Business Analysis Resolutions

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Editor's Note: Due to the editorial schedule this article could not be published in January but it is as relevant as ever.

And so the new year begins, as always it is marked by lots of fireworks followed by a spew of packed gyms, roads full of runners acting on their ponderous new year’s resolutions that usually last a few months. As a Business Analysts we work with goals and objectives of our clients or companies in order to deliver business value, but how often do we sit and work on professional goals and objectives? How often do we use the skills that we possess on ourselves and our own professional activities?

4 Business Analysis ResolutionsThis year I plan to do exactly that, I have put together four BA resolutions that I believe will make me a better BA.

Resolution 1: Plan More

Listed in the BABOK as one of the key learning areas and often pushed to the back of the pile of key skills, this is something that we should all be working on. In order for us to leave our stakeholders with a complete sense of repletion we need to find a perfect balance between the three pillars, time, cost and quality. It is often misconstrued that it is only possible to get two of the three conditions me in a project and that this accountability lies with the Project Manager to obtain the perfect balance. It is my opinion that the three pillars are achievable with proper planning and that this not only lies with the Project Manager but also with the Business Analysts.

This foundation that this belief lies or relies on the simple fact that the more we understand what needs to be done, the better we can action it. So how do we master planning as a Business Analyst? My simple advice is at the commencement of every project or project phase or even week of a project, plan to plan. Set time aside to make the plans for the next increment of your work. Plan the activities needed for you to gather the required information in order to elicit efficient requirements.

How does this then link in to the three pillars and how does the Business Analyst provide a pivotal role in this? Better quality requirements or a better understanding of the requirements can only be achieved if you have gathered all the required information.

Resolution 2: Less Technology More Business

As a Business Analyst with a good deal of exposure to technology I find myself heavily intertwined with projects that have technology based foundations. I firmly believe that as a Business Analyst our skills go beyond technology and in fact are more heavily weighted in the business domain. Business Analysts that can understand the business decision making process which led to the initiation of a project introducing a new technology, will become a bigger asset to the business.

A BA is often involved in the creation of a set of requirements that enable a business to build a solution to meet business needs. In the environment that I work in these requirements are heavily technology focussed so why would I want to focus more on the business and less on the technology? To answer this question I would like to refer to the BABOK, more specifically the definition of a requirement. According to the BABOK,

A requirement is:

1. A condition or capability needed by a stakeholder to solve a problem or achieve an objective.
2. A condition or capability that must be met or possessed by a solution or solution component to satisfy a contract, standard, specification, or other formally imposed documents.
3. A documented representation of a condition or capability as in (1) or (2).

Nowhere in the above definition does it imply that a requirement is for a solution that is based on technology. Too often technology is thrown at a problem without the problem being fully understood and this leads me to one of my favourite quotes from Albert Einstein.

Albert Einstein — 'If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.'
The above quote encompasses the role I believe a BA exists to fill. We are there to define what needs to be done in order to solve a problem. Technology could be a potential solution to a problem but without understanding the problem or identifying if a problem even exists, how can we state that technology will solve this?

The above leads me to a bold statement, technology can be as big a problem as it can be a solution. Throwing technology at a problem without sufficiently understanding it, as well as the business value solving the problem will add, can have the opposite impact as desired.

I have 5 tips to create a less technology dependant environment

1. Understand and embrace technology but focus on the underlying business that drives technology.
2. Work with business to make sure that a stated problem exists only because it is blocking that organisation from reaching its strategic goals and objectives.
3. Make sure that every requirement enables the business to reach goals and objectives in the most economical and cost effective way.
4. Focus on the why instead of the how.
5. Don’t look at every problem in solution mode. A good understanding of a problem will get you much further.

Resolution 3: Participate in the community

Typically a Business Analyst will see themselves working in an environment where their skill is not the core focus of the business. A car dealership for example focusses on selling cars and as such the bulk of its workforce will be sales agents, managers and other staff focussed on the business operations.

More often than not a Business Analyst works in small teams and interacts with business operations to ascertain requirements that enable the business to operate more efficiently. The nature of the job means that unless you are in a large multinational company you will find a smaller concentration of individuals that perform the same work you do. Even in a large company Business Analysts tend to be scattered across the business in project teams.

In the car dealership example mentioned above, sales agents can learn from those around them and improve their skills as they are constantly surrounded by individuals that understand and can relate to the work they do. Learning from discussion and debate can be one of the most effective forms of growth. Problems and challenges that exist in workplaces tend to not be unique and the odds are that someone has experienced similar in their work. So why not leverage off a community to learn and develop to be a better BA?

What is a community? As a BA I seek to understand, so to understand why I must be part of a community, I must first understand what it is. The dictionary defines a community in this context as

“a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists, (usually preceded by the ): the business community; the community of scholars.”

Why should I be part of a community? The simple answer to this question is that you already are. A job title is enough based on the above definition to display a distinction from the larger society in which it exists. The content of this resolution surrounds how we as professionals impact this community and in turn how the community can impact us.

It is my belief that due to the nature of the work a BA does, we need to actively seek out the larger community and become a participant as the informal interaction is limited in some environments due to the sporadic and limited community interaction.

The biggest focus should be in actively participating in the community, this is both as a contributor and a benefactor. Don’t only take in, but give back. Each and every person has knowledge that can benefit someone else, this might increase as you get more experienced but everyone has something to share. Don’t restrict yourself because you think that your level of knowledge is less than others, ask questions but make sure your views and understanding are known.

Two types of professional communities exist in an organisation, internal and external. Internal, referring to a community of professionals within your organisation and external, the opposite. The below are ways to get involved in your community

Internal

• Form or Join a community of practice within your organisation
• Interact with other BA’s in your organisation informally
• Contribute to your company’s intranet or blog
• Be approachable when others want advice or to run ideas past you

External

• Join the IIBA or other industry bodies
• Attend Business Analysis events
• Participate on Online Forums
• Utilise Social Media to Share Ideas
• Comment on articles out there online

The only thing that keeps a community going is participation so make sure you add to your community so that it grows and more people understand the value of what the Business Analysis profession has to offer.

Resolution 4: Learn something new

“Never stop learning, when we stop learning we stop growing” this quote often thrown around in the workplace is something we should all believe and live. Business Analysis is a profession only formally defined in more recent times. This by nature means that the rules and boundaries that define the profession are not completely set in stone. This is further impacted by the fact that the skills a Business Analyst possesses enables them to interact in various business domains as well as industries/sectors making it very difficult to be an expert in every facet of the profession.

I firmly believe that we do not learn techniques that enable a blanket approach to projects but that we approach each project with a set of tools at our disposal and apply those tools in the most appropriate fashion to ensure the required outcome. This leads me to think that the more we know and the more ‘tools’ we have at our disposal, the more effective we can be. The more effective we are, the more we can assist a business to realise actual business value. But does harnessing our BA skills alone suffice in a business landscape where new innovations are constantly shifting the business domain? Should I look beyond my skillset to gain new knowledge in the industry that I work in?

I think that we should, the more we understand the better. The more we learn, the more we can interact with our stakeholders in a way that minimises the impact that the requirements elicitation process has on stakeholders that are often very busy. Interacting with a level of understanding about their business as well as the market in which it exists, can increase the level of co-operation and willingness to provide vital information that stakeholders possess. This is why I believe that we should augment domain knowledge to learning that benefits the core skills of the BA profession.

Although it might not seem practical to enter formal studies in the field in which your stakeholders on a specific project are part of, there is an abundance of other sources of information thanks to the digital age that will enable you to facilitate this level of learning. Apart from understanding the business domain it is also beneficial to understand the broader industry in which that business operates. Reading news on competitors, industry challenges and impacting factors such as political, economic and compliance changes, can greatly set you up to add real business value.

The below are helpful ways you can learn, including both informal and formal, free and paid

• Within the Community

o Read a blog (e.g. www.modernanalyst.com)
o Attend Business Analysis Events (e.g. IIBA events)
o Watch YouTube Instructional videos

• Online Sources

o Free online learning sites (www.coursa.org)
o Industry News Websites

• Formal Courses

o Formal Business Analysis Courses
o Specific Skills Courses (UML, Business Rules, BPMN)
o Soft Skills Courses (Business Writing, Ethics, Public Speaking, Facilitation)

• Books and Magazines

o Business Domain Magazines
o Business Analysis Books

The above tips are the things that I am planning on improving on this year,. What are you planning on doing this year to improve your professional stature?

Author: Ryan Folster, Business Analyst
Ryan Folster is an up-and coming Business Analyst from Johannesburg South Africa. His strong focus on innovation as well as involvement in the Business Analyst community have seen Ryan develop professionally from a small company, serving a small amount of users, to large multi-national organisations. Having merged into Business Analysis through the business domain, Ryan has developed a firm grounding and provides context to the methodologies applied to clients and projects he is working on.

Ryan has gained exposure to the Human Resources, Asset Management as well as Financial Services sectors, working on projects that span from Enterprise Line of Business Software to Business Intelligence and Compliance. Ryan is also heavily involved in the local chapter of IIBA, currently holding the position of Head of Technology and Social Media.

Ryan is passionate about the role a Business Analyst plays within an organisation, and is a firm believer that the role will develop further in the future and become a crucial aspect of any successful business.

To get into contact please use one of the below channels

Email: [email protected]
LinkedIn: za.linkedin.com/pub/ryan-folster/12/128/639
Twitter: @ryanfolstersa

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COMMENTS

Kev Eland posted on Wednesday, April 16, 2014 10:53 AM
Great article Ryan. I specifically like the references to Business Analysts getting more involved in understanding the business objectives and the key drivers in decision making. I have recently adopted a similar approach and have found it very beneficial. Especially when documenting the requirements of a project or providing stakeholders with advice at the outset of a project.
Keveland
Ryan Folster posted on Tuesday, April 22, 2014 2:01 AM
Hi Keveland

Thank you for your positive comments. The ultimate role of the BA is to add real measurable business value. Understanding what the objectives of the business are both in the larger sense as well as for the specific project/initiative is key to being able to add value. I am glad more BA's like yourself are thinking along those lines.
ryanfolster
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