The Art of Business Analysis War

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Model_of_Chinese_warriorHello all – BobtheBA here to briefly talk about strategy.  Business Analysis?  War strategy?  What do these two things have in common?  Surprisingly a lot.  It is very important to plan and manage your requirements effort but more importantly it is how we deal with the moments in-between the tasks and deliverables that truly show the art of business analysis.  Planning and Managing your requirements may be new for you and if it is not, you will know how difficult this can be.  Training may be in your future to help out in this area.  In the meantime, why don’t we get some inspiration from one of the definitive works on military strategy of all time?

The Art of War is a Chinese military treatise written by (or attributed to) Sun Tzu (not to be confused with my dog the Shih Tzu, who surprisingly is a pretty good strategist when it comes to dog treats management).  The premise of the Art of War was the importance of positioning an army based on the objective conditions in the physical environment with the subjective beliefs of the other “actors” in the environment.  Sun Tzu believed that strategy was not a series of lists that you worked through but instead making quick and appropriate responses to ever changing conditions.  Believe it or not fellow Business Analysts, we can learn a thing or two from Sun Tzu.  So is the business analysis requirements process like going to war?  Let’s take a look.

What are two things a Business Analyst must always navigate when eliciting requirements?  Stakeholders and the domain in question.  First, let’s consider our stakeholders (your “actors”) who naturally have a subjective view of the requirements.  It is all about them after all and it is their viewpoint of their specific needs (and in many cases wishes) that we must adjust to quickly in order to meet those needs.  Sounds like the Art of War so far…  Secondly, let’s consider the physical environment – the domain where we must remain objective.  We need facts.  Facts that we can use to meet the needs (not the wants).  This too is reminiscent of the Art of War.

What would Sun Tzu do in the following scenario?  Sun Tzu knew a storm was brewing and his sunny day was soon to be rained out.  The battle was looming.  Did he follow his checklist/plan without reacting to this objective change in the weather?  More likely Sun Tzu made a quick and appropriate response to the changing condition of the environment!  Now let’s say that there is dissension in the ranks because they disagree with the decision that Sun Tzu is making based on the weather.  Again, he will make a quick and appropriate response to the subjectivity that is going on with his “team”.  The result?  Victory!

Often I see BAs following a plan, checking off the tasks, cranking out the deliverables and not reacting to the conditions placed on the domain or the changes of their stakeholder’s views.  The idea that you must always follow the plan without fail can actually lose the battle for you in the long run!  So keep your eyes open.  Listen to your stakeholders, get the facts and be ready to make a quick and appropriate response.  Be flexible and adaptable.  Sun Tzu was a master strategist in the Art of War and now with some practice and maybe some training, you too can be a master strategist in the Art of the Business Analysis War.

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