The federal government is taking aggressive steps to improve program outcomes, which Federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra has said too often "run over budget, behind schedule or fail to deliver promised functionality." Among the drivers of this call to action are Kundra's release in December of the "25 Point Implementation Plan to Reform Federal Information Technology Management" as well as President Obama's January signing of the 2010 Government Performance and Results Modernization Act (GPRA), which requires agencies to report program performance to the Office of Management and Budget.
Better requirements are increasingly being recognized as solutions to program failure. Frank Kendall, principal deputy undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, has noted that requirements development is paramount to successful acquisition outcomes.
Both the 25-point plan and a recent government-sponsored report by the Center for American Progress, "The Secret to Programs that Work," identify the need to focus on requirements management and development (RMD) throughout the program. The former identifies six practices that rely on requirements to speed an IT investment's functionality, while the latter identifies bad program design as the root cause of many failures.
Agencies should ask themselves who performs the root cause analysis, manages change requests and determines customer satisfaction. In other words, who fills the role of the business analyst?
The business analyst is a key member of an integrated program team, working with users and the technical team to fulfill the following responsibilities:
Define the business problem through critical thinking and problem solving, facilitation skills, domain knowledge and knowledge of techniques.
Elicit, document and manage requirements through planning, execution, documentation and validation.
Model requirements to depict both current and desired state.
Manage user acceptance testing.
Create a testing strategy and plan.
Provide support to users through business analysis skills and techniques.
Assist with managing changes to requirements.
Determine customer satisfaction.
A dedicated business analyst also will ensure that a program addresses its business objective, a common oversight that results in program design issues in federal IT. The risk of program failure can be further minimized by holding the business process owner accountable for the alignment of requirements with business needs.
Business analysis functions are performed in most government agencies. However, they are often assigned to the project manager, members of the integrated program team or outsourced to contractors. State and local government agencies have made more progress in designating business analyst positions, though they tend to be limited to facilitation and documentation of requirements.
Applying best practices for business analysis and program management entails extending the business analyst's responsibilities far beyond requirements. Best practices help avoid design issues by validating requirements against solution design and the organization's enterprise architecture. Not many agencies are leveraging these best practices.
Addressing the complicated RMD process is one of the greatest benefits agencies can attain from designating a business analyst position. At the enterprise level, the business analyst has the skills to overcome obstacles of conflicting and multiple-tier communications, high turnover of political appointees, policy shifts and rapid strategic requirements changes.
At the program level, business analysts are uniquely qualified to address factors such as budget cuts, lack of program outcome accountability, and gaps between decision-making, approval cycles and technology changes. Finally, business analysts can positively affect individual project silos that often labor under little or no cross-communication, high-level perspective, or empowerment or influence on requirements.
Government IT departments should ask themselves: "Who in our agency is qualified and ready to fulfill the role of the business analyst?" The business analyst role may be missing from Kundra's 25-point plan, but it shouldn't be missing from your IT program.
Bill Damar้ is vice president of government markets at ESI International.