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30 December 2012

Chess and the Art of Business Analysis Part 1

Over the last 12 months or so, I have spent a lot of my of time learning to do two new things. These are; learning to be a student again, for a doctoral thesis, and learning how to play chess (for fun).

I took up chess because I assumed  that playing a game, being quite a different thing to software development (my day job) and the rigours of academic research, might form an interesting distraction from the intensity of most of what I do.
Well it seems I was wrong, and I have come to realise that not only does playing chess use the same thinking skills I need to be a business analyst, it gives them a great work out.

The BABOK Guide (IIBA, 2009) identifies 6 knowledge areas in which the business analysts must demonstrate both understanding and the application of techniques.  These knowledge areas are supported by a number of underlying competencies. The game of chess has something to teach us in each of these knowledge areas and is also underpinned by exactly the same underlying competencies.  

This article will look at each of the knowledge areas in turn and attempt to demonstrate alignment between the skills you use as a business analyst and the skills you use to play chess.

Knowledge Area 2: Elicitation
Knowledge Area 3: Requirements Management and Communication
Knowledge Area 4: Enterprise Analysis
Knowledge Area 5: Requirements Analysis
Knowledge Area 6: Solution Validation and Assessment

Many comparisons can be drawn between the underlying competencies identified in the BABOK and those required for success in chess, but that’s another series of posts, yet to be written.

Knowledge area 1: Business Analysis Planning and Monitoring

This knowledge area teaches us about using our experience to apply foresight, especially to consider the different kinds of tasks and activities that need to be performed at different phases of a project. It’s about understanding what phase a project is in and communicating this to the team. Monitoring progress and knowing when the focus of your attention needs to change, whilst not losing sight of the bigger picture are key activities throughout the project.

Chess teaches us that every game has multiple phases and the objective of each phase is different. Being able to identify when a game has shifted from one phase to another is a critical skill. Missing the point at which your opponent moves from the opening phase to the mid game leaves you exposed and at risk of finding yourself engaged in an end game you weren't ready for.

Like the chess player, the business analyst needs select the right skill from their kit-bag at the right time, regardless of methodology; in the project planning phase this includes making sure you understand the domain in which you are working, what threats and opportunities are present in a given situation, as well as  identifying all the project stakeholders (in chess this is about understanding which pieces are really in play), In both cases these are not always the obvious ones (stakeholders who are not really on board, or who have different priorities). This is the time at which you will make an initial selection of the techniques which will allow you to assess and communicate the progress of your project.

In chess these skills are analogous to identifying your opponents skill level and any strategy they may be employing.  Next you must focus on developing your pieces towards the most powerful squares, setting up a strong defence and ensuring that the most valuable resources are going to be available to you before you need them.