One area where BAs can add significant value is in the early stages of a project or product development initiative. All too often, initiatives start out without a clear agreement on why change is necessary in the first place. Different stakeholders might have subtly (or vastly) different perspectives on what is wrong and what success looks like. Even worse, these differences may be lurking well beneath the surface.
Sometimes, there is the illusion of agreement. Stakeholders may appear to agree on broad principles, but there is tacit disagreement because their interpretation of these principles differ! They have very different visions in their head over what is being done and why. This illusion allows the initiative to be launched and accelerated, with the danger that it might accelerate straight into a concrete wall.
Lack Of Shared Vision Can Lead To Incoherence
If there isn’t a shared vision for the product, service or project, then scoping becomes extremely hard. It is very tempting to go out and ask what different stakeholders want. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this approach, yet with no clear goal, what results is likely to be a Santa’s wishlist of ideas with little connection or coherence between them.
This is similar to browsing the Argos catalogue and writing your Christmas or holiday wishlist. Sure, you might think you want a Ghostbusters HQ, a Fisher Price tape recorder, a Fashion Wheel and a Spirograph… but if they are all delivered on that one special day, will they work together? And do you really have a use for them? Or will some of them end up in a cupboard shortly after being opened, destined to collect dust until they are eventually discarded.
A similar pattern exists with features and requirements too. Imagine I asked you to specify ten requirements that would make your day easier. Then, imagine I asked twenty other people. I’d have a wishlist for sure, but likely little coherence.
If a system or process was built based on those requirements, it’d likely be a Frankenstein’s monster. It’d be solving my problem of how to quickly edit webinar recordings, somebody else’s problem of how to easily schedule workshops, and somebody elses of how to order coffee for the whole office. In trying to solve every perceived problem, it’d probably solve few or none. If anything was delivered at all, of course, because there’s an equal danger that we’d end up with a bulging and unmanageable backlog. But that’s a topic for a different blog.
Relentlessly Focus On “Why”
So, what is the solution? Sadly, there’s no silver bullet. However, in general terms, the earlier a BA can be involved the better. Yet, even if we are “parachuted in” later than we would like, we can still make a huge difference. The key is to stay firm, focus on the “why” and resist being drawn into the details too soon. There might be pressure to “start writing stories” because “we need a backlog” (yawn!), but it’s important to remember that we don’t work in a user story factory… and stories are a means to an end. And user stories are not the only way of communicating needs. (This is before I even get into the ‘antipatterns’ that emerge in some faux-agile contexts. Again, a blog for another time!)
An excellent place to start is with a humble problem or opportunity statement. These are favourite techniques of mine, and while they are simple they are by no means simplistic. Quite often writing a problem statement from the perspective of one stakeholder shows immediately that there’s a difference of opinion. It creates the space for debate so that agreement can be reached. The act of simply highlighting the difference of opinion, and creating space for debate is valuable.
This doesn’t have to be time consuming, and it doesn’t have to mean that everything stops.. It can even be done by stealth if needed. Perhaps there’s a political pressure to ‘just get going’ and start creating backlog items… fine, we can start on that. But we also need to understand the problem or opportunity (else how on earth is anything going to be prioritised), so we’ll do that in parallel. And once it’s clear that there’s a difference in perspective over what we’re doing and why, we are well-placed to facilitate agreement. We’ve ‘nudged’ the initiative away from crashing and burning, at least for the moment.
This is just one approach, of course, and what works will vary depending on the context. Whatever the context, it’s important to stay strong, and find that “why”. Then, stay true to that “why”.
It is the “why” that keeps us on track!
What are your views? Please add a comment below, and let’s keep the conversation flowing!
If you’ve enjoyed this article don’t forget to subscribe.
About the author:
Adrian Reed is Principal Consultant at Blackmetric Business Solutions, an organisation that offers Business Analysis consulting and training solutions. Adrian is a keen advocate of the analysis profession, and is constantly looking for ways of promoting the value that good analysis can bring.
To find out more about the training and consulting services offered at Blackmetric, please visit www.blackmetric.com
© Blackmetric Business Solutions, published exclusively on www.adrianreed.co.uk. May not be republished on any other site without permission.