Business Analysis Investigation Techniques

There are a number of techniques that business analysts can adopt to drive more effective investigation into a problem in order to analyse the issue & propose a solution.

First off, we have the most common requirements elicitation method, interviews. By interviewing stakeholders & understanding pain points in detail, we can start to work through potential solutions & work with the stakeholders throughout the interview process to extract their ‘ideal’ process / outcome – after all, who can design a better solution than those people that are in the detail on a daily basis.

Next, we have observation, which is exactly what it says on the tin – observing the process & all the associated problems happening in real time, with your own eyes. The value of seeing problems first hand rather than having them explained to you mustn’t be under-appreciated.

There are other types of observation too. We have ‘protocol analysis’, which is where we run an observation whereby the business users describe the process step by step as they carry it out. This can help you to assimilate information about the environment, the process and the pain points that little bit faster than observation alone.

Next, we have shadowing, which is the process of following and observing a process / individual for a couple of days to better understand how the process works, giving the opportunity to identify even more pain points.

The final observation technique is called an Ethnographic Study, which is where we enter the target environment for several months to investigate the processes, people and systems in depth for the most comprehensive understanding of pain points & potential improvements.

The below model shows the different types of observation. Green indicates that it’s relatively high level through to red which is an extremely in depth study.

The next investigation technique is a workshop, which is a structured meeting through which we discuss the process / system step by step, gathering feedback and input from several business users in a single forum. Throughout these sessions, we may use techniques such as: brainstorming, brain writing, post-it exercises and more. We may even create As-Is / To-Be models throughout the session; generate mind maps or create context or use case diagrams. There is no set structure or model for a workshop, it should be flexible depending on your participants & the outcome you seek from the meeting.

There are different types of workshops too – while a standard workshop may focus on a broad range of topics to flesh out requirements across the board, a hothouse workshop focuses on a specific problem and has the tendency to be quite fast paced and may get heated.

We can also use focus groups for gathering insight. These generally are for opinion gathering about the business, the market as a whole, current products or future product ideas you may wish to gather.

Users can also provide the business analyst with scenarios – that is, situations that they may get themselves into which cause them pain / struggles. As part of this, we should also ask for their ‘ideal world’ scenario. We can then provide a kind of gap analysis between the two to see what the gap between the actual & ideal scenario is.

Finally, prototyping can be used to demo a system to clarify vague requirements. The demos can be in any form, from a paper mockup, to an excel model to an HTML UI. There is no set standard for a prototype & it’s up to the BA to choose the best method for their specific project.

All of the above have been qualitative approaches. Now, let’s look at a few quantitative approaches to investigation as a business analyst.

First off, the tried and tested method of using questionnaires and surveys to gather insight from our stakeholders. These are only really useful if you’re trying to gather a limited amount of information from a large number of people that are geographically dispersed.

We then have a quantitative version of observation, we call this activity sampling. This is where the business analyst observes a process happening & records the length of time it takes to complete specific activities. This provides not only the areas that the stakeholders think are the most painful but also highlights those areas costing the most time & money to the business.

Finally, we use document analysis (of completed forms and reports) to understand the processes, their composition, weaknesses and areas for improvement.

These are the core methods that we use for investigation as part of our work as a business analyst.

Content based on study of the BCS Business Analysis course – Business Analysis 3rd Edition (Debra Paul, James Cadle and Donald Yeates).