Project Phases for Business Analysts

This article is focused on enabling better performance in business analysts and aspiring business analyst professionals. In this regard, I thought knowing the basics of project phases may be a useful read. Basically I’m hoping to touch upon the various aspects of a technology project that achieves a specific business outcome in which business analysts play a vital role.

Why choose technology projects for business analyst discussion?

Our world today is governed by technology. From the time we wake up in the morning to the time we hit the sack in the night we are in a way ruled by technology. A business analyst role in a way is better appreciated when there is technology involved. As mentioned earlier in my posts, anyplace in this world, that combines people, process and technology would result in a problem.

If there is a business analyst, who is working exclusively on process without any impact to technology or without any aspect of technology involved, I would like to meet him or her. So coming to our topic – let us try to understand from a business analyst and consulting stand point in a simple way the different phases of a functional business project that involves technology.

Note – Please note that I’m refraining from getting into Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) or Agile. I would like to keep the context of this post brief and not specific to a particular project management style though what I do state would align to most methodologies.

Is a business analyst actively involved in the project sub phases?
Business project that involves technology are often split into 2 large phases in the consulting world. The first phase is called Scoping and the second phase is called Delivery. Both these phases contain multiple sub phases in which a business analyst plays a vital role. We will look at them in detail.

The sub phases of a the Scoping phase of a consulting project are usually split into Scope Definition, Analysis and Functional Design.

The sub phases of a Delivery effort in a consulting assignment includes Technical Design, Construction / Build, Test phase that includes System Integration Testing (SIT) and User Acceptance Testing.

Scope definition – From my experience, I have noted than often the scope definition of the project is prior to a business analyst being assigned to the project. In some cases, the business analyst might get lucky and stand to be included in the scope definition of the project. But usually in this phase a project / functional manager, the program manager and subject matter experts play a major role. In some cases, this phase is also called blue printing.

In certain instances the scope phase include the requirements gathering process while in some cases, it gets pushed into the analysis phase of the project.

Analysis phase – Again while the term Analysis strictly refers to analyzing the business requirements gathered, more often the requirements gathering process start in this phase. The analysis phase of the project actively involves the business analyst interfacing with the stakeholder and gathering the business requirements and analyzing the requirements to better understand which requirements fit into the scope area defined and which doesn’t.

It is a big challenge that in some instances business requirements often exceed the given project scope and may need to be identified by the business analyst and De-scoped. To the contrary in some cases, there is scope creeps and a lot of the business requirements are missed being documented. The analysis phase is definitely an area where a business analyst plays a critical role.

Functional Design – In the consulting world, the design phase is split into functional design and technical design. The function design is the phase where design elements with respect to data flows, requirements mapping to data flows, requirement functions that can be met through the design etc will be documented.

Technical Design – Technical design as the name suggests is the design document that provides the technology that defines the systems that will specifically be used to meet the functional business requirements documented by the business analyst. While the functional design document details the functions that would be met as a part of the design implementation, the technical design sticks on to the technology used, type of server to be used (Windows vs Linux), the type of database to used etc.

A lot of times in organizations these two documents are combined together to house a single design document. The usefulness of the comprehensive design document is completely contingent on the methodology followed by the organization. In some cases, where the business analyst is more functional some parts of the comprehensive design document becomes a challenge to understand.

A business analyst in the design phase plays the role of a solution expert. The business analyst is required to validate that the design document and the solution proposed meets the project objectives and the specific business requirements that have been captured.

Build / Construction – While in a strict sense a functional business analyst role would be restricted to requirements planning, requirements gathering and documentation until hand off to the IT teams, organizations today take a holistic view of the business analyst function. A business analyst might not play a very active role in the construction phase of the project. That certainly does not mean that a business analyst moves on to another project at this stage or has a relaxing time. While the IT team works on the construction phase of the project, a business analyst may be required to work on supporting the Testing preparation along with the project manager.

Apart from potentially supporting change management deliverables, a business analyst may be required to help drive reviewing the test strategy, test plans, test scenarios, cases and scripts.

The CBAP handbook specifically calls out that creating design documents, test strategy, test plans or executing test cases is not considered as relevant work experience for CBAP certification. I’m sure most of us would agree that irrespective of our likes and dislikes and what the handbook says, for all practical reasons, a business analyst usually ends up taking on these deliverables.

In my opinion getting our hands dirty on these deliverables is very good as you would no longer be restricting yourself to the role of a business analyst but scaling up to be a management consultant.

Test Phase – I hate to break it to you, but testing is further split into sub components.

A business analyst would know that the systems integration test is more often the key to solving most of the issues and problems in a technology project. While in the build phase, the IT team would ensure that they perform selected core testing on what they built, it more often becomes the role of a business analyst to support integration testing. The systems integration testing involves passing data through source and down stream systems to often test the interface / data flow between the systems through predefined test cases/ scenario having a specific test result.

The User Acceptance Test (UAT) succeeds the systems integration test. In this phase, the testing is performed from an end-user / customer perspective. It is expected that the testing from systems integration throws up a little of problems and bugs that will need to be solved prior to entering UAT. During UAT, the end-user or customer is given the flexibility to help choose the business scenarios they would like tested. The expected results (which should match to the expectation of the user) is often shared with the user to enable boost their confidence and sign off on the testing phase.

Testing is always done in a server environment outside of the real-time production environment. So, if you are in a meeting and hear people discussing about testing environments, don’t be baffled. It is merely a server environment that often replicates the production environment but allows you to make mistakes and correct them.

Implementation / Go Live – The implementation phase of the project is when the codes and solution tried and tested through the other phases of the project are moved into the production environment. Once the codes are moved into production and the systems are ready to Go Live, with the flip of a switch the changes are posted into production and are live to be reflected.

As you would have noted, the role of a business analyst is more than often exemplified in the initial stages of the project. During the initial stages of the project, there is a greater need for the business analyst to interact with the stake holders, gather requirements, document them, analyze requirements etc. Thus a BA becomes the bridge between the business stakeholders and the IT teams making the role extremely important. At the same time, it is also important for a BA’s to understand the impact of their role and their work on other areas of the project.

For all aspiring BA’s, I do hope this article though lengthy, provided you good insight into what happens beyond your role. Hope you liked it. Please do feel free to share your comments.