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Business Analysis as a service. Top tips from experienced practitioners

At the recent BA Manager’s Forum we discussed Business Analysis as a service with three highly experienced Business Analysis leaders – Christina Lovelock, Tazeem Wafa and Mark Wilson. Here are the key take-outs from the lively and informative Q&A session. 

Why take a service approach in terms of what you offer to your organisation? 

  • The service approach offers clarity, defining the range of services offered by BAs. It also offers flexibility in how the services can be used in context. 
  • It gives BAs confidence, tools and consistency. It allows a BA team to create opportunities and extend the services it offers. 
  • The service approach showcases the expertise of the BA, and helps users clarify what services they need. 

Do you have any key insights about how you have established a service approach and the challenges you have faced? 

  • We have repositioned ourselves with our internal customers, producing our own service catalogue, articulating our services clearly and showing stakeholders what we offer.  
  • To avoid the perception of a ‘land grab’ we’ve had conversations with teams where there are overlapping service offerings, to make sure we can work together effectively.  
  • By T shaping our entire BA service we have established our strengths and identified gaps. We have taken a collaborative approach, with inputs from and outputs to other teams in our organisation. Sometimes signposting to other teams is required. 
  • The service approach is about setting out your stall and stating what you do but also what you don’t do.  

Is there any one challenge in embedding, to watch out for or be careful of? 

  • The biggest ‘no-no’ is to offer a service that you can’t then provide.  
  • When you have a new service, don’t over polish it but start using it and improve as you go along. 
  • Too often people criticise the silo approach yet sit in silos. It’s better to look at the overall service as an eco-system, with the different elements fitting together.  
  • There can be a fear from BAs about the multiple skills they might be expected to have when a service approach is embedded. It’s good to be aware of this internally.  
  • If you’re going to offer services internally within an organisation, be prepared for people to request them and demand to rise.  

Where do you focus your effort in terms of your customers? 

  • BAs are used to being the champions for customers and end users who are not in the room. But we need to get used to thinking of our internal colleagues as customers too. The service approach asks us to look at both external and internal customers. Stakeholders within projects should also be beneficiaries. 
  • Customers appreciate being involved at an early stage. For example, in requirements engineering we may use wireframes to get end users involved.  
  • As BAs we sometimes need to be bold, to have conversations with customers at an early stage, before we’ve perfected the service or product. 
  • It’s easy to make assumptions that value is automatically delivered to customers, without appreciating the nature of this value. Understanding the distinction between delivering value and the co-creation of value is critical. 

What’s your best advice knowing what you know now? 

  • Normalise the language of service. BAs should be challenged to think and talk in terms of service.  
  • Other departments and teams will see what you are doing and want their own service definitions. Be prepared for quite a bit of interest. Try not to let it hold up what you are doing but be ready to lead the way. 
  • Right from the start, think about the bigger picture and opportunities presented.  
  • Talk to customers about what they want and make sure they’re fully aware of what BAs do. Be willing to be flexible and signpost to other services.  
  • Don’t be rigid, context changes and there will be new strategies and policies and regulatory impact. Be willing to be reactive and have a service that meets the organisation’s needs, not just the change portfolio.  

What makes you feel optimistic about offering Business Analysis as a service? 

  • Other professional disciplines becoming interested in the service approach is a cause for optimism.  
  • Now that there are junior level entry roles and apprenticeships, there are more opportunities to provide a cost-effective BA service. 
  • The meta question asked is ‘what is a Business Analyst?’ A service approach gives us the opportunity to answer this question clearly and concisely, unlocking more opportunities for BAs.  
  • People are realising there are not different types of BA but you can have one BA with different hats, the penny has dropped. 
  • Some BAs will wear many different hats, some will choose to specialise. You can even put together a T shape per service to understand where people need to develop different skills. Leaders can explore with individual BAs where they want to take their careers. BAs can take ownership of what specialisms within the service landscape they wish to move into. 

How do you prevent consumers from cherry picking? 

  • You can’t, they will still do it, but the service approach allows you to have a more informed conversation. With the service approach they will have a clear articulation of the service offering in front of them. 
  • Sometimes it’s our job to make customers see the bigger picture. 

What about competencies and skills? 

  • There is always work to do on the newer services and sub-services, it’s part of the value chain. Define the services first, then look at the skills. Work on the customer metrics around the services. The balanced business scorecard offers a useful framework. 

If people are not recognising the service approach, can you suggest any good marketing strategies to get the messages across tactically? 

  • Go along to team or divisional meetings. Get the message out there. It’s about presenting that this is common sense. Put the services into logical groupings so there is no reason not to support the approach. 
  • Virtual roadshows to different stakeholder groups internally can be very effective. You can also recruit natural champions of the approach in different areas, who can be the go-to people to answer the questions of new stakeholders. 

Can contractors be used at peak times, to fill skills gaps? 

  • Contractors can be used to increase the capacity of services, to fill a gap in a project where a particular skills set is needed. An external person or company can add a new service and with knowledge transfer it could become a new a service in your portfolio. 
  • It’s preferable to give an opportunity to an internal team member. If bringing in a contractor, you could back fill them. 

People might be working in a fully embedded agile delivery model, where you might have questions around the BA role being diluted in some way. Have you seen this in terms of the service model? 

  • Yes, to a degree. There is a place for a BA role within any given agile team, but you need to be careful about how you measure performance and value.  
  • It helps BAs embedded in an agile environment to revisit conversations about the breadth of value BAs can add.  
  • The service approach reinforces that BAs can move around. It gives them a chance to work in different teams rather than being stuck in one area for their entire career.  
  • We have not made a distinction between BAs working within an agile environment or where there is a waterfall approach. Some projects embrace aspects of agile although traditionally they tend towards waterfall.  

Any final thoughts? 

  • The whole service view resonates with BAs because we know we’re not just trying to get a product out the door, we are trying to achieve something with it. Agile is a ‘how’, service is a ‘why’ and a ‘who’ and a ‘what’.  
  • Instead of the silo mentality, we need to put factors such as developing people, skills sets and tools in context to achieve successful outcomes. 

The BA Manager’s Forum is a forum where Business Analysts share their learning. The webinar on 12th August 2021 was hosted by Lawrence Darvill of AssistKD.  

Panellists: AssistKD’s Debra Paul, Christina Lovelock (BA Leader, Author and Coach),Tazeem Wafa (Business Analyst Manager at the Bank of England and BA of the Year 2020), Mark Wilson (BA Practice Manager at Allianz Insurance).  

A video of the full webinar is available on request. Please email lawrence.darvill@assistkd.com

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