What BAs can learn from the World Cup in Brazil

The World Cup fever is in full swing, presenting an opportunity for all of us to reflect on some real-life lessons the world of football (soccer) offers to BAs interested in getting better at their craft.

Getting good at your craft requires discipline

Getting good at your business analysis craft requires disciplineWhether your dream is to be a star football player, or a high performance BA, the recipe to get there doesn't change: you must use deliberate practice to gradually get better at the skills that are important for your role. Often, the most valuable skills for getting better at your craft aren't the most fun or easy to develop. The same way soccer fitness drills may lack the fun factor for a player, repeatedly practicing creating process maps or use case diagrams can be boring and tiresome for a BA. But if you can force yourself to work through the pain, and get better at the skills that add value to your organization, the rewards are going to be huge. It is the steady accumulation of a related set of skills relevant to your craft that makes you become truly great at what you do. BAs who put the effort to build rare and relevant skills end up with more interesting projects and more time to devote to the creative parts of their jobs, rather than being dragged down by routine work.

A good coach can have a tremendous impact in your career

A good coach can have a tremendous impact in your business analysis careerAny experienced football player knows the difference that a good coach can make, transforming individual talents into a cohesive, winning team. I've seen many BAs grow significantly in a short period of time while working with a coach or mentor. The reality, though, is that mentor-worthy colleagues are rare, and those who are qualified often don’t have the time or inclination to provide this sort of assistance to others. To make it more likely to find a good mentor in your organization, you may need to seek out assignments where you can work closely with a potential mentor (even it means doing drudge work in exchange for the opportunity). Another option is to volunteer to work on committees and teams with a potential mentor, as a way to establish a working relationship. Once a mentoring relationship is created, make sure you don’t abuse it — star performers modulate their needs to fit the mentor’s willingness to be helpful. Try to get the most benefit from the experience, looking for valuable insight on how to develop your skills without overstaying your mentor’s welcome.

Managing your emotional state is as important as managing your workload

Managing your emotional state is as important as managing your workloadAnxiety is considered the most significant contributing factor to performance failure in football penalty shootouts (Jordet et al., 2007, 2012). Like a football player, in order to maintain high performance a business analyst must learn how to remain calm and stable in the face of psychological stress that can result from working on a project facing adversity. In many occasions I’ve had BAs come to me for help, upset with the level of uncertainty and ambiguity in their projects. It’s important to realize, however, that the business analysis work is naturally surrounded by ambiguity. As a business analysis consultant, my role often seemed to consist in “conjuring something out of nothing”, when business stakeholders couldn't agree on what problem they were trying to solve, let alone what the solution should look like.

When you are struggling to make progress in one of your projects, don’t forget to work on your mental health. Remember to breathe while focusing on where you intend to shoot. Divide the problem into smaller chunks, and start with whatever is close at hand. Find ways to start small, working on something specific and doable, such as gaining consensus on what types of users you are trying to serve. Learn to trust your technique and preparation, accept that uncertainty is part of the game, and celebrate small victories.

Checking your ego at the door increases the chances of success

Neymar, Brazil’s star player, repeatedly said in interviews that his objective for the 2014 World Cup is to win the tournament, not to become the top goalscorer. In sports, some teams may win because they have the best players, but often, other teams with only average players finish at the top. Part of the secret is team work: no matter how good individuals are, if they don’t operate as a unit, they won’t win as many games. To increase the likelihood of success of your organizational change efforts, be willing to give up most of your need for individual recognition for success in reaching the goal. Control your ego and work cooperatively with leaders and individual contributors, developing focus, commitment, and motivation beyond personal gain.

Planning is good, but knowing how to improvise and have fun is key

Planning is good, but knowing how to improvise and have fun is keyThe day before the World Cup started, Brazilian construction workers managed to sneak in some time to enjoy bits of Brazil’s last training session on the field while finishing a section of the stadium’s temporary bleachers. We should never forget that levity is good for business, and professionals who are considered humorous are vastly more likely to get promoted, especially to senior positions.

No matter how much you try to plan the business analysis work, from time to time things will come up that will require deviating from the original plan. To avoid frustration and disappointment when change happens in one of your projects, follow these three steps: first, understand that change will occur, sooner or later. Second, make an effort to understand the perspective of your various stakeholders--executives, project sponsors, business people affected by the solution, employees who will use the new process, end users, designers, developers, testers. The more you know about the motivations and needs of those stakeholders, the easier it becomes to accept the need to course-correct when new circumstances demand that requirements are modified, project goals are revised, or change requests are submitted. Third, leave room for laughter. We all want to work with people who take their work seriously, but are also confident enough of who they are to be able to delight in making jokes at their own expense.

When Brazilians play football, lightheartedness and creativity are often the mechanisms that help players carve open the opponent’s defense. In business analysis, too, levity can establish a fertile environment for innovation, helping you look at your project’s challenges in novel ways and make new connections nobody thought about before.

Author: Adriana Beal spent the past 10 years consulting for Fortune 100 organizations implementing large, complex software projects. She currently works as a product manager for an enterprise-grade software-as-a-service application at Spredfast in Austin, Texas. Opinions expressed are solely her own and do not express the views or opinions of her employer.



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