COVID-19: There was never a better time for business analysts to demonstrate their value

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May 11, 2020
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The COVID-19 crisis is reshaping businesses and livelihoods, and seasoned and new BAs alike have an unparalleled opportunity to put their analytical skills to great use. Whether you are still employed, or has been laid off or furloughed, now--while we navigate the pandemic crisis—is a good time to demonstrate the value of business analysis and the contributions you can bring to your current or future employer.

Here are three examples of how you can accomplish that.

1. Remove (or create!) UX friction

The shift to conducting business online has now been given a big boost, and it's unlikely that we'll see things going back to where they were before. Transactions that many people still used to conduct in person, like purchasing fresh produce or signing business contracts, are now heavily shifting toward online services.

This means that no matter what industry you're in, there will be at least some customer interaction happening via Web or mobile apps. And paying attention to the friction created by the software used to accomplish user goals can lead to significant improvements of the user experience with positive impact to the bottom line.

As illustrated in this article by Zoltan Kollin, friction can be both good and bad. On the bad side,

In experience design, friction is anything that prevents users from accomplishing their goals or getting things done. It’s the newsletter signup overlay covering the actual content, the difficult wording on a landing page, or the needless optional questions in a checkout flow. It’s the opposite of intuitive and effortless, the opposite of “Don’t make me think."

On the flip side, friction can also provide great value by forcing users to slow down and understand what is happening when an action could lead to a serious mistake such as accidentally deleting data or entering incorrect information that might cause a problem later on.


Friction is not always bad! A dialog box like the one above makes it harder to mistakenly confirm deletion. It slows users down by forcing them to read the overlay message for a complete understanding of what is about to happen.

Whether you are a BA working on a software application or an analyst with time on your hands due to a layoff or canceled or delayed projects, there are plenty of opportunities for executing a "friction analysis" project. Here are a couple of examples to inspire you:

 

Audit a registration process

Imagine that you work for a company that offers meal preparation kits. You could register yourself (without necessarily placing an order) and take note of all points of negative friction you see in the user experience. For better results, you wouldn’t just go through the happy path, but also attempt a few scenarios that may have been overlooked by the design team, and then create a report describing your results.

For instance,

The registration process is user-friendly and frictionless. However, if a user has already registered in the past but forgets and attempts to register again, the user experience becomes very negative. Rather than explaining to the user that an account already exists, it displays a message saying, "Your password doesn't meet the security requirements. Please try again." This message is not only incorrect but sure to cause frustration as the user repeatedly tries different character combinations without success. Logs show that this scenario happens at least ten times a month, which can lead to significant loss of business due to cart abandonment. A quick solution would be to change the message something more appropriate, such as: "The email you entered already has an account with us! Please log in here or recover your password here." If for privacy / security reasons we don't want to disclose that an account already exists, another option would be to display, "We have sent you instructions to the email provided. If you don't see it on your inbox, please check that you entered the right email, and check your spam folder." (The email message would be customized to allow the user to finish registration or recover their password if already registered.)

If you are currently unemployed, you can still perform the same exercise auditing the registration process for an online service you already use or is planning to join. The document with the design analysis and breakdown of the issues and recommendations can then be added to your professional portfolio. If you don’t think it is appropriate to add this kind of work sample to your portfolio, think again! Often in my career I had to use a side project to illustrate my experience when samples of real work weren’t available due to trade secrets. Hiring managers are familiar with NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) restrictions, and do find it useful to review work samples that provide insight into your analytical and communication skills even when they don’t include actual deliverables from a former job.

Review error logs or customer support tickets to identify user interface issues that may be causing problems for users

Let’s say you work for company that offers a service to schedule social media posts. You could examine error logs or customer support tickets to identify recurring issues. One of your findings could be that users are submitting tickets to customer support team asking for assistance whenever the software permission to post to Twitter or Facebook expires. This is happening because users can't easily find where to reauthorize the application to access their social media accounts, so instead they create unnecessary work for the support team.

Your report could say something like this:

Our customer support staff is handling about 20-30 tickets a month helping users reactivate application access to their social media accounts.This creates avoidable work that delays resolution of other important issues. My recommendation is that we prioritize implementation of two new features: 1) preemptively alert users when authorization is about to expire, including instructions on how to renew the access; 2) provide a link to the knowledge article "How to reauthorize access to your social media accounts" in the error message displayed when access is revoked so that users can self-serve without having to contact customer support.

Again, if you don't have the opportunity to do this kind of analysis from within an organization, there are other alternatives. The web is full of company-sponsored and independent user groups where you can find patterns of common complaints about popular software applications for which you can propose intelligent solutions to be added to your work samples.

2. Help your company or community find answers for the short- and long-term challenges resulting from COVID-19

All around the world, businesses of all sizes are having to ask themselves, "What will it take to navigate this crisis, now that our traditional metrics and assumptions have been rendered irrelevant?"

At the company I work for, Social Solutions, an internal team created a COVID-19 Resource Center that regularly updates a now popular list of emergency support and funding resources for nonprofits. It also developed a special 2020 Emergency Response Offer. Both initiatives leveraged the work of multiple analysts.

Whether you are working for an organization that has to address the immediate and long-term economic knock-on effects of the pandemic, or currently in-between jobs, there is a lot of information out there to be analyzed and transformed into insights. From more ambitious endeavors such as identifying solutions to supply chain issues to simpler things such as creating a well-organized list of companies hiring in your local community, there are many value-adding projects that can be pursued despite all the disruption to normal life.

3. Help businesses and individuals separate the signal from noise

Even if like many people you're feeling overwhelmed by the current circumstances and unable to add a new project to your plate, it's always possible to put analytical skills to good use by helping your organization or nework upgrade its resistance to COVID-19 misinformation.

From helping companies get better at using data for decision-making to pointing out to a former colleague that contrary to popular belief there are many companies hiring “for immediate remote joining amidst the lockdown", there are numerous ways for analysts to apply their critical thinking to support organizations and individuals in this fast-changing environment.

Under the current circumstances, simply asking the right questions can be extremely beneficial. For instance, an easy way to help businesses and individuals understand their situation in deeper, sounder, and more meaningful ways is to ask, "What assumptions are you making here? And are they justified"? These questions alone can lead to better decisions in the current uncertain times--a notable feat within the reach of any smart business analyst out there.


Author: Adriana Beal

Since 2004, Adriana Beal has been helping Fortune 100 companies, innovation companies, and startups in the U.S. gain business insight from their data, make better decisions, and build better software that solves the right problem. In 2016 she decided to follow her passion for quantitative analysis and got a certificate in Big Data and Data Analytics from UT. Since then she has been working in data science projects related to healthcare, IoT, and mobility. Currently the Lead Data Scientist at Social Solutions, Adriana has two IT strategy books published in her native country, Brazil, and work internationally published by IEEE and IGI Global. You can find more of her useful advice for business analysts at bealprojects.com.











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