Posted by Phyllis Rieff, CSPO, February 20, 2017

Are You a Lightweight BA?

10 Valuable Underutilized Analysis Tools to Improve your Analytical Standing + Five More to Consider

The term ‘lightweight’ when not describing a professional boxer or down comforter, usually comes with negative connotations. It implies lack of substance or ability, one-dimensional importance or a category positioned below another. Commonly used to describe a person of little influence, inept politicians or less than stellar skill sets by an otherwise qualified individual, ‘lightweights’ are often found on the losing end of a competitive fight.

We know the role of a business analyst is to perform a set of tasks to gain understanding of a company and the vision for the project initiated. We know that our project analysis comes with the responsibility of recognizing that stakeholders at all levels are impacted. However, it is also incumbent on a BA to pay attention to internal/external policies and corporate structure.

Therefore, to think of business analysis as a single process of performing multiple tasks focused on one area of a project is not entirely accurate. There are actually several processes – each with their own subset of techniques and analytical tools used to glean information not readily known or available to the project team. Analytical tools help us to delve further below the surface, and enable us to expose risk or guarantee data relevant to the company.

When we use the term ‘tool’ – we are actually describing a particular ‘way’ that we go about finding answers, extracting information or assessing facts. We may use one or many – one with another, one after another, or a combination of several approaches at once, depending on circumstances and timing. It is not unheard of for additional various types of analysis to occur at several stages of a project. Unfortunately, there are times when this need goes unrecognized. A project already in jeopardy forgoes benefits from additional analysis never performed, simply because no one recognized the need or worse yet, lacked the knowledge to accomplish it – not even the BA.

Lightweight vs Heavyweight BAs                                                                                                         

Let’s assume that all of us – Business Analysts from junior to senior level, have the entire suite of fundamentals at our disposal, and maybe a few of the advanced tools necessary to complete successful analyst activities. We have our ‘ways’ to deliver on our tasks accordingly. We come to a project with an acceptable set of tools and manage to get the job done. Most projects succeed, some projects fail by falling short in key areas. And so it goes. We move on to the next project using the same tools to accomplish the same tasks obtaining the same results – sometimes good, sometimes not.

Let’s stretch this assumption by suggesting that if we have not done so already, we are all willing to supersize our analytical skills in order to add more weight to our tool set. By doing so, we are working towards our own evolution – from a Standard BA to an Agile BA.

It’s important to note that whether or not a project is Agile, makes no difference to an Agile Analyst. What sets the Agile Analyst apart from their traditional counterparts is their ability to be an effective analyst regardless of the methodology in use. An Agile Analyst will utilize lesser known and to some extent ignored, but valuable analysis tools. They walk onto a project carrying a much heavier set of tools that include everything from the most basic matrix template to advanced thinking strategies and analysis methods identified by ingenious acronyms. Agile Analysts are ready, willing, and able to get to work, knowing how and when to use each one of their analytic tools; and they understand that when appropriate, regardless of methodology (Agile or Waterfall), one does not preclude the other. An Agile Analyst is a heavyweight.

Possessing knowledge of a collection of analytical tools from the basic to the unconventional, greatly enhances your natural analytical tendencies and soft skills – all of which when combined, highlight your capacity to learn, execute and succeed as a heavyweight in a competitive job market.

Thinking about the analysis processes and techniques that you currently use on your projects, how would you rate the weight of your current tool set?

Here is a brief overview of ten valuable tools mostly underutilized by BAs, plus another five that you may or may not recognize. They are all worthy of exploration. Becoming acquainted with the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of their value is the first step towards understanding the value they bring to a project analysis.

 

1.CATWOE

Customers | Actors | Transformation Process | World View | Owner | Environmental Constraints

What it does: Places focus on the existing systems or processes that take place within an organization.

When to use it: To stimulate thinking about problems and solutions
Why use it:
Helps prompt thinking about business goals targeting the acronym’s six elements

2. Five Whys

What it does: Emphasizes answering as many ‘whys’ as possible
When to use it: To find the main cause of any issue

Why use it: Helps to understand what is really happening in any particular moment.

3. Heptalysis (hep-tal-isis)

What it does: Allows analysis from multiple angles

When to use it: In the early stages of a project, launch of a new product or business

Why use it:  To identify risk for an innovative idea. Seven essential areas are considered:

Market Opportunity

Product/Solution

Execution Plan

Financial Engine

Human Capital

Potential ROI (return on investment)

Margin of Safety

4. MoSCoW: Must | Should | Could |Won’t

What it does: Prioritizes requirements associated with the project/product
When to use it: To assist stakeholders with allocating priority
Why use it: Transparent way of evaluating validity of requirements

Must have: Without these, delivery cannot be completed

Should have: Without these, a workaround must be found

Could have: With these, delivery satisfaction will increase

Won’t have: Won’t have these now, but you’d like to have them in the future

5. M.O.S.T.:  Mission | Objectives | Strategies | Tactics

What it does: Focuses solely on internal factors
When to use it: To be sure all stakeholders are aligned with the four factors listed
Why use it:  Helps determine goals and actions needed to attain them

Mission – where is the business heading

Objectives –goals towards attaining the mission

Strategies – plans to move forward

Tactics – implementation of strategies

6. P.E.S.T./ L.E.:  Political | Economic | Social | Technological | Legal | Environmental

What it does: Focuses on external factors such as regulations, tax guidelines, interest rates, etc. that commonly affect business activities and performance
When to use it: Alone or in combination with SWOT to determine an organization’s overall outlook
Why use it:  Helps determine a long-view for performance and activities of a company

7. SCRS: Strategy | Current State | Requirements | Solution

What it does: Mandates that analysis flows from the current state

When to use it:  To solution for individual problems specific to the business

Why use it: Identifies short-term and long-term strategies

8. Six Thinking Hats®

What it does: Encourages creative thinking within group discussion using the concept of color
When to use it: 
Brainstorming sessions
Why use it: 
Restricts the group to think in certain directions only. A symbolic ‘thinking cap’ identifies each thinking role. The premise is that by mentally wearing a specific colored hat, participants can focus, redirect thoughts or conversation.

White = facts

Yellow = optimism

Black = devil’s advocate or why something may not work

Red = feelings

Green = creativity

Blue = manager of thinking process (ensures the Six Thinking Hats® guidelines are observed)

9. S.W.O.T.: Strengths | Weaknesses | Opportunities | Threats

What it does: Focuses on external and internal factors
When to use it: During the orientation phase of a project or high-level planning. Can serve as a RED or GREEN light for sponsor project approval
Why use it:  To provide the company with a framework of challenges, present and future and/or discover prospects for new business.

10. VPEC-T: Values | Policies | Events | Content | Trust

What it does: Analyzes the expectations of stakeholders with contrary views
When to use it: To attain agreement and manage expectations
Why use it: 
Helps to gain insight on different priorities and responsibilities of stakeholders

11. Discovery/Delivery Canvas:

What it does: Provides a team with visual deliverable of software requirements
When to use it:  In Waterfall, as a front-end tool for planning and scoping projects. In Agile to avoid an unruly backlog of random features
Why use it:  Helps to guides teams through the requirements discovery process by  a) prompting consideration and questioning of basic requirements and b) providing an organized visual view of exposed requirements

12. TTM: Things That Matter Matrix

What it does: Allows a group to understand the complexity of  a feature by seeing which tasks involve which types of technology
When to use it: When different stories or use cases intersect using more than one or differing technologies
Why use it: Helps to prioritize and gain alignment across teams

13. Story Mapping or Enriched Story Mapping

What it does: Captures focused requirements for easy scoping
When to use it: Primarily for use in Agile but equally valuable to Waterfall
Why use it: Top down approach to collaborative requirements gathering uses a central vision (high-level requirement), to build a structure of Goals > Activities >Tasks. The tasks supply the user stories and/or use cases.

14. CRC Cards: Class | Responsibility | Collaboration

What it does:  Provides conceptual single requirement modeling to stakeholders by using a collection of standard index cards divided into the three sections listed in the acronym.
When to use it:
  If many project stakeholders are actively involved in the project
Why use it: Facilitates versatile and effective brainstorming

15. Porter’s Five Forces

What it does: Determines competitive power in a particular business situation
When to use it: 
In combination or post SWOT or PEST/LE analysis to assess profitability for potential
Why use it:  
To focus on strategy by looking at the strength of five important forces that affect competition:

Supplier Power: Power of suppliers to drive up the prices of your inputs.

Buyer Power: Power of your customers to drive down your prices.

Competitive Rivalry: Strength of competition in the industry.

Threat of Substitution: Products and services that easily replace your own

Threat of New Entry: New competitors drive prices down

Consider taking our Agile Analyst course where we’ll show you how to take the necessary steps towards becoming a heavyweight BA while staying light on your feet.


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