BA Mindset Principle #6: Uncover Gaps – Do Not Cover Them Up

Cartoon: why has the project exploded? - well, remember that little gap?

It does not matter what you call them – “gotchas”, “ah-ha moments”, “gaps” or “cans of worms”.  A discovery of something completely unexpected or totally opposite to the assumptions and beliefs of the stakeholders is not so rare. For example:

  • The same process may have been in place and executed by the same person for many years – others may have only a vague idea about the details of that process until the person retires.
  • A legacy system has been spitting reports faithfully until one day they break after a seemingly unrelated change. A developer has to read the code to figure out what it is that the report cannot handle, since the rules behind the report became so obscure that nobody can remember them anymore.
  • Business executives assumed they have the data needed to run their new shiny marketing campaign – but it turns out the data is spotty, unreliable and downright misleading.
  • Compliance reports are redesigned to use the record set from the new data warehouse – only to discover that the results are different from the old reports due to gaps in the old logic. How do we explain the discrepancy between old and new numbers to the regulators? Should we just continue using the old reports to avoid headaches?

If you are doing your job as a business analyst, you will discover many inconvenient truths and unexpected gaps and will need to take action to deal with the discoveries.

These ah-ha moments can be welcome or unwelcome, depending on the timing. Early ah-ha moments are accepted more readily and give a boost to the discovery process. Late discoveries of gaps and missed requirements are unpleasant and sometimes even shocking when it’s quite late to make changes to the solution design.

Now, imagine (or recollect) yourself working on business requirements, getting them down, structuring and grouping by areas and functions, and building diagrams, tables and decision trees. You have a few actions on the action log or a few areas highlighted for future discussion in your draft. You are not sure how a specific step of the process works and whether you need additional requirements for that. You finally get hold of an expert (or get everyone to focus on this question), dig deeper, deeper, deeper, and suddenly you come to that ah-ha moment that can end up being a total show-stopper or a point where you need to completely turn around your strategy.

Someone says “oh, no…”. Someone else uses a stronger word. You feel cold sweat on your brow. You may even be thinking “I wish I have not brought this up. It probably never happens.” Or “By the time it happens, I will be out of here anyway”.  You may hear someone say “Let’s not even go there”, “So-and-so will freak out if we touch this” or “Forget about it”…

All of the above are smoke signals of potential project failure. If at that time the group decides to “park this indefinitely”, which happens more than you want to believe, then you should expect Murphy’s Law to justify its fame. If something bad may happen, it will happen. It will happen at the worst possible moment, on Friday afternoon or during the peak Christmas period. It will happen just as an annual audit rolls in.  It will impact just the type of client that is the worst possible scenario – the loud squeaky wheel client that will stay on the phone until reaching the CEO if he is not satisfied.

In short, if you skip over the gap and bury it deep so that you can be done on time and remain on friendly terms with everyone, you become guilty of withholding important information. You are selecting the path of the least resistance and not doing your job.

Why? Perhaps you fear the consequences or the reaction of others to the discovery of the gap. Or you are afraid to be the bearer of bad news? Or do you think that you will be perceived as a naysayer and not a team player?

Think of it this way: finding a gap is actually a success, not a failure. Better to deal with a known gap earlier, than be slammed with an unknown issue when it’s late to change course.

Listen to your business analyst mindset:

  • Explore and discover what you can about the gap. Ask questions and apply analysis techniques.
  • Log the issue as a potential gap, and if serious enough, as a risk
  • Be forthcoming with analysis – provide root cause if you can find it, its background and history
  • Ask stakeholders about the impacts on their business processes and areas
  • Provide a summary of the pros and cons of dealing with the gap, as well as the risks and costs of not dealing with it
  • Facilitate a discussion (or a few) to help stakeholders assess the risks, benefits and costs, and support them in making an informed decision. The decision may still be not to deal with the gap or postpone the solution, but at the very least it would be an informed decision using the outcome of the analysis.
  • And – extremely important – document the results of the analysis and the resulting decision. Many gaps become inconvenient truths because they stay hidden and blow up unexpectedly.

 Your job is to uncover the gaps and analyze the information, root cause and impacts. If you as a business analyst do not bring the gap to attention, then you are not supporting your clients in making informed decisions.

Want to succeed in business analysis?  Apply the twelve principles of the business analyst mindset. Sign up for the Why Change newsletter for more resources and to receive your free copy of the BA mindset poster.

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