One of the many benefits business analysis brings to an organisation is the ability for a holistic view to be formed. This is easier said than done, and however holistic a practitioner tries to be, in reality they often see only part of the overall picture.
To complicate things further, there may even be different views on what ‘holism’ means. A useful definition is provided in the BCS book Business Analysis: 4th Edition, which describes the holistic approach as:
“The consideration of all aspects of a business system and their interactions. This encompasses the POPIT elements.”
This definition highlights the importance of considering not only the information and technology interconnections and aspects of a situation, but also the processes, organisational and people aspects. While all of these are important, it is perhaps the people aspect that is all too often overlooked. After all, it is relatively easy to specify a new IT system or a new process… it is another story to convince people to actually use it. And if they do use it, they might not use it in the way that was anticipated…
Diversity of Perspectives
A crucial difference when it comes to people (as opposed to processes or IT) is that they have their own viewpoints or perspectives on situations. What is considered ‘good’ to one person might be considered completely unacceptable by another. Making something more convenient for one set of stakeholders: “great, I can do my banking online now!” – might inadvertently make things much worse for another: “but I live in the country with poor connectivity, and now my local bank branch has shut…” For change to be successful, it’s crucial to minimise these unintended negative outcomes wherever possible.
This starts by ensuring the widest possible range of perspectives are heard, so that business transformation and service design decisions are made in an informed way. Some teams take a very narrow focus, perhaps favouring those that are directly involved in a change project in some way. There might be a desire for a Subject Matter Expert (SME) or Product Manager to represent the entire customer base, but do they really understand the diverse range of potential customers? Do they understand how those likely to be impacted by the changes feel about the situation?
The answer might be ‘yes’, as they might have carried out extensive research. Yet, too often, teams rely on personal knowledge and lived experiences. This can lead to processes and systems that work very well for people who are similar to those who specified and designed them… yet they might work badly (or not at all) for people who are unlike them and have different needs. However, with care, this can be avoided.
Watch Out for Homogeneity in Teams
An early warning sign is when teams become narrower and more homogeneous. While no team can fully encompass all perspectives about a situation, a diverse team is more likely to include people who can question the norm and bring in others with alternative views as needed. If the team is too narrow, then it’s likely that there will be collective blind spots. Such a team might accelerate forward at pace, only to deliver (with great confidence) something that doesn’t work well.
Encouraging diversity across as many aspects as possible within a team will yield benefits. For a temporary team (such as a project team), this might involve looking beyond the ‘usual suspects’, deliberately engaging a wider or different set of stakeholders.
Alongside this, it is valuable to promote ‘constructive dissent’. In some situations, people don’t raise concerns as they fear doing so will break the unity of the team. Yet empowering team members to disagree constructively, and actively encouraging ideas to be critiqued by those with different perspectives, typically leads to debates that can help correct the course of a project.
The Techniques are There
There are many relevant and helpful techniques within the BA toolkit. Stakeholder identification and analysis, using specific techniques such as the Stakeholder Wheel and CATWOE can be used to scour the stakeholder landscape and zoom in on individual stakeholder (or group) perspectives.
The key is to use the techniques consciously, and actively seek diversity. Doing so should assuredly lead to better outcomes.