The Business of Analysis

September 5, 2014

Look around.

There you go, as easy as that was, you’ve just done some analysis. Now try it again but this time try to notice more of the details you see. Already you’re sharpening your analytical skills – skills that, when honed and put to use, are essential to seeing how things work.

These skills apply everywhere: in the medical field, analysis is called diagnosis. In criminology, they investigate the unknown. In science, they research to find answers, and in business, they analyze data (business people deserve no points for creativity). All these terms are synonymous and interchangeable, and all mean roughly the same thing: to seek out the best possible solution.

It’s no different in the world of software and technology – an industry in a perpetual state of iteration and refinement – analysis of what has been done drives what comes next. Whether you’re diagnosing the symptoms resulting from outdated practices, investigating the causes of user frustration, or researching the possibilities of the next game-changer, asking the right questions and seeking the right answers will be your most powerful tools.

This is easier said than done.

In business, there is often an expectation that technology can provide all that is needed to take the next step into a grand, prosperous future, and it’s dead-on. Defining what that technology will be is where the difficulty lies. The ‘there’s an app for that’ culture of today makes piecing out tech strategies seem obvious, even easy, when often the ideal solution is highly unique. Good communication of the variables becomes essential but different communication styles and approaches can throw up barriers between expectations and results.

Enter the business analyst – the general practitioner, the detective, the scientist of the digital business world. It’s the job of the BA to figure out the business, listen to its needs, think of different ways to help it improve, and communicate these learnings to both the business, and the developers of the new solution. The BA helps the business find just what they need, defining the problem to build the right solution.

Again, this is easier said than done, and herein lies the art of good business analysis: questioning. Questioning is the key to understanding, and understanding is essential in building the right solution. A good question can generate a response that unlocks further questions, re-contextualizing the answers and redefining the solution. Without asking good questions the answers needed may go un-given, leaving the problem undefined. The technology built to solve it would then fail to address what it set out to, leading to tragic underuse, or worse, complete abandonment.

Questioning runs into trouble if it’s not pointed both ways; it’s critical to avoid making assumptions (See: The Dunning – Kruger effect). Just as every solution is different, so is every problem – which sounds obvious but it can be all too easy to overlook when familiarities begin to appear. Good analysis can never run the risk of bad assumptions.

Finally, business analysis must be true to the solution. If the business leaders think they want A but they really need B, it’s the job of the BA to point that out and explain their reasoning. Any number of reasons might make a strong business case for the wrong solution, but just as a doctor must avoid seeing the symptoms as the disease, or a detective must avoid false accusations, a BA must not allow preconception to compromise their analysis.

While there are many important pieces to implementing a software or technology solution that creates value for a business, good analysis of why it’s being created in the first place is key to its ultimate success.