Soft Skills

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In an ideal world, a single, full-time, expert user would indeed be sitting within view—“on sight”—of developers, ready at a moment’s notice to speak definitively for the entire user community. In reality, this is unlikely in most situations.

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This article describes an integrated system of actions, tasks, and methods for managing project stakeholders. It highlights the strategic business actions, the tactical project tasks, and operational methods conducted by project sponsors, project managers and business analysts respectively.

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Business analysts need to understand their role on a project. Please note I use the word 'role' and not 'job' or 'the work we do'. As business analysts, our role is to deliver business value. If you do not have a clear definition of what that business value is, how can you expect to deliver it? “Improve the customer experience.” Where is the business value in that? And how do you measure it? When faced with objectives that are poorly defined, the business analyst is allowed to become like that irritating toddler, constantly asking “why? why? why? why? why?”.

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Recently I saw the movie “42,” based on the true story of Jackie Robinson,who in 1947 bravely fought custom, bigotry, and violent hostility to become the first African American to play major league baseball. His courage came from his inner strength which allowed him to withstand with dignity the cruel behavior from fans, other team managers and players, and at first some of his own teammates.

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Multiple stages of a project can benefit from brainstorming, from identifying your stakeholders, to eliciting requirements, to enterprise analysis. In UML for the IT Business Analyst, Howard Podeswa describes brainstorming as useful “during the Initiation phase and whenever the project is ‘stuck’”.

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The purpose of this article is to assist business analysts in writing business requirements. This article provides six guidelines on technical writing. The six I cite here are the major ones I consider when writing a business requirements document (BRD).There are, of course,other technical writing guidelines; for comprehensive texts, see Further Reading (1). 

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This article reviews the complexity of the role of the business analyst (BA) facilitator in obtaining a stakeholder agreement (i.e., a consensus or a compromise) on solution features and/or user requirements. The BA facilitator achieves this agreement by maintaining a neutral posture in guiding the stakeholders though a dialogue in a series of meetings.

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Many BAs wait until their requirements specification is complete before they present it to some reviewers. Busy developers, testers, project managers, and users have difficulty finding the time to scrutinize a large document on short notice. It’s far more effective to review an evolving document incrementally. Give reviewers just a few pages at a time, preferably soon after an elicitation activity.

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 It takes courage to scribe well. In many organizations we encounter pushback related to scribing. We hear lots of reasons why not to scribe. Remarks like those below can discourage us unless we have the courage to educate project and resource managers on why scribes are needed and influence them to assign this important role.

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In my view, the most powerful quality practice available to the software industry today is inspection of requirements documentation. A peer review is an activity in which someone other than the author of a work product examines that product to find defects and improvement opportunities.

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If I had to choose—not that I want to make such a choice—but if I had to choose, I’d take a scribe over a facilitator. I can almost hear a chorus of “You gotta be kidding!” No, I’m quite serious. How many meetings and workshops have we all attended where there was a weak facilitator or none at all?

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If a business analyst is to step up to the task of becoming a credible project team leader, she must have an understanding of how teams work and the dynamics of team development. Team leaders cultivate specialized skills that are used to build and maintain high-performing teams and spur creativity and innovation. Traditional managers and technical leads cannot necessarily become effective team leaders without the appropriate mindset, training, and coaching.

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The language of systems is no different; No, it is not C++, Java, COBOL, etc., but rather simple English (or whatever your native language happens to be). In the past I have gone into length about the differences between Systems and Software, the two are simply not synonymous. Whereas systems include business processes implemented by human beings, computers and other office equipment, software is simply instructions for the computer to follow. Systems are for people who must also take an active role in its execution. In fact, systems will fail more for the lack of people procedures than they will for well-written computer software.

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As trusted advisors, business analysts must never forget the value of collaborating with stakeholders at all levels of an organization. The world of Agile has demonstrated this very point and is doing so with great positive impact and effect on the bottom line of many projects. When initiatives and projects are not collaborative, there is always a failing point within the stakeholder community.

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Quite simply, root cause analysis is a technique designed to unearth the real, often unknown reason why a business problem is happening, and then to propose a viable solution to fix it. BABOK explains that root cause analysis “can help identify the underlying cause of failures or difficulties in accomplishing business analysis work”[1] [emphasis added] and further clarifies that it is “used to ensure that the underlying reason for a defect is identified, rather than simply correcting the output (which may be a symptom of a deeper underlying problem).”

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