I keep saying that English majors are well-suited to the job of business analysis because they’ve learned something about research, synthesizing a point, a direction, from details, sniffing out inconsistencies and examining what they mean. But how is that useful in business, really?
What is “Business Analysis” Anyway?
In psychoanalysis, a patient on a couch answers probing questions intended to reveal the secrets of the psyche. When it succeeds, the patient emerges with an improved understanding of himself and uses this newfound clarity to fuel a healthy life.
Business analysis is similar, except there’s no couch. Business analysts examine the details and peculiarities of business operations, expose dysfunction and share a general understanding about “how we do things around here”—or at least how they’ve been done so far. It’s often the case that business operations have become sloppy, confusing, or inconsistent, and business analysts, as they study and document “how we do things,” are looking both for what works well and what doesn’t.
A Real-World Example
For example, in a customer service department, each customer service rep (CSR) answers phone calls from customers. Although customers can place orders online, there are functions that require a CSR to intervene, and that is when customers call in. CSRs help customers who want to (1) inquire about an order, (2) complain about something, (3) cancel or change an order that’s too old to change online. Fortunately for this company, the CSR’s are busy pretty much all the time. The phone never stops ringing. While it’s a positive indicator for the company—i.e., business is good—it’s a problem for the Customer Service department because there’s a backlog of calls waiting to be handled. Customers either wait on hold or hang up because they’re too impatient to wait.
The company hires an efficiency expert to help them figure out what to do. The efficiency expert arrives on site with a business analyst in tow, and together they examine the customer service department. The interview the CSR’s, they read the documentation they produce, they listen in on customer calls, talk with managers, read reports produced by the customer service system (listing number of calls received, duration, outcome, etc.), and they document their findings.
Here’s what they discover: Some CSR’s keep personal spreadsheets documenting all the calls they receive because they’re concerned that The Boss doesn’t appreciate how productive they are. When the question comes up, as it inevitably will, “How much work are you doing for us?” (the unspoken question is “Should we keep you or lay you off?”), they want to be prepared with an answer. What the CSR’s don’t know is that all this information is logged in the customer service management reports—which they never see. Keeping personal spreadsheets is duplicating work effort and a waste of time.
One recommendation: Share the management reports with the CSR’s and ask them not to spend time logging their own activities. Saves time, saves money (and business is all about saving money).
Of course the efficiency expert and the business analyst make many such discoveries thanks to their research and documentation, but we don’t need to detail all of them here. You get the idea. The point is business analysis, like this, has several goals, among them eliminating waste and improving efficiency. Analysis often precedes bringing in some much-needed technology to the workplace, anything from a single device to a full-blown, new, company-wide system.
Making Order Out of Confusion
If you haven’t worked in a business environment, you may think that the common workplace is a repetitive, predictable place, where every procedure is well-understood, fully optimized, humming like a well-tuned orchestra, where one has only to follow the sheet music exactly as written in order to fully perform. I promise you that’s not the case. It’s why business analysis is here to stay.