Unified Theory of Business Analysis: Part Three

How The Most Commonly Used Software Tools Apply to the Solution Effort and the Engagement Effort

Continuing last week’s discussions I wanted to analyze how business analysts tend to apply their favorite software tools.

  • Excel (24)

    Microsoft Excel is such a general purpose tool that it can be used to support almost any activity. It is highly useful for manipulating data and supporting calculations for solutions but is equally useful for managing schedule, cost, status, and other information as part of any engagement. I’ve been using spreadsheets since the 80s and I know I’ve used them extensively for both kinds of efforts.

  • Jira (14)

    While Jira and related systems (e.g., Rally, which surprisingly never came up in my survey even once) are used to manage information about solutions, it’s less about the solutions than keeping it all straight and aiding in communication and coordination. As such, I consider it to be almost entire geared to support engagement efforts.

  • Visio (14)

    Visio could be used for diagramming work breakdown structures, critical paths, organizational arrangements, and so on, but it seems far more directed to representing systems and their operations as well as solutions and their designs. Therefore I classify Visio as primarily as an aid to solution efforts.

  • Word (13)

    Like Excel, Microsoft Word is another general purpose tool that can be used to support both solution efforts and engagement efforts.

  • Confluence (8)

    Confluence is a bit of an odd duck. It’s really good for sharing details about rules, discovered operations and data, and design along with information about people and project statuses. It suffers from the weakness that the information entered can be difficult to track down unless some form of external order is imposed. The tool can readily be used to support both kinds of efforts.

  • Outlook (7)

    Microsoft Outlook is a general communication tool that manages email, meetings, facilities, and personnel availability. It is most often leverage to support the engagement effort.

  • SharePoint (6)

    SharePoint is another Microsoft product that facilitates sharing of information among teams, this time in the form of files and notifications. This makes it most geared towards supporting engagement efforts.

  • Azure DevOps (5)

    I’m not very familiar with this tool, having only been exposed to it during a recent presentation at the Tampa IIBA Meetup. It seems to me that this product is about instantiating solutions while its sister product, Visual Studio Team Services (VSTS) is meant to serve the engagement effort. I would, of course, be happy to hear different opinions on this subject.

  • Team Foundation Server (4)

    I’m mostly classifying this as supporting the engagement effort, since it seems to be more about communication and coordination, but to the degree that it supports source code directly iit might have to be considered as supporting solution efforts as well. Like I’ve said, feel free to pipe in with your own opinion.

  • PowerPoint (4)

    I’ve used PowerPoint for its effective diagramming capabilities, which sometimes allow you to do things that are more difficult to do in other graphics packages like Visio. That said, as primarily a presentation and communications tool, I think it should primarily be classified as supporting engagements.

  • Email (3)

    Email is a general form of communication and coordination and is definitely most geared toward engagement efforts.

  • Google Docs (3)

    These tools provide analogs to the more general Microsoft office suite of tools and should support both solution and engagement efforts. However, I’m thinking these are more generally used to support the engagement side of things.

  • MS Dynamics (2)

    These tools seem to be mostly about supporting engagements, although the need to customize them for specific uses may indicate that it’s also something of a solution in itself.

  • Visual Studio (2)

    Any tools meant to directly manipulate source code must primarily be used to support solution efforts.

  • Notepad (2)

    This general purpose tools can be used for almost anything, and is thus appropriate for supporting both solution and engagement efforts.

  • OneNote (2)

    This is another very generalized Microsoft tool that facilitates sharing of information that can be used to support solution and engagement efforts.

  • SQL Server (2)

    SQL Server is almost always part of a solution.

The survey respondents had identified 38 other software tools at the time of this writing, none of which were mentioned more than once. They were mostly variations on the tools discussed in detail here, and included tools for diagramming, communication and coordination, and analysis. A small number of explicit programming tools were listed (e.g., Python, R) along with some automated testing tools that are usually the province of implementation and test practitioners. It’s nice to see BAs that have access to a wider range of skills and wear multiple hats.

Here’s the summary of how I broke things down. Please feel free to offer suggestions for how you might classify any of these differently.

Software Tool Survey Count Effort Type
Excel 24 Both
Jira 14 Engagement
Visio 14 Solution
Word 13 Both
Confluence 8 Both
Outlook 7 Engagement
SharePoint 6 Engagement
Azure DevOps 5 Solution
Team Foundation Server 4 Engagement
PowerPoint 4 Engagement
Email 3 Engagement
Google Docs 3 Engagement
MS Dynamics 2 Engagement
Visual Studio 2 Solution
Notepad 2 Both
OneNote 2 Both
SQL Server 2 Solution
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