If you don’t have one, cobble one together, to improve process efficiency

My fellow geeky professionals, we are not often known for our ability to play well with others. But there is a considerable benefit to seeking out and willingly accepting help that can mean more effective efforts, improved productivity, greater job satisfaction and generally doing a better job at our jobs. That help can come from your friendly neighborhood Business Analyst.

I’ve run IT departments, managed sales and marketing teams for software companies, and owned digital marketing, soup to nuts – and there are truths that always remain. Despite some pretty strong stereotyping, we know that all geeks are not created equal. One line that divides us is our relationship with (or attitude toward) the Business Analyst – a key role in helping us streamline ecommerce processes and operations.

What does a Business Analyst do?

For my purposes, let’s simplify the BA role as this: Someone whose job it is to see the full picture of the efforts being made to support the business, identify opportunities for improvement in efficiency, effectiveness or success, and oversee the collaborative process of implementing improvements.

This could mean something small, like creating a report that offers insights that previously required digging or harassing coworkers… or something truly business changing, like restructuring entire processes that initially accounted for 25% of employees’ work hours across multiple departments.

Two Sides of the Coin

On one side of the line, you’ve got your complacent geeks. These are the nerds who give us all a bad name. They just hope no one understands enough about what they do to realize how infrequently they actually do it. That’s the worst case – it’s not always that bad. But even when dedicated, willing to work, and well intentioned, this subset prefers to operate in a bubble. There is often very little interest in collaboration, communication, or efficiency. They do not see the BA as an ally – they just want to be left alone to do things the way they want to, or the way they always have, figuring “if it ain’t broke…”

On the other side are the geeky types who prefer to feel they’re being fully utilized – that they, as a resource, are being put to the most fruitful application of their talents and skills, to the greatest benefit of the company. With regard to the BA relationship, this group welcomes the opportunity to examine their processes, solicit feedback from collaborators, and adjust as needed to maintain constantly improving efficiency and, ultimately, the most meaningful contribution to the big picture. They understand that there is always room for improvement and accepting it doesn’t indicate incompetence.

The Geek Shall Inherit

Because technical stuff is still so frequently misunderstood (or simply not really understood at all) by those leading an otherwise non-technical business, it has been historically easy to relegate we geeky folk to a corner, with labels and assumptions about lack of social skills or unwillingness to tolerate the ignorance of the masses.

But our wired world is changing fast, and code writers are suddenly wildly successful business owners. Geekdom is coming into its own, quickly. We have a collective opportunity to step into the light and be seen as shining examples of business process owners and doers who embrace the opportunity for positive change.

…which brings us back to the Business Analyst. We all get stuck in the trees of our workaday forests. Whether because it’s “just the way we’ve always done it” or because we don’t understand enough of the rest of the business to identify a breakdown (or, let’s face it, we just don’t have the time or patience to really figure it out) we don’t always know if we’re doing things in a silly/inefficient/outdated way.

How can we make it better? How can we, as geeks and business drivers, improve our processes and continue to support the changing societal view of nerdkind? And if we do… How can we safely draw attention to our own inefficiencies without jeopardizing our jobs?

6 Steps to Better Tech Business Processes

  1. Choose to own and understand our stuff. If it’s ours to do, it’s ours to fully understand. If you’re assigned a technical task, ask for permission to review how it impacts (or is impacted by) other areas of the business. Avoid the blinders we tend to enjoy wearing, and look beyond the data, processes, and code to grasp the fuller spectrum of influence our work can have. Don’t overstep unnecessarily – there’s a difference between wanting to understand the impact of your work and challenging every assignment with “why?”
  2. Scrap defensiveness. If you do something one way because you didn’t know better, always have, were told to, inherited it that way, or any other lame excuse for poor processes, just stop. Accept the possibility that it might not be the best way and do the work to figure it out. Request help in laying out the process in a clear way, identifying any opportunities for streamlining, and implementing that change. (Again, be careful in challenging higher-ups who may not be as enlightened and might, themselves, feel defensive about the process that they might have put in place. Tread lightly, and positively.)
  3. Don’t fear visibility. It might seem horrifying to invite this much scrutiny into the way we’ve always done what we do. Why would you want your bosses to understand that you’ve been wasting the company’s money by working inefficiently all this time? Flip it around – rather than calling attention to your shortcomings, you’re stepping up and seeking to save your time (and therefore the company’s money) by finding a better way. Good managers will appreciate the proactive attitude.
  4. Embrace documentation. There’s a common techie view that we have job security because no one else even knows what we do. “If I’m irreplaceable, they’ll never let me go!” Yeah…. And they’ll never promote you either. Documenting processes is the perfect first step in establishing how they flow now, leading to insights for improvement. And just imagine how easy it will be to delegate that work to a fresh new underling when your drive for efficiency is rewarded!
  5. Volunteer for more. Are you nervous about admitting anything less than 100% productivity? Don’t be. No one is perfect, and no one’s job is an immaculately designed cog in the machine. So as you work to constantly improve (visibly, by supporting the overall goals of the department and the business) make sure to help identify the other activities you should be spending time doing. Always come at it with the right attitude. It’s one thing to say “I shouldn’t have to take an hour to enter the same data in two places each day.” It’s something else to say “I’d like to discuss how to streamline this process so that this data is entered only once, cutting down on data entry time and unnecessary redundancy… and here’s what I’ve love to add to my workload with that newly freed up time!” By demonstrating your willingness to take on more, it becomes clear that you’re not just complaining about annoying tasks – you’re trying to spend the company’s money more intelligently. This is always a good thing.

This last one comes with a caveat. Don’t get me wrong – volunteering to take on more, advocating for your own advancement, and striving to take on new responsibilities should all be on our professional to-do lists as we grow our careers. However, we have to balance those messages with other implied messages. For instance, if the processes were put in place by our direct superior, we might not want to bash them directly. Also, if we volunteer to take on too much, we might just send the message that we have way too much time to spare currently. And of course, make sure you don’t overcommit. If you’re already at capacity, taking on more and failing to deliver will not strengthen your position.

How to Use Your Business Analyst to Achieve These Goals

This person can be your best friend. Seek him or her out, schedule time on a regular basis, and just talk through your department’s or your personal role’s processes, responsibilities, and needs. Explore new ways to think about what you do, make sure to consider the big picture, and identify those opportunities.

Don’t have the tremendous luxury of an in-house business analyst? Use this as an opportunity to step up and lead the charge!

There are consultants who specialize in ecommerce operations. Do your research and find one who can help. If you prefer working with someone who has intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the business already. Try this …

Form an internal team or ad-hoc committee. Invite people from other departments to join yourself or someone else from your department. Schedule regular meetings to review the process in question. Make sure the group you select includes both people who can offer knowledge and insight, and those who are not interacting with the process on a daily basis, but who could bring an objective view to the group.

Set a deadline to complete the discovery period, which might include shadowing people as they work through their daily use of the process, or speaking with them to learn how things are done now. Set a second deadline to conclude discussion and brainstorming within the group about ways to improve the process, and then invite a presentation of the final recommendations in a way that makes it clear the goal is not to squeeze more out of people, but for everyone to be better supported in their roles, and best utilized in the business.

Help Employees Understand WHY You’re Doing This

At the end of the day, everyone wants to go home with a feeling of satisfaction. Having a productive day, knowing that our work is effective, and feeling we’re bringing a meaningful and recognized positive contribution to the business all lead to job satisfaction and personal pride.

Make friends with a BA today. When we get better at what we do, business benefits.

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