November 21, 2018

Lean and agile business analysis — where to start?

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Lean and agile have become a thing in most organisations. They have a significant impact on how projects are run. As a consequence, they heavily influence what people expect from business analysis.

But what exactly is lean business analysis? Can and should analysis work be performed in an agile way?

I know I’m cutting corners here, but let me start with 5 second introductions to both lean and agile.

  • Lean is about reducing waste through not doing things that don’t add value.
  • Agile is about learning in short feedback loops on working partial products.

Yes, there’s much more to it than this, but if you actually run your organisation or your projects with this mindset, you’re already taking a big step forward.

What does this mean for lean and agile business analysis?

Maximise the analysis work not done

Have you ever written a requirements document, only to have it picked up for implementation many months later (or maybe never at all)? Was it good to go, or did you need to revisit and update it? Most probably, in the end there was some waste during the process of creating the deliverable.

For each business analysis deliverable, we have to challenge ourselves: what is the bare minimum to be able to move things forward? A good example is “The one where” as a way of describing usage scenarios or test cases. For some reason, if you Google it, it brings up several “Friends” suggestions, like “The one where Ross got high”. If you’ve ever seen this Friends episode, you don’t need much more information to remember what it is about.

Similarly, if you document a business process, simply listing the case of “the one where the customer makes an advance payment” captures a lot of information. That information does not necessarily need to be written down formally for people well aware of the business context if the time between capturing and implementing the requirement is kept short.

By reducing the detailed analysis work and timing your analysis work well, we can maximise the analysis work not done and minimise analysis waste without hindering the (process or software) implementation process.

Laser focus on value creation

“The one where” is an example of how we can make the analysis process more efficient. The goal of this analysis process, however, is not the output it helps implement (a process, a piece of software, …). The goal is a business outcome.

At each stage of a project, you want to be sure you are moving towards that outcome. If so, great! But if it’s not the case, you’d like to discover this sooner rather than later, so that you can make early course corrections.

Elaborating on the advance payment example: the intended outcome could be to reduce the number of reservations that are not picked up. Before fully implementing and automating a complicated payment process, you’ll want to validate whether advance payment has a positive impact on your goal.

In summary, two tips to embed lean and agile thinking into your business analysis work:

  • Check your deliverables: is it the right deliverable at the right time, with the right amount of detail and in the most suitable format (which is not necessarily in writing)?
  • Validate your output: is it helping to achieve the outcome you’re aiming for?

Apply these tips and let business analysis make your organisation thrive.

Get started

In my upcoming workshops on strategic business analysis, we apply a number of BA & lean startup techniques to create a lean and agile project context from within the BA or PM role.


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