Tools and techniques are a fundamental component of any profession, business analysis included:
Business analysts use an arsenal of techniques to conduct the core activities of business analysis such as:
- Collect information through conversations and interviews
- Shadow business experts
- Search for information, investigate
- Facilitate meetings and workshops
- Learn about business and create business models
- Analyze processes
- Analyze scenarios, data and reports
- Capture assumptions, constraints and requirements
- Create screen storyboards and wireframes
- Explain technical details to business
- Explain business process & requirements to IT
- Review solution design
- Review test scenarios and test cases
The big Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK) book lists no less than fifty techniques. Which ones should you learn first? Will you ever use all of them?
An experienced analyst will pick and choose techniques that suit the task, the business problem, and the audience.
That said, here are a few techniques that every business analyst should know.
Actually, everyone involved with business change and process optimization should know these. The title does not matter —you may be doing business analysis activities in many roles.
What matters are the results of the analysis — improvements, efficiency gains, and positive change.
We ask questions to solicit information, to find out what we don’t know.
Business analysis starts with discovery — the time for asking questions, and gathering data and evidence.
Whether you are a journalist, a consultant or a newly hired college graduate trying to understand the business, remember these tips for asking questions to discover and learn:
- Ask exploratory questions — ask about what you don’t know.
- Ask open-ended questions — ask for a story, not for a “yes/no” answer.
- Avoid leading questions — you will not learn anything new this way.
- Ask one question at a time — otherwise, you cannot trust the answers.
- Pose key questions to more than one person — look at different perspectives.
- Do not be afraid to ask questions.
“He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever.“— Confucius
Immersion (Job Shadowing)
To learn how a process works, spend a day or two with an expert doing this job every day. Go down to the floor level, be the insider, be the investigative journalist.
Ask many open-ended questions:
What do you do on a typical day?
How do you know what to do today?
Please show me how you usually do this.
What can go wrong?
What happens if..?
What results do you expect when..?
What is the most painful or time-consuming?
Don’t judge, don’t criticize — this is the time to observe, absorb and learn.
If someone doesn’t follow the procedure, you want to discover why — this may point to a problem that needs to be fixed.
Observe what people actually do rather than what they say they do or what their managers think they do.
Just as journalist and researchers, analysts must do their due diligence at the start of any engagement. Existing artifacts are easy pickings and can supply so much useful information. Do your due diligence to:
- Gather a minimum background knowledge of the current state to manage the first round of discussions.
- Assess existing evidence of problems and issues.
- Have the facts and examples on hand to avoid wasting time later when they are needed for analysis.
- Get a head start on learning proper business terminology.
What do I mean by “artifacts?” Consider these:
- Glossary of business terms
- Documented process flows
- Process outputs (reports, correspondence, notifications)
- Existing business requirements documentation
- Design specifications for currently used applications
- Data dictionaries
- Standard operating procedures
- Training manuals
- Presentations, decks, status reports
- RACI charts, job descriptions
Due diligence helps discover key information taken for granted by others. It may not be shared with you on the assumption that you already know it.
Root Cause Analysis
“If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions,” —said Albert Einstein famously.
He had a point.
For effective business analysis, we must distinguish cause from effect and pain points from root causes.
The discovery will start from stakeholders’ pain points: annoyances, delays, inconveniences, and customer complaints.
During the analysis phase, lead the team to identify the root cause (and possibly multiple causes) that bring about the pain points.
The “Five Whys” method is a popular technique for tackling root cause analysis.
For complex problems that are rooted in multiple issues, you may use a fishbone (Ishikawa) diagram.
It’s not possible to be engaged in business analysis activities without encountering and analyzing processes. How do you do that?
- Identify and name processes — and don’t forget to ask whether there is a business process catalogue you can query.
- Understand how processes work (use immersion, process documentation, interviews and ask questions).
- Model process flows — capture sequences and flows of activities, and the roles involved.
- Analyze inefficiencies — are there bottlenecks, redundant steps, duplicated sub flows,and unnecessary hand-offs?
- Identify areas for improvement — how to make the process more efficient, less cumbersome, faster or more reliable?
- Identify required process changes — these will become business requirements.
And remember — first, improve and optimize the process, and only then automate.
Create diagrams and models to capture the essential information about both the current and the future state. What is the context of the problem? Who are the main personas? What user journeys do we care about? How does the process flow?
Models help focus on the main ideas without getting bogged down in details. Learn at least a few diagrams as you will need to vary them depending on the purpose and the audience:
If you are involved in strategic and program planning, start using business architecture models.
Make your models easy to understand by following the three C’s of modelling.
Data analysis techniques are the underdog of business analysis — under-utilized but holding so much potential.
Interviewing stakeholders and asking questions will not always give you the full story. Often you need to validate and complement this information gathered from people with information extracted from data.
Transactional data from running the business day-to-day can give you valuable insights into exceptions, process bottlenecks and less frequent scenarios that may be missed in requirements discussions.
What about the tools that business analysts use for these techniques? The choice is immense — somewhat limited by the software that each organization chooses to purchase.
In addition to the usual office productivity and conferencing tools, the next most important tool is what you will use for modelling. If you don’t know where to start, check out lucid.app — you can use a limited free version indefinitely with a rich library of templates and learning videos included.
What other tools do business analysts use to do their job?
This article includes one affiliate link — you are under no obligations to purchase anything — and always take advantage of a free account first to decide what software is right for you (I do the same).