The Ultimate Guide to Business Analysis Planning

Why proper planning prevents poor performance

It’s vitally important to define the objectives of your business analysis project, and show how those objectives are going to be met. Upfront.

Before I became a business analyst, I was a spatial systems analyst. My major at university was geographic information systems and during that time I was very fortunate to win short-term contract with a research centre.

My role was to define the requirements and implement an online spatial database for a very large pastoral property in the Northern Territory. It was a pilot and, bearing in mind that this was many years ago, the technology was very new for that part of the world.

What was also very new to me was the concept of a structured approach to planning and execution. When I was asked to present my plan to the project board, I went way off the reservation. The feedback was embarrassing. I had spent a lot of time and effort in getting it all wrong.

I was no longer at university. This was real work in the real world, but I had no idea what I was doing and no idea of what questions to ask. Fortunately people who did know surrounded me, and I was put on the correct path.

Here’s the thing. It’s vitally important to define the objectives of your business analysis project, and show how those objectives are going to be met. Upfront. This is so you are correctly aligned with the expectations and aims of the desired outcome.

Also, every organisation usually has a set of defined procedures and methodologies that informs the way you plan and carry out your business analysis effort. Using the organisation’s framework in conjunction with an understanding of the steps in the business analysis process will help you define the scope, your approach and the primary objectives of your work.

Proper planning and preparation prevents poor performance.

Planning is crucial, and so is checking with your stakeholders that the proposal is on the right path and meets their expectations. It is important not to skip it, or imagine that you know what you’re doing. Like I did all those years ago.

If I hadn’t been realigned with my work, I may have wasted considerable time and resources to achieve an outcome that didn’t suit the needs of my employer and their clients.

3 reasons why you should plan your business analysis activities

If you want to be more effective on your next BA project, it’s worth investing some time in planning your activities and approach.

As Business Analysts we must understand the importance of planning.

Without a way to describe our approach, it’s easy to get waylaid on a tangent or stuck in analysis paralysis. Often the overarching project initiation plan – typically written by the project manager – does not adequately cover the business analysis components of a project. If the BA work is not clearly defined, it can present a risk to project outcomes and stakeholder perceptions.

One way to overcome this is to develop a Business Analysis Approach document which describes the activities, deadlines and approach to delivering your work. This document can work in conjunction with a project plan or as a standalone item.

Here are 3 reasons why you should plan your next Business Analysis effort.

1. You improve your communication.

A very important part of successfully completing your work is communication with your stakeholders. The BA Approach Document clearly describes what you will deliver and why. It sets the expectations on how you perform your work, the resources you need and the types of activities you will engage in, e.g. workshops and interviews. So everybody is on the same page! Planning also increases the transparency of your work as the small processes of your work are better understood. This helps when expectations have to change.

2. You’re better organised

In developing the Business Analysis Approach you’ve laid out all aspects of your work in front of you. Not only does this benefit your stakeholders, but you have a clear and agreed path to follow. This prevents tangents and over analysis. Having a plan also helps when you are working on multiple projects or activities. This is because you need to consider timeframes for your activities, and any other outside work that will impact on them.

3. You’re more focussed on the goal

A project plan is not only important for communication with your stakeholders, it’s also valuable to keep you on track. It’s a way of keeping your work aligned to the finished product. With every activity you perform, you should ask yourself if it is relevant to the end product. Ask yourself, “What value am I adding here? Is this relevant to what I’m delivering? Is this in the plan?”

If you want to be more effective on your next BA project, it’s worth investing some time in planning your activities and approach.

The number one thing Business Analysts should avoid

By adequately considering the goals and objectives of a project, the problem you’re solving, and the desired organisational outcomes, you will be better placed to focus your activities in the right direction.

There’s a lot written on the topic of common mistakes made by business analysts. That’s because considerable thought is given to how good business analysis practice can add value to an organisation, which is important for sustainability and growth.

Some of the bigger issues for business analysts are:

  • Failure to see the bigger picture and the problem that needs to be solved, which results in poorly aligned deliverables,
  • Being too solutions focussed, which leads to requirements written for a solution that does not satisfactorily meet the needs of the organisation,
  • Missing requirements in the specification or requirements are poorly expressed, which causes misinterpretation and wasted time in rework,
  • Poorly managed requirements due to inadequate tool support (i.e. no traceability), and
  • Inadequate stakeholder involvement, which results in signing off requirements without sufficient collaboration and verification from all user classes.

In my experience, the risk of these issues occurring can be significantly reduced with good planning. In my opinion, not planning your work is the one mistake that business analysts must avoid from the outset.

By adequately considering the goals and objectives of a project, the problem you’re solving, and the desired organisational outcomes, you will be better placed to focus your activities in the right direction. And you’ll mitigate the larger risk of some of those common business analysis mistakes occurring.

Of course there’s no guarantee, but you are putting your best foot forward by taking the time to think through your approach. And that gives you the comfort of knowing that you’ve done your best to communicate and mitigate any identifiable risks to the project at the level of your work.

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