1. Between a cloud and a hard place. As cloud-based solutions continue to flood the market, business analysts will continue to find themselves struggling to match the requirements of the business with the very real limitations and challenges of cloud-based platforms. Though they solve a lot of problems, cloud-based solutions carry with them some very real limitations. As customization gives way, and centralization wins over complexity, the expectations of business owners will need to be managed. As the hype around the cloud heads into the stratosphere, business analysts will need to become very adept at identifying, communicating, and managing the gaps between the expectations of project sponsors and the very real constraints of cloud-based platforms.
2. The strategic BA. Keeping existing projects in alignment with current business objectives will increasingly require a bottom-up approach. Project portfolio management (PPM) has taken big strides forward over the past few years as organizations have had to carefully rationalize their projects and resources. PPM processes rely on a top-down approach where portfolio decisions are made in the boardroom and then permeate down to project selection and funding. In many instances these processes do not keep pace with market velocity and dynamics, and the shifting organizational priorities that follow. When misalignment occurs, projects ultimately pay the price. To fill the gap, project organizations will need to establish bottom-up validation processes that ensure project deliverables are validated against both project requirements and against the strategic requirements of the business. Integrating strategic validation at the project level adds a needed, real-time layer of alignment that ensures a continuous link exists between strategy and execution. Savvy BAs will jump on the opportunity to play a more strategic role in the business and will develop the requisite skills needed to do it well.
3. The hybrid BA. New innovative business models and technologies will continue to push Agile into traditional waterfall environments, forcing business analysts to work in mixed environments. With many industries undergoing rapid changes, project management methods that allow for accelerated development and rapid learning will become even more critical to the business. Historically stodgy industries like financial services and healthcare are being forced to employ new business models to keep up with increasing customer expectations around convenience and cost. These and other industries will look toward technology-based solutions to deliver products and services closer to the customer in more assessable and collaborative ways. As existing project methods become strained by the need for speed, Agile will continue to creep into new parts of the organizations, creating hybrid environments and a lot of chaos along the way.
4. Managers will ignore BAs at their own peril. Business analysts will continue to be ignored by their managers. In a recent ESI Interpersonal and Leadership survey of over 500 project professionals, the number one ranked skill respondents wanted from their manager was the ability to coach and mentor them. The survey revealed that the top three skills required to successfully lead project professionals were: coaching and mentoring (52%), setting goals and expectations for team members (47%), and the ability to motivate team members (36%). The survey also asked about the greatest deficiencies project professionals found in their managers. Unfortunately, again the number one response was coaching and mentoring. According to the survey, the top three deficiencies were: coaching and mentoring (42%), delegating authority effectively (39%), and activity leading change in the organization (33%). Managers of project professionals are busy people who typically manage projects as well as project professionals, so it is understandable. With that said, coaching and mentoring is instrumental to the success of project professionals and those who don’t make time to focus on their staffs will likely fall victim to the oversight.
5. The BA change agent. The disciplines of change management and project management will continue to merge and consequently expand the role of the business analyst. Inherently projects are about change. No project has “steady-state” as its goal, yet historically change management and project management have been viewed as completely separate disciplines. Projects have been entirely about delivering requirements on time and on budget with the assumption that these outcomes deliver business value in the end. It’s a perspective that has, somewhat, ignored the underlying purpose of any project – to move the business forward. It’s a subtle but important disconnect. If asked, how many executives would prefer a project manager or business analyst who believes the end game is project outcome and not business value? Probably not many. Most people would tell you that a good business analyst has strong business acumen, and is very capable of challenging project deliverables that seem misaligned to project requirements. But in the end, that is not the expectation. The true objective is to deliver business value and for BAs that means understanding how project outcomes translate to changes in behavior and what is required to make that happen. Though most projects are not currently scoped this way, this will change as the two disciplines continue to merge and change management is built into the project scope. As this occurs, business analysts who understand effective change management concepts will be situated as an important link between strategy and execution.
6. Run! Business analysts and other project professionals will continue to avoid conflict. This is not a hard prediction to make since most of us avoid uncomfortable situations– it is just human nature. Unfortunately, fear of conflict can plague project performance, which depends on candor and transparency, both of which are often followed by difficult conversations and potentially conflict. The ESI Interpersonal and Leadership survey validated the impact. Of the 500 project professionals who responded to the survey, 36% of them ranked having difficult conversations and conflict management in the top three skills lacking in most project professionals. Beyond our natural tendency to avoid conflict, other factors promote this behavior, including closed management styles and cultural tendencies to “shoot the messenger”. Business analysts are the tip of the spear when it comes to identifying and communicating misalignments and it is critical that they become effective at managing the difficult situations and conflict that can result from transparency.
7. IIBA does well. With 28,000 members under their belt, a new strategic vision in place, and version 3 of the BABOK due in April, IIBA seems positioned very well for 2015. Since 2009, IIBA has almost quadrupled their membership base (from 7,700 members to 28,000) and that is not bad when one considers the economic environment in which they achieved their growth. Equally impressive is the number of global chapters they have up and running and the level of corporate sponsors they have been able to attract (110 and 220, respectively). Building an association from the ground up is not for the faint-hearted, and though there certainly have been some bumps in the road, overall IIBA has done an excellent job of promoting and supporting the profession. So here is a shout out to the IIBA—the BA community is fortunate to have their support.
8. EA connects the dots. In the coming year we will see enterprise analysis advance as a discipline and take a bigger role in connecting business strategy with the work it takes to deliver it. As markets become more dynamic, the need for quickly analyzing potential solutions and prioritizing them based on cost-benefit has never been greater. As business leaders continue to adapt to the increasing volatility and velocity of markets they are, necessarily, getting better at connecting the dots between strategy and execution. Consequently, as a discipline that bridges the gap, enterprise analysis will make inroads in the coming year. As more organizations take notice and better understand critical links between strategy and execution, the discipline can only benefit.
9. Culture Shock. To perform their roles more effectively BAs will need to have a better understanding of organizational culture and how it influences requirements and project success. The impact of organizational culture on project execution is not well documented, but we predict the subject will find a bigger audience in the coming year. Having a project culture is fundamental, but it may not be enough if the overall culture of an organization is at odds with the types of project it undertakes. Success is difficult to come by in organizations where disconnects exist between culture and the strategy. Often, when this is the case, project execution suffers and sponsors are left shaking their heads as to why. Organizational cultures strongly influence working relationships, and some types of relationships may impede successful execution. For instance, an organization with a rules-based culture may be at odds with an effort to build high levels of intimacy into its customer engagement process. Consequently, a project linked to a misaligned implementation like this might carry significantly more risk than a project tied to a process improvement effort, for instance. In the end, business analysts do not have much to say about the organization’s strategy or the projects it chooses to undertake. Identifying cultural disconnects, however, may help them better define requirements and recognize risks that might otherwise go unnoticed.
10. Predictive analytics are the future, we predict. Business analysts and enterprise analysts will need to become well versed in the art and science of predictive analytics if they wish to stay ahead of the game. The field of predictive analytics has been around a long time, but the discipline is exploding now as big data becomes a core function in virtually every organization, and as the interrelationships of the web are becoming better understood and exploited by some very smart people. Predictive analytics is not just about mining data and using it to predict future events; it also encompasses areas such as descriptive-modeling and decision-modeling, both of which are very useful tools to BAs and EAs who need to quantify relationships and better understand how decisions might impact future outcomes. New technologies are coming online every day, and savvy practitioners would do well to embrace the key concepts behind predictive analytics and build core competencies in the discipline.