You Could Say That I Am Pro-Business Analyst
The Business Analyst is a largely misunderstood role. Years back, I worked closely with BAs in my role as a Technical Project Manager within a BI shared services team. These folks were very senior, and were very much the “go to” people within the organization who understood both the end user and business requirements (though they were not the customer) and the technical specifications (though they were not the architects or engineers) and provided the much-needed translation between the two. In my experience, the BA is one of the most critical functions in an organization.
While working as a consultant a few years back, I ran into several companies that treated the BA function as more of a step-child of the PM role, and saw many BA’s being hired as, essentially, junior PMs, always aspiring to the full-fledged PM role. This should not be the case — the BA and PM are two very different roles. I remember working with Cisco back in 2002 and being amazed at how much their BAs, who were all very senior people within the organization, were involved in every aspect of the platform implementation. These were the people who understood the impacts of every tool decision, every information architecture nuance, and helped the room full of technology experts, consultants, and vendors to understand how our efforts impacted the company. I learned a lot from that project, and compare most of my experiences with PMs and BAs to that brief period in my professional life, a good portion of which has been spent managing PM and BA teams, spinning up project management organizations (PMOs), and working with BAs in operations and management capacities.
In presentations on migration and planning best practices for SharePoint, I often remark that every new SharePoint project begins as a Business Analyst activity. In fact, at this past weekend’s SharePoint Saturday event in Washington DC, I spent about an hour filling someone’s ear (I’m so sorry) with my thought on the BA versus PM role. I can get carried away, I know.
So what is the role of the Business Analyst, and how does it fit into a successful SharePoint strategy? While there are different kinds of Business Analysts (Requirements Analyst, Business Process Analyst, Organizational Analyst, IT Business Analyst, Systems Analyst, Reporting Analyst, etc) the core functions of this role remain fairly consistent, in my experience:
- Understand what the business does, how it operates
- Examine existing business processes
- Identify gaps in processes, opportunities for improvements and automation
- Capture requirements, create mockups
- Generate technical requirements, proof of concept solutions
- Help implement the new processes, features and tools
- Document improvements, measure, repeat the process
You may have some slight adjustments to this view of the role, but hopefully there aren’t any surprises. Now apply this understanding to how you prepare for your own SharePoint deployments – or in any other IT-led initiatives for your business. Experience has shown that few organizations properly staff their administration team, much less provide the SharePoint team with a dedicated — or even a part-time — Business Analyst resource. SharePoint is, generally speaking, grossly understaffed.
With automation and a powerful feature set, you can do much more with fewer people in SharePoint. However,proper staffing is critical to successful deployment and ongoing maintenance of SharePoint. Your BA function may be filled by the same person/people that administer the platform, but it is important to understand — and drive accountability — for these activities. I would venture that a lack of understanding of key business processes, and the gaps between what SharePoint provides out-of-the-box and what it is capable of doing is at the heart of most end user adoption issues.
If you haven’t properly defined the problem, you’re not going to build the right solution, plain and simple. And that’s why the Business Analyst function is so critical to SharePoint. In life, we rarely take the time to slow down and think about the consequences of the actions we take – but when we slow things down a bit, and take the time to process some of the decision we’re making, you’ll find that the quality of the decisions you make improves. That, in a nutshell, is what a BA can do for your team. Their job is to think things through, and to put things into perspective.
We need more BAs.
[Image on How to High-Five from Wired.com]