The Virtual BA (Business Analyst)


The Virtual BA - Business AnalystAs I've had the honor and privilege of mentoring and coaching business analysts (BA’s) one of the areas that has been a challenge to some is moving from facilitating and eliciting face to face meetings to facilitating and eliciting virtual meetings. More and more BA’s are working remotely (not at the client site), work for companies who have global businesses as well as companies looking at very creative ways to cut cost which may result in having business analysts work from home. It is understandable on why this change can be challenging, especially if not anticipated by the business analysts. Unlike face to face meetings in virtual meetings the BA cannot read body language, pick up eye signals and facial expressions to determine if stakeholders as well as stop individuals from multi-tasking which takes away their full attention to the meeting at hand.

I have worked in both worlds and have been very successful in both. Here are some guiding tips I give BA’s I mentor and coach as some guiding tips to help them be successful in this transition, mainly focusing on conducting meetings as the majority of the work the BA will do will be over the phone to capture the business need and turn them into requirements to be developed. According the IIBA Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK®) the 6 knowledge areas of business analysis are: Business Analysis Planning & Monitoring, Elicitation, Requirements Management & Communication, Enterprise Analysis, Requirements Analysis and Solution Assessment & Validation. Any of the conversations that need to be had to support any of the 6 knowledge areas could be done virtual (e.g. conducting a meeting with a vendor to talk through how well the solution is working for the organization). Any of the tips below can be used in any meeting supporting any of the knowledge areas of business analysis.

I. Utilizing Virtual Media (e.g. Live Meeting, GoTo Meeting, Netmeeting)
Meeting Preparation

  1. If there is opportunity to be included in a face to face kick off meeting for a project for which the BA has been assigned, take advantage of it. This allows the BA to put faces to voices and bring back that personal touch as an image when meetings are being conducted virtually. This tip is taking the assumption that the business analyst has been assigned to the project upfront which is not always the case.

  2. Some organizations have team member sites that have pictures of team members. As a BA if you work in an organization that has this, utilize! Pictures are worth 1,000 words and again the personal touch is coming back through an image that can make a connection. Though you can't judge a book by its over you can at least put a face with a voice.

  3. Familiarize yourself with the virtual media you will be using for the meeting (i.e. Live Meeting, GoTo Meeting, Netmeeting) prior to the meeting. Also have some of BA peers sign into this virtual meeting to see if they have any issues. If your peers experience issues your participants may as well. Document what you did to solve the issue so if it creeps while you are getting ready to facilitate or conduct a meeting it can be solved quickly. Time is of the essence and sometimes as BA’s time is not always our friend.

  4. Learn how to silence the beeps on your conference line prior to the call. Conference call entry sounds can be very distracting when trying to conduct a call, as the sounds can cut out someone speaking at the time, which results in having to repeat pertinent conversation as well as missing important key information, such as requirements, you need to capture.

  5. Make sure you have a list of all the individuals that need to be in the meeting and understand why they need to be there. You may have to call on these individuals specifically. Do your stakeholder analysis prior to the meeting. If some of your stakeholders are in the same building as you have those stakeholders in a conference room with you.

  6. Send out the meeting invite well in advance of the meeting. There are cases of emergencies but those should be the exception and not the rule. You want to be known as an organized BA.

  7. Send out the link to the virtual media and the agenda prior to the meeting (24 hours prior to the meeting is always a great target). This may be contained in the actual meeting invite or outside of the meeting invite. As BA’s we need to be flexible so be open to changes to the agenda as it is sent out. The point is to have the most productive meeting as possible with the time allotted.

  8. Ensure you have a backup plan in case the virtual media does not work. If it is a presentation make sure you have it on hand that you can send out via email or accessible by some other means for the attendees. You don't want to start off with the reputation of being unorganized or the one wasting time. BA’s should always be ready for the unexpected. Again flexibility is important.

    Conducting the Meeting

  9. When conducting a virtual session, as individuals are dialing in have your picture up with the agenda so people can see who are and put a face to a name. Some BA’s may not feel comfortable with this at first but it does help if this is your first encounter with the individuals you will be working with on the project. Again the personal touch.

  10. Taking attendance – there are a couple of ways to do this to maximize your productivity.

    • Small and Medium Size Meetings (<20 people)

      1. When individuals start joining the conference call advise that you will be taking attendance via the virtual media, and if there are individuals that are attending the call, but not attending via the virtual media, to please announce themselves so they can be accounted for. If you have someone scribing for your session they can do this activity for you, just ensue everyone knows their role.

      2. Have your agenda up that lists out everyone’s name so that individuals can see that you are checking their name off in the agenda to know they are being accounted for.

      3. Before starting the meeting confirm that who is showing in the virtual media is actually on the phone. Sometimes individuals will sign into the virtual media but have not yet joined the call.

    • Large Meetings (20 + people)

      1. Repeat the first two steps for the Small and Medium Size meetings.

      2. With large meetings do not read every individual that is currently in the virtual media as this can take up precious time. However, for those individuals that are critical to the conversation do mention their name to ensure they are on the phone and not just in the virtual media (I mention this because sometimes meeting invites are forwarded for individuals to join for informational purposes only. That cannot always be controlled by the business analyst so you may find more people join your call than expected)

    • If you do not have the critical people to conduct a productive session then reschedule the session.

  11. Turn off beeps on your conference line

    • If for some reason you cannot turn beeps off on your conference line, do not stop to acknowledge individuals that start once you start this meeting as this can be very disruptive and can take up precious time.

  12. Set ground rules such as:

    • Have meeting participants indicate via the virtual media if they have stepped away. This will help in determining if a question is asked and there is no answer it can be determined if the individual has stepped away. This will allow you to move forward and come back to the question when the individual rejoins. Things do happen where individuals may have to take care of other business.

    • Have individuals place their phones on mute unless otherwise speaking.

    • Have individuals place other electronic devices on mute as well in case they do have to talk.

    • Advise individuals to not multi task as you need their undivided attention to have a successful meeting and to understand their business needs.

  13. Prior to jumping into the meeting, frame up the purpose of your meeting. Speak confidently and clearly lay out the objectives of the meeting and the desired outcome once the meeting has concluded. Ensure everyone understands the purpose by asking for agreement over the phone or by utilizing your virtual media. Depending on the virtual media you make ask individuals to do a “green check mark” for agreement or “red x” for non-agreement. This again will depend on the options in your virtual media.

  14. If individuals are not participating call them out by name to gain their participation. For example, "Hi Amy, I haven't heard your opinion on this topic and to ensure that everyone's opinion is heard is there anything you would like to add”? It's very easy to get distracted on virtual call sometimes individuals need a subtle nudge.

  15. Listen very closely to what is being said and HOW it's being said. You can sense on calls if individuals are getting frustrated with each other or working well with each other. Listening is key! Repeat what you are hearing on important points to make sure you are capturing the true needs of the call.

  16. At the end of the call thank everyone for their participation and advise of next steps. Make sure to ask if there are any other questions, comments or concerns.

    Post Meeting Items

  17. Send your notes out or any action items that have been assigned as close to after the meeting as possible so it’s still fresh in everyone’s minds.

  18. Follow-Up on action items in the time line set.

II. Not Utilizing Virtual Media Meeting Tips
If you are not using any virtual media, meetings can be even more challenging but here are some tips for this scenario as well for conducting business analysis sessions.

Meeting Preparation:

  • Ensure to send out the meeting agenda 24 hours prior to the meeting so everyone invited understands what will be discussed.

  • Send out any documentation to be reviewed prior to the meeting.

  • Learn how to silence beeps on your conference line

  • Ensure you have a list of all individuals that need to be a part of the meeting

Conducting the Meeting

  • In this instance you will have to take role call regardless of meeting size as you have no virtual media to track that. For small to medium meetings give individuals about 2 minutes after the scheduled time to join the call. For large meetings give about 3 minutes after the scheduled time to join the call. Some individuals may be coming from another meeting and this allows the beeps to slow down before beginning your call.

  • Turn off the conference call beeps and advise the group you are doing so if you have that capability. If you do not have the capability then once you get started do not acknowledge every beep that occurs.

  • Take role call but announcing the names on the agenda and confirming the individuals are on the call opposed to having individuals announce themselves which can lead to individuals talking over each other and taking more time than needed. Call out the individual’s name and then have them acknowledge they are present.

  • State all ground rules

  • Have everyone look at the agenda and frame up the purpose of the meeting. Ensure everyone is on the same page on the purpose of the meeting.

  • For this scenario if someone has to step away as them to either send you an email or instant message (if applicable) so you know they have stepped away if any items come up that need their attention.

  • Ensure individuals are following you if you have a document you are sharing by calling out the page number or slide number you are on.

  • Listen very closely and repeat what you are hearing to get confirmation.

Post Meeting Items

  • Send your notes out or any action items that have been assigned as close to after the meeting as possible so it’s still fresh in everyone’s minds.

  • Follow-Up on action items

Virtual meetings do present their own challenges but can be very successful for BA’s by preparing for the meeting correctly, conducting the meeting efficiently and productively and ensuring that any post meeting items are addressed in a timely manner. As BA’s you will have to really sharpen your communication, relationship building and listening skills as these skills are critical in the virtual, even more so than in the face to face meetings as you don’t have that personal interaction. Even though the body language may not be there virtual meetings can still be very successful and productive. The more you lead virtual sessions the more comfortable you will get with them.

As a BA, know yourself, know your audience and know your goals.

I am confident you can do this successfully for those embarking in the virtual world.


Paula Bell, Business Analyst Certified, B2TAuthor: Paula Bell, BA Coach/Mentor/Speaker/Author

Paula Bell is a Business Analyst, mentor and coach known for consistently producing exceptional work, providing guidance to aspiring business analysts (including those that just want to sharpen their skills), as well as providing creative and strategic ways to build relationships for successful projects. With 15 years in project roles to include business analyst, requirements manager, technical writer, project manager, developer, test lead and implementation lead, Paula has experience in a variety of industries including media, courts, carpet manufacturing, banking and mortgage. Paula has had the opportunity to speak on a variety of topics to include business analysis, project management, relationship building, diversity and software methodology.
LinkedIn: Paula A. Bell

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  37 members liked this article


Putcha posted on Wednesday, April 11, 2012 8:13 PM
I recall seeing anohter article by Paula and liking it. You are repeating it Paula. Keep it up.

I conduct BA sessions over the internet with Go To meet and WebEX and Skype. There are some drawbacks but the advantages are far higher.

Hope real BA work also moves to the Internet. The time and money saved by avoiding travel and venue setting should be very attractive. I pass on the benefits to my clients while getting more for the same time and effort. That should be even more attractive.

Project managers and employers.... Use Virtual BA.

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Maurice posted on Thursday, April 12, 2012 12:40 AM
Hi Paula, great article!!
dldelancey posted on Thursday, April 12, 2012 9:32 AM
This article probably had some very content. Unfortunately, I wasn't inclined to read more than the first two paragraphs due to poor grammar and punctuation. BAs fight a constant battle getting our work product read. This is partly why.
Dave Reynolds posted on Friday, April 13, 2012 8:20 AM
Hmm - 'pot/kettle', looking at your comment didelancey - the first sentence lost me.

The article, however, nicely thought through. I am frequently in this situation and though I'd like to think I have most of this covered there were some nice additional tips I can/will use. Thanks
Pulkit Gangwal posted on Monday, December 9, 2013 10:20 AM
Great article. I only logged in to rate this article "5".

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