Before you tune out, don’t worry, while “politically motivated” this is NOT going to be a post on politics, but on process and procedure – business analysis, if you will. That said, as an American, it’s been hard to tune out talk of the recently passed “economic stimulus” package, wherein we’ve apparently discovered that by having government spend a number of dollars with enough zeroes behind it, we can get our struggling economy back on track.

Anyway, last week I caught myself evaluating the whole situation from a business analyst’s perspective and began to wonder how I would try to handle the mess if it were my project and I were the BA. I began to think through some of the questions I might ask and how following fundamental principles of business analysis might improve matters.

When it gets down to it, how do we know that all the programs and spending have accomplished or are going to accomplish what we want them to? And not just for this bill, but for all of the mega-billion dollar proposals? And not just for this administration, but for every administration past, present and future?

Ok, I know I’m sounding like a skeptic, here, but don’t blame me – it’s my job. An important part of what I do as a business analyst is to make sure that resources are spent to the best benefit of the customer. This post is a summary of my musings from a quick, 10-minute-or-so brainstorm I did the other day on the topic.

Clearly Defined Problems:

How might outcomes be different if we made sure that legislation had clearly articulated problem statements so all could  be clear as to what specific points of pain each “project” intended to address? Sorry, but as a business analyst, I’m going to have to tell you that “the economy is messed up” is just wayyy too vague a problem.

SMART Objectives:

How might things be different if we had a clear definition of how success would be defined and how we’d measure it? If we limited scope to a few prioritized, SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely/Testable) objectives? Sorry, but once again, “fixing the economy” is way to vague an objective.


How much easier would it be to determine what “works” and what doesn’t if every program/line item (read: dollar) had to be traceable back to one of these clearly defined objectives? How much easier would it be to identify which resources (funds, in large part) were actually allocated to their intended purposes as opposed to getting lost in the bureaucracy?

An Agile Government?:

So, the stimulus package was a massive BTD (Big, Thick Document) measuring in at nearly 1100 pages, and “stakeholders” had less than a day to review the final draft.  Kind of sounds like the requirements review schedule from a  project destined for mediocrity at best, huh? What are the odds of us moving to a more iterative and incremental methodology for getting legislation through the pipeline? How successful could it realistically be if we did?

You know, something like “working legislation over comprehensive documentation,” or “constituent collaboration over contract negotiation.” I’m not a legislator or a government expert but is it necessary that every bill be so long, complex and convoluted that the end-user of government services (that’s us) doesn’t even bother trying to read or understand them? Give me some user stories!

What else?

So, there are a few of my thoughts. I’ve never really done the “open thread” thing, but I would be very interested in your thoughts as project people and business analysts. How could principles of business analysts be applied to government procedures to make them more effective/efficient?

Also, am I the only one that looks at non-job related things like the legislative process and thinks, “Wow, they could use a good BA!”?

One reason I enjoy being a business analyst is that the principles and skills are so portable. Root cause analysis, defining SMART objectives, tracing solutions (and dollars) to objectives, finding the most effective ways to communicate ideas and many other things BA’s do daily with our project work are just as applicable in solving other types of problems.

What are some ways that you’ve either applied, or seen principles of business analysis applied effectively outside the IT project environment?