6 January 2013

Chess and the Art of Business Analysis Part 2

In Chess and the Art of Business Analysis Part 1, a number of analogies were drawn between the competencies needed for success in both the game of chess and the discipline of business analysis. Using the framework of the BABOK (IIBA 2009) this post continues that discussion, this time framed by the activities described in the knowledge area of Elicitation.

Knowledge area 2: Elicitation

This knowledge area teaches us that different stakeholders have different needs and concerns which need to be understood. The message from this knowledge area is that there are often underlying needs to be met, which may not be obvious (or even stated), but which are critical to the projects' definition of success.

Chess teaches us that, whilst the objective of the game appears to be to capture the King, the actual objective is to force your opponent into a position where the next move would result in the capture of the King.

The key to this is realising that these are not quite the same thing. In much the same way that a BA must be able to identify when a stated requirement is not the real requirement. For example, something that is being driven by an existing (and possibly low value) business process rather than a business need.   

The supporting skills most valuable to a business analyst in this knowledge area include; the ability to see things from another perspective, to be able to extrapolate the possible consequences of decisions and how they may impact longer term outcomes. 

Being able to work at increasing levels of detail while not losing sight of the big picture is key for any business analyst.  Elicitation starts at the level of business goals and objectives, at an organisational, program or project level. It is only once these are really understood, that we move on to working at the level of business requirements which state broadly what a system should be capable of, whilst ensuring that each defined system capability can be traced back to one or more identified business goals or objectives. 

In chess this can be compared to the need to realise that your opponent not only has their own strategy in train, but that they are also trying to understand, predict and respond to any strategy you have in place. You need to be able to see the board from your opponent's perspective.  It is critical to  recognise very early on, that an experienced opponent places their pieces precisely and always with an objective that can be traced back to their overarching purpose. The relevant chess principle here is moving with reason never in response to an impulse.

As is the case in business, in chess making the assumption that you know which objective your opponent has in mind is a mistake, given that in tournament chess, forcing a draw is also a valid objective.

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