It’s a frightening statistic, but did you know that up to 60 per cent of the work business analysts and the rest of the IT industry does is a waste of time? ¹ Not only that, but we are still maintaining and keeping alive that 60 per cent of time we have already wasted.

How often, as a business analyst, do you get asked to provide solutions for a project without first knowing the business problem it’s trying to solve or the opportunity we are trying to achieve? Not often enough given that 60 per cent of a typical ‘business system’ is wasted because 60 per cent of the features and functions it contains are rarely or never used, in other words just nice to haves.

One of the fundamental flaws in modern business analysis is the lack of diligent Enterprise Analysis (a knowledge area in BABOK© 2.0).

The starting point for enterprise analysis is easy to explain: it’s the annoying seven-year-old asking “why, why?” at every conceivable opportunity. To be a successful business analyst you are allowed to be that annoying seven-year-old, because only then will you get to understand the real business objectives of the project you’re working on.

This is the goal of enterprise analysis. As a rule, every business objective must have a business value, defined as ‘profit equals revenue minus cost’ or ‘P=R-C’. As a business analyst you want to know which costs you’re looking to reduce, and which revenues you’re looking to increase. Only then can you conceptualise and communicate the business value that you’re adding.

It could well be that the one solution, in some cases, is to do nothing, but that any solution regardless of its scope requires enterprise analysis as a first step.

Some business ‘problems’ are like scratches on a car. You know they’re there, they’re unsightly, but ultimately they cost more to fix than the value of the repairs. The same is true for a business.

As a business analyst you need to understand your role is to add business value, and you do this through proper enterprise analysis. This will allow you eliminate the ‘wishy-washy’ nice-to-haves (the aforementioned waste). Business value becomes the only objective you should be delivering. Anything that doesn’t meet the objective is simply out of scope. Business value is the most powerful tool we as business analysts have to tame the ‘scope creep’ that’s rife in the industry.

Ask yourself: “We want to improve customer satisfation, but how are we going to measure it, what the business value of doing that?” Or “We want to reduce operating costs, but how can we achieve that without impacting on service delivery?”

Enterprise analysis helps you to look beyond the intangibles and understand the cost of a business solution through tangible measurement.

As a business analyst “you don’t need to know anything but must have a tool box (Methods Techniques) to elicit everything you need to know. You as a business analyst do not know the benefits that can be derived from meeting the objectives of the initiative but with your tool box you should become skilled at eliciting them from your business stakeholders.

By that I mean you’re starting off from a base of zero, because until you understand what the business needs are and how you’re going to measure the changes it requires, you can’t formulate a solution to deliver real value. As a business analyst you’re a change agent, and when you change something you will introduces risk, business risk.

As a business analyst you need to understand the business risks your solution is introducing – and know that no matter what change you are making, it will introduce some degree of business risk. You must constantly manage these business risks and plan for mitigations as they will change over time. You also need to constantly revisit the business case once the detail of the solution becomes clearer as this could have a dramatic influence on the return on investment (ROI).

“A deceased fly fisherman turns in his grave when his widow sells his fishing equipment for the price he said he paid for it.”

This saying conveys the one fundamental fact that often, as humans, we can’t justify the ‘nice to have’ so we get creative about the costs and benefits to justify our actions. Business should not allow this to happen. The only way to do this is to hold your project sponsors accountable to measure the delivery of the ROI detailed in the business case.

Robin Grace is a Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP) and sits on the board of the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA). His published works include ‘Aligning Business Analysis: Assessing Business Analysis from a Results Focus’, and he is one of the contributors to the recently released ‘Business Analysis For Dummies’. Robin’s training methodolgies and coursework are available exclusively through IndigoCube South Africa as part of its internationally recognised B2T Training services.

¹ Source from Standish Group Study Reported at XP2002 by Jim Johnson, Chairman – used in a Typical System.