin to provide valuable information to your leadership, you will become the go-to person. Leadership typically wants a well rounded picture before they make decisions. You can help provide a view of all the possible solutions. In addition, you will be adding to your repertoire of skills and improve your own marketability (which is important in this world of ever increasing lay offs).
Control has to do with monitoring a project all the way through its lifecycle and evaluating the results at the end. This is yet another opportunity for business analysts to take it to the next level. In the last 10 years of my career, we continually fall down in this space. We don”t do a good job of measuring whether we were successful or not. When we don”t do a good job of measuring success, every project begins to look like a failure. If you look at the statistics, there are still a high number of IT projects seen as failures. What are we doing wrong? There are several pieces to the problem (which I will save for another article) but one piece most definitely is not establishing critical success factors up front (another six sigma trick) and then measuring against those at the end of the project.
In conclusion, whether you are a business analyst, business architect, customer engagement manager, client engagement manager, enterprise business analyst, system analyst, project manager, or any other title we can come up with and whether you are a six sigma shop, a BA BOK shop, PMI BOK shop, a Lean shop, or an Agile shop – I hope you are doing these activities. We should all be doing these activities to make our projects more successful.