Project management is among the most popular and familiar of the professional services. By keeping a well-defined project on budget and on time, a skilled project manager can make the difference between successful and failed systems development and process improvement projects. While quantitative project components certainly need to be managed carefully, the job becomes much more challenging when project parameters are fluid, not clearly understood and/or not effectively defined. This is often the case in the development of new software or a new business process. In such situations, it is generally advisable to seek out the professional services of an experienced business analyst. BAs focus on the quality of the deliverable – be it software or process. A BA‘s role is to ensure that the final process improvement solution will meet the company goals and that it connects effectively with the organization’s structure, policies and operations.
In an environment where many companies have reduced internal headcount in response to the economic downturn, today’s successful companies are relying more than ever on professional service providers to help with business process improvements. Engaging a trusted advisor is a wise use of limited resources, and ensures that critical new projects will go forward in sync with day-to-day business operations.
The business analyst can be known by many names, including process analyst, project analyst or, in highly technical settings, systems analyst. While the BA’s job description is highly flexible, the professional service provider can contribute a distinct set of skills to business process improvement. Leading the list are the objectivity and familiarity with your industry that he or she can bring to the project. This combination allows an experienced BA to speak with customers and employees, accurately interpret their input, and translate it into practical and specific technical solutions. A trusted business analyst can see beyond immediate process improvement or data management needs to address potential future issues and requirements from an objective, unbiased position.
Effective business analysts are naturally curious and inquisitive. Among the most valuable professional services they provide is the ability to ask the right questions. A well constructed, objective information collection technique can be the key to quickly determining why things aren’t working and how to improve business processes or tools. An experienced technical BA will be well acquainted with the systems development life cycle – the continuous process of planning, analysis, design, implementation, and maintenance that is the foundation of much software development.
Obviously, you can’t improve business processes in a vacuum. Effective business analysts have the flexibility needed to work within the client’s culture and style. Flexibility is also essential as the business analyst must wear multiple hats. At any point in a given project, the BA may be called upon to gather, interpret, or document requirements, design system architecture, support the project manager, or facilitate communication among customer, developer, and the project management team.
When a large business process improvement or data management project is on the line, it’s ideal to engage a support team that includes both a project manager and a business analyst. The team approach offers the most effective balance between quality and budget considerations. But if resources are scarce, and the project is of moderate size, it is possible to find a trusted advisor who is skilled in both professional services – business analysis and project management. Wearing her business analyst hat, your advisor will look at the current state and help determine how it can or should change and the technical requirements needed to get there. As project manager, your advisor can then collect and report essential
information to keep the project on time and on budget. This is a an important, and often challenging, balancing act but the right advisor can make the difference between merely meeting and truly fulfilling your process improvement and data management goals.