The importance of being simple


As a child of the 70’s I remember when TV stations, stores, and banking were not accessible 24/7. Communication across area codes was expensive and rare. People wrote letters and relied on the postal service to hand deliver the letters. Life actually required a pause and waiting! Life was simple in many ways. Fast forward 4 decades and we have instant access to nearly everything we need. There is no need to wait to shop for goods, to communicate, or to watch TV. In this instant access world where things are simply accessible, complexity abounds.
I was at Universal Studios last Fall and there was a power outage. There was no electricity. It was surreal. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter had no sound effects, no music, no attractions were functioning, and there was no ability to accept credit card payments or run cash registers! It was a powerful example of how simple accessibility requires such complexity. The workers were struggling to operate the manual credit card machine and calculate tax without a cash register to manage the transaction. The workers stayed in character and claimed a dark wizard had cast a spell that shut things down. It was a good improvisational response. The experience was educational and insightful.

In business analysis, keeping things simple is a key to success. When faced with complex systems, integrations, processes, etc., the answer may seem to approach solving these issues with complex project teams, tools, processes, and diagrams. It is important to remember to keep things simple. The most complex problems can be solved applying basic business analysis techniques. Introducing stringent policies, templates, and tools creates complexity that makes problem solving more difficult rather than easier. Keeping it simple is simple. Here are some approaches that help me to break down complex problems with a simple approach.

Solve the right problem

When faced with a problem to solve, the first step is to make sure it is a problem and that it is the right problem. Through simple elicitation techniques and asking the right questions, you discover the right problem to solve. I worked in a department that required many paper files of information, which were stored in file cabinets. One day, there were no more file cabinets. This was the problem. The request was to order more file cabinets to solve the problem. Yes, and is this really the problem? In fact, with some elicitation, it was discovered that the problem wasn’t a lack of file cabinets, but a lack of space for the files. Was it possible that not all the files were needed? Could some of the files be destroyed to make space for the files that needed to be stored? Yes! This was the right problem and we found the right solution. This is a simple example with principles that can be applied to any situation.

Understand current business process

This is so important and if often skipped. Phrases like ‘We don’t have time to document the current state process’ or ‘ We are doing something completely different so there isn’t any value to spending time on that’ imply a complexity in business analysis that isn’t there. Now, detailing a business process in a week of requirements workshops with every business area in attendance could be what time isn’t available for is valid. Skipping it entirely creates costly complexity. Could a business process be documented with just enough detail to create value? Complex diagramming with every detail and alternate path in a perfect printable copy is likely not necessary. A simple swim lane diagram, even hand drawn on a white board could be all you need to do, but don’t skip it! get enough understanding of what is going on to provide the foundation for gap analysis for the future state solution.

Understand Data

You can’t have a process without data. Data is intricately related to process. Understanding the current data in a problem area is another essential foundation to business analysis. Simple elicitation is relevant here as well. What data is involved in this process? Do these data elements exist in the current system? Do I know the business rules for this data? As I start to elicit information through document analysis, interviews, workshops I am building a foundation of data understanding. The information I need to understand is complex in relationship to the solution space, however I can break it into manageable pieces of understanding rather than diving into the database structure when I start.

Draw pictures

Pictures are simple! Gain consensus and understanding by drawing your understanding of the problem, the process and the data. Don’t create a visual labyrinth with complex modeling standards that your business partners can’t understand. Simple visuals work. No matter what tool or methodology you have at your disposal do not make the mistake of creating complexity. Simple direct statements added to a simple swim lane diagram are priceless and will be icons of the project effort.
What we do is complex; however a simple approach works best. Please keep it simple!

Heather, a BA Without a Border</em

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