‘Dancing On A Shifting Carpet’… Or, how I learnt to become an effective business analyst

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A Journey Begun

Personal and professional growth, so they say, comes from overcoming adversity; the sort of adversity that tests and tries but doesn't overwhelm. Like a well-balanced strength building regime: a balance of time under positive pressure, recuperation and adaptation.

Personal and professional growth... A balance of time under positive pressure, recuperation and adaptation. ~ Amir T.

My growth occurred when I was working as a business analyst within the oil & gas industry. A moment that taught me the twin value of communication and perspective.

The Setting: A multinational company operating out of a tiny nation; perched on the North West coast of Borneo island.

The Journey: The implementation of a new multi-project delivery process.

The Challenge:  Success factors involved,

  • Minimising scheduled oil production deferment,
  • Optimising shared resource utilisation, and
  • Maximising asset integrity.

 

Integrated Activity Planning (IAP)

The new multi-project delivery process was named: Integrated Activity Planning (IAP). A process that would eventually affect the capabilities of the people involved, result in the refinement of established procedures and fully leveraging off information technology.

The implementation team, of which I was part of, had the guidance of a senior manager as our executive sponsor, a panel of capable managers & SMEs as the project board, and the support of the project head office based out of Europe (this support translated into organisational buy-in at the local level).

The pain point primarily pivoted around the ineffective synchronisation of production impacting activities across the organization. What this actually meant was that each distinct business function, which had either an impact on asset maintenance or oil production, maintained separate project (and resource) plans. There were existing forums that sought to align these differing interests into a single program, but nothing - as yet - that could fully capture it all.

Enter the Integrated Activity Planning (IAP) process. The guiding principle was 'plan the work, work the plan.' IAP essentially sought to integrate, rationalise, and optimise a single master plan.

The implementation of IAP was a keystone project in a time of uncertain economic realities where there was a call in the oil & gas industry to lower production costs to improve profits. The organisation needed to relook its exploration and production plans in the very short (2-week window), short (1-3 months), medium (6-12 months) and long (10+ years) term.

Achieving this new reality would require a balanced approach that would involve:

ProcessesEmbedding the IAP principles within the current planning process.

Technology. The initiative would need to leverage SAP Project Systems for planning the financials, SAP Plant Maintenance to create the work-orders & task lists, and optimising the scheduling of all the plans in Primavera P6 (the formal planning environment).

And finally (but most essentially),

People. Assessing and developing the competencies of individuals in their respective roles to improve their ability to deliver a robust and comprehensive project plan.

 

A Better Business Analyst: The Evolution

I was sitting within the technology delivery component of the project in the initial phases of the project. It was a logical fit, due to my competency in SAP (Project Systems and Plant Maintenance) as well as Primavera P6. The project board soon, however, found that my versatility and engagement skills were also needed in the process and people component of the project. It was, I found, a move that helped me mature as a capable business analyst.

Become acquainted with every art ~ Miyamoto Musashi

Having sat on both sides of the divide - as both a client and a supplier - I am of the opinion that a business analyst has a unique perspective. A perspective that allows insight into a business's processes, the skills needed to get a job done, and use (or lack thereof) of technology. Complex project environments can sometimes lead to losing sight of the bigger picture. With so many moving parts there is a danger that a business analyst can become bogged down in the minutiae, and 'not see the forest for the trees.'

I, however, learnt to be able to see both the forest and the trees. I learned to both zoom in or out of facts and issues; finding dependencies that often turned out to be the key to understanding a situation or solving a problem.

With your spirit open and unconstricted, look at things from a high point of view ~ Miyamoto Musasahi

I also learned to communicate at every organisational level. Inevitably, exposure to all the functional areas within the organisation allowed me to expand my lexicon of industry-specific terms. I was able to provide better contextual business solutions, as well as have much more meaning discussions with my business and project partners. Enabling conversations - amongst other things - around,

  • oil production deferments and how proper maintenance planning should mitigate downtimes of both on-shore and off-shore rigs;
  • management of long-lead items by supply chain managers, to help ensure the timely availability of things when they are needed to be used (on-site, on-time); and,
  • the importance of a robust business financial plan that takes into account every component of a projects requirement, to avoid spends above and beyond the contingency amount planned for by finance.

My skillsets also grew exponentially within the project. I learnt to effectively:

  • Plan for projects. For simple, complex and inter-related projects.
  • Develop business plans. Incorporating a short, medium, and long-term view.
  • Plan for the procurement of materials & services. With considerations around the challenges involved in coordinating provision to onshore and offshore sites.
  • Manage resources. To avoid either under or over-allocating resources.
  • Mentor the development of personnel under my care. 
  • Understand the value of data integrity and interconnectivity. Ensuring that data gets recorded accurately and acted upon in a timely manner.

And,

  • Implement best practices with regards to leveraging IT within a business environment. Using the right tool for the right task at hand.

Through my own personal experience, I have become a strong advocate of a consultative and inclusive approach; a strategy that has since held me in good stead throughout my career.

  • Business and project partners appreciate it when you are able to both listen and represent them in the right forum. And,
  • They appreciate it when you can show that you have a firm grasp of their business concerns.

 

All Good Things

Was it challenging? Of course.

It was, however, also a watermark moment in my career. It set the foundation for everything else that I have since pursued and excelled. Though the learning curve was steep, it was the quality of the organisation that I had the honour and pleasure of working with which enabled my growth.

But above all, it was the competent and professional individuals that I had the joy of working with that made the most contribution to my evolution as a business analyst. Individuals I have since gone on to call good friends.

There will be - often or not - occasions when a situation may feel as though you are standing on a proverbial shifting carpet; where the variables put before you feel a little overwhelming. Perhaps even just that little bit uncertain. But, and you are going to have to take my word on this, with the right level of perspective and use of resources you will overcome. You can keep on top of your game, and be able to make valuable - even crucial - contributions. Despite the possible complexities of the work environment, and the often changing requirements of the business and project partners: you too can learn to dance on a shifting carpet.

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