Does a Business Analyst have a role to play in innovation?

by:  Shamiem Smail
Does a Business Analyst have a role to play in innovation?

Can you even imagine Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo jumping up-and-down on the edge of the soccer fields screaming “pick-me, pick-me”. Absolutely absurd right, people pay big bucks to have them on their team! This is how I feel when the topic of innovation comes up in business. I can see the value a BA can add because it’s as clear as day for me and the team, but no one else seems to see the contribution that a BA can make. We would love to scream from the rooftops that this is what we’ve have been trained to do; we have the toolset to tackle the challenge – we can add value, we are knowledge workers.

This is becoming a common occurrence for BA’s, when faced with the question “How can I take my business from being a commodity (widget) to being an integrator?”

A commodity/widget is produced to serve a specific purpose without any additional value add, and as such is easily replicated. A widget by definition is generic and non-descript.

The integrator not only serves the purpose at hand, but also explores and delivers additional value. Its aim is to continuously understand, adapt and deliver that extra bit, so that the consumer is always amazed and left wanting more. It’s the edge you can give to the business- keeping it a step ahead of everyone else.

As a senior BA, you are trained to identify and quantify the opportunity. You are able to:

  • articulate the opportunity,
  • identify which component it impacts,
  • how it impacts them and
  • list what would be needed to realize the opportunity at hand and its associated benefits.

BA’s can deliver the innovation magic by enabling and empowering the associated thought processes.

It is recommended that there is BA involvement from when the opportunity is in it’s infancy of being crafted and shaped.

Facilitation is an integral part of the BA tool box, how about combining facilitation with Random Word Association and Vision Boarding.

In the words of the innovation guru at my organization: “Remember that an integral part of innovation and the key to its success is fun, positivity and loads of ideas“.

In very simplistic terms, Random Word Association is a creativity technique that allows you stimulate lateral thinking by associating a randomly chosen word to the opportunity at hand. The word selected is an arbitrary word with no obvious connection to the opportunity: the audience is forced to think outside of the box. By no stretch of the imagination do I claim that there is a direct correlation between the first random word chosen and the ultimate solution that is chosen. The value of this technique is in the ability to get the participants to have fun while crafting a potential solution, and, to also get the cobwebs cleaned out in the minds of the participants. Cobwebs in these instances refer to the old way of thinking.

You will not achieve a paradigm shift if the association made is predictable; hence the need to randomly select a word with not intended association with the opportunity. The generation of a plethora of ideas allows for a greater selection of thoughts to be funneled into the actual filtering process.

In order to find a true gem of an idea there needs to be a proliferation of ideas. Make it a fun and inclusive process for both the generation and selection of the idea.

Now that the participants have managed to both articulate and select an idea from the Random Word Association exercise, I would recommend the use of a Vision Board.

How many times were you willing to bet that you had the requirements “down pat”, but there was potentially a difference in your understanding and what the business understood their requirement to be?

This is where you needed to validate the requirement to ensure alignment in understanding i.e. “To ensure that all requirements support the delivery of value to the business, fulfill its goals and objectives, and meet a stakeholder need”.
In keeping with the sprite of validating, Vision boarding allows you to validate the concept that was born from the Random Word Association exercise. It is a graphical representation of what the potential solution to the opportunity should look like. It’s a collage of images, words and sketches of what the participants feel the solution should look like. It’s also a novel and artistic way of visually depicting the elements and “feel” of the potential solution. Ensure that the vision board is a clear, uncluttered representation of how the participants envision the potential solution. This clarity of vision enables all parties to be on the same page. An ambiguity or misunderstanding can potentially be picked up at this point.

A word of caution here so as not to create false expectations or misconceptions, this is not a silver bullet. At no point in this process can you make any promises that this is what the solution will look like. But if you are restricting participants too early in the process, how can you hope to be innovative?

Sometimes innovation means looking at a problem differently and then making a slight adjustment to the existing solution. In other situations, it means a radical departure from the norm, turning the world inside-out.

I would hate to face a “Quartz Revolution”, by allowing our business to continue to believe that the status quo and the way things have been done in the past will allow us to innovate for the future. The Swiss watch makers were very comfortable with the traditional mechanical watches, and did not move to quartz technology. Economic upheaval and near collapse of the industry was caused by the short sightedness of the Swiss in this instance. Let us empower the business to view us as an integral cog of innovation and be part of the process of becoming integrators.

How will you know if it works, if you’ve never tried it!

Let’s get the conversations started!

About the Author

Shamiem	Smail

Shamiem Smail, CBAP and TOGAF 9.1 currently works for Standard Bank South Africa in the role of a Risk SME. She is passionate about Business Analysis and the value that a BA can add to an organization in terms of innovation. The time has come for BA’s to stand up and contribute towards disruption.

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