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Companies are finding it increasingly difficult to be innovative as they struggle to keep up with the ever-changing needs and demands of today’s consumer. This is especially true of larger, process-driven companies. Unsurprisingly, smaller companies who unencumbered by large scales of operation are able to be more innovative, taking their solutions to the market in a more timely fashion.
When it comes to innovation, the simple definition is that it is the act of introducing something new. In my opinion, this is too simple. It fails to encompass the crux of what innovation is. If I implement a new process that causes a drastic drop in sales, is this innovation?
Consequently, I believe that the definition of innovation should include a relationship between business strategic goals and objectives.
Now, what does a business analyst have to do with innovation, you may be asking?
While a business analyst’s output might end up as a document, their understanding of business problems, goals, and objectives enables these requirements is what perfectly places them to play a key role in innovation.
From this perspective, I have constructed a business analyst’s view on innovation in the form of five fundamental keys.
1. Innovation for the sake of it
We simply cannot innovate for the sake of it. Not only is it costly, but the impact could be detrimental in a number of other ways.
That’s why we must understand why it is that we are doing what we are doing by answering several important questions. For instance, is there a customer need? What will the benefits be? Is there an existing problem that this innovation will resolve?
If we understand the why, we can determine how we should proceed, and report on the results post-delivery. To do this, it is imperative that when setting project objectives we ensure that they are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time Based).
SMART gives us a Specific objective that is Measurable, which we believe is Achievable and Realistic, and contains a Time element. SMART allows us to look back at the end of a project and ascertain if we have been innovative for the sake of it, or not.
Below is an example of what this looks like.
Bad Objective: Increase call centre sales
SMART Objective: Increase call centre sales from a current 500 sales a month to a future 700 sales a month, within 3 months of solution implementation
Relevant business analysis skills used:
- Understanding business problems and opportunities to fix those problems
- Business Objective and Goal setting
- Requirements Validation
2. Enable innovation
Business analysts are tasked with eliciting requirements for both the project overall and for key people operating in senior roles.
Often, we need to determine if these key people are the best to work with and if they are a customer touch point. Usually, they’re not, and can hamper collaboration, fresh ideas, and realistic perspective. That’s why we encourage the involvement of multiple SMEs, who possess in-depth knowledge of the business, during brainstorming sessions.
In addition, we examine our requirements, even in smaller deliverables, to ensure that they don’t restrict the ability of the development team to be innovative. Our requirements mustn’t focus on how implementation takes place, so much as on the objective itself.
Below is a great example of a good and bad requirement, borrowed from “Modern Analyst”, where you can see how the requirement limits the web developer’s ability to draw on their own knowledge and experience to supply a more innovative solution.
Bad requirement: A dropdown list box capable of showing a potentially infinite list of media items and allowing retrieval of a media item within x seconds
Good requirement: A search mechanism capable of showing a potentially infinite list of media items and allowing retrieval of a media item within x seconds
Relevant business analysis skills used:
- Mind Mapping
- Root Cause Analysis
3. Limitless thinking
If we work within the boundaries of what is currently acceptable, we will only output along those lines.
One of the best techniques to grow innovative thinking is through brainstorming sessions, where attendees are given carte blanche, with no limitations, no budgets, and unlimited resources. The outcome is ‘out of the box’ ideas and while not all of these need be implemented, none should be discarded as these ideas could very well become feasible in the future.
4. Bigger isn’t always better
The onus is on us to positively impact business processes by adding something new, not necessarily something big.
Smaller innovations, which don’t equate to less value, are often overlooked, but can effectively shift a business towards a more strategic and innovative environment. This is generally because bigger innovations can have a bigger negative impact during their implementation.
The logical solution is to implement smaller changes and reduce this negative impact on the business. This is especially true when experimenting with innovative ideas.
Why should define a solution that will take 3 years to build and implement, only to discover that it has little effect on the original objectives? That’s why we should follow the “Minimal Viable Product” concept taken from “The Lean Startup”, and do as little as possible to push a solution out so that we evaluate it step-by-step and pivot should we need or continue.
Business analysts are usually involved in the requirements phase of a project. Having delivered a requirements document, their part is seen as done. This is detrimental to the project’s success.
We should be involved right through to the end, evaluating through our SMART lenses and applying retrospective thinking to turn our learnings into actions.
With this in mind, if business analysts were involved from start to finish, able to apply these key perspectives to each project, we would be able to add more value, with requirements that align with strategic objectives, ensuring that the end product exceeds expectations.