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Monday, March 30, 2009

Critical Success Factor (CSF)

Critical Success Factor (CSF) are defined based on individual organization’s goal, objective and mission, a good CSF are the ones which can be measured, and when I mean measured I don’t mean by a score, there needs to be a baseline defined for each CSF to be measured against.

One of the CSF for a project I worked for in past was 'ease of use', immediately when I looked at the CSF I told them, that’s an interesting CSF and I posed them a question, how are you planning to measure that?, and guess what I did not get any tangible answer, the reason was that everyone agreed that we want to deliver a software which is easy to use but did not know how to measure it? that does not mean it is not a good CSF. The moral of this story is that if you cannot measure something how you will decide if it was successful or not, sometime we do not have to categorize a CSF as success or failure it could be how effective it was and that’s good enough (at least for me).

One another CSF I came across was 'increase in sales by 20%', which was later changed to 'increase sales by 20% from last year', now this can be measured, do you agree?

Identifying CSF (oops measurable CSF) at the begining of the project is very critical for project's success and for stakeholders confidence in the project.

Some of the typical CSF is as follows

  • Solution will be delivered by so and so date.
  • Solution needs be able to install via an installer.
  • Software needs to be up and running with no (or absolute minimum) configuration.
  • Sales order should be placed within X minutes.
  • Quotation needs to be generated within X minutes.
  • Implementing this solution needs to save X dollars in operational cost.

Sometime there could be different CSF for different team, but an experienced BA will ensure that every teams individual CSF can be used to measure organizational CSF.

It is very important to constantly keep an eye on CSF, the progress needs to be recorded correctly and more important timely, very recently I saw people in my organization using burn down graphs and backlogs, the tool was very simple to maintain and enabled the whole team to act in time and monitor progress, that’s what I like to see.

Bye for now…

Sunday, March 29, 2009

'Team' the sacred word

I bet you have heard that word a million times, perhaps few times every day, we all know what team means and there is no need for me to explain that term, but sometime I still ask myself the question "What team means to me?"

So I am going to talk about what team really means (to me), for me "team is a group of likeminded people thinking, analyzing and working together for a mutual goal". Most companies (no offence) think a team is a bunch of people thrown together in a room to complete a task. Now you may argue what is the difference, the difference is more of philosophical, when a group consists of people who have different view and different goal; often it is difficult to increase the productivity and delivery of the group. Why do you think these "Team Building Programme" are getting popular, that’s because more and more companies realizing the true meaning of a team (a good team).

Following are some signs of a good team
  • One team member supporting other team member (or group of member).
  • Tolerant to each other’s short come, uniqueness and opinion.
  • Team Leads are passionate to teach and help team members.
  • Team member are open to share their expertise & insight to other team members.
  • Team member often stop to see how other team members are doing.
  • Team member treat each other with respect.
Remember a team is as strong as its weakest team member.
Something to think eh?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Is Business Intelligence a threat to Business Analyst ?

In the past 5-6 years I have seen Business Intelligence (BI) getting very popular and powerful too. For those of you who are new to BI let me first explain in brief what BI is, the official definition according to Wikipedia is "Business intelligence (BI) refers to skills, technologies, applications and practices used to help a business acquire a better understanding of its commercial context. Business intelligence may also refer to the collected information itself."

Now you may think that this is some new cool technology but you will be surprise to hear that BI existed since late 1950s in one form or another.

BA are very integral part of creating BI, interacting with customer, identifying reports, analyzing data, this information can then be applied to the BI, it does not make sense to apply rules to data if you don’t understand the data.

There is one thing everyone needs to understand that BI are great for reading data, massaging data and applying decision and generally does all this very fast, but one thing they lack which is "thinking" (until they perfect artificial intelligence of course), for now BA will do the thinking.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Business Analyst Vs Project Manager

Well as much as the title suggest that I am going to talk about who is important over the other, let me settle this before I talk more, the answer is very simple (and you know it) "Both". Now that it is settled I can relax and continue, BA and PM and like two side of coins, depending upon which angle you are looking from, one may seem more important than other, but in reality the only way to guarantee success of any project (big or small) is to have a very experienced PM and experienced BA.

In a project BA manges business stakeholders and PM manages resources (hardware, people, cost), it is very crucial for the success of a project that both role are clearly defined and planned for (unfortunately sometime BA are expected to do both ... but that is a different story).

In the beginning of the project both roles will overlap to define and agree scope, mission, objective, risk (along with mitigation plan) of the project (sometime called "Terms of Reference"), but as the project moves on the roles gets it real shape and each focus on their particular responsibilities and tasks.

It is very crucial for the success of the project that both role are working towards an agreed goal and never lose in touch with the business stakeholders and business users.

Some of the tasks performed by BA are as follows

  • Bridge between business users and technical teams.
  • Knows (or in the process of) the business in and out.
  • Regularly feeds progress back to business stakeholders.
  • Resolve conflicts and implement change management process.

Some of the tasks performed by PM are as follows

  • Manage resource (people, computer and much more)
  • Create a proper (detailed) plan of the project.
  • Motivate the team members and resolve any conflict as arises.
  • Document change request.
  • Keep an eye on the risk and take timely approach to resolve it.

Now as you must have guess that sometimes it seems that BA and PM have conflicting goals, for PM it’s more important to deliver project on time and within budget, for BA it is more important that the business outcomes are achieved, I personally like that kind of tension and that’s where experience comes in.

Bye for now...

Why Business Analyst ?

Over the last 10 years or so the technology focus has moved away from IT to business users, it is no more about product, software or hardware it is all about solution (not any solution - A business solution).
Business Analyst is a bridge between technology and business, the one who can see and understand both sides, to support business procedure which in turn increases revenue and decreases operating costs.

An experienced BA will involve business users and technical people from the very beginning of the project; this ensures that both side gets an opportunity to express their views and contribute ideas, this process is called JAD (Joint Application Development). There are various tools which can be used during the various stages of projects some of them are
  • Process Mapping
  • Data Modeling
  • B5 Matrix
  • Design Sessions
BA must also be skilled at system testing, user training and project management.I am going to leave you with a final closing statement that today companies need good BA more than ever if they really want a solution for their business users and to keep up with this fast moving global competition.