Reinventing a pivotal role for IT

The fundamentals of the business analyst role are changing, thanks to a new emphasis on business over tech requirements

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It's also half the story of why the business analyst role has to change -- because developers no longer need translators when they have direct conversations with end-users.

The other half, as we've been discussing the past few weeks, is what the business needs but hasn't been getting: help figuring out how to make things run better, including but not limited to how automation can enter the picture effectively. (See "Bad news for traditional techies: There are no IT projects" and "How to become the new business analyst needed in IT.")

What does one need to know to become a successful "new business analyst" in today's IT? We might as well choose a title to go with the new role, and as NBA sounds like a position where altitude is a bona fide occupational qualification (BOQ), we'll use internal business consultant, or IBC for short.

The ABCs of IBCs

As is so often the case, there's no shortage of technique out there that IBCs can profit from. And technique matters, once you've mastered the fundamental concepts. We've already hit the key concepts:

  • IBC concept No. 1: Value

    What every project has to improve or there shouldn't be a project -- namely, revenue, cost, and/or risk.
  • IBC concept No. 2: Optimization
    What "better" means with respect to a business process or practice -- some combination of fixed costs, incremental costs, cycle time, throughput, quality, and excellence.
  • IBC concept No. 3: Process vs. practice
    Understanding the difference between processes and practices -- that processes extract as much knowledge and judgment as possible from inside employees' heads and puts it into the process design, while practices rely on the knowledge and judgment that's inside each employee's head -- is essential.

One other view of the difference between processes and practices: Processes generally improve quality while diminishing excellence because simplification and standardization are the most cost-effective ways to reduce variability. Practices, in contrast, generally increase excellence while making quality more expensive, because when no two work products are exactly alike, the only way to achieve quality is through inspection. Worse, "excellence" includes aesthetic criteria, which makes inspection itself a practice.

IBC skills and techniques -- the DEFs
Here are three of the most important entries in the list of techniques IBCs must master:

IBC technique No. 1: Facilitation. If an IBC can't get people to talk with one another, understand what one another are trying to say, and bring them into some semblance of consensus, nothing else matters. Facilitation is top of the list for any internal business consultant.

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