Successful business analysis hinges on the analyst’s ability to tap into the mind of the customer, finding the best tools and techniques to align with customer needs, and developing products and services that create real market value. The question, however, is: How can traditional analysis methods be supplemented to achieve a more customer focused result? Enter: Design thinking. Design thinking is not a new concept. The term can be traced back to the 60s, 70s and 80s where it was used in the context of engineering, architecture and urban planning. It was adapted for business use by David M Kelley, founder of design consultancy IDEO, in the early 90s and today the goal is to get all BAs to “think like a designer” when tackling tough business problems. Formally, design thinking is defined as a human-centered approach which integrates people needs with business needs and technical possibilities. In this context, the people needs speak to what is desired by the end user, the business needs speak to the viability of the solution and the technical possibilities speak to what is achievable using available technologies. It’s finding the sweet spot (so to speak) amongst these 3 key elements that requires a different way of thinking. Design thinking follows a very specific workflow: Understand Which in traditional BA methods would equate to problem definition and information & requirements gathering. Explore Designers like to refer to this step as “ideation”. It requires you to create a cross-discipline team that then collaborates in coming up with as many ideas to solve your business problem as possible. Prototype Ideas are then transformed into low- or high-fidelity prototypes which are used to test the concepts with real users, comparing them using a defined set of metrics, and gaining further learnings. Evaluate The final step involves a lot of data mining in order to determine whether you’ve got an idea that you want to take forward, or whether you need to go back to the ideation step. From this you can see that design thinking has a very strong iterative approach. BAs should plan for this by creating analysis sprints during which you try to move through the steps above as quickly as possible in order to get real customer feedback earlier. Then it’s about being willing to restart the process again, refining as you move from sprint to sprint, until you get to a point where you’re pretty certain you have the right fit. It’s no longer about taking a set of requirements which you gathered up front and then defining a solution based on this without any further input along the way. The key learning from design thinking is that customers are able explain their requirements in a clearer way once they have something in front of them which represents your understanding of their needs. It’s the only way to ensure that you don’t get a nasty surprise at implementation phase as you realise that your customers don’t actually want to use what you have built. Need a BA with design thinking experience and/or expertise? Please Get in touch to find out how we can assist you.
Within the world of problem solving and idea generation, there are two schools of thought: Divergent thinking and convergent thinking. Let’s take a closer look at what these two terms mean: With divergent thinking – think free flowing & abstract The goal here is to come up with as many answers, concepts or suggestions as possible. This of course requires a lot of creativity with no restrictions. No answer should be seen as wrong or too crazy, all ideas should be considered, no matter how left field they seem. Sometimes the best solution isn’t obvious right off the bat, but a crazy idea could have grounding for a solid idea to develop from it. With convergent thinking – think structured & well-defined This technique is best used where the answer to the problem should be relatively straightforward. It requires far less creativity and way more logic. With convergent thinking, you’ll draw from common knowledge, facts, previous learnings and recorded data. Think of exams at school or university for example. To pass these, you had to apply convergent thinking, not divergent thinking. From this definition, these two thinking methods can seem competing in many ways, and for a very long time it was seen as an either or option. But over recent years this view has slowly changed and more and more companies are realising the benefits of employing both. Now the question is: How do you use both divergent thinking & convergent thinking towards improved problem solving? At Analyze, we recommend a two-step process: Step 1: Start with divergence Divergent thinking can be a daunting task, especially if your team does not fancy themselves as being creative. The fact is, creativity is not owned by “creatives”. We all have creative ability if given the chance to explore this part of our persona. Create a safe zone where ideas can flow, use other companies doing great things within your industry as a source of creative stimulus and collaborate with other departments/teams to come up with a broader range of ideas. The most important thing to remember is to resist the temptation to shoot down an idea that seems too impractical or unrealistic in any way. Every idea must be documented, no matter what. Step 2: Finetune with convergence Now that you’ve got that list of ideas, it’s time to narrow them down to find your ultimate solution. At this point you need to consider things like your customer preferences and what you think will resonate with them most, your team and corporate culture and how this influences project dynamics, as well as your broader company strategy and goals. Use these to define a set of criteria that can be used to evaluate each idea and assign a viability score. If you end up with 2 or more equally promising options, ask your team to do a quick vote to see which one they’d choose and why. It’s a great way of generating a productive debate which will help to narrow things down further. Need someone to facilitate a think tank session or brainstorming exercise? Could your team benefit from an outsider’s perspective to assist with solving a particular problem? Get in touch.
In today’s project world, you’re either waterfall or agile. Never both. Never something in between. But why has it become such a big waterfall vs agile debate? And do we fully understand the two extremes these two methodologies present? Over the past few years, waterfall as a project methodology has definitely taken a back seat in favour of the new, cool kid on the block – agile. Throwing around terms like scrum, lean & extreme programming has certainly become very on trend. Unfortunately, most companies don’t quite “get it”. They like the thought of getting things done faster and being more flexible, but they don’t actually want to align with all the principles that go along with being fully agile. What companies should be asking themselves is: What is waterfall not giving us? And what can we do to improve on those things? Therefore, we’re no longer seeing waterfall as the enemy and agile as the magic wand, but instead taking a closer look at what it is we actually want to achieve and then making changes to help get there. We’ve found that most companies actually just want to be more adaptable, and in order to achieve this goal, an iterative approach has proven more likely to lead to success. You want to be in a position where you can test a new product, service or concept as quickly as possible to confirm whether it’s going to work or not. Prototyping, as an example, is a great way to test something quite quickly, then make changes & test it again. In this way you’re also ensuring that you’re getting real customer input from very early on. We’re not saying that going agile is wrong in any way. We’re just saying take a step back & try to understand why you feel you need to go agile. The following questions should help to identify your main areas of concern: What makes your projects difficult to manage? Why do project end results miss the mark in terms of customer value? Are there processes that run up costs unnecessarily? How good is your quality assurance? Have you considered using test automation to assist? What is the general feeling towards the project methodology currently in place? A full agile adoption requires a company-wide culture change. By understanding your core issues, you can take smaller steps towards where you want to be without having to jump from one extreme to the next. A project methodology on its own is not the be all and end all. It’s purely a structure that can help shape your actions, but it’s not your only option for getting things done. The key is to find the right fit for your specific company needs, be it a blend, a purist view, or something quite custom to you. Want to talk to us about how your company can become more adaptable? Get in touch.
We all know the saying “customer is king”. It’s a motto that was popularised within the retail industry, but today holds water for pretty much any industry you can think of. With this move to a customer-centric world, developing any new product or service without a clear understanding of your customer’s needs is like serving the perfect steak at your dinner party but then realising that your guests are all vegetarian. Great business analysts understand the importance of the customer within the broader context of any change. In many ways, they become the voice of the customer, thereby playing a vital role in ensuring that customer value is achieved. Unfortunately, this can be a very challenging undertaking, especially when the pressures of getting things done as quickly and cheaply as possible come into play. To ensure that you’re not missing the mark from a value perspective, take note of the following analysis obstacles that need to be overcome: Obstacle # 1: Defining who the customer is Look beyond the obvious. Customers can be both internal and external as well as directly or indirectly linked to your service or production chain. Start with a list of direct consumers, then flesh this out by looking at their consumers, and so forth. Once you have a comprehensive list, the next step is to get an understanding of each party’s needs and how they may be inter-connected. Obstacle # 2: Constantly evolving customer needs In today’s fast-paced world, customer needs are constantly evolving as technology continues to advance and competitors continue to push the boundaries of what is possible. If you don’t want to get left behind, you need to have your finger on the pulse. Ongoing market & customer research should be at the top of the priority pile, ensuring that you’re able to track how customer needs are changing and then adjust accordingly. Obstacle # 3: Listening for the unsaid Good analysis stems from not just implementing what someone says they want, but from pulling that idea apart and understanding all of the supporting factors that have led to this request. In most instances, there’s more than one way to satisfy a need, and it’s the BAs role to attack an issue from all angles to get to the best solution possible. Imagine being able to take someone’s request and then not just delivering to their expectations, but creating something even better than they had imagined… #priceless Obstacle # 4: Adapting to new requirements gathering techniques Gone are the days where the BA is simply seen as a documenter of what people want. You know, that person that joins the project early, produces a whole bunch of documents and then leaves. Requirements gathering has become a far more interactive and iterative process, with analysts playing more of a consultative role throughout the lifespan of a product or service. BAs today need to bring their own ideas to the table, they need to challenge the status quo & they need to encourage new ways of thinking. When it comes to delivering value to customers, experience goes a long way. If you feel you may benefit from supplementing your BA competency, Get in touch
Often, when business analysts start projects, they are required to define the scope of work that will be involved in implementing a new system. One way to do this, is to draw up a context diagram that graphically illustrates the full scope of the system. What is a context diagram? This is a simple but powerful tool that clearly shows the system under consideration and the various external entities that interact with it. A context diagram shows at a very high level: The system boundaries The external enties – these could be people or other systems The information that flows between the system and these external entities External entities may include various stakeholders and systems that have direct interactions with the system under consideration. It is not to be confused with the use case diagram which is more detailed and includes detail down to the process level. Why is it important? This very useful tool is often overlooked by business analysts as they believe it does not add much value. The team at Analyze, however, believe that it is a critical step in the initiation phase of a project. The context diagram is a tool that will be a central reference point for scope. How to draw one up? The key is to ensure that the context diagram depicts the project scope simply but accurately. Here are our top tips on drawing the context diagram: Start by drawing the main system under consideration in the middle of the page. List all external entities around the system. NB. Only list those external entities that have direct contact with the system. Taking each external entity, describe the relationship it has with the system. This relationship includes – what kind of information the entity will require from the system and what their main interactions with the system will be. Represent this relationship with a line between the entity and the system. Use an arrow on each line to indicate the direction of the information flow, either towards the external entity or towards the system. Describe the information that moves between the entity and the system. Information may only flow in one direction. Follow step 3 and 4 again for the opposite relationship i.e. relationship between the system and the external entity. An example? Take for example a new e-commerce website being developed for a retail chain. The main system under consideration will be the e-commerce website. The various external entities may include customers, staff, management and payment system. Customers can register on the system, view different goods for sale, place orders, make payments, track orders etc. Staff can update inventory (prices and goods) on the system, view customer orders, track customer orders, process orders placed by customers etc. Management can access reports on goods sold, user statistics, stock levels etc. The payment system can process payments, send notification of successful/failed payments etc. Ecommerce Website Example You can see from the example above, that the context diagram is really valuable in defining the scope of a project at a high level. This ensures that all project stakeholders are on the same page from the get go. Having problems defining scope? Contact us today to find out how we can help you in defining the scope of your project.
If you missed parts 1, 2 & 3 of our “Linking to trends” series, you can read all about the key technology shifts for 2017 over here, the focus of product over projects here, and the continued use of agile and lean here. This week we’re looking at our final trend prediction for 2017: The changing role of the BA. Traditionally, the role of the Business Analyst (BA) has centred around requirements management, typically governed by specific analysis methodologies. Key skills include the ability to interpret, summarise and document business requirements in a way that would drive the fulfilment of the project lifecycle while also ensuring that there is a golden thread between technology and people as businesses look to streamline their processes. BAs are the glue that ensures alignment between what the delivery team is delivering and what the business units would like to achieve. They do this by asking the following core questions: Understanding a business to this degree allows the BA to develop a deep organisational knowledge of businesses and complex industries. This knowledge often leads to longstanding careers in organisations that may progress into project and programme management as the BA moves along their career path. However, we are seeing that with the trend towards more technology-focused solutions, more empowered and informed customers, a need to become more lean and agile, and a stronger emphasis on multi-skilled team members means the title “Business Analyst” is becoming less formal as emerging processes look at alternative approaches for gathering the intel they need. That said, the skills a BA brings to the table can’t be ignored. Therefore, it’s not about removing the role of the BA completely, but rather looking at how their skillset can be tweaked to better service fast-paced, technological environments where customer needs are more difficult to articulate. To align with Design Thinking and Lean Start-up approaches, the following customer-focused questions need to be thrown into the mix: Fundamentally, business analysis is becoming less of a documenting & requirements management skill as used in traditional change initiatives, and more of a problem solving & customer-focused skill which ensures business value across all types of change initiatives. But what does this mean for the traditional BA? It will become more important than ever before to design holistic business solutions that truly tap into the mind of the customer. Delivery teams will continue to need business analysis skills to ensure the balance between people, process & technology, but they will also be looking for that “something extra” to elevate their delivery capability. With this in mind, BA practitioners may need to consider more specialised roles. Business architects and product owners will become more popular choices. At Analyze, this shift is something we’re excited about. It opens new opportunities for growth and innovation while also pushing analysis, as a key competency, to keep evolving. To find out more about our thoughts on the topic, please get in touch.
If you missed parts 1 & 2 of our “Linking to trends” series, you can read all about the key technology shifts for 2017 here and the focus of product over projects here. This week we’re looking at trend number 3: The continued use of agile and lean. With customers becoming more and more demanding, there’s a lot of pressure on companies to not only deliver faster, but also to up their value proposition. The allure of lean’s zero waste philosophy and agile’s rapid and flexible delivery nature has got many businesses asking: What can we do to reap some of the rewards of these mindset shifts? A full business overhaul to achieve a textbook view of being agile or lean is not always possible, therefore the trend focuses more on adopting certain practices that bring you closer to the goal, while still operating in a bit of a hybrid state. We predict changes in 4 key areas: Resourcing Now more than ever, companies will be taking a critical look at their people costs. This goes beyond ensuring that you have the right people doing the right jobs, it also includes finding more creative ways of getting the job done. Costs related to office space, supplies and supporting facilities can rack up quite a bill, leading many to question whether colocation really is that necessary. The emergence and growing popularity of virtual collaboration tools has made it much easier for people to work remotely and for teams from various geographic locations to come together to create great things. Analysis & documentation Gone are the days where you had to have it all figured out upfront. It’s OK (and even encouraged) to hit the ground running as quickly as possible and then adapt and evolve as you’re able to learn from real customer feedback. This has meant a need to become more light-weight when it comes to documentation. User stories and visual modelling techniques are two great examples of how business and system requirements can be described in a more simplified manner. Business processes To improve your company’s reactiveness to market changes, you must ensure that your business processes are streamlined as much as possible. This is achieved by cutting out steps that either don’t add value, take too long, cause wastage, or create bottlenecks of some kind. To support this movement, there will also be a move to flatter structures and increased employee empowerment with regards to decision-making and the implementation of new processing ideas. Change management Even the smallest change in process, strategy or direction can take quite some time (and quite a bit of effort) to implement. But change within a lean, agile world is unavoidable. Companies that will do well are those who can embrace and promote change as a positive challenge rather than a daunting task. Change management will become key to supporting this ever-changing landscape and to ensure that comfort zones are replaced with constant out of the box thinking. Making these kinds of shifts can be a challenging task, particularly if you don’t have the right people driving them. In some instances, guidance from someone who isn’t too personally attached to the way things work at present is what’s needed to move things forward. Contact us today to find out how we can help get your business into the agile and/or lean space.
Effective requirements elicitation is an area that is critical to the success of projects. Ironically, it is a process often overlooked by many analysts. This oversight can be costly to the project in terms of time and budget but, more importantly, could lead to incomplete requirements or, even worse, a failed project. What is project requirements elicitation? Elicitation is an active effort to extract project-related information from all relevant stakeholders. The objective is to clearly define the business or project objectives. Requirements elicitation uses various analytics and techniques that allow for complete, concise and clear requirements to be gathered. Why is it important? A Standish Group report lists “incomplete requirements” as the leading cause of software project failure and reveals that poor requirements account for 50% of project failures. Poor requirements are a result of sub-standard elicitation which may also lead to scope creep, budget overrun and inadequate process redesign. Elicitation is important as many stakeholders are unable to accurately articulate the business problem. Therefore, analysts performing the elicitation need to ensure that the requirements produced are clearly understandable, useful and relevant. A well defined problem and clear requirements will go a long way to creating the correct solution that adds value to the business. How to perform requirements elicitation? Business analysts often think requirements gathering is like collecting sea shells, fairly easy to identify and collect. However in reality, requirements gathering is much like archaeology, the real value is hidden deep down and takes real, active effort to find. The type of elicitation technique used can dictate the thoroughness of the search and the value of the information found. It is therefore important for analysts to use the most appropriate techniques to gather complete, concise and clear requirements from all relevant stakeholders. We have outlined a number of situations and techniques to ensure quality information gathering and effective requirements elicitation: Existing artefact analysis can be used when a business has an existing system and keeps documents up to date. This technique is useful for when you are unable to engage with stakeholders, allowing you to get a head start on understanding the business processes. Root cause analysis using the “5 Whys” helps to ensure that the underlying cause of a problem is identified, rather than simply correcting the output. This can be achieved, during a requirements workshop, by asking stakeholders to explicitly state what the main business problem is. Once this is agreed upon, the analyst asks the group of stakeholders why this problem occurs. Usually after asking “why” 5 times, the analyst is able to uncover the root of the problem within the organisation. This technique helps to fully understand a business problem before moving into solution mode. Observation is useful if aspects of a system are overlooked. Observation allows you to watch how the stakeholder interacts with the system from beginning to end. Brainstorming is a good way to come up with multiple ideas, as generally stakeholders will try to give their input and perspectives. It is the most effective method to receive a vast amount of information at once. This method also helps you to uncover the unknown information such as processes that have not been mentioned or requirements and processes that have not been thought through. Interviews allow you to gain an in-depth understanding of the business need and creates the opportunity for a discussion and clarification on any statements made by the stakeholder. Surveys allow for information to be elicited from multiple people, which is necessary if the project has many stakeholders. Requirements workshops are one of the most effective techniques in requirements elicitation. Gathering requirements can be done quickly, it is the most powerful way of gaining group consensus on requirements and it can help with team building. Prototyping is a useful tool for business analysts to determine if the solution being designed is really what the stakeholders need. Stakeholders can offer suggestions or improvements on the prototypes before the design is implemented. We hope that you found this article useful and that you have gained some valuable insight into the importance of requirements elicitation. Are you struggling with requirements elicitation? Our team of professional consultants have extensive experience with requirements elicitation. Contact us today to find out how we can help.
How do you plan to keep your business ahead of the curve and continuously remain relevant to your customers’ needs? The answer: innovate. In the words of former Apple CEO Steve Jobs, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” But how does one achieve innovation in your business? Or better yet, how does one become inherently innovative? “The most secure source of new ideas that have true competitive advantage, and hence, higher margins, is customers’ unarticulated needs,” says Darden School of the University of Virginia Strategy Professor Jeanne Liedtka. The path to innovation begins with developing an appreciation of customers’ unmet or unarticulated needs. Here design thinking emerges as a driver of innovation through its emphasis on a good understanding of the problem; a deep sensitivity to stakeholders needs; and a willingness to experiment, learn and refine. Design-led organisations such as Apple, Coca-Cola, IBM, Nike, Procter & Gamble and Whirlpool, have all used design thinking to differentiate themselves and become industry leaders through gaining an intimate understanding of what it is that their customers really want/need. What is design thinking? Design thinking is a co-creative, collaborative process that helps people and organisations become more creative and innovative by applying design principles, approaches, and tools to problem-solving. It has become essential to effective strategy development and organisational change. In an organisational context, design thinking often drives innovation through customer as well as employee engagement which helps to refine concepts, reduce wastage, cost and time to market. It improves performance and changes organisational culture to create a more collaborative, inclusive and effective workplace. Here’s how you can apply design thinking techniques in your organisation to become more innovative: Focus on user needs: Start with the world of users. Develop a deep understanding of your customers by understanding the hopes, fears and goals that motivate them. Develop all offers and solutions with the user in mind and involve them in prototyping and idea generation. Experiment: Test and try things out iteratively. Test ideas and solutions as soon as possible to obtain user feedback. Don’t fear failure, encourage risk taking. Diversify: Diversify your teams by incorporating individuals with different perspectives and from different fields. Create room for different personalities, and hire individuals with different backgrounds and of different ages. Don’t jump to solutions before understanding the problem: Widen, challenge and reframe the problem. Repeatedly question and reformulate the initial problem until you have a crystal clear understanding of it; identifying a larger problem space helps create a larger solution space. Visualise and prototype: Make ideas tangible through low resolution visual representations. Use rapid prototyping to test out your ideas quickly and cheaply in order to get feedback and learn. Design thinking isn’t just a process for innovation, it is a way of doing business and creating value for customers and employees alike, it is a great approach to problem solving and certainly worth a try. At Analyze, our goal is to provide innovative business solutions by having an appreciation for the business problem first. Does your business need someone to help you become more innovative, let us apply design thinking techniques to help get you there? Get in touch to find out how we can assist you in this process.
Let’s face it, our economy isn’t where it needs to be and hasn’t been for a while. Most organisations, whether big or small, are feeling the pinch and now more than ever, cutting costs is at the top of everyone’s mind. But when embarking on a cost cutting mission within your business, it’s important to understand that even though there is a general belief that a lot of small cost saving efforts add up to big savings in the long run, at Analyze we strongly advise that you tackle the big ticket items first. If you don’t, your business runs the risk of getting into serious cash flow issues way before your smaller efforts have had time to show results. If you’re serious about cost cutting, it’s time to make some bold moves. Here’s where to start: Take a critical look at your staffing Now we know your first worry will be: Do I need to let people go? Not necessarily. There are other ways in which you can cut costs related to your staff setup. Offering flexi or part-time hours is a great place to start. You’d be surprised at how many people would actually prefer to work fewer or slightly different hours while still being able to achieve what they need to achieve, or in some instances even being able to get more done. Another option is to allow people to work remotely. Less staff onsite means lower electricity bills, fewer desk spaces needed and eventually even a smaller office space. Ensure that you have the right people focusing on the right tasks In any organisation you will find employees wasting a good % of their day on things they really shouldn’t be focusing on. This wastes both time & money. Specialised (and often costly) resources should only be focusing only on the critical tasks you need them to perform. Administration, reporting and other less critical tasks should be delegated as much as possible. Also confirm whether you really need a permanent role filled or whether you actually just need someone with a specific skill-set to help you execute on a specific task. Hiring short-term consultants to help you get the job done is in many instances the more cost-effective option. Reduce your equipment capital Investing in new hardware or software for your business can be a daunting experience requiring a large capital outlay. If cash flow is a concern, it’s time to get creative. Cloud hosting and open-source software are two options that can save your business substantial amounts of money. Other options would be to lease equipment rather than buying or to negotiate monthly or yearly software subscriptions instead of making that long-term investment upfront. Do an audit of your supplier contracts Review your current list of suppliers and divide them into two groups: Those who provide you with a great service at a competitive price and those who could offer a better deal or who could be replaced with another supplier. For group number 2, it’s time to get real. Do your market research, find out what other suppliers are offering and push deal negotiations a little bit harder come contract renewal time. If you’re not getting bang for your buck, it’s time to let go and move on. Pay careful attention to invoicing and accounting Interest and late payment penalties can be absolute killers and must therefore be avoided at all costs (both literally and figuratively). On the flipside, many suppliers are willing to offer discounts if you settle your bill early. If you have the cash flow, this is definitely something you should be taking advantage of. If your suppliers don’t currently offer such discounts, initiate the conversation. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Does your business need someone to take a long, hard look at your operating costs? Get in touch to find out how we can assist you in this process.