Think back to the last mystery novel or movie you read or watched. How did it make you feel? Not at the end where the case is finally solved but try to remember the intrigue you felt from the beginning. A good mystery novel or movie will have you at the edge of your seat, questioning each possible clue and often change your original idea of ‘who done it’. In many ways, business analysis is like solving a mystery. As Business Analysts, often we are presented with a problem we know very little or nothing about. In order to solve the case, or uncover a solution, we must follow the clues that lead us there.
“Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand.” – Neil Armstrong
One of the things I love about my job is the sense of wonder I experience when new problems are presented. Like detectives, business analysts must refrain from jumping to conclusions and remain objective. If you come to a requirements elicitation or triage meeting with a solution already planned, you tend to ask questions and only hear answers that support your preconceived theory. The story line is highlighted in many Dateline episodes: Detective gets case; Detective identifies the perpetrator without analyzing all the facts; Detective arrests the wrong person. As Business Analysts, we must not let our strong desire to solve the case prevent us from evaluating all the clues.
A good detective puts in the time and weighs all options. Like a case waiting to be solved, a good Business Analyst should look for more than one solution to a business problem. In our quest to find alternative solutions, we force ourselves to dig deeper, uncover more information and sometimes discover facts that invalidate previous solutions. Other times, being able to compare one solution against another helps us identify the ‘best’ solution more easily. So next time the first solution pops into your mind and you think ‘case closed’, challenge yourself to find another solution.
When working with a multi-platform product and what seem to be endless configurations, the task of finding just one solution can often seem impossible; however, with the right magnifying glass, even the tiniest clues can be found. Often Business Analysts look for volumes of formal product documentation to try and find their answers. These are good places to start the investigation but often tell only a part of the complete story. Formal documentation is just the end, it does not tell you the journey and idea may have taken to get to that end. Oftentimes that journey is where insights into solving the newest business challenge reside. Searching issue management and tracking systems, design collaboration tools, and shared folders with historic design artifacts can uncover a trail of insights that will help you solve the problem.
“My name is Sherlock Holmes. It is my business to know what other people do not know.” – Sherlock Holmes
In more ways than not, a Business Analyst is a Sherlock Holmes. It is our business to know things about our product that others do not. And if we don’t, we uncover the clues and figure it out. Like a mystery in one of Doyle’s novels, we are the detectives assigned to an unsolved case. The solution(s) are just a mystery waiting to be solved.