Improving Business Analysis Performance: A systems-model for evidence-based performance improvement
Any manager attempting to improve the performance of a business analysis practice faces a daunting task. Figuring out what factors limit business analysis performance is challenging to begin with; actually measuring business analysis performance in useful ways can be subtle, difficult, and complex. In complex systems like a business setting a performance target may even degrade performance. BA managers may be unable to take meaningful corrective actions on those measures because the problems that limit performance may be outside the managers’ control or influence.
For decades research into business performance has shown that we tend to try simple, short-term approaches to drive performance improvement – and that these often fail. Business performance is the result of a complex set of systems interacting with each other, and can rarely be improved with simple fixes. Business analysis is one factor affecting business performance. Management practices that affect business analysis are another. These are two elements in the complex system we call “an organization”.
The components of an organization interact in complex, unpredictable ways. These interactions mean that business analysis performance is enabled, enhanced, limited, or eliminated by factors that are external to the profession and the professional.
This article explores the organization in terms of systems and subsystems to define the role that business analysis plays in both project performance and overall value realization. It does so in two parts:
- The Organization as a System:This section lays the groundwork for understanding the kinds of actions managers can take to improve BA performance. This includes a systems-view of organizations and analysis of the relationships between these systems. Seeing the organization as a system is key to understand what options are available for improving performance. A Business Analysis Performance Systems-Model (BAPSM) is proposed to establish this system view.
- Finding Performance Constraints:Variables that enhance or limit business analysis performance are defined, and integrated into the Business Analysis Performance Systems-Model (BAPSM). BA Managers are shown to be in a key position to increase or limit BA performance so much of the analysis relates to this role. Other stakeholders and their effects on BA performance are also identified.
2. The Organization as a System
This section lays the groundwork for understanding the kinds of actions managers can take to improve BA performance. This includes a systems-view of organizations and analysis of the relationships between these systems. Seeing the organization as a system is key to understand what options are available for improving performance.
An organization can be thought of as a set of stakeholders working together to realize value in a specific domain. It is free to set its own direction and purpose, though autonomy may be limited by many external factors. Unlike a project most organizations do not have a specific end-date.
This definition takes a systems-view by describing the organization as a set of interacting components which interact to produce intended and unintended outcomes. One important characteristic of a system is that many of the components that make up a system are also systems, often called ‘subsystems’.
Discussing systems and subsystems can become confusing very quickly.
As a system, an organization is made up of subsystems. These are called ‘Organizational Systems’ and they fall into two categories:
- Operational Systemsand their components generate organizational value, when seen from an end-to-end point of view: A factory floor or an assembly line is a type of Operational Systems: things of value to the organization are transformed into things of value to customers.
- Change Systemsand their components alter Organizational Systems, to make them more efficient, more effective, or both: Business analysis is a type of Change System: the practice of enabling change in an organizational context by defining needs and recommending solutions that deliver value to stakeholders.
2.1 Operational Systems
Operational Systems, in the most basic sense, are the organization. These are the people, processes, tools, and information that interact to transform organizational inputs into organizational outputs. For example, when an Operational System turns raw materials into finished products it is taking something of value to the organization and turning it into something of value to a customer.
2.2 Change Systems
Change Systems include all the things that the organization does to transform itself in a controlled way. These are the people, processes, tools, and information that interact dynamically to make changes to Operational Systems. Unlike an Operational System, external interactions are not required for a Change System to be complete. Consider an internal Human Resources Improvement Centre that is accessible to employees only. The HR professionals might survey employees for recommended changes, adjust and improve the HR process, and educate the employees on the new process – all without any interactions with organizational inputs or outputs. Change Systems often do have external interactions however, especially when a change is related to an operational input or output. For example, if the HR improvement process also included in an industry-benchmarking step or a vendor assessment step, the Change System would have external interactions.
Change Systems are often described in terms of projects and project management processes, but there are many other approaches. For example, Enterprise Architecture approaches are organizational Change Systems that operate broadly across portfolios. In contrast, business process management approaches to organizational change take a vertical or end-to-end point of view. In each case, business analysis is a critical element of the Change System.
Change Systems should not be confused with feedback and control systems, though they share some characteristics.
2.2.1 Business Analysis as a Change System Component
In this section we have discussed the organization (often called ‘The Business’) from several points of view. Figure 1 consolidates these ideas into a model of the organization, by arranging these components and systems to provide a context for understanding the roles they play in the organization.
3 Finding Performance Constraints
Factors that enhance or limit business analysis performance are defined, still taking a systems-view. BA managers appear to be in a key position to increase or limit BA performance so much of the analysis relates to this role. Other stakeholders and their effects on BA performance are also identified.
Discovering factors that affect business analysis performance is easy. For example, an incompetent practitioner is not likely to deliver high performance. A lack of experience, limited knowledge of the business being changed, or a bad attitude could also limit individual performance.
But how big an effect do these kinds of constraints have on performance?
Which factors represent the biggest levers to shift performance at the level of the Change System?
These questions are harder to answer, especially considering that many performance limits are beyond the control of the individual business analyst. A Project Manager who ignores the plans made by an otherwise effective business analyst would make it very difficult for that business analyst to perform well.
BA Managers are often able to exert some control or influence over many performance-limiting factors like these:
- Performance Measures, Rewards, and Recognition
- Types of BA performance measures
- Types of project performance measures
- Types of team performance measures
- Performance targets, including goals for BAs, changes, and other Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
- Wages, including contract work, employee pay, and pay for hours vs. expertise
- Career consequences related to performance measures
- BA career opportunities in the group and organization
- Individual BA Competency
- Training time and budget allocations
- Frequency and quality of BA peer review
- Availability of career counselling, mentoring, and coaching
- Peer Performance
- Competence of other change agents (Project Managers and Engineers, etc.)
- Competence of stakeholders in a change (Operational SMEs, Business partners, Clients, Sponsors, Approvers, etc.)
- Integration of change agent roles in the change process (including vendor / outsourcing relationships)
- Solution Development and Life Cycle Management
- Quantity of BA effort allocated to projects
- Timing of BA effort allocated to projects
- BA effort allocated to development of business objectives and business cases (before project initiation)
- Efficiency of requirements approval processes (including vendor relationships)
- Frequency and complexity of changes made to approved requirements
- Tools for Managing Organizational Information
- Usability, complexity, and openness of tools for managing change information
- Reporting, relevance, and availability of Operational System information
- Reporting, relevance, and availability of Change System information
- Speed, clarity, and ease of information sharing across the organization
- Culture and Bureaucracy
- Organizational culture (collaborative, structured, bureaucratic, innovative, etc.)
- Organizational context (layoffs, uncertain business, difficult times, etc.)
- Time tracking and related accounting practices
- Quality of relationships with stakeholders the BA works on a change, including clarity of roles, and responsibilities
- Expectations about the services that a BA will provide
- Attitude to Operational Change (formality of change process, maturity of industry, unions, professional associations, regulators)
- Perceived value of business analysis as a practice
- Perceived value of business analysts as practitioners
- Flexibility and judgment allowed in governance processes
- Approach to meeting relevant regulations
- Approach to standardization (as a foundation or a barrier)
This network of interacting variables is still only part of the story. There are many variables that are contextual; they are relevant, but external. For most BAs and BA managers the regulatory frameworks imposed by the government are part of this context. The regulations are relevant to the task at hand, but cannot be affected by the BA or the manager. BA Managers should be aware of these kinds of factors even if the specific variables are not clear in their organization. BA Managers should also be prepared to discover these variables and then consider the implications of these on BA performance.