Measuring the value of the business analyst role

Once we see a business analyst in action, we can see the value. But how do you quantify soft skills of an enabler that helps others be more successful and deliver greater value? Let’s consider some metrics and ways to approach measuring the value of a business analyst.

I always get asked about measuring the value of the business analyst (BA) role. If a BA does not show up to work, do the lights not turn on? Are they the first person you call when the system goes down?

Typically, the business analyst role is not a “critical to operations” position in a true business analysis-only focused role (i.e., not a side duty of the system administrator). Yet, those organizations who have leveraged the role of a business analyst and exploit their skill sets on new opportunities and challenges have found measurable returns in this investment. They may even go so far and state that they cannot function without this valuable role now.

So how do you justify the role of the business analyst?

Defining value

To consider the value of the business analyst, it helps to put your own business analysis ‘hat’ on and consider the request. First there is the definition of value – what does value mean to an organization? Is this return on investment (ROI)? Is this a monetary number? Is this something that is hard to quantify and may be more a soft skills or intangible asset? What are the ways to best describe value for the organization?

Then look at how the organization measures values throughout the enterprise. Is there valuation on customers (i.e., a customer is worth $XX)? Is there valuation on customer service (i.e., so many customer service calls per day, lasting an average XX amount of time)? Is there valuation on brand and company image (i.e., number of employee volunteer hours or organizations assisted)? Getting the most traction comes from aligning back to what the organization values. Identifying what measures are in place already at the organization can be a better starting point than trying to identify brand new measures of success.

Then think about the goals that are hoped to be achieved by the business analyst. Are the goals smoother and more effective solutions? Faster achievement of project goals, under budget and on-time (is “early” a possibility with projects today…?)? What is the business analyst’s purpose at the organization? What criteria is put in their job description? Goals are a better way to focus on measuring a business analyst’s value in what they achieve, rather than focusing on simply what they deliver.

An example would be perhaps a “decrease in the number of change requests on IT infrastructure projects” versus simply requiring a BA to be held to “no more than 3 requirements changes per project.”  The first measure (though we should define specifically what ‘decrease’ means) is more organizationally oriented. The second goal is not only limited but it can actually make the BA less effective by putting constraints. BAs are often in facilitative roles so having a more specific focus on what the project hopes to achieve and deliver to the organization helps focus the BA’s measure on outcomes, not simply activity. This is often a challenge of underperforming organizations that simply measure activities versus what is being delivered.

What can you measure?

A clear role comes with clear expectations. Defining how you plan to measure and assess the role of the business analyst is critical for any organization willing to make the investment of time and money into the business analyst role. However, this should be defined at the time of creation of the role, not as an afterthought. Again, what expectations do you have of the role to provide the organization? Why does it exist? What will the BA do that is not being done today?

To measure the value of a facilitator role, a function that supports other areas of business, sometimes requires us to get a little creative. Before you try to come up with all kinds of fancy dashboards and specialized metrics, think about what you can actually measure. What numbers can you actually ‘pull’ on the business analyst? Are there tangible data points you can reference that shows not just activity of the BA but measurable value returned to the company? Are you expecting solution designs? RFPs? Business cases? Requirements work packages?

Most of the business areas know that these deliverables are valuable as they are key to implementing changes, especially technical work. How about validated requirements? Prioritized backlogs? Defined acceptance criteria? SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bounded) objectives? Many of us know or have been on the receiving end of requirements that were not well thought through or had to work with a vendor when the contract was very loosely worded, and we did not get what we expected.

This leads us in to also thinking about “prevention metrics.”  This means ways that the business analyst saved the company valuable time and money through their actions. Yes, definitely quantify the time (and cost) of all those stakeholders attending the business analyst’s requirements review session. But then inquire as to what it cost the company on prior projects where working with the external vendor, your organization had to do multiple change orders. What did those cost? Could the requirements review session cost outweigh a couple change orders? Or even better, it equates to the cost of a single change order?

Look at what was measured before. What are the average number of change orders per project? In some organizations, these can be significant!  Any examples you can show on how many meetings have to happen before the solution can be defined, how many change requests happen, how many additional resources must be added or even worse – how many additional ‘phases’ did the project have to have until the solution was actually delivered – are all ways to show the value of a business analyst!

If you’re lucky enough, you might get the opportunity to run a project with a business analyst and then run a similar/comparable project again without the business analyst. I was lucky enough to do just that. In technology projects, a common example would be a server or system upgrade. Technology gets updates and while the updates’ features might evolve, the process steps to complete them are often very similar, if not exactly the same steps.

This project was first run with both a project manager and a business analyst. The project ran smoothly with normal bumps during testing but went to production and operational with no impact to internal or external customers. A year later, the same server was required to be upgraded. This time the project was only assigned a project manager, with the assumption they could leverage the lessons learned from the prior year. Testing took twice as long, and the overall scheduled project took longer than the year prior.

Lessons learned showed that there was no one dedicated to do issue resolution and troubleshoot failed test cases. The project manager and the solution team were trying to fill this void while still managing the project and delivering the end solution. The difference in costs to deliver the second upgrade was actually more than the cost of having a business analyst assigned. Talk about a positive return on investment (ROI) to add the BA!

Presenting the numbers that matter

As there are lots of ways to measure the value of a BA, there are also lots of ways to present the measures. With the same analysis skills you used to pull both quantitative and qualitative measures – did you ask the project team if they thought the BA was helpful? Did you ask the PMs or the product owner if they wanted a BA again? – consider the audience in which you present the data. Make sure to always answer the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) question of the audience.

HR is concerned about having the right roles and numbers of employees to perform the work. Share with them capabilities required to deliver solutions and use capability charts to show the skills sets of various roles and how the BA is different from operations and project managers.

IT is concerned with vendors delivering another custom product that is hard to support so show statistics on validated requirements, acceptance criteria, solution designs and model operational support structures.

And of course, finance wants to see the numbers, so show the costs of not only projects, but on-going operations and use of outdated contract agreements and obsolete processes that a BA role would mitigate.

Yes, there is both art and science to measuring the value of a business analyst role, but have the person most excited to do the analysis and present data and graphical representations help you pull the information together. They themselves, are mostly likely one of your best BAs!