Analysts can bridge key corporate gaps

Ever found yourself cornered between a rock and a hard place, swamped by tech projects that seem to overshoot deadlines or budgets, or are to be written off as unrealistic or undeliverable?

While you may not be able to conjure up a genie, Howard Litman says you can do the next best thing — hire a business analyst. He or she may just save the day.

“A good business analyst (BA) is the communication bridge between the non-technical stakeholders and the technical solution developers,” emphasized Litman, senior business analyst, consultant and trainer.

He was speaking at the seminar entitled, Revolutionize Your Business: The Power of Business Analyst, held at the LinuxWorld and Network World conference in Toronto last month.

Litman discussed the role of BAs in any company and their relationship with project managers and system analysts. He also listed essential qualities BAs should possess to be effective.

Citing a Standish Chaos survey, Litman said 66 per cent of all tech projects are not completed on time and on budget. “This is a big number,” he said. Standish Chaos is a West Yarmouth, Mass.-based research firm that publishes the CHAOS report focusing on IT projects.

The most common reason for failures is the technical side’s inability to understand the requirements of a project. “The systems team does not build a bad product on purpose,” Litman said. “If they are clearly informed what’s needed, they can build a great product. What business analysts do is explain project requirements to the technical side.”

He said there is currently a lot of confusion in companies about the role of business analysts. This confusion is compounded by the many different titles given to a business analyst by different companies. These include business integrator, subject matter expert, business consultant, business system analyst or even solution architect.

“Essentially what all these people do, as business analysts, is to take on the role of systems analysts,” said Litman.

Traditionally, he said, it was the systems analyst’s job to identify requirements and build a solution. “However, systems analysts do not spend as much time in assessing requirements as they do in building a product. This is understandable, as they are technical people. This results in systems that do not match the expectations of the company. That is where BAs step in.”

The BA, Litman said, would hand the requirements of the project to a systems analyst in a document which would not have technical recommendations. “It would be up to the systems analyst to decide if Oracle, MySQL or any other database engine should be used.”

Business analysts can also assist the project manager, Litman said. The biggest chunk of the business analyst’s job is done in the analysis phase of systems development, he noted. “Then it’s like a relay race. The BA would create a document detailing all the project requirements and deliver this to the project manager who in turn would deliver it to the technical team.”

He said the analyst would have to be clear from the get-go what the end result of the project should be.

“A BA’s job is to gather requirements,” Litman said. This can be done through various techniques: interviews, questionnaires, conducting brainstorming sessions with end users of the product. The next stage is to analyze the information.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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