With its ever-increasing reliance on technology to automate mundane processes and free up people to do the things that technology can’t do, the housing sector faces a big challenge in terms of keeping up with the pace of change and ensuring that what it delivers adds value.
As a practising business analyst in the housing sector, I find that organisations are all facing similar challenges:
- What changes should we make to align our processes and business systems to our corporate strategies and objectives?
- How do we plan and prioritise those changes?
- How do we ensure that we are taking a holistic view and aren’t missing any key dependencies?
- How do we start the process of understanding all of our processes and what changes need to be made?
- What technologies are available to us and what options do we have?
- How do we ensure benefits realisation and business acceptance?
- How can we ensure that we remain flexible to change?
These are all challenges where having a strong business analysis function is key. Good business analysts are highly skilled in areas that, when combined with willing subject matter experts and skilled developers, can bring about the implementation of solutions that offer genuine value to both internal and external stakeholders alike.
So, what does a good business analysis function in a housing association look like? For me, it’s a team of business analysts who possess the following attributes:
- Attention to detail – the quality of a business analyst’s outputs must be high; there’s no place for sloppy work;
- Influencing skills – sometimes you know it’s the right thing to do and you just need to convince the others;
- Resilience – it can be tough and you need to be able to bounce back after a set-back;
- Commercial awareness – knowing what is going on in the wider world as well as in the context of housing;
- Housing domain experience – while a business analyst doesn’t need to know every detail of a particular area, they certainly need to understand the area they are working in and how it fits within the wider context. They also need a good degree of technical knowledge; no one wants to sit in a discussion with IT developers and not have a clue what they are talking about when they mention APIs;
- Team working – the ability to work well as part of a team goes a long way towards sharing the load and getting value delivered at pace;
- Agile mindset – this doesn’t mean stressing about working precisely to an agile framework, it is about working towards delivering value at pace while remaining flexible and accepting of change;
- A dedication towards continual professional development.
It’s then about setting out clearly what the business analysis function is responsible for in terms of deliverables:
- Analysing and understanding the situation or problem area;
- Process improvement;
- Inputting into the business case, with options for change;
- Defining and managing the requirements;
- Managing the benefits and business acceptance of the new solution;
- Business acceptance and testing;
- Implementation of the change;
- Continual improvement of the solution.
And then working with the business to facilitate:
- A deep understanding of the area of focus and the value to be delivered.
- The delivery of requirements that help to tell a story as well as provide the right level of detail for the solution to be developed. This is a delicate balance and one where the use of ‘user stories’ is very helpful; a user story is good because it allows the requirement to be very end-user focused, with the right acceptance criteria providing the right level of technical detail yet also allowing for a good degree of flexibility for the developers.
- Process improvement – recognising areas where efficiency or customer experience can be improved, removing duplicates, reducing workload and bottle necks.
- Benefits management and business acceptance – working with key stakeholders to define and review benefits and use them to ensure the resulting solution delivers value as well as helping to get the business through the change curve smoothly.
- Implementation – working closely with the business and development teams to ensure smooth implementation and post-live support; we don’t simply put the solution in and then let people ‘get on with it’ – we are there to support the business at all stages.
- Continual improvement – thinking that you can just put a solution in and leave it is a one-way trip to disaster.
Having a robust and effective business analysis function really does get you a long way towards delivering solutions that add value, are delivered at pace and facilitate a continual improvement approach. What is not to love about that?
My recommendation to any organisations who either don’t have a business analysis function or have one (but aren’t quite sure what it’s doing) is to review it against the points above. I promise you the investment will be worth it and will certainly give you a good return as you start to see your ideas and strategies come to life and your operations become more efficient.
Susan Cornish is a senior business analyst at BPHA.