As regular readers will know, your Alchemist, among other activities, presents training courses in business analysis. One thing that sometimes surprises me is when I am asked for the 'right' answer to a business issue, or the 'correct' technique to use in a given situation. Unfortunately, my answers can disappoint as they usually begin with "Well, it all depends..."
The same concern is also evident in online forums like LinkedIn, where there are requests for definitive answers to questions such as "are user stories better than use cases?".
The real world is a messy, complex place and, as an Oracle known to the Alchemist once said, 'you can't make a hard thing easy'. The causes of problems are rarely simple, and often people can't agree on them anyway, so the techniques to investigate them and the potential solutions cannot be pre-determined and clear-cut.
Support for this view is provided by approaches such as Peter Checkland's Soft Systems Methodology.Checkland proposed SSM precisely because real-world problems are messy, complicated and difficult to analyse, and those involved can genuinely disagree about the nature of a problem and where its solution might lie.
As a result, business analysis cannot be distilled into painting-by-numbers and does not lend itself to a 'cook book' approach. A technique like workshops may be perfectly effective in many situations but completely useless in others - for example, where there are lots of seething 'political' issues beneath the surface that prevent people contributing openly and honestly.
For me, the key part of the term 'business analysis' is the second word, analysis. Analysis implies really thinking about issues and using creativity and imagination to work out how best to tackle them.
The same goes for tools and techniques. If you think about someone working in a professional trade such as building or plumbing, they have a toolbox containing a large range of tools. Some of these they will use every day, others once in a blue moon. But they have mastered all of the tools and know when to use them - and when not to.The second edition of Business Analysis Techniques offered a toolkit of 99 techniques that BAs could select and use when they would be appropriate and useful. The book doesn't cover an exhaustive set of techniques but it reflects the options and choices available to business analysts and demonstrates that we have a very good basis for performing BA work.
Business analysis can never be mechanistic, it is a subtle, creative, thinking discipline and, as such, BAs will never be able to adopt a cook book in order to paint by numbers (to mix a few metaphors!).
Business Analysis Techniques
Systems Thinking, Systems Practice