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Applying Design Thinking and Human-Centred Design to Support Exceptional Business Analysis (Phase 4 and Recap)

Design Thinking sketch on white paper

by Business Analysis (BAPL)


The role of a Business Analyst is broad, but typically it comes down to understanding business needs, value & requirements and assisting business to make informed decisions. These needs are often muddied by a multitude of internal and external factors.  In the end though, the goal is achieving organisational success.  As all organisations exist to provide products and services to customers the best way to achieve success is to incorporate design thinking and human-centred design.

Design thinking is a creative approach to solution-based problem solving that puts people at the centre, enabling solutions that people truly want and need[1].  While not a new concept, design thinking is making a comeback in the business world and producing a number of positive results.  Together with User Experience (UX) and Customer Experience (CX), design thinking lays the groundwork for innovation, development of products and services, and ultimately helps you as a Business Analyst deliver better, stronger and more thorough business analysis.

The main aspect of design thinking is that of a user-centric experience; what is the user thinking and feeling, what is their experience.  Business Analysts already consider these factors, but generally not at the level required to dig into design thinking.  To dig deeper, the Business Analyst must step outside of their analytical mindset (without disregarding it completely) and let their creativity flow.

By understanding the customer journey and experience, we can get clarity on what the real needs are, and options to address them.  Rather than interpreting and explaining what we think our stakeholders need, we can use design to clearly demonstrate what they need through the use of simple language that everyone can understand and use design artefacts to tell the story. When explaining complex issues to a business stakeholder, there’s an increased chance of confusion or misunderstanding if complex (or even mildly complex) approaches are used.  Walking a stakeholder through a complex BPMN is a good example of this. But have you tried simplifying that process into a context diagram that uses simple language and a visual approach to explain the process? By changing the way we communicate complex systems or processes to stakeholders using design thinking, we can turn this interaction into a success. As a Business Analyst, clear communication is a core underlying competency. If we just end up confusing stakeholders, we’re not doing our job.

We have broken our analysis technique into four phases that closely align to design thinking, aligning these to the three phases of human-centred design, and will use this series to explain how the various tools and methods available in the BABOK® can help make your business analysis effort much more effective, adaptive and responsive to a rapidly changing business environment.

Phase 1: Discover – We will look at the Inspiration phase of human-centred design and various BABOK® techniques to understand the current state and help develop a more effective discovery stage.  How can we use design thinking to understand the current state as fast as possible without adding risk?

Phase 2: Refine – Now that you have built a solid foundation and your as-is analysis is complete, how do we transition from Inspiration to Ideation?  How we validate the current state with the business, turn our value streams into epics, iterate our work, and define requirements?

Phase 3: Prototype and Build – At this point we start to look at the future state, what will the to-be processes be, how we move through the Ideation phase.  Prototyping of solutions, iterative building, role-playing and storytelling all play a part here.

Phase 4: Feedback – The Implementation phase of human-centred design, this is where a tangible product or service takes shape.  This phase will often loop iteratively with Build & Prototype, and even back to Refine on occasion.  Here we will be looking at our requirements and user stories to make sure they have been met and fine-tuning our processes to support the finished build.

My view of design thinking is an iterative process to Discover, Refine, Build & Prototype, and Feedback which helps deliver the business need, value and requirements.


Phase 1: Discover the current state through Inspiration


When we think of discovery, we understand there is a level of uncertainty or a realm of unknowns that we need to identify in order to deliver a successful project.  Unknowns lead to potential roadblocks later with scope creep, failing to properly identify or understand the problem/opportunity, and ensuring a solution is fit for purpose.  Through the use of a few techniques, we can better define the problem up front and ensure we have clear scope for the project.  To do this, there are three key stages a Business Analyst can use to do this well.

Stage 1:  Planning– The BABOK® has a chapter called Business Analysis Planning and Monitoring, so for the sake of brevity I won’t go into too much detail here.  In this stage, the Business Analyst should be laying the foundations for success, by planning the core activities, tasks and deliverables needed, usually in alignment to a schedule.  In the planning stage, the BA should also be performing initial stakeholder analysis activities such as Mind Mapping or creating Stakeholder Lists, Maps or Personas to understand which stakeholders are relevant to the outcome, what the BA requires from them, and the best way to engage with each stakeholder.  An early activity to complete with stakeholders is to identify and prioritise the expected business outcomes for the project.  Use Interviews, Mind Mapping, Value Stream Mapping or Workshops to identify the key business outcomes, and Grouping (high, medium, low) or negotiation to establish the priorities of the business outcomes. These outcomes will play a crucial role later in the project for traceability.

Stage 2:  Current state analysis– A key part of the discovery process is eliciting the current state. What product or services are being delivered to customers.  This is where most of the work should occur in this phase, and relies on a wide range of techniques. The purpose of this analysis is to understand what the intent of the project is, define scope for the project, understand the current processes, and validate everything with the stakeholders.  Current state analysis should always be done, from a new start-up to an existing business or service, there are always unknowns that need to be discovered. Some of the activities you may perform at this stage include:

  • Develop a problem or opportunity statement– Work with the key stakeholders to define and establish the problem in clear and agreed upon terms. This could include a context diagram of the problem, developed in a workshop on a whiteboard, or a mission/vision statement that provides verbal context to why the project is happening.  BABOK® “Business needs are the problems and opportunities of strategic importance faced by the enterprise.
  • Problem statements are about resolving an issue that exists, opportunity statements are about taking advantage of identified opportunities to enhance the organisation.A ‘How Might We’ statement can be used to help develop the problem or opportunity statement, and should ultimately describe an opportunity.  Other techniques available to establish a statement could include Brainstorming and the 5 Why’s.
  • Define a clear scope statement– As part of the same initiation workshop, the Business Analyst should work with the stakeholders to establish clear scope for the project. Use Post-It notes to assist in identifying assumptions, constraints, and dependencies.  Post-It’s can be placed into labelled buckets for anonymity or displayed on a board for all to see.  BA-led discussion should follow to assist in prioritising and establishing the final agreed upon scope.  Scope Modelling or a Business Model Canvas can be created to visually capture and validate scope statements.
  • Prepare for and elicit the current state– There is always a current state, even if the business or service is new & is in start-up mode. What is happening in the market, who are the competitors and what are they doing? These are all valid current state questions.  A successful Business Analyst will have a clear plan and toolkit ready for elicitation. Mind Mapping, User Stories, the use of Personas, Journey Mapping, Value Stream Mapping, and Collaborative Gaming are just some of the techniques available to help elicit the current state from your audience.  The stakeholders, problem or opportunity and scope have been clearly identified in previous activities, now it’s time to conduct your workshops, interviews and other techniques to elicit the current state.

Stage 3: Document the current state –Ensure the processes match products and service offerings.  The use of context models and diagrams, as well as process modelling will help to validate the current state with key stakeholders. The format and structure of the outputs should be agreed with the stakeholders in the planning stage, and distributed for feedback.

By planning, eliciting and specifying a current state, Business Analysts can ensure they are well positioned to capture requirements and develop a future state that is desirable, viable, and feasible for the organisation.  Finding this balance is where innovation generally occurs, which is something we should strive to achieve in everything we do.


Phase 2: Refine through Ideation


Now that we have defined our current state, it’s time to validate and refine it and start thinking about the future state.  This is where we elicit and prioritise requirements and finalise our scope.  We want to be sure what we’re doing is desirable, viable and feasible, and that we can trace our requirements back to our business outcomes.  There are several stages that can help us refine our work and prepare the Build and Prototype.

Stage 1: Validate the current state –Every Business Analyst should be familiar and comfortable with validation, it’s a core part of the job.  We can use techniques such as Interviews or Workshops and our process models to take stakeholders through the current state and validate that our understanding is correct. There are a wide variety of visual representations and models that can be created to support this stage, the most important part is choosing the right one for your audience.

Stage 2: Requirements Elicitation –Another core activity we’re all used to, we’re now starting to set the stage for our future state through requirements.  Using techniques like the 5 Why’s, User Stories, Epics, Finding Themes, Value Stream Mapping and ‘How Might We’ statements, we can work with our stakeholders to understand their needs and trace these requirements back to our business outcomes.  It is important to make sure requirements have traceability to verified business outcomes, otherwise, how can we be sure they’re adding value to our final product? How your requirements are presented will be determined by the project and acceptable delivery methods, but the techniques you can use will vary.  If you feel one method isn’t producing results, simply try another one or interchange multiple techniques.

Stage 3: Prioritise requirements –Working with your stakeholders, facilitate a workshop and get your audience to determine the priority of each requirement.  By using MoSCoW, 100 points technique, Monopoly money technique or value-based prioritisation, your requirements should all be given an agreed upon priority level during the workshop.  Keep in mind that requirement prioritisation should assess desirability, feasibility and viability in order to find that innovative sweet spot, along with the usual eye on your business outcomes, budget and scope.  Once requirements have been prioritised, they may be grouped into Themes using affinity mapping, and further prioritised and organised into Sprints for a Product Backlog.  With Themes and Sprints, development can be broken down into manageable chunks to achieve key deadlines or milestones more efficiently.

Stage 4: Finalise scope –Through the Discovery phase, work was performed to identify the scope of the project. Requirement elicitation usually captures some things that have been missed and can also confirm previous in-scope items as no longer necessary.  Review the Scope Models or Business Model Canvas that were previously created and validate them against the requirements and business outcomes with your stakeholders.  You may even want to create a quick Storyboard to help visualise scope in another way, and work with the stakeholders to put firm boundaries around the scope of the project.  This is the perfect time to use everything collected during Discover and Refine to ensure there is no scope creep during the development stages of the project.

As you work through each of these 4 stages, you’ll discover a pathway to your solution and future state is already starting to take shape.  The work that has been done throughout Discover and Refine have laid the groundwork for the really creative stuff to begin. Stakeholders have been thoroughly and actively engaged throughout the process so far, and moving into the Build and Prototype phase, they’ll be able to get their hands dirty and drive the direction of the product or service to be offered.

Phase 3: Prototype and Build


As we move into the final two phases of using Design Thinking for exceptional Business analysis, let’s do a quick recap of what’s been covered so far.  In Phase 1 we discovered the current state through the Inspiration phase of Human Centred Design, using a range of planning techniques from BABOK® and design-based techniques to elicit, describe and capture the current state.  This strong foundation of knowledge and understand lead into Phase 2 where we used Ideation to look at the ideal future state and started to elicit our requirements.  Using techniques from Agile, Design Thinking and IIBA’s BABOK®, we have been able to create Sprints, wrapped our requirements into User Stories, and developed the product backlog that will take us through to the end of our journey. In the next two phases we will prototype, build, seek feedback, and complete our objective of delivering value through lean and quality requirements to address business needs.

With a full set of prioritised requirements organised in a Product Backlog, commence on finalising the future state process and building prototypes to support the process by transitioning from Ideation to Implementation.  Work on the future state should involve the intended product or service being delivered and how the customer or user will experience it.  How they will interact and use the service or product being created is critical for a successful delivery, and a number of techniques exist to help work this out.

Personas can plan a major role in reaching your destination.  Understanding the different types of users, the demographics of your customer base and what their goals and needs are will be important.  Using these Personas, development of Customer Journey Maps and Storyboards can provide additional tools in developing future state processes and prototypes.  If you have multiple Personas, split off into small groups and brainstorm ideas for each specific persona then re-group to look for common themes.  If your future state is developed enough at this stage, Rapid Prototyping may be used to understand the practical implications of your efforts and work can be undertaken to further refine and develop the product or service.

As your prototypes evolve and refined over multiple iterations, feedback must be consistently gathered to ensure the intended future state process is valid and the product or service remains desirable, feasible and viable.  This can be done through the use of a Build-Measure-Learn loop within the Prototype and Build phase where Concept Models and Prototypes can be used with targeted user groups, observing how they interact with the solution, and adapting changes based on the observations.  Your prototypes are the build, observation becomes the measure, and the outputs from observation become the learning that is then applied to making changes to your process and product or service. By repeating the cycle through a number of iterations until you are happy the process, product and/or service, you can be certain that valuable information is being assessed and implemented as needed to push you closer and closer to success.

Phase 4: Feedback


The transition from Prototype & Build to Feedback is not always a clear one and each project will be different. Developing a suitable MVP may be your trigger to move into the Feedback stage and final build, while others may want to spend considerable time with alpha or beta releases in Build & Prototype before they are happy going into Feedback to release a near-final product.

By now you have developed, evolved and refined a number of prototypes, your processes have been tailored, and you’re ready for the final push.  While it may seem like this final phase is repetitive, the intent is quite different to Prototype & Build.  Up to this point you have been working on somewhat of a proof of concept, getting ready for the final sprint to production release, and now you’re almost there.  Feedback is about testing, validation, retrospectives and release.

With requirements encapsulated in user stories in hand, quite possibly with acceptance criteria, thorough testing and validation of processes and product or service can occur.  Acceptance criteria can be used as a baseline for a vast range of test scenarios including system and user acceptance testing. The Product Backlog and requirements will also be used to create test cases and scripts to verify delivery is on track, as expected and defect free.  One method of writing these tests is by creating Given, When, Then (GWT) statements.  These statements are written in the following format:

Given a context or situation, When an action is carried out, Then an expected or specific observable outcome of the action occurs.

Techniques that can be used from BABOK in this phase include GWT and Acceptance Criteria mentioned above, plus Evaluation Criteria, Definition of Done, Process Modelling, and Story Decomposition. Working through Feedback also involves the Build-Measure-Learn loop from phase 3 to continue iterative development. This loop will help ensure testing and the solution is properly scrutinised and vetted, and that it continues to be desirable, feasible, and viable.




Design Thinking and Human-Centred Design aren’t new techniques or ideas, and neither are the techniques to support them that have been called out from the BABOK® throughout this series.  What is a more recent development is that Business Analysts can combine these together to go beyond the basics and provide the skills and expertise to work in a rapidly evolving market where the customer is at the centre of everything.  Products often come and go, similar products compete in the market place, but more and more these days we’re seeing that service is a key determining factor in what success is.

By adapting BABOK® techniques and having a Design mindset, Business Analysts will be able to support organisations large and small in guaranteeing that the customer is never forgotten, that processes, products and services continue to centre around customers, and that solutions are built to be desirable, feasible and viable for not only the customer but the organisation delivering them.  The Business Analyst, ultimately, is the key to the innovation organisations are trying to achieve provided they use the tools and techniques available to them to deliver great business analysis.


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