Project Phases for Business Analysts

This article is focused on enabling better performance in business analysts and aspiring business analyst professionals. In this regard, I thought knowing the basics of project phases may be a useful read. Basically I’m hoping to touch upon the various aspects of a technology project that achieves a specific business outcome in which business analysts play a vital role.

Why choose technology projects for business analyst discussion?

Our world today is governed by technology. From the time we wake up in the morning to the time we hit the sack in the night we are in a way ruled by technology. A business analyst role in a way is better appreciated when there is technology involved. As mentioned earlier in my posts, anyplace in this world, that combines people, process and technology would result in a problem.

If there is a business analyst, who is working exclusively on process without any impact to technology or without any aspect of technology involved, I would like to meet him or her. So coming to our topic – let us try to understand from a business analyst and consulting stand point in a simple way the different phases of a functional business project that involves technology.

Note – Please note that I’m refraining from getting into Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) or Agile. I would like to keep the context of this post brief and not specific to a particular project management style though what I do state would align to most methodologies.

Is a business analyst actively involved in the project sub phases?
Business project that involves technology are often split into 2 large phases in the consulting world. The first phase is called Scoping and the second phase is called Delivery. Both these phases contain multiple sub phases in which a business analyst plays a vital role. We will look at them in detail.

The sub phases of a the Scoping phase of a consulting project are usually split into Scope Definition, Analysis and Functional Design.

The sub phases of a Delivery effort in a consulting assignment includes Technical Design, Construction / Build, Test phase that includes System Integration Testing (SIT) and User Acceptance Testing.

Scope definition – From my experience, I have noted than often the scope definition of the project is prior to a business analyst being assigned to the project. In some cases, the business analyst might get lucky and stand to be included in the scope definition of the project. But usually in this phase a project / functional manager, the program manager and subject matter experts play a major role. In some cases, this phase is also called blue printing.

In certain instances the scope phase include the requirements gathering process while in some cases, it gets pushed into the analysis phase of the project.

Analysis phase – Again while the term Analysis strictly refers to analyzing the business requirements gathered, more often the requirements gathering process start in this phase. The analysis phase of the project actively involves the business analyst interfacing with the stakeholder and gathering the business requirements and analyzing the requirements to better understand which requirements fit into the scope area defined and which doesn’t.

It is a big challenge that in some instances business requirements often exceed the given project scope and may need to be identified by the business analyst and De-scoped. To the contrary in some cases, there is scope creeps and a lot of the business requirements are missed being documented. The analysis phase is definitely an area where a business analyst plays a critical role.

Functional Design – In the consulting world, the design phase is split into functional design and technical design. The function design is the phase where design elements with respect to data flows, requirements mapping to data flows, requirement functions that can be met through the design etc will be documented.

Technical Design – Technical design as the name suggests is the design document that provides the technology that defines the systems that will specifically be used to meet the functional business requirements documented by the business analyst. While the functional design document details the functions that would be met as a part of the design implementation, the technical design sticks on to the technology used, type of server to be used (Windows vs Linux), the type of database to used etc.

A lot of times in organizations these two documents are combined together to house a single design document. The usefulness of the comprehensive design document is completely contingent on the methodology followed by the organization. In some cases, where the business analyst is more functional some parts of the comprehensive design document becomes a challenge to understand.

A business analyst in the design phase plays the role of a solution expert. The business analyst is required to validate that the design document and the solution proposed meets the project objectives and the specific business requirements that have been captured.

Build / Construction – While in a strict sense a functional business analyst role would be restricted to requirements planning, requirements gathering and documentation until hand off to the IT teams, organizations today take a holistic view of the business analyst function. A business analyst might not play a very active role in the construction phase of the project. That certainly does not mean that a business analyst moves on to another project at this stage or has a relaxing time. While the IT team works on the construction phase of the project, a business analyst may be required to work on supporting the Testing preparation along with the project manager.

Apart from potentially supporting change management deliverables, a business analyst may be required to help drive reviewing the test strategy, test plans, test scenarios, cases and scripts.

The CBAP handbook specifically calls out that creating design documents, test strategy, test plans or executing test cases is not considered as relevant work experience for CBAP certification. I’m sure most of us would agree that irrespective of our likes and dislikes and what the handbook says, for all practical reasons, a business analyst usually ends up taking on these deliverables.

In my opinion getting our hands dirty on these deliverables is very good as you would no longer be restricting yourself to the role of a business analyst but scaling up to be a management consultant.

Test Phase – I hate to break it to you, but testing is further split into sub components.

A business analyst would know that the systems integration test is more often the key to solving most of the issues and problems in a technology project. While in the build phase, the IT team would ensure that they perform selected core testing on what they built, it more often becomes the role of a business analyst to support integration testing. The systems integration testing involves passing data through source and down stream systems to often test the interface / data flow between the systems through predefined test cases/ scenario having a specific test result.

The User Acceptance Test (UAT) succeeds the systems integration test. In this phase, the testing is performed from an end-user / customer perspective. It is expected that the testing from systems integration throws up a little of problems and bugs that will need to be solved prior to entering UAT. During UAT, the end-user or customer is given the flexibility to help choose the business scenarios they would like tested. The expected results (which should match to the expectation of the user) is often shared with the user to enable boost their confidence and sign off on the testing phase.

Testing is always done in a server environment outside of the real-time production environment. So, if you are in a meeting and hear people discussing about testing environments, don’t be baffled. It is merely a server environment that often replicates the production environment but allows you to make mistakes and correct them.

Implementation / Go Live – The implementation phase of the project is when the codes and solution tried and tested through the other phases of the project are moved into the production environment. Once the codes are moved into production and the systems are ready to Go Live, with the flip of a switch the changes are posted into production and are live to be reflected.

As you would have noted, the role of a business analyst is more than often exemplified in the initial stages of the project. During the initial stages of the project, there is a greater need for the business analyst to interact with the stake holders, gather requirements, document them, analyze requirements etc. Thus a BA becomes the bridge between the business stakeholders and the IT teams making the role extremely important. At the same time, it is also important for a BA’s to understand the impact of their role and their work on other areas of the project.

For all aspiring BA’s, I do hope this article though lengthy, provided you good insight into what happens beyond your role. Hope you liked it. Please do feel free to share your comments.

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Business Analyst Jobs and Careers

In a tough economic environment like the one we are currently mired in, there is nothing more important to businesses than cutting out the waste and becoming more efficient. That is why many companies have taken it upon themselves to hire a business analyst. As you might have already guessed, the jobs of an analyst to examine the business needs of his clients in order to locate any present or potential problems and then pose practical solutions. A business analyst is also often known as a systems analyst or a functional analyst and there are some promising careers available.

The simple truth is that no matter how well any one company is run, there is always room for improvement. With the rapidly changing technological environment and nearly daily computer upgrades, greater efficiency can be achieved if you know where to look. And that is where a business analyst comes in. It is their job to keep abreast of all the new techniques and products that can help companies improve their efficiency.

How does one become an analyst?

There is no set path that one can take to get involved in business analyst careers. Many times they have technical experience, either as a programmer or in engineer jobs. Analysts who specialize in computers often have a Computer Science degree or experience with IT solutions. While others come from a business background and have firsthand experience with many of the problems that they encounter.

The unique experiences and responsibilities of business analyst careers also make them qualified to perform some of the tasks of project managers and consultants. In fact, when many analysts retire, they often offer their services as high paid, part time consultants.

But an analyst does not only work on computer-related project, their skills are also utilized on marketing and financial projects. Though it is true that many analysts will stick to their own particular area of expertise, some analysts are truly jacks-of-all-trades and they customarily work on projects in different industries. The most popular job industries for analysts include: finance, insurance, banking, utilities, telecoms, computer and software services.

Just as the path to becoming a business analyst is not set in stone, neither are the roles or responsibilities of the analyst. Yes, of course, ultimately they are hired to improve efficiency. But they may also be asked to focus on only one department or division in the business. For example, an analyst may be asked to help improve sales planning, scaling, or even business strategies.

Why would someone want to become a business analyst?

For one thing, experience. As we mentioned, because of the various demands of the business, it is not uncommon that an analyst will work on different types of projects and encounter different problems and challenges every time out. This means that the analyst will quickly acquire a wealth of experience that he can call on in all future endeavors. If, for example, he wants to become a consultant or start his own consulting firm, he will have the background to handle nearly any problem that comes down the pike.

Another great reason to get involved in business analyst careers is market demand. The truth is that business analysis is a relatively new field and it is growing by leaps and bounds. There are still not enough of them to go around, which means that a good analyst can always find work. He can also become a project manager or consultant if he ever has problems finding a job.

The likelihood is that a good business analyst will never want for work. And even as the field expands and more managers graduate from colleges, the fact is that businesses will always need experienced individuals to help them cut costs, take advantage of available resources and improve overall business functions. Unlike many other businesses that are content to enroll new employees in training programs to help them learn the ropes, business analysts have on the job training. Their fees are almost entirely dependent on their experience and their reputation in the field. They are also only as good as their last project.

That is one of the reasons why business analysis is not for everyone. It is a highly stressful job that requires an individual to take charge and communicate with people from many different disciplines. And at the end of the day, if the client is unhappy with the results, the blame falls on the head of the analyst. This can not only hurt his reputation but also his paycheck for all upcoming projects.

However, if you are a take charge individual who does well in high pressure situations and can complete projects under hard deadlines, then business analysis jobs may be right for you.

A Look at the Role of a Business Analyst and Project Leaders

A Business Analyst is a person who assists clients and stockholders by analyzing business practices, identifying potential problems and providing solutions to these problems. They may go by other titles including budget analysts, financial analysts, or management analysts if they specialize in a particular field. Analysts sometimes referred to as a “BA” are also responsible for analyzing the business needs of their clients to help identify business problems and propose solutions. Within the systems development life cycle domain, a business analyst typically performs a liaison function between the business side of an enterprise and the providers of services to the enterprise.

They are responsible for analyzing the business needs of their clients to help identify business problems and propose solutions. A business rules analyst, however, can be thought of as a business analyst with a focus on business rules. Professional business analysts understand business systems and the overall business processes in the enterprise. They have the qualities to savvy users of the major business systems within a company and are deeply aware of trends and significant changes in business data needs across the company.

To be a good business analyst, you should be skilled at working with end-users to determine what their needs are. So, good analysts should have technical experience which is useful in determining if a user’s requests are feasible and should be essentially objective observers of a particular business or a specific department. Their job is to review the processes, personnel, and investments made within a company and determine the exact functioning, and possibly potential functioning, for the area under analysis.

You should know that when you are an analyst you are accountable for solutions that meet defined needs. You must also have the ability to assess projects after implementation. Business analysts are given the tools and trained in the skills necessary to accomplish this task. However, successful business analysts have attributes that cannot be taught.

Business analysts are expected to analyze and understand business problems and present solution recommendations to the business stakeholders. Business process modeling adds value to projects by ensuring the technology solution will meet the business needs. They are usually educated to degree level and many have relevant work experience and vocational skills, perhaps as part of a sandwich course.

Project Leaders in Business Analysts

Project leaders are usually interested in the costs of the various options that may be available, and call upon business analysts to provide cost estimates. From these estimates, they can choose the “best” solution. Project teams must be reconfigured to make the best use of this new role. Business analysts are much more valuable to the team when they have learned how to gather, analyze, organize, and document data requirements.

Finally, professional business analysts play a critical role throughout the business solution development life cycle. BA’s are the static link between the business and IT departments and they must be able to speak both languages. Business analysts pursue nonlinear, heuristic, and sometimes wholly intuitive avenues of analysis and discovery, using tools designed to support these interrogations. So make sure to try and have all the qualities and requirements to be a successful analyst.

Common Business Mistake – Sending Business Information to “Cold Lists”

A “cold list” is a list of people who have shown absolutely NO interest in your offer. Blasting such people with more mail will get only get you frustrated and demoralised. Warm leads on the other hand will ask for more specific information.

5 ways to get those warm leads:

1. Place a well targeted ad about your business opportunity in the correct section of a major newspaper.

A well placed ad in the correct section (for example,the upper section of the page) increases awareness of your product or service from your target audience. A major publication also has the advantages of an increased daily readership.

Logically, more readers equals higher chances of making a sale – provided you know your target audience. Doing business without knowing what your target market is and a poorly placed ad will prevent you from reaching your objectives: increased sales, market share or brand awareness.

For example, would a fashion company leave an ad advertising a sale at the bottom of the business section?

Well, they could, but they won’t optimise their ad campaign by limiting awareness to people who might not even be interested in what they’re selling.

If they were smart, they would advertise to those who may already be in the market for trendy apparel;readers of the lifestyle section etc.

2. Work with your partners on shared projects to leverage on each other’s strengths

This method of partnership is called an “affiliate programme “. You can build long lasting business relationships and increase your credibility by teaming up with other reputable, branded businesses or partners.

By building profitable alliances with them, you can also send your ad to huge, targeted email lists at no cost, build your customer or opt-in list for free and get highly credible endorsements and testimonials from other experts.

Affiliate programs are the smart way to do business. At first glance, it may seem like you make less profit, but in reality, you make more money due to the increase of resources available.

As the adage goes, “two heads (some say three) are better than one”.

3. Mail postcards or lead generating letters to a targeted list of names. Know your market and be specific about your target group.

Knowing your customers increases sales. The more you know your customers, the more effective your communication will be. Then you can customise your sales copy to suit their moods, tastes and needs.

You will also be able to see which customers are profitable and which need more effort. And customer profiling helps you find new business – better knowledge leads to increased sales.

4. Do you have a loyal customer base who keep coming back to you for offers and discounts?

Take the chance to build closer business relationships with your customers. Do your follow-up,think about how to improve customer service and your product. Provide value-added services to build customer loyalty.

Loyal customers are cheaper to retain than non-loyal ones.In fact, a loyal customer is willing to pay more than a non-loyal one would for the same product or service.

Moreover, the loyal customer has a higher overall value to the organisation due to the value of possible repeat business and referrals.

5. Capitalise on festive seasons when consumer spending is at its peak.

Holiday and festive seasons serve as a huge opportunities for both consumers and companies. If you have a product that is likely to generate more sales for you during holiday/festive periods, do your marketing at least 1 month in advance.

For example, if you sell Christmas products and you know your customers are most likely to buy them in December, don’t assume they will do shopping last minute.

Many people need time to prepare,do early shopping and soak in the joyous mood – leverage this excitement, put up tantalising discounts and innovative product offers.When your customers are in the “mood”, boy, are they in the “mood”!

To spend,that is.

Remember, in business,an opportunity cost is lost for even a mere second of a non-sale.So you must be eager to make a sale and plan your next marketing campaign in advance.