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3 February 2013

Chess and the Art of Business Analysis - Part 6

Knowledge area 6:  Solution Validation and Assessment

This is the final post in a series which has compared the thinking skills required to practice the discipline of business analysis with those required to play chess. As with the other posts, one of the knowledge areas described by the BABOK has been used to frame the discussion. This post covers the the knowledge area of Solution Validation and Assessment, which like knowledge area 2, Business Analysis Management and Planning, describes activities which occur throughout a project life-cycle particularly in projects using change driven approaches.

The knowledge area of Solution Validation and Assessment describes the activities and processes which assist the business analyst to assess both proposed solution options and implemented solutions, the purpose being to ensure that they (respectively) remain fit for purpose (according to agreed priorities). This involves understanding both the immediate and broader implementation impacts of a solution and taking these into consideration when making a recommendation or assessment. In business analysis, constant attention to gathering and applying feedback (and responding to that feedback) supports the delivery of a constantly improving solution.

If you happen to be working on a project using a change driven approach, you will spend a much greater proportion of your time working in this knowledge area than you would working on a project which uses a plan driven approach.  In change driven approaches, learning which results in early and frequent refinements to a solution are valued, welcomed and sought after. These are seen as opportunities to produce a better outcome for the whole project and are actively accommodated by the project framework. In plan driven approaches, the term change request may result in both rolling eyes and rolling heads, depending on where in the project life cycle it occurs. Consequently there is a great deal of pressure to try to cover all the bases up front. The direct consequence of these differences for the business analyst are seen in the timing of, and emphasis on, validation and assessment activities.    

Success in chess comes from the ability to keep your eye on more than one big picture: both yours and your opponent’s, your goal being to achieve continuous improvements in your position.  
Every move in a chess game demands that you reassess whether your next planned move still makes sense in the context of your opponents most recent move and in terms of your longer term strategy. Sticking to a long term strategy formed before you made a mistake and lost your queen is probably risky and should prompt some re-planning. In both business analysis and in chess, it’s very important not to allow yourself to be distracted by an active battle (low hanging fruit) which causes you to lose sight of your main strategy. This said, sometimes you or your team just really need a win.  


I have found the process of learning to play chess to be challenging and engaging and whilst I happily imagine that I have noticed differences in the way I think about what I do day to day, I have no evidence to support the idea of chess as a general cause. At a minimum I now have a deep understanding of the meaning of the term analysis paralysis, which is probably blog worthy as a topic by itself.

Given the history of chess and the number of undeniably great thinkers who advocate chess as the ultimate mental work out, it’s easy to construct an argument to support the premise that time spent playing chess is always time well-spent and if you’re a business analyst, clearly work related.

You don’t need to take my word for it, this is what Benjamin Franklin said this about chess in 1750:    

The Game of Chess is not merely an idle amusement; several very valuable qualities of the mind, useful in the course of human life, are to be acquired and strengthened by it, so as to become habits ready on all occasions; for life is a kind of Chess, in which we have often points to gain, and competitors or adversaries to contend with, and in which there is a vast variety of good and ill events, that are, in some degree, the effect of prudence, or the want of it. By playing at Chess then, we may learn: 1st, Foresight, which looks a little into futurity, and considers the consequences that may attend an action ... 2nd, Circumspection, which surveys the whole Chess-board, or scene of action: - the relation of the several Pieces, and their situations; ... 3rd, Caution, not to make our moves too hastily.

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, "The Morals of Chess"