Here’s a conversation I had recently about process with a project manager I adore working with. In this scene, the ‘PM’ is the project Manager and ‘Me’ is the Business Analyst.
PM: ‘ I need to know what the work is for this project.’
ME: ‘I need to understand what the process is so I can identify the work.’
PM: ‘I don’t need to know the process. I need to know what the work is.’
ME: ‘When I understand what the process is I will know what is changing and what the work is’
PM: ‘The process isn’t the work.’
ME: ‘Trust me, it will appear!’
Anyone else have a conversation like this? I can’t make this stuff up! It is imperative analysts consider understanding the current business process before they can identify the work to change it. There is nothing I am involved in that doesn’t involve a change to a process. Some of these may be more seamless to a business user. For example, adding an existing date field to the output of a report. The process to get the report isn’t changing; it will now contain additional data. Some processes will have no data changes but will improve quality and the work is creating new standard operating procedures and training staff to follow a new process.
Why is process a foundation?
Knowing where I am today is the foundation to understanding where I need to go. Business analysis is many things, one is understanding the interactions between people and systems. What is the input to the system and who makes the input? How is the input transformed into output? Who receives the output? What is exchanged anywhere in that cycle? That is all a series of processes.
It is fundamental to be able to observe, interview and elicit information from a stakeholder and understand the business process transformation that occurs. Spending time discovering the current process will outline the work that needs to be done as you understand the problem you are trying to solve and design the solution. Skipping this step introduces assumptions about how the work is done today. Interfaces, stakeholders, and data are a guess if you don’t have the map of where you are today.
Have you ever been lost and not known where you are but know you need to get back to where you started? Navigation requires an understanding of your current location and future direction. Once I know where you are and where you want to go, I can give you directions to get there. It’s the same with projects and process. I can’t tell you how to get there (the solution design) until I know where I am (current process) and where I want to go in the future (project purpose, goals).
I don’t have time to do a process map of the current state!
I understand that time is short for business analysts. Many analysts tell me they can’t do a process map. I’ve been told by more than one project manager that they didn’t think I needed to do that work. My answer is you don’t have time not to. A process map does not have to be a completed deep dive into all the handoffs and steps. It needs to give you enough information to understand the people and systems involved and the high level data transformation that happens.
How much time is it?
This doesn’t take weeks to accomplish. With any luck there is some process work you can use to start with to glean information from to start and confirm if the process is in place. If nothing exists, focus on your interview skills and find an architect or SME with knowledge to help you understand the high level. Having this to start with will help you identify gaps in current state vs future state. As you continue work you can listen for changes to this understanding and take note of additional questions to ask. You will not regret the investment in understanding a process. The more that you practice the more quickly you can get enought detail of a current state process for a foundation. Find a balance between too much detail and just enough and it is ok if the lines aren’t perfect, it really is!
A BA Without Borders