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Business Analysis: Strategic or Tactical?

In some organisations, projects are divided into two types. There are those that are seen as ‘strategic’—these are typically the initiatives that are new, exciting and involve seizing new opportunities or implementing new business models. They often involve ambitious step-changes in technology and processes, with eye-watering budgets. Other projects are labelled as ‘tactical’ and are usually seen as less interesting distractions from the more strategic work. These ‘tactical’ projects might involve incremental enhancements to existing IT systems and processes, and usually struggle to get the attention of senior decision makers. Sometimes they are seen as “throw away” initiatives—the solutions that they implement will only have a short shelf-life, so the aim is to minimise spend and effort. They are certainly not seen as career-enhancing projects.

While this artificial partitioning of projects may be useful in some contexts, in many others it will be dangerous. There is a risk that the word “strategic” will become shorthand for “important”, with “tactical” meaning “unimportant”, and this absolutely shouldn’t be the case. What is often lost in this false dichotomy is that many tactical initiatives are actually enablers for organisational strategy. Not only this, what is seen as ‘strategic’ to one person may be ‘tactical’ to another. Implementing a new set of CRM systems and processes may be seen as a strategic initiative by a Sales and Marketing Director, as it directly supports their departmental objectives of increasing customer retention. The CEO may see it as a tactical decision supporting a broader strategy of acquiring and retaining clients in a chosen market. 

This discussion naturally leads to the question: is business analysis strategic or tactical? In addressing this question, it is worth referring to the VMOST technique, which is summarised below:

 Vision  An imagined future-state that the organisation is aiming to achieve. Typically stated in long-term, aspirational language.
 Mission  The core purpose of the organisation. What it does to achieve the vision.
 Objectives  A set of measurable objectives. If the organisation is achieving its objectives, it will be achieving its mission and striving towards its vision. 
 Strategies  The broad strategies that will enable the organisation to achieve its objectives. 
 Tactics  The tangible tasks, initiatives, projects and so on that will be undertaken in order to implement the strategies. 

A key point here is that the various elements of the VMOST should be aligned. Execution of the tactics should mean that the strategies are realised; if the strategies are realised the objectives should be met and so on. A point that is often lost is that the most actionable part of the VMOST is the “T”. It is the tactics where the initiatives, projects and so on sit that will help achieve the strategies. Projects and change programmes, by their very nature, straddle the “S” & “T” border in VMOST. They help tactics get implemented which will achieve a set of benefits. Those benefits ought to be aligned with the organisational strategies.

Business analysis is one of the disciplines that helps connect the layers of the VMOST together. An individual BA is unlikely to be defining the vision and mission for the whole organisation, but they may well be helping to define how the benefits of a project align with the organisation’s stated strategy. At a more granular level, they will almost certainly be involved in prioritising requirements, with those requirements that support the project outcomes (which in turn support the organisational strategy) getting highest priority. 

Business analysis, by its very nature, is both tactical and strategic. This highlights the importance of BAs having a range of strategic analysis techniques in their toolkits, as well as staying informed about the strategy of their employer organisation.

This ability to connect the layers of VMOST is a selling point for the BA role. There are few disciplines whose practitioners can connect the sky-high ‘macro’ level with the down-in-the-weeds ‘micro’ level. This is something that a good BA does intuitively, enabling them to engage and communicate with stakeholders of all levels. It is possible for a good BA to make connections and, crucially, spot gaps that might otherwise have caused a project, product or service to completely fail. 

A regular theme of articles in business publications is “how to plug the strategy/execution gap”. Perhaps part of the answer has been hiding in plain sight: Business analysis!

Keep your BA toolkit at your fingertips with the updated and expanded Business Analysis Techniques 3rd edition, out now. Buy it here

A core module for the BCS International Diploma in Business Analysis, AssistKD’s Business Analysis Practice course uses real-life case studies to introduce the key BA skills including strategic analysis, stakeholder management, business activity modelling, gap analysis and making a business case. For more details, please click here.

 

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