Why a Business Analyst Must Understand Business Process and Procedures

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The first time I heard the phrase business process reengineering was over ten years ago, and I was a system analyst working with a utility industry software vendor.  A California locality had purchased our product to address Y2K issues, and automate all the city services. When I arrived at my client, I found that some of the city services were automated, some were not, and I had to determine a way to fit the manual approach into the system.

I found myself wearing multiple hats, and using my journalism training, which enabled me to research and identify the right people, determine a

The first time I heard the phrase business process reengineering was over ten years ago, and I was a system analyst working with a utility industry software vendor.  A California locality had purchased our product to address Y2K issues, and automate all the city services. When I arrived at my client, I found that some of the city services were automated, some were not, and I had to determine a way to fit the manual approach into the system.

I found myself wearing multiple hats, and using my journalism training, which enabled me to research and identify the right people, determine a method of relating while building trust, and eliciting the necessary information to define the current and eventual future state of the processes and impacts to workflow with the new system.

Since that project, I have viewed my role as a business analyst in a different light. Whether my title is system analyst, business system analyst, business solution architect or business analyst, it is part of my role to understand the business processes and procedures.  If I do not understand the process, then I run the risk of missing critical requirements that can adversely affect any project implementation.  In addition, I learned that not all projects must affect a system; I have had several projects that were implemented by changing one or more business process and, or, procedure.

Since that project that brought me into business process management ten years ago, I have learned that understanding the business processes enables me, as a business analyst, to see impacts to the system that had not been uncovered and caught what would have been missed requirements.  I have also learned that when the business understands the full current and future state processes, or big picture, that the scope of a project could radically change. The business needs could be addressed with a change to business process only, or a need was identified, particularly system relating, that was not understood earlier.

I discovered that while it is easier to perform the holistic business analyst role in an industry where you have deep expertise, it is not vital in order to succeed. There are certain processes, both business and system, that apply across industries and within industries. Once those generic processes are identified, then the unique processes for your business partner can be identified for impact analysis.

In regards to understanding business process management, other essential items for consideration are items such as: The company culture; The project pipeline process; Whether the company has determined a real need for business process management, or is it just captured at the project level.

If a company views business process management as a core area, then a resource area will be identified and developed that has the business process management expertise. This group can function as a consulting group to other areas of the business for new projects to assist in gaining a better understanding of the project scope. In addition, the group can begin the initial task of documenting the company current state processes.

There is much value in the documentation of a company’s current state.  It will shorten the business analysis phase of the project since that information has been captured and will need to be verified and completed identified.  It will also assist the business in the capture of how they currently perform their businesses process, and identify any one-off scenarios, so that everyone is aware of the functions that enable the company to perform its functions on a daily, weekly, monthly and annual basis.

Since establishing a business process management group is a monetary commitment by a company, it is not always created when needed.  It is in those companies, where there is no identified business process management group, which takes a corporate holistic approach to business process, then it is vital for a business analyst to understand the current state of any project.

In order for the business analyst to capture the business processes for current and future state documentation, one of the key attributes is for the business analyst will be to maintain an impartial approach to enable the business experts to explain what they do today in order to understand what may change in the further for the project.

Next, there must be a way to share the current state documentation and have it updated rather than recreated for projects.  Whether the business process management group or project teams or corporate management determines where and how the information will be stored, the team must manage the documentation in order to meet the project needs and not create additional rework.

As companies realize the monetary benefit from changing processes to addressing business needs, it will become more critical for the business analyst to create a formal document of the current and future state of both the process and how the system interacts with that process. While experienced business analysts have performed, in all likelihood, the current and future state conversations, they may not have been required to take a formal approach of business process management.

How the current and future state information is captured, documented, stored and reused, will tell whether it is a successful approach for the company. 

Business process management will save companies time and money, but education is needed to achieve that goal. That is where the business analyst can help by using a defined approach on each project for the business process capture, reusing existing documentation, and helping to show changes to scope due to a better understanding of any project with the current and future state capture.

Carolyn Smoak has over 15 years experience as a business analyst in industries such as property and casualty insurance, utilities, telecommuncations and marketing.  She has worked as a consultant, contractor, as a vendor business analyst and within corporate arena in her career.

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