Requirements Management Management: The Need for Teeth

by Jason Questor
Founding Partner and EVP Learning Systems

Many organizations have taken the need for requirements management somewhat seriously, but have stopped at half way measures. Requirements Communities of Practice and Centres of Excellence abound, graced by the blessing and largesse of the executive branch, but far too often without the regulatory clout needed to actually make a difference. They have no teeth.

In this far-too-common configuration, adoption of so-needed best practice in business analysis is largely a waste of time and resources.  Business managers, for whom these groups and the standards they espouse have been created in the first place, can look upon the rigour and discipline as merely something that will cost them more time and aggravation and reject it out of hand. And are allowed to do so.

This is ironic, because the executive sponsorship that creates these bodies does so as a direct remediation for those self-same managers, who decry projects that are typified by cost and time overruns and the failure to deliver solutions of value.  But when all is said and done, so many business managers look only at the very short-term, in fact immediate situation, and derail the application of the very tools and techniques that would result in getting it right the first time.  Focused solely on the optics of the immediate, these managers continue to use their authority to impose ineffective status quo project operational realities that invariably result in extensive rework and continued failure to deliver on value promises. This is even more frustrating in the face of the gains being won by their peers who have adopted effective business analysis and requirements management tools and techniques, knowing that the additional time and effort applied up front is an investment that will ultimately reap savings in time, effort, cost and rework.

The lesson is so obvious: the medicine does not work if you don’t take it.

The solution is equally obvious but does require, for some, a leap of faith and courage.  Requirements management groups responsible for standards and practice must be provided with enforcement oversight. Quite simply, projects that do not use the tools that ensure success, as represented by the formalized end-to-end process, must have their funding removed. Carrot and stick.

Pre-emptively, in order to secure funding in the first place, project initiation documentation, in whatever form, needs to include a formal commitment by the project sponsor to adhere to the rules of the road. It amazes that so many managers believe they are above the rules represented by the logo on their business cards. Even more amazing is that they continue to get away with it.

This solution implies a degree of audit authority in the requirements management group that is rarely seen and that, in some circles, would be seen as politically outrageous. But the alternative can result in the inability to lay the foundation of effective requirements so necessary for successful projects.

From Strategic Business Analysis: Building Business Value ©2012 Jason Questor. Jason is founding and current President of the Toronto Chapter of the International Institute of Business Analysis, and writes and speaks extensively on the subject.

Wanted: Requirements Managers

by Jason Questor
Founding Partner and EVP Learning Systems

We need to up the ante in the way we develop our business analysis professionals.

While we are not suffering from a glut of business analysts at the moment, the discipline has matured and spread throughout organizations to the extent that employers can now be picky.  There are thousands of card carrying business analysts who know all about use cases, workflow diagrams, functional and non-functional requirements and the rest of the mainstream toolkits and taxonomies. You know what we don’t have nearly enough of?  Requirements Managers.

With training or a book, the hammers and saws of the trade are not rocket science and won’t differentiate one business analyst from another. It is your ability to actually manage the many processes (and people) at work within a project, program or, dare I say it, enterprise that will make you or break you.  More and more I am hearing from clients who say things like:

  • “Most of our business analysts are okay, but none of them can command a meeting populated by business managers.”
  • “A lot of our business analysts whine that they get no respect.  But they cave in or acquiesce on what needs to be done to get requirements right as soon as they get resistance from some self-important bully, especially when it comes to justifying the time and resources needed for their work.”
  • “Throw them a bump in the road and the wheels fall off.  Why can’t they be more adaptable?”
  • “Tell them what to do and they do it.  Ask them to build a business case or defensible requirements work plan and you get a funny look.”

One client told me recently that their business analysts often protest that they are not scribes, but then go right into scribe mode.  No effort is made to work with stakeholders to synthesize multiple views into a unified picture of what is needed to solve a business problem, or even what the problem is in the first place – in other words, to actually be an analyst.

Why is this happening?  In my experience, the vast majority of business analysts are smart, caring, knowledgeable and professional. What is stopping them from becoming and acting as leaders? Answers that point to politics, corporate inertia or too-busy-to-do-it-right are overly simplistic.  While all of these no doubt contribute to the current situation, I believe the root cause lies in how we, as leaders of organizations, often define the role of business analyst, the expectations that derive from that definition, the constraints and dis-empowerment imposed as a result and the level (or absence) of ongoing visible support we give them.  In short, you get what you pay for. In addition, let’s be candid. There are some people in the role who do not have the personal confidence, skill set or innate desire to be the champions we need them to be in the face of resistance to excellence.

Modest Proposal: No More Business Analysts, Just Requirements Managers

In any discipline or area of business, there is a class of worker who does the necessary and tedious grunt work that requires attention to detail, methodical by-the-book adherence to standards, and a high tolerance for mind-numbing repetition and predictability. These are the clerks, and they are absolutely necessary for operational consistency. But as the popular saying in business goes “We have tons of people. Where is the talent?” In 2005 the Institute for Sustainable Enterprise and Fairleigh Dickinson University commissioned a study that spanned all industry sectors and sizes of organizations to find out what senior executives identified as critical challenges. Among the most urgent and important identified by the 16,500 respondents was building leadership capacity now and for the future.  Organizations of all stripes and scope are looking and will pay handsomely for those who can lead the charge. With requirements at the centre of any business problem, opportunity, strategy or mandate, knowing how to draw an activity diagram is not going to cut it.

Business analysis is too important to be left to a clerk.

A Requirements Manager is someone who can combine the technical skills of business analysis with the people and process management skills needed to get the job done. A true Renaissance Individual, they will have an existing and growing deep knowledge of the sponsoring organization, its market segment and competitive landscape, along with its culture, processes, politics and priorities – and be able to work the system towards solutions that provide sustainable value.  Applying best practices from key solution disciplines including project management, strategic and investment planning, finance, information technology, process engineering and sales allows the Requirements Manager to transcend titles and become a sought after resource beyond the realm of projects that tweak the database.

Sounds good, right?  Here’s the kicker. They have to be positioned as such and provided with the opportunity and training to be this and do this level of work. Can everyone rise to this level of service and value? I don’t believe so.  Like any profession or endeavour, you have to also consider what someone is bringing to the table insofar as raw talent, past experience and potential.  However, all business analysis professionals can (and most want to) add more value in their work.

How do we get there?

  • Business Leaders – Any business leader with enough experience knows that if you find someone who has in-place leadership and management capabilities in addition to technical skill, you must do anything to keep them, creating a job if necessary that appeals to, challenges and most of all, retains that talent for the organization.  Send them out for training on the tools and techniques for six weeks. Grow a Requirements Manager.
  • Organizations – Most leading organizations who have been investing heavily and consistently in training people in business analysis need to move quickly to the next level or risk losing the existing top gun requirements managers in their business analysis group.  Identify your high potentials and fast track them through leadership, people management and process skills. Train them in project management, finance fundamentals, strategy.  Provide this training at a more relaxed pace to your entire business analysis group. They may not be guild masters now, but this apprenticeship will make them much better at what they do now.
  • Individuals – If you are a natural leader, enjoy wearing the hat, are good at it and get deep satisfaction from facilitating effective solutions that provide real benefits for people and organizations, investigate business analysis. If you are a business analyst who is frustrated by your inability to get things done and really manage your work and deliverables, lobby for the training in the kinds of things identified here that will give you the skills to make it so.

From Strategic Business Analysis: Building Business Value ©2012 Jason Questor. Jason is founding and current President of the Toronto Chapter of the International Institute of Business Analysis, and writes and speaks extensively on the subject.

All ACHIEVEBLUE Front and Centre Strategic Business Analysis courses stress requirements management along with best practice tools and techniques. Find out more by clicking here.