Systems Thinking – An Analyst’s Essential Trait
A common trait of a successful business analyst is systems thinking. Systems thinking is a timeless and important ability for business analysis professionals. A BA has to be able to observe and understand the wholeness and not have a myopic view. As a result of the complexity of modern environment and the many variables that exist a BA must explore the way changing one component will affect the other.
The "system" appeared in scientific thinking in the 17th century, with Newton the rapporteur and starting from the dominant question of the scientific thought of that time: the movement of bodies in space. Technology affects systems and a digital affection in a single element can have a greater impact in a whole system. You must be able to predict and find this impact. Systems thinking assumes that knowledge is interpretive, recognizing the spiritual quality of life and living.
Having the creative curiosity to continuously find linkages between different elements can lead to better requirements gathering, recording and solutions that will be beneficial for all parts. Holistic view is essential to understand and record needs, aspirations and future impacts of a solution proposal.
The Systems Thinking Cycle
Systems thinking is a mindset that can be applied throughout business analysis activities.
In the illustration below we can see a cycle of typical BA activities where systems thinking is critical. From an agile and an adaptive approach viewpoint these activities may be performed repeatedly as new information becomes available.
1. Define Current Situation
Assessing the current state involves researching and analyzing various aspects of the existing organizational environment to understand a situation of concern or interest to the business. Having the whole picture in mind is essential to define a realist and entire current state mapping. Change always occurs in a context of existing stakeholders, processes, technology, and policies which make up the current state of the enterprise. BAs examine the current state in the context of the business need to understand what may influence proposed changes, and what will be affected by them.
2. Understand the Elements of Change
An opportunity or threat can be the trigger for a change activity. The change activity will lead to a specific transformation. Every transformation affects directly and indirectly many entities from the internal and external environment of the project or the organization in general. Knowing the exact characteristics of the change is essential in systems thinking attitude.
3. Define and Understand Stakeholders
Stakeholder analysis involves identifying the stakeholders (who will be directly or indirectly impacted by the change) and their characteristics, as well as analyzing information once collected. It is essential to perform systems thinking in order to be sure that you have not excluded any stakeholders and you have considered the needs of the entire ecosystem in which you perform business analysis.
4. Define ‘To Be’ Situation
Having all the information available from the previous phases, holistically defining the future situation is the last step. Business analysis is performed to determine which combination of capabilities will best address the stated problem or opportunity.
Systems thinking expands the range of choices available for solving a problem by broadening our thinking and helping us articulate problems in new and different ways. As a business analyst typically looks for solutions after defining needs, systems thinking is an essential tool for long lasting success of a business analysis journey.
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About the Author:
Giorgos Sioutzos works in the business consulting industry as a business analyst. He has experience in projects from different sectors and holds a BSc in Management Science and Technology from Athens University of Economics and Business and MSc in International Business & Management. He has published numerous articles about business and technology issues in Greek and foreign media.