New research shows a disconnect between those in the business analysis function and their organization’s goals. This should alarm CLOs because it means their companies might not be developing the right competencies in such employees.
In September 2011, project management training company ESI International surveyed 1,600 people working in business analysis or related job functions. The results of the study, “Why Good Isn’t Good Enough: The Global State of Business Analysis,” were released last month.
Among the survey’s findings: When respondents were asked what they thought were the organization’s key project success criteria, only 22 percent listed “organizational profit impact” in the top three most important and only 8 percent listed it as the most important criteria in determining project success. The top three responses selected were “customer satisfaction,” “on-time completion” and “on-budget completion.” These numbers indicate that respondents are more focused on executing projects than positively impacting their companies overall.
“I was very surprised, because keep in mind, the role of the business analysts is to take business requirements, to validate them [and] to test those requirements against the outcome of the project — so these are people who are very closely tied to the objectives of the business and understanding what those objectives are and how they’re translated to projects,” said Mark Bashrum, vice president, corporate marketing and strategic intelligence at ESI. “Yet when asked how they measured success or how project success was measured, even given the option of profitability, very few mention that as a success criteria.”
ESI embarked on this study of business analysis because it thinks the field has gained momentum in the last five years. Kimberly Terribile, senior manager of development business technology at research-based pharmaceutical company Pfizer, agreed, and pointed to this momentum as perhaps the reason for the disconnect between business analysis and organizational goals.
“While we’ve seen maturity in overall business analysis from a project execution standpoint, there still is an opportunity in the more strategic type business analysis where you’re essentially doing business analysis to understand what projects we should even be undertaking that are in alignment with the overall goals of the enterprise,” Terribile said. “And people are just starting to talk about that. It happens here and there but it’s not really done consistently at this point.”
Bashrum pointed to organizational divisions as a factor contributing to the disconnect between business analysis and organizational goals. “Your job is a silo and your function is a silo and your department is a silo, so we have silos inside of silos inside of silos,” he said. “In that, we lose system thinking and the ability to step outside of our function and understand how it’s impacting the broader organization. That’s a recurring theme that learning organizations have to help companies overcome.”
So how do learning organizations meet this need? According to Bashrum, the answer is by helping people build business acumen. “No matter what the technical discipline, outside of core skills, the most requested competency by managers is business acumen,” he said. “Companies are almost desperate for their employees to understand what’s important to the business and specifically how their day-to-day decisions are impacting the business.”
Terribile said developing business acumen is a good start, but suggested learning organizations need to go further into leadership development and building the ability to communicate with the C-suite and perform analysis that isn’t project-specific.
“With business analysts in particular, there needs to be some sort of coaching and mentoring that’s in place,” she said, adding that this facilitates practical application, which boosts learning. “With business analysis, I always say, it’s more of an art than a science and every project has its own personality. So a lot of times there folks, especially if they’re junior or even mid-level, they need help thinking through and formulating what’s the best way to approach a specific problem. So having some other senior level folks providing coaching and mentoring can be extremely valuable.”
Having said all that, it’s important for business analysts not to get bogged down in details — like the specific problems a given project poses — if they’re going to keep organizational goals top of mind. “As we go about building learning programs and developing competencies for our constituents and our constituent organizations, keep that in mind, that if you understand the context and the broader importance of your role, then you’re going to make better decisions,” Bashrum said. “We as learning organizations have to build that and bake that into our learning programs.”
And as Terribile pointed out, there can be significant financial payoffs to doing so. “Organizations have an opportunity to save a tremendous amount of money and also invest money in the right places if they leverage and apply business analysis appropriately,” she said. “If they do proper analysis up front, sometimes they’ll find that it’s just a process problem that needs to be fixed or that there are already tools available in house to solve the problem rather than buying new software. So I think that’s the kind of thing that gets the attention of a CLO or a CIO or a CFO. The reality is it can have a significant impact.”
Daniel Margolis is managing editor of Chief Learning Officer magazine. He can be reached at dmargolis@CLOmedia.com.