Effective Business Analysis in the IT Industry: Reduce Project (1) Risks (2) Costs and (3) Duration

Business Analysis is a discipline based on project planning required for every project, regardless of the size of the project: regardless if a single developer works on a website or an entire team works on a scalable multi-platform system architecture. There is no set limit on how much analysis can be done, and so this can reflect on the size of the project. When no Business Analysis is performed we usually see the following penalties:

Project Risks: Unforeseeable circumstances may cause the project to fail
Project Costs: The poor management of resources cause additional project costs
Project Duration: The poor management of overlapping tasks cause projects to take longer

Business Analysis has a foundation of widely accepted best practices which will be discussed in this article. However, it is not an exact science, and there are some conflicting opinions in regards to some of its practices. Most organizations which rely heavily on Business Analysis may even refine their own practices that work best for their industry.

Business Analysis is an intricate discipline, and cannot be thoroughly covered in a single article. Rather, this article contains several carefully chosen topics aimed for those with little to no experience with the discipline, and aimed for businesses researching whether the practice is right for them (hint: it is).

Who Should Perform Business Analysis?

It is rare that an organization has a person dedicated to Business Analysis. Rather a Business Analyst is someone who can wear many hats, and can include one of the following:

Software Engineer
Team Leader
Project Manager
IT Manager

Although a Business Analyst can be almost any member of a project, it is essential that the person has a fair amount of technical knowledge as a technical solution is the end goal of Business Analysis practices. In larger projects, a Business Analyst may not be able to have an understanding of all the technologies involved and may consult with other software engineers involved in the project.

What Tasks does a Business Analyst Perform?

There are many activities performed by a Business Analyst, however the most basic and widely accepted best practices include the following activities:

Gathering Project Goals
Creating a Project Scope
Refining Project Scope into Project Requirements
Refining Project Requirements into a Project Technical Specification

These tasks are broken down into more details in the following sections.

Activity 1: Gathering Project Goals

This is the first task a Business Analyst must perform, and unfortunately it seems so simple that its difficulty is oftentimes underestimated. In this activity a Business Analyst must obtain a clear list of project goals that the project will be built upon. The analyst must discover the real business needs in order to eventually propose a solution that satisfies these needs instead of implementing a guess solution.

Here are some common mistakes that novice Business Analysts will make in this step:

Talk to the wrong person: Project goals can only be obtained from a person who has the authority to set the scope of the project. The goals should not be obtained from another project team member, but ideally from the client or organization which is funding the project.
Ask the wrong questions: At this point in an analyst is focused entirely on obtaining the scope of the project. The Business Analyst should not gather any project goals that are oriented towards a specific solution or technology, unless this is a direct project constraint imposed by the client.
Poor organization of project goals: When written down, project goals should be written down in atomic form to be easily referenced (ideally by a numbered list). Business Analysts avoid compound sentences or writing down more than one goal in a sentence.
Incomplete project goals: A Business Analyst must double check and triple check that the Project Goals indeed consist of all the goals that the client requires. It is often without exception that the goals are not properly collected which results in the client attempting to introduce them in the project while it is in the development stage.

Activity 2: Creating a Project Scope

In order to fully ensure that the Project Goals are complete a Project Scope document is created, which contains the full scope of what the project solution will contain and what the project solution will not contain. This is the first form of risk management performed by a Business Analyst, as it ensures that the client and project development team are on the same page in regards to the project tasks that must be completed. If the client does not agree with the Project Scope at this stage in the project, then the Project Goals must be refined and a new Project Scope must be created.

Activity 3: Refining Project Goals into Project Requirements

Loosely put, a requirement is a capability to which a specific part of the project should conform. When specifying Project Requirements, a Business Analyst must take the Project Scope and create an enumerable list of specific tasks that the final project solution will be required to perform based on the scope (however the analyst should not specify how to implement these requirements, as that is the next activity). A Project Requirements document allows software engineers to easily translate a requirements specification into a software technical specification (which is actually the next activity discussed).

There are two types of important Project Requirements:

Quick Tips to Improve Your Small Business

Whether you are small one-man business or growing bigger than that, all business owners continually need to look at improving the business. As we say you are always continually trying to build a bigger better stronger ship to sail. No matter how busy you are, you should never leave your business to remain static and there is always room for improvement. Making improvements to make your business better is fun but requires you to work on your business for some time. Often the key to this is to designate some time to work on the business rather than in it as we often do, working in it means just in the business servicing and taking care of normal business or trade and not improving businesses. It is also important to balance your time and put priority into the areas which you think will return the most bang for your time.

Here are some areas which we think will give your business the biggest gains.

1. Keep score, it is important to keep it simple, accurate and cheap to run scoreboard. Just as we watch sport and know the score, and play to the score, so should businesses. If this is hard for you then hire someone who can bundle up your services to include bookkeeping and regular monthly reporting so that you have the accounting information to help grow your business rather than doing what most average businesses do which is to fly blind without current financial performance indicators. A good accountant will help you spend time on a part of the business you may neglect because of your poor understanding.

2. Set goals and keep these alive through your monthly reporting process. For instance, if you wish to succeed in a certain level of sales in your financial year, break this down into a regular monthly budget. You will be surprised how this can motivate you and guide you into reaching your goal. Know where you want to head, then build it with a month by month plan.

3. Learn how to market you and your business properly. Surprisingly many effective marketing techniques are at very low cost.

4. Change your presentations. These may be your sales presentations in which you need to have a structured and successful saws presentation technique. You may want to script and improve how you handle phone enquiries, as improvements of tweaks in this area can dramatically increase your conversions and improve your sales performance and business performance. You might wish to also conduct seminars or business networking presentations which can dramatically improve your sales lead generation. Lastly you may wish to present yourself through social media or YouTube to explain or more distinguish yourself in the market. YouTube is a great way to answer a commonly asked question of your business.

5. Always look at your internal processes and aim to improve your efficiency and know-how. Look at using great resources such as information technology or software. As well as standardising procedures, checklists and processes throughout the business.

6. All good businesses will grow through delegation of duties to capable staff. The business should continually look at what areas are sucking up a lot of his or her time and where possible delegating these to the staff. It is important to invest time developing staff as this activity can save an abundance of time down the track such as them teaching your future staff rather than you. As I like to say, create a monster, who can create more monsters who can handle just about everything for you.

7. Business owners are often neglecting own bodies and can get run down and sick. A business person needs an abundance of energy so they must look after their bodies and have a healthy lifestyle. Keeping yourself alive a lot longer has to be good for your business, don’t you think? Try to keep this perspective throughout your life.

8. A great way to improve your productivity again is to take a holiday. Make that move and book your holiday, make the arrangements for it to work and build the business so that it can live without you even if it’s for a short-term. Remember it’s only a business where it can work without you. If you are short of a holiday idea, ask an agent or just start talking about it for ideas.