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Seeing the Forest through all of the Trees

Forest through the treesI recently had a conversation with a fellow business analyst, Susan, regarding process flows. At Seilevel, we like to keep process flows focused on what people are attempting to accomplish. In my experience, I find that most people (there are always exceptions), know that when they press a button that things happen in the system, but most don’t care. As long as they get the response that they expect so they can move on to the next step of their process, they are happy. Of course there are times when you need to understand what is going on with the system, and we have System Flows for that scenario, which are just like process flows but focused on the system.

What was interesting in this conversation I had was the reluctance of Susan to focus only on the person. She was very insistent that system interaction had to be included, and essentially wanted to start providing a solution as she was documenting the process flow.   My point was that I needed to understand what the user was doing and what their ultimate business objectives were before I could start to consider solutions. She felt that the two could not be pulled apart, that you had to include the system being integrated into the process.

While I’m not disagreeing with Susan that the system had to be considered, there is a time and place for it. Even if you are looking at enhancing an existing application, focusing on the user and their steps is usually my first focus. I need to understand the business process first. Even if I think I understand the business process, confirming that I do understand it is still a valid thing to do (after all, I don’t want to make any assumptions).

The concern I have about going so low into the details is that you might miss the big picture. As a business analyst, we need to understand what the business objectives are. What does the business hope to achieve, and how can we help them achieve those goals? If we focus only on the minutiae, we may miss the overall goals and objectives.

This can be challenging for a business analyst, for it essentially means that we need to be big picture people who also detail oriented. And many people find this to be really challenging. But it is essential if we are going to do our job properly, and ensure that we are adding value to the business.

I recently had a story told to me that helps to illustrate this point. There was a group of business analysts who were charged with documenting the requirements for an air craft carrier. As you can imagine with a ship that large, there were a whole bunch of requirements. And as the team dug in, they were able to elicit requirements down to the low level detail for each major area. However, when the lead business analyst stepped back, he realized that there were several core requirements that they had missed:

  • The ship must float
  • The ship must navigate through the water
  • There must be a way to steer the ship
  • The ship must be able to have planes land and take off
  • Etc.

These core requirements were essential, without them, the lower level requirements really did not matter. You could have the most awesome set of requirements in the world, but if the main objectives of the business are not met, it really does not matter.

Thus, as you work on your current or next project, think about what are the business’ overall goals or objectives. Take a step back and ensure that you understand. And then use that knowledge to ensure that your project is helping the business meet those goals and objectives.

See the Forest through all of the Trees.

One Response to Seeing the Forest through all of the Trees

  1. edward March 3, 2016 at 4:49 pm #

    “My point was that I needed to understand what the user was doing and what their ultimate business objectives were before I could start to consider solutions. She felt that the two could not be pulled apart, that you had to include the system being integrated into the process.

    While I’m not disagreeing with Susan that the system had to be considered, there is a time and place for it.”

    Yep!!! A technique [learned from Desmond D’Souza and others] that helped me deal w/ complex systems – FOUCS ON ONE LEVEL AT A TIME!

    Focus on the process at hand, or the business or system model, or the report, or the whatever.
    Whenever someone started to go up or down a level [usually down “into the weeds”], I would say “Hey, that’s great and very useful. Let’s write it down so we dont forget it when we get to that level.”
    That acknowledges their contribution but moves it aside for a bit until it’s needed [if it’s needed at all].

    On one business process improvement project, during the first week, I had to say this a few times when someone would start talking about databases, file formats, or interprocess communications. After that first week, I didnt have to say it. To my surprise and satisfication, members of the team corrected/reminded others about focusing on the current level!!

    Focusing on the current level limits the vocabulary and leaves out complicating details.

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