Business Analysis Project Types: Data Warehouse, Process Improvement, Infrastructure, and Web Development
In the business analysis profession, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. As you develop your project type, you need to know all the tools available to you; think through all the variables related to the people, project characteristics, and the process; and then determine what tasks you need to complete.
Data warehouse projects
A data warehouse is a solution that brings together information from diverse sources and puts it in a format that stakeholders can easily access when making complex business decisions. A data warehouse supports a company’s tactical and strategic goals.
Data warehouses are useful for trend analysis, forecasting, competitive analysis, and targeted market research. Data is often summarized by specific subject area, function, department, geographic region, time period, or all of these.
Most data warehouse projects fall into the large project category and result in a substantial project planning effort for you as the business analyst. These projects often have a company-wide focus. The business priority for the project depends on what critical decisions need to be made to address a business threat or opportunity.
Include these types of tasks in your data warehouse project work plan:
Identifying what information the data warehouse must contain, identifying who should have access to it, and making sure users have the right level of access.
Identifying and prioritizing subject areas to be implemented.
Managing the scope of each subject area iteration or release.
Validating the data accuracy and consistency during the extract/transform/load (ETL) process.
Defining the correct level of data summarization.
Establishing a data refresh schedule that’s consistent with business needs, timing, and cycles.
Researching and reviewing available commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) business intelligence tools used for complex reporting.
Planning for a user-friendly, powerful desktop query tool for users to access data without IT assistance.
Planning for the user training and support needed to learn how to use tools and access data.
Ensuring thorough testing is done prior to user acceptance testing (UAT).
Process improvement projects
Companies find competitive advantages by looking closely at their business processes and determining whether they need to improve their business operations. Depending on the changes to be made, those changes may occur in small segments over a long period of time (evolutionary changes) or may be made at one time (revolutionary changes).
As a business analyst, your evaluation of the business process may result in a recommendation for software changes, procedural changes, organizational changes, or personnel changes.
The tasks you perform when completing a process improvement project include analyzing the current process, capturing metrics as a baseline, identifying the problems, and identifying solutions that fix those problems to achieve better performance.
Reengineering — another approach to changing a business process — happens when you start from scratch to ask what the organization needs in order to succeed instead of fixing something that already exists. You ignore current roles, silos (compartmentalized departments in organizations), and outdated business rules, and challenge assumptions to create enterprise-wide changes. Reengineering implies that you’re innovating dramatically to design new, streamlined processes.
Tasks related to process reengineering projects include the following:
Performing root cause analysis to find out the real problem that exists within the business
Brainstorming with the project team alternative approaches to address the problem area
Choosing the best approach that solves the business problem
Infrastructure projects are internal technical upgrades that impact systems, hardware, platforms, or tools in order to improve the technology that supports the business and the information technology (IT) efforts. Typically, these projects are called IT projects because they’re driven and sponsored by IT departments.
Tasks to include on your work plan include the following:
Assessing how software interface changes (even small ones) may impact usability
Assessing how the project may impact user productivity and whether training may be required
Determining whether any change to a work process needs to be made based on the project
With infrastructure projects, the changes often affect stakeholders, external customers, or suppliers. Business analysts are involved to manage requirements and expectations of these changes among all project stakeholders. Here are some things to keep in mind:
Business analysts sometimes underestimate or miscommunicate business impact, technical risks, and priorities, so be careful. In particular, don’t forget about implementation considerations and transition requirements (user training, timing, and support).
Although infrastructure projects aren’t intended to change user functionality, user productivity often decreases during the learning curve as users get used to the new elements.
Because these projects are technology improvements, they may often be delayed to make room for more business-critical efforts, assuming their delay doesn’t significantly impact the business.
These projects may be initiated because vendor support is no longer available.
Web development projects
In today’s environment, many users expect feature-rich websites and applications accessible from anywhere with any web browser. They also expect functions to be delivered in short time frames. Think about the applications you use today, like online banking, social media, and shopping websites.
Web development projects are customer-facing web applications that are targeted at consumers and are available inside or outside the organization. As such, they require some special considerations in your work plan.
When planning for this type of project, make sure to prioritize the features and functions. Doing so allows the team to work on and implement the highest value features first. Using an agile approach (building a highly skilled, tightly knit, self-managed, and collocated team that stays with the project from beginning to end and delivers software quickly) works well for these types of projects.
Key stakeholders involved in these projects include usability experts, marketing product owners, and a customer representative or surrogate representative, such as marketing or business analyst.
The following are some tasks to include on a web development work plan:
Eliciting usability and security requirements
Use cases, user stories, wireframes, prototypes, and simulations
Testing activities like UAT