Business Analysis and the 'Interpretation Gap'

One of the roles that I perform fairly regularly is the one of ‘interpreter’ between a business and its technology providers.  Sometimes this is deliberate, in that I have been asked to help source a particular product or service on behalf of the business, in cases where the requisite technical skills are not available in-house, or where internal resources are under pressure.

Other times, I can arrive a bit late to the party, and find a situation where a project may not be going to plan.  Frequently, the problem is one of project scope – the business customer thinks they are getting one thing, and the provider is pretty confident that they were asked for something different.  This ‘disconnect’ is what I mean by the phrase ‘interpretation gap’.

Business people normally go into business to deliver a product or service that they are skilled in delivering.  The skillset may not include setting up accounting systems, CRM, project management tools, or websites, so these tasks are frequently outsourced to a technology provider.

The technology provider, on the other hand, probably went into business because he or she was skilled in accounting systems, CRM, project management tools, or websites.  Hopefully, he or she is also commercially aware, and able to assess the business requirement accurately, and communicate clearly with the business owner.

The Interpretation Gap

This can be where it gets tricky, and this is not necessarily the fault of either party, but if it isn’t handled properly it can result in everyone falling out and pointing fingers and allocating blame for the project failure.  How many times do businesses say “It should be obvious that I expected the project to deliver x!”, and how many times do providers say “Well, nobody ever said that you wanted x!”  We’ve all been there, I suspect, and in my case I have been on both sides of the fence.  It’s a good job my star sign is Libra – I like to weigh up both sides of an argument and find balance!

It’s easy to blame the business for not asking for features, but I’m not sure that is fair.  As a technology provider, surely you are responsible for asking the right questions?  For the business, this is a ‘once in a blue moon’ project, whereas for the provider it is what they do every day.  Surely experience will tell you to what extent the business owner needs guidance?  The provider will know the pitfalls of projects of various types, and can navigate the busines owner through them.

It’s not always easy – sometimes asking questions about required features and functionality can sound like you are trying to drum up additional business, or flesh out a project needlessly.  In fact, it’s about future-proofing the solution, and your main task is to convince the business owner that you are working with his or her interests clearly in mind.

With your business analyst head on, don’t talk about the technology, and what you can deliver – it’s not a sales pitch.  Instead, engage the business owner in a conversatioon about the business, and make sure you understand what the requirement is, and how it will fit into the business and its culture.  Too much technology is shoe-horned into businesses where it isn’t a good fit – if your ‘off-the-shelf’ solution doesn’t work, don’t try to make it work – find a different solution.

Build a network of people who can help you, then you never have to turn down an opportunity.  If you are constrained by what you can offer, then you are constraining the businesses that you help.  If every technologist was a business analyst, and could see how solutions and businesses fit together effectively (and there are plenty who can, as well as plenty who can’t!), there would be far fewer failed IT projects.

It’s up to those of us who make our livings in this arena to ensure that the interpretation gap is closed for good!

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