Just as me, you may still be working from home right now, and over the last several months the way you interact with your colleagues, bosses, clients, partners, and providers has changed. The way business is performed has also changed due to COVID-19. Will it go back to the way it was? Definitely not soon. Probably never. Some changes are here to stay. And this may be positive news for business analysis professionals.
The recent global health crisis is first and foremost a human tragedy that has claimed 844,000 lives as of end-August 2020. It is also an economic tragedy, having put millions of individuals out of work and making it necessary for more employees than ever before in history to work reduced hours or work from home. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, working from home has become the new normal, and this trend will continue in the future. Kate Lister, President of Global Workplace Analytics, estimated that “25-30% of the workforce will be working-from-home multiple days a week by the end of 2021.”1 This was an old demand from lots of employees willing for flexibility but managers and executives feared the lack of control in remote work. Well, COVID forced them to face their fears and to deal with that. And the surprising result is that most loved it. Work-from-home is not just more flexible, but also cheaper, more sustainable, reduces business travel needs, is prepared for future possible disasters, and workers seem to be more available than ever before. No more difficulties scheduling a room for a meeting, or to arrange a place where everybody could be together; everybody is now virtually always connected.
Of course, all organizations must adapt to the changes arising from COVID-19. And this is a great opportunity for Business Analysts, because BAs play a key role in helping companies become more agile and adapting to the virtual world the Coronavirus pandemic has ushered in.
Business Analysis Professionals Can Help Organizations Move Forward in Spite of COVID-19
The coronavirus pandemic has damaged many companies’ bottom-line. First, it has affected consumer behaviour negatively. Although for the most part companies are avoiding to lay-off employees, 37% said they will or may do so in the future. Four in ten companies already have had to freeze hiring as a cost-control method.2 Clearly, the pandemic has impacted business revenue and put organizations into survival mode. Those saving-cost actions that address many of the immediate needs of business are part of the “Reaction – Resilience” phases according to KPMG ’s Global Recovery Framework.3 I see the need for a lot of Business Analysis in the next phases of the Framework: “Recovery and New Reality”, where the organizational strategy moves to a longer-term and more future-focused discussion on COVID-19. Their research says that “Long-term thinking, patient capital mindset, and agile decision-making enable a transformational agenda across businesses; the acceleration of digital transformation and focused responsiveness to customers, actions that will determine the speed and success at which businesses can move out of Recovery and into the New Reality.”
Business analysis professionals are called upon to help business leaders create agile decision-making frameworks and ensure organizations move forward even in the midst of the changes and challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The focus must not be about “coming back to normal”. It must be “becoming better than before”. As told by Mariana Mazzucato4 in TED2020: “Really, my view is that we need to do everything we can not to go back to normal, because normal was part of the problem.” In her view, as an economist, she lists a lot of issues we have lived in the past decades as the broken healthcare system, problematic corporate governance and business structures, skyrocketed inequality and climate crisis. She calls out governments to rethink investments and not to waste the opportunity this moment offers.
As a Business Analyst, working in the context of organizations, I see the greatest issue is the difficulty to sense and respond rapidly to the market changes, i.e., to reach Business Agility. There is a sensible collapse of the command and control management model, based in the planning and monitoring of pre-defined tasks where bosses with no ability to motivate and lead their teams just perpetuate a lack of employees’ commitment to business outcomes. The need for change was here before the Coronavirus pandemic. The crisis amplified the problems and opened the door of opportunity for deeper transformations.
Why Business Agility is Critical, and How Business Analysts Can Help Their Organizations Become More Agile
According to McKinsey5 research with 1,900 executives, they are adapting their strategy (and their organizational structure) with greater frequency than in the past. 82% percent of them went through a redesign in the last three years. However, most of these redesign efforts fail – only 23 percent were implemented successfully. Agile organizations can do better. They have a 70 percent chance of being in the top quartile of organizational health, the best indicator of long-term performance.
In 2020, agility is a key ability all businesses must possess because the future is unpredictable. Without it, it will be difficult for an organization to survive. However, business agility, which Agile Alliance defined as “the ability of an organization to sense changes internally or externally and respond accordingly in order to deliver value to its customers”.6 is not something that happens by accident. To become agile an organization must continuously identify its gaps, evaluate different alternatives for improvement, define and implement the best available solution, evaluate its results and start all over again in fast decision cycles. That’s where a business analysis professional comes in.
Business analysis may help businesses become more agile in three different fundamental perspectives, or three planning horizons, as proposed by the Agile Extension to the BABOK ® Guide6:
At the Delivery Horizon – business analysis practitioners support decisions that impact the solution currently being developed by a development team. They make the requirements clear and understandable by a variety of stakeholders, including decision makers and customers, guiding the team to deliver the highest valued characteristics and features as possible in a short period of time.
At the Initiative Horizon – BA practitioners evaluate available resources to help decision makers focused on defined goals to identify the solution that minimizes output and maximizes outcome, optimizing the value chain. They communicate and align the business strategy view to multiple delivery teams and use feedback to determine whether the solution is producing the expected outcome, and identify what opportunities are available to change in a mid-term time frame to better achieve goals.
At the Strategic Horizon – BA practitioners support decisions about strategy and the allocation of available resources to support that strategy. They define business goals aligned to the business Vision and constant revalidate the funding for initiatives, products, and services accordingly to changes perceived in customer taste, competitors, new disruptive technology, regulations, etc. Changes in this horizon are usually of a longer-term than initiative and delivery horizons.
Business agility is only achievable addressing agility in these three planning horizons. Addressing just one level is not enough. The whole organization must seek agility. And Business Analysis has a crucial role in understanding needs and recommending the most valuable solution in every horizon, with different approaches and techniques as described in the Agile Extension to the BABOK® Guide.
Companies that become more agile with the help of business analysis professionals will be able to deliver value to their customers despite the challenges COVID-19 is presenting. And they will pivot their products and services to exploit new and unpredicted opportunities. As told by Business Analyst Jamie Champagne8, “for business analysts, business agility means more than just agile, but in being flexible, adaptive and using creativity to focus on what CAN be done in a world of CAN’T.” With greater agility, businesses will not only survive pandemics and world changes, but provide the world with greater value.