- How Does Business Process Analysis Fit In?
- The Business Process Analysis Skill Set
- The Practical Application of Business Modelling
- Business Process Analysis Key Techniques
Imagine the following scenario. You are embarking on a major transformation project to improve the performance of your business. You know there are several issues with current business processes, but since the business domain is highly complex and there is no detailed documentation, no one can clearly articulate them, let alone have any idea about how to address the problems in the most cost-effective way. During a conversation with a business associate, she says, “It looks like your project could benefit from having a Business Process Analyst”. You walked away contemplating the idea.
Increasingly, businesses across different industries begin to see the importance of ongoing investment in business transformation, change management and business process modelling and improvement. The words, Business Process Analyst, may bring to mind process diagrams, swim lanes and modelling tools. The responsibilities of the role, however, go far beyond process documentation. So what does a business process analyst do? What are the essential skills a business process consultant possesses? And how can these skills be applied in a practical sense to achieve strategic business objectives?
This article answers these questions. But first, let us consider how the Business Process Analyst role fits into the broader context of business planning, transformation, and business architecture development.
How Does Business Process Analysis Fit In?
Have you ever had a house built? Before any construction work can begin, a design blueprint must be created. The same goes for any complex house renovation or landscape work, developing a concept design is one of the key steps required before implementation.
Building or improving business is no different. Some business leaders believe that they have clearly communicated the business strategies and therefore, every operational team and individual downstream will perform their tasks following the same mission statement. This is similar to building a house without a blueprint. It leads to the most common problem a large number of businesses share - the disconnection between corporate vision and measurable actions.
Business architecture provides a holistic view of the business and translates the corporate strategy to its successful execution.
Figure 1.1 Business Architecture Components
Business processes are a key component of the business architecture. To answer the question of how business process analysis fits into the broader context, we must define what a business process is.
Business processes are identified within the business context and informed by the business strategy. They implement a set of business rules, data and concepts. The process activities can either be automated or performed by roles within the organisational structure. The business capabilities are realised by business processes performing specific functions. The success criteria of a business cannot be determined if its performance cannot be measured. This is where business metrics come in.
The Business Process Analyst role is critical in bridging the gaps between business strategy, enterprise architecture and business processes (implemented through systems, people and their individual job functions).
Figure 1.3 Bringing Together the Puzzle
A business process analyst helps senior management to drive the strategy execution through designing new business models; streamlining and reengineering existing business processes and providing support to change management.
Figure 1.2 Business Process Analysis Process (High Level)[/caption]
Depending on whether a business invests in a Business Architecture function, the Business Process consultant can operate on a more strategic level in some organisations than others. Regardless of the specific business environment, a Business Process Analyst works in, the responsibilities will include (but not be limited to) creating, maintaining and improving business processes either enterprise-wide or within a specific business unit.
No matter what the specific job description is, an effective and skilled Business Process Analyst is one who is either capable of creating business architecture models and/or has a comprehensive understanding of the overall business architecture.
Organisations can benefit from employing a Business Process Analyst during the inception phase of their corporate development initiatives when they are taking on the following challenges:
- Starting a new business,
- Developing a new product/service offering,
- Diversifying into a new market,
- Restructuring or transforming the existing business operations through outsourcing, business functions and/or re-engineering internal processes,
- Integrating people, systems and processes during a merger or acquisition,
- Developing solutions to meet new regulatory and compliance requirements, etc.
If the Business Process Analyst job description is limited to defining business processes alone, without the responsibility to ensure the alignment between processes and the overall business architecture and strategic objectives, what chance is there for the operational teams to perform in a way that achieves the corporate vision?
The Business Process Analyst Skill Set
A proficient Business Process Analyst has a wide range of skills and techniques in his or her extensive toolbox. The most important skills of all is the mindset capable of both strategic and operational thinking that enables the practitioner to focus on the big picture (such as corporate vision and business strategy) as well as the attention to detail. This also means the ability to holistically examine a business process through business process mapping; effectively identify process improvement opportunities; creatively develop approaches for business problem solving and critically evaluate the trade-offs between business value drivers and costs.
As a Business Process consultant, sometimes you may find yourself observing, deducing, searching for clues or practising the “actively passive” listening skill during interviews, like Sherlock Holmes.
Other times, you may find yourself working as a master chess player - strategising, planning, recognising patterns and adapting.
An experienced Business Process Analyst has a wide range of capabilities. The above diagrams only give a simple representation of a few essential skills but they by no means capture all of them.
Typically, talented analysts hone their skills in a T-shape - with broad knowledge across the different competency levels and expertise in one or two as illustrated in Figure 2.2 by the dark shaded cell.
The work of a Business Process Analyst is multidimensional and challenging. Apart from possessing a strong set of “hard skills”, it also requires the practitioner to have the “soft skills” in order to navigate through the enterprise, knowing who to engage, when and how. The analyst must also have the people and leadership skills to bring together those with different views to create new or improved processes based on a shared vision.
Ultimately, a position title is of little importance. For those who are interested in a career in strategic business analysis, be sure to assess every job opportunity by the skills and knowledge you would gain by taking the role. The same principle applies to the employers. Companies would benefit by broadening their hiring practice to focus more on skills rather than writing off top candidates by the position titles they have held in the past, and investing in training if necessary to fill the skills gap.
The Practical Application of Business Modelling
One of the key attributes that set skilled Business Process consulting analysts apart from others, is their ability to successfully work across different industries, and quickly grasp the key elements of a new business domain without being overwhelmed by the complexity and a large amount of information.
Most analysts have had the experience of being given an information overload on business rules, data, and problem descriptions without any structure or patterns when they start in a new organisation by those within the business who are eager to achieve quick wins. Therefore, the most common mistake people make is to begin deep diving too quickly and end up sinking into analysis paralysis.
Even though having industry domain knowledge is extremely valuable, while hiring a Business Process Analyst, astute managers prioritise a strong set of analysis skills over business domain knowledge. Sometimes, a highly skilled Business Process Analyst is able to approach issues from a fresh perspective when working in a new business domain.
It takes an experienced practitioner with strong disciplines, and a clear understanding of the strategic business objectives to abstract the low level information to a general understanding that is sufficient for solving the problem at hand. This implies a robust top-down analysis approach similar to peeling an onion.
Business Domain Modelling
On the highest level, no matter what the business specialises in, it has a set of strategic objectives and performance drivers and can be represented by a Customer Product and Supplier model.
The business context and capabilities can be further described by a Business Interaction Model.
These two business models describe some of the business architecture components on the highest level. The following diagram is a sample business architecture framework demonstrating how the business capabilities, context, strategy and other components (each of which can be modelled separately) fit in from a top down perspective.
Business strategy - outlines the business’ vision, strategic goals, directions and performance drivers.
Business capabilities - describes what and who the business is, including the products and services provided, target customer segments and its value proposition. They map to a set of business functions implemented by business processes, a practice known commonly as business process mapping.
Business context - defines the relationships of the business and the interactions between one entity and another.
Business metrics - a set of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that allows management to measure the performance of the business as a whole. For example, the percentage of market share in terms of revenue, average cost per transaction in terms of expense, and staff retention rates in terms of staff satisfaction.
Business events and outcomes - identify external and internal business events and describe triggers that cause the business to act and the desired outcomes.
Business processes - groups of related tasks which, when performed, achieve a business objective.
Business requirements - descriptions of business needs used in developing a solution. Note there is a clear distinction between user requests versus true business needs.
Business rules - guides and constraints on business behaviours or activities.
Roles and structures - the organisational structure of a business, informed by the business strategy and capabilities. Business roles implement and are accountable for activities that make up the business processes.
Business Process Design
A business architecture framework is a valuable tool for guiding any strategic business transformation, but it by no means implies that all the business architecture components must be modelled and documented before any detailed work can commence. A successful Business Process consultant is one who is adaptable and agile - placing more focus on communication and delivering business value over extensive documentation and following prescribed processes. Another key business process analysis success factor is the capability to conceptualise complex business requirements and to simplify and clearly define them on just the right level in order to achieve the objective.
On a high level, the business process analysis process can be described in seven steps.
- Learn the business domain.
- Discover the strategic business objectives.
- Define the project/problem scope.
- Formulate analysis approach and identify stakeholders.
- Model business processes and defines requirements, ensuring alignment with business strategy.
- Facilitate change implementation.
- Realise and measure benefits.
The majority of business processes in modern days can either be partially or fully automated through technology. In order to implement a technical solution, business process modelling need to be further specified through low level functional and nonfunctional requirements, data models, and User Experience (UX) design models.
There is a wide range of business process modelling tools available, most of which support BPMN (Business Process Model and Notation), a graphical notation for specifying business processes, and UML (Unified Modeling Language) used for defining requirements for automated solutions. More advanced tools have features such as user collaboration and workflow simulation that allow users to run simulation models to measure the average timeframe required for completing a given process.
Business Process Analysis Key Techniques
Business process analysis skills and techniques are a big and complex topic that I am passionate about. It cannot possibly be covered in one article. However, before wrapping up, I would like to share some of the tips I have learned along the way. A few of these techniques are particularly useful in process reengineering. Focus on the issue and consider if it is appropriate to take a hypothesis-driven analysis approach. This approach allows a seasoned analyst to use their experience and intuition as well as leveraging group expertise to develop a hypothesis early on during the project without unnecessarily data collection. To be successful, one must allow flexibility for changes when additional insights and data emerge in later iterations.
- Always try to simplify. The best process design is simple and elegant. It flows easily and is not visually represented by a spaghetti diagram.
- Identify and eliminate duplications. Duplication can be recognised by identifying multiple points of contact with customers and duplicated systems for information storage.
- Reduce decision points and look for vertical compression opportunities. Vertical compression reduces communication delays, management overhead and allows faster customer responses.
- Optimisation before automation. Avoid simply automating the current process (the status quo) - performing the poorly designed process faster.
Business Process Analysts’ comprehensive perspective of their organisation enables a key business capability from which every business benefits. Increasingly, forward-thinking businesses are recognising the importance in empowering and leveraging their business analysis teams not only to elicit detailed requirements but also to align and drive the execution of business strategy.
In this strategic paradigm shift, business analysis practitioners with the right skills are beginning to have more opportunities to deliver strategic business value to their organisations and in doing so, progressing their career. With their assistance, enterprises are better guided in executing their corporate strategies.
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