Breaking the Cycle of Challenged Projects
Kathleen B. Hass (Author)
Publication date: 10/01/2007
Breaking the Cycle of
Kathleen B. Hass PMP
About the Author
Kathleen B. Hass is the Project Management and Business Analysis Practice Leader for Management Concepts. Ms. Hass is a prominent presenter at industry conferences and an author and lecturer in the strategic project management and business analysis disciplines. Her expertise includes leading technology and software-intensive projects, building and leading strategic project teams, and conducting program management for large, complex engagements. Ms. Hass has more than 25 years of experience in project management and business analysis, including project portfolio management implementation, project office creation and management, business process reengineering, information technology (IT) applications development and technology deployment, project management and business analysis training and mentoring, and requirements management. Ms. Hass has managed large, complex projects in the airline, telecommunications, retail, and manufacturing industries and in the U.S. federal government.
Ms. Hass’ consulting experience includes engagements with multiple agencies within the federal government, such as USDA, USGS, NARA, and an agency within the intelligence community, as well as industry engagements at Colorado Springs Utilities, Toyota Financial Services, Toyota Motor Sales, the Salt Lake Organizing Committee for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, Hilti US Inc., The SABRE Group, Sulzer Medica, and Qwest Communications. Client services have included organizational maturity assessments, project quality and risk assessments, project launches, troubled project recovery, risk management, and implementation of program management offices and strategic planning and project portfolio management processes. Ms. Hass’ professional experience includes work as an IT manager for Unisys Corporation and as Program Office Director for Albertson’s Inc./American Stores Company.
Ms. Hass earned a B.A. in business administration with summa cum laude honors from Western Connecticut University.
In This Chapter:
The Problem with Projects
Business Analysis Defined
The Business Analyst and IT
The History of Business Analysis
Change is the norm, fierce competition is the driver, and lean thinking is the latest call to action. Corporate survival depends on an ability to be nimble and to react appropriately and swiftly to change. It’s even better to drive change, thus maintaining your competitive advantage in today’s continually transforming marketplace. Organizations in both the public and private sectors are struggling not only to react to the high velocity of change in the economic, political, and global landscape but also to proactively stay ahead of the curve.
It is through projects that organizational leadership teams react to and plan for change. Projects play an essential role in the growth and survival of organizations today, for it is through projects that we create value in the form of improved business processes and new products and services. To manage change through projects, organizations need to professionalize business analysis knowledge, skills, and abilities so that they can (1) establish business strategies and goals, (2) identify new business opportunities, (3) determine solutions to business problems, and (4) select, prioritize, and fund major change initiatives to meet business needs and achieve strategic goals.
The Problem with Projects
Projects today are large, complex, and high risk. Consider the characteristics of typical projects that are underway in virtually all public and private organizations of any size:
Business process improvement and/or reengineering ventures to replace inefficient and outmoded legacy business processes and technologies
Significant change programs to continually tune the organizational structure, capabilities, and competencies as the business model changes, including initiatives like organizational restructuring, outsourcing of core business processes, down- or right-sizing, staff acquisition and/or retooling, establishment or relocation of business operations, and mergers and acquisitions
New lines of business requiring design and implementation of new business processes, organizational structures, and technologies to support the new operations
These projects are further complicated by their significant technology component. Since data and information are the lifeblood of virtually all business processes, the information technology (IT) systems that provide the supporting technology to operate the business processes efficiently are often a major part of the business solution. As organizations engage in large change initiatives that depend more and more on technology for communications and operations, the business analysis contributions are becoming more and more essential in turning an organization’s vision and strategy into reality.
It’s worth looking at the track record for completion of complex projects that are accompanied by software-intensive IT systems. An abundance of surveys administered during the past decade reveal a rather dismal record of project performance, particularly for significant IT projects. The Standish Group’s 2006 CHAOS Report exposed the difficult nature of managing IT projects today: 46 percent of projects were challenged, meaning they were over time or budget, and an additional 19 percent of projects failed altogether, meaning nothing of value was delivered to the organization. 1
The Standish Group, 2006
The Standish Group International, Inc., www.standishgroup.com, is a market research and advisory firm. The Standish Group provides critical information and active solutions to organizations concerned with developing and implementing business solutions. This advisory service is based on in-depth primary research supported by a rigorous process improvement cycle. Constant process improvement, coupled with a formal feedback system, ensures the latest in advanced thinking.
The Carnegie Mellon® Software Engineering Institute (SEI), www.sei.cmu, serves the nation as a federally funded research and development center. The SEI staff uses advanced software engineering principles and practices and has served as a national resource in software engineering, computer security, and process improvement. As part of Carnegie Mellon University, which is well-known for its highly rated programs in computer science and engineering, the SEI operates at the leading edge of technical innovation.
Studies by the Gartner Group and SEI also show the project management difficulties for software-intensive development endeavors. According to the Gartner and SEI research, 50 percent of software-intensive projects are rolled back out of production and 40 percent of problems are found by end-users. According to SEI, 25–40 percent of all spending on projects is wasted because of rework.
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the federal government agency that, among its other duties, evaluates the effectiveness of federal programs, policies, and procedures, has also compiled troubling statistics. A study published March 26, 2003, states that “… 771 projects included in the fiscal 2004 budget—with a total cost of $20.9 billion—are currently at risk.” 2
The term software crisis is used to focus attention on the improvements needed for successful management of software-intensive projects. 3 Because the status quo cannot be tolerated, a number of government and industry initiatives have been spawned to address the problem: 4
The Clinger-Cohen Act, passed by Congress in 1996 to instill private-sector IT management best practices in federal agencies. The law requires the largest agencies to create a CIO position to provide strategic insight into how IT can help mold the business processes used to deliver public services.
The U.S. Department of Defense’s formation of the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University to promote mature, quality-based project management practices.
The formation of the Software Productivity Consortium, later renamed the Systems and Software Consortium, or SSCI (www.software.org), in the late 1980s to provide industry and government a resource for insight, advice, and tools that could help address the complex and dynamic world of software and systems development.
The development of sophisticated educational programs like the Defense Systems Management College on the Management of Software Acquisition and the graduate software engineering program at George Mason University.
The development of advanced standards, such as DoD acquisition standards 2167 and 2168.
The DoD Software Technology for Adaptable, Reliable Systems (STARS) program, which established the foundation for the integrated tool environment.
The formation of the IT Governance Institute, or ITGI (www.itgi.org), in 1998 to advance international thinking and standards in directing and controlling IT groups to ensure that IT supports business goals, optimizes business investment in IT, and appropriately manages IT-related risks and opportunities. Also from ITGI, the Control Objectives for Information and Related Technology (COBIT) provides a comprehensive framework for the management and delivery of high-quality IT-based services.
The formation and success of the Project Management Institute, long acknowledged as a pioneer in the field of project management. The Institute has a truly global membership of more than 200,000 professionals, representing 125 countries.
And most recently, the emergence of the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA), founded in 2003, an organization dedicated to advancing the professionalism of the business analysis occupation. The IIBA is the independent nonprofit professional association that serves the growing field of business analysis. Its membership consists of persons with various titles, filling a diverse set of roles—requirements engineers, systems analysts, business analysts, requirements analysts, project managers, technical architects and developers, consultants, and, in fact, anyone involved in analysis for systems, business, or process improvement.
A Solution: Better Requirements Engineering
There is a growing notion that poor requirements engineering is one of the leading causes of project failure. Requirements are hard—very hard—to get right, especially for software. It is becoming clear that business solution development must be treated as a specialist discipline, implementing requirements formed through good requirements capturing, documenting, and managing techniques. Consider these observations, which were retrieved from www.theiiba.org and come from experts in the field:
Communication challenges between business teams and technologists are chronic—we estimate that 60%–80% of project failures can be attributed directly to poor requirements gathering, analysis, and management.
Meta Group Research (now Gartner)
Poorly defined applications have led to a persistent miscommunication between business and IT that largely contributes to a 66% project failure rate for these applications, costing U.S. businesses at least $30B every year.
56% of defects can be attributed to requirements, and 82% of the effort to fix defects.
The obvious conclusion: existing requirements engineering approaches, methods, and tools simply don’t deliver the results that are vital for the success of organizations, both public and private. Because businesses across the globe rely on successful business transformation projects with critical IT components for their very survival, the stakes are too high to continue in business-as-usual mode.
The requirements engineering process—when conducted using best practices—is typically composed of activities like scope or context definition, requirements elicitation, requirements analysis, requirements specification, requirements documentation, requirements validation and verification, and requirements management. These subdisciplines encompass the activities involved in gathering, evaluating, documenting, and managing changes to requirements.
It is widely believed that the use of effective requirements definition and management practices leads to successful projects, satisfied customers, and increased professionalism in the industry. The elements that must be in place to produce high-quality requirements include:
A representative group of key stakeholders who understand the needs of the business
A project champion who plays an active role in requirements definition
A strong commitment to project objectives on the part of the project team
Use of a repeatable requirements engineering process, tools and techniques that are continually improved
An understanding of the business architecture that supports the current and planned needs of the business, accompanied by an aligned technology architecture
The ability to accommodate changes in requirements as those requirements are progressively elaborated
In a response to the belief that more rigorous attention to requirements management will add considerable value to project team effectiveness and greatly improve project performance, business analysis is emerging as a valued business competency.
Business Analysis Defined
There’s no standard definition of business analysis in organizations today. Some organizations restrict business analysis to the process of requirements elicitation, analysis, and change management. These processes encompass gathering requirements from the customer; structuring requirements by classes or categories; evaluating requirements for selected qualities; modeling requirements to further represent their relationships; decomposing requirements into more detail; finalizing requirements in the form of documents, diagrams, matrices, and tables; and then managing subsequent changes to the requirements.
Other organizations broaden the definition to include financial analysis, quality assurance, organizational development, testing and training, and documentation of business policies and procedures. Indeed, in many organizations a person might play multiple project team roles concurrently while being dubbed the project manager or systems manager. The same person might be the project manager, technical lead, and business analyst.
Business analysis is emerging as a professional field, and so standard definitions and role delineation are emerging as well. The IIBA definition of business analysis is the definition we will use in the Business Analysis Essential Library series: 5
Business analysis is the set of tasks, knowledge, and techniques required to identify business needs and determine solutions to business problems. Solutions often include a systems development component, but may also consist of process improvement or organizational change.
In this definition, the role of the business analyst differs considerably from the traditional role of the IT systems analyst in that the business analyst is focused exclusively on the business need and adding business value.
The Business Analyst and IT
Business analysts get involved and play a leadership role in many nontechnical projects. Examples include development of the business architecture, business process reengineering, competitive analysis and benchmark studies, pre-project analysis, business case development, and organizational restructuring and relocating. In practice, business analysis is an essential component of project success, regardless of whether technology is involved.
However, the IT systems that provide the supporting technology to operate the business processes efficiently are often a major component of large projects. Indeed, superior IT systems are now becoming a competitive advantage to organizations. Although there are business-related projects that do not involve IT, these projects are becoming increasingly rare. Today’s business analysts recognize they must be fluent in both the business and technology domains.
In analyzing the root cause of the current state of failed and challenged business projects, we have learned that the talents, competencies, and heroics of project managers, business visionaries, and technologists alone cannot drive value into the organization. For business needs and goals to be converted into innovative solutions that truly bring wealth to the enterprise, a stronger bridge must be built between the business community and the technical community. That bridge is built by employing the practices of professional business analysis prior to and during the development of the business transformation solutions.
IT managers are realizing that technical skills can be relatively easy to outsource, but that they cannot abdicate control of their business requirements. In virtually every organization, the elevated leadership role of the business analyst is beginning to shape the future of business transformation.
It is increasingly clear that although technical knowledge areas are necessary, they are insufficient for successfully managing requirements on the large, enterprise-wide, complex, mission-critical projects that are the norm today. Just as business leaders must be multi-skilled and strategically focused, business analysts must possess an extensive array of leadership skills. The business analyst is now assuming a leadership role and is quickly rising to a senior position in the enterprise. As the IT contribution moves beyond efficiency to business effectiveness, the business analyst becomes the central figure on the project team who is bilingual—speaking both business and technical languages. To perform in this pivotal role, the business analyst must have a broad range of knowledge, skills, and competencies. Without this key liaison between the business and IT departments, poor requirements definition emerges, resulting in a disconnect between what IT builds and what the business needs.
The History of Business Analysis
Business analysis is just now emerging as a recognized occupation. That is not to say that no one in the business world conducted analysis in the past. On the contrary, several analyst roles are commonly found in organizations, including financial analyst, quality assurance analyst, and IT systems analyst. However, it is just now becoming clear that a business analyst is needed as a critical member of a project team if organizations intend to use projects to sustain or secure their competitive advantage.
In many organizations, the role of the business analyst and the competencies necessary to perform that role have not been differentiated from those of other analysts residing in the business, from those of systems analysts residing in the technical group, or from those of a subject matter expert or a project manager. Yet, all of these roles have very distinct responsibilities during the life of the project. It is no wonder projects fail at a high rate when project team members are expected to perform skillfully even when their required competencies have not been clearly defined. In fact, even the titles of the individuals performing business analysis activities on projects still vary widely—systems analyst, solutions architect, systems engineer, requirements engineer, and even project manager are all titles given to individuals who perform business analysis.
Recognizing the need for rigorous business analysis on projects and the need to put order to this relative chaos, the IIBA was founded in 2003 to advance the professionalism of the business analysis occupation. The IIBA is developing the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK™) for the profession. In this quest, the IIBA works with “practitioners around the globe to continually add to those standards through education, research, and the sharing of effective tools and techniques.” 6 In addition, the IIBA has developed a Business Analyst Certification Program unique to the profession of business analysis. Establishing a certification for business analysis will go a long way in standardizing and professionalizing the practice of business analysis. The certification creates a standard vernacular and standardizes organizations’ expectations for the knowledge, skills, and competencies of a Certified Business Analyst.
1. The Standish Group International, Inc. Unfinished Voyages: A Follow-Up to The Chaos Report, 1999. Online at www.standishgroup.com/sample_research/unfinished_voyages_1.php (accessed April 8, 2005).
2. Federal IT Project Manager Initiative. Online at www.ocio.usda.gov/p_mgnt/doc/CIO_Council_Guidance.ppt#425,1, Federal IT Project Manager Initiative (accessed December 27, 2005).
3. U.S. General Accounting Office. Defense Acquisitions: Stronger Management Practices Are Needed to Improve DOD’s Software-Intensive Weapon Acquisitions, Report to the Committee on Armed Services, March 2004. Online at www.gao.gov/new.items/d04393.pdf (accessed January 2007).
5. International Institute of Business Analysis. Business Analysis Body of Knowledge, draft version 1.6, 2007. Online at www.theiiba.org/pdf/BABok_Release_1dot4_2005Oct27.pdf (accessed December 21, 2006).
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