A Business Analysis Approach to Change Management

What would software development be without change management? The two are inseparable. And whether you have a heavily customized company portal that has been long-supported within your on-premises environment, or your organization has built out your environment leveraging Microsoft 365’s out-of-the-box features with minimal customizations, you need solid change management. To successfully develop and deliver your business solutions, you must put in place the tools and processes and knowledge required to successfully perform change management. Period.

The Role of the Business Analyst

I began my long career in technology as a Business Analyst. While in this first role, I learned one important lesson from a peer that has stuck with me for almost 30 years when she shared “Every project begins as a Business Analyst activity.” She did not share this insight as defensive positioning for her career choice, but was sharing an important perspective on the need for definition and shared understanding prior to the start of any solution building.

I’ve written repeatedly on this topic over the years, and advised every company I’ve ever worked with on the subject, and yet it remains one of those lessons that we need to continually re-learn. We see it when engineers start coding before they have clarity, often building solutions in search of a problem. We see it over and over again when organizations treat their digital transformation efforts as a technology deployment first, rather than a redesign and optimization of their business systems.

The role of the Business Analyst is to help you to:

  • Understand what your business actually does (the workloads) and how it operates (your business processes)
  • Identify gaps in your business processes, and to document opportunities for improvements and automation
  • Generate your technical requirements and desired outcomes, and prioritize them based on their potential impact, personnel and cost savings, and time to implement

A good BA can help you with all of that. And beyond the initial planning, they can even help you to implement the new solutions, document what was delivered and why, help you figure out how to measure the impacts of what was delivered and what to monitor for future changes, and how to make all of this a repeatable process. Because at the center of a BA’s role is to make sure your change management processes are healthy and running.

In my experience, there seems to be a lot of confusion between the BA function and the project management function. A BA is not a PM, and a PM is definitely not a BA. Think of it this way: BAs are all about planning and business alignment, while PMs are about execution. In some companies, this may be a single role performing both BA and PM responsibilities — and they can likely handle all of this. But, wherever possible, there is a good reason to separate these roles. Beyond volume of work and the size of your company, which may force a division of labor, the primary reason for separation of roles is that these are very different skill sets. It is the function of the BA to operate your change management model, helping to define the tactical actions that your PMs need to execute.

The Fulcrum Point of Change

Change management is all about managing the increasing complexity of a project, plain and simple. Your team must understand how to manage the complexities of an ever growing, always expanding list of customer demands, enhancements, and features. Sounds like a BA role to me.

Increasingly, Microsoft 365 (specifically, SharePoint and Microsoft Teams) has become a platform for change management. To successfully build and deploy a change management platform, you need to understand how it fits into your company.

What are your current processes? How strictly are they adhered to? Who needs access to this information, and where are they located? You may all be centrally located in one office now, but what are your company’s plans for growth? What activities are to be centrally managed, and what will be the role of “citizen developers” throughout the organization? The actors (roles) will tell who will use your change management system, and help you to model out the flow of communication necessary for a successful system.

“Real success requires a combination of skills, some involving the problem domain, and some involving solution building. The traditional System Analyst/Business Analyst role was staffed by someone in IT and acted as a mediator between business and technical camps. All too often, that added a layer of bureaucracy and a bottleneck. Citizen development has attempted to bypass them along with professional developers.” Mike Fitzmaurice, Chief Evangelist and VP at WEBCON

With automation and a powerful feature set, you can do much more with fewer people in Microsoft 365, which has given rise to the role of citizen developers within most organizations. Remember that proper staffing is critical to successful deployment and ongoing maintenance of SharePoint and Teams. 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.

At the heart of most end user adoption and engagement issues is often a lack of understanding of key business processes, and the gaps between what the technology provides out-of-the-box versus it’s full capabilities. In other words, 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.

Creating a Culture of Change

Mastering something as huge and culturally impactful as change management is no small effort. Many companies take on large process or standards initiatives without having a clear understanding of how much time and effort these things will take to fully implement – or how long it will take to reap the benefits that these digital transformation initiatives can provide. As a result, these efforts often fall short.

The key is understanding the roles of Business Analysis, Project Management, and Change Management within your own organizational culture, being clear on your business goals and expected results, and having proper executive sponsorship. When successful change management is part of your company culture, these BA, PM, and CM roles work closely with various stakeholders so that everyone has visibility into what is being built, and everyone understands their roles in the change management process.

There’s nothing out-of-the-box about change management. It’s often a knock-down, dragged-out and dirty effort to get a project or process up and running, but the organizations who do it well have a distinct competitive advantage. For those who master their business analysis and change management skills, they can see the road ahead more clearly, and respond more quickly when change does occur.

Christian Buckley

Christian is the Microsoft GTM Director for AvePoint Inc., and a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Apps & Services MVP based in Silicon Slopes (Lehi), Utah. He hosts the AvePoint Office 365 Hours (#O365hours) series, monthly #CollabTalk TweetJam, the #CollabTalk Podcast, and leads the monthly Microsoft 365 Ask-Me-Anything (#M365AMA) live stream. He is based in Lehi, Utah (Silicon Slopes).