Soft Skills

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I learned this in a virtual meeting where about 10 stakeholders were invited to give input to a mock-up created by our project. They were all subject matter experts within the area, and had earlier provided some input on an individual basis. I walked through the whole thing, and what happened? There were no comments or suggestions. I couldn't believe it. I know that subject matter experts always have an opinion.

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There are three basic checkpoints the business analyst can facilitate to help ensure that he or she is on the right track. Two are informal, merely a get-together with other parties to review the situation and not fraught with the imprimatur of approval. The other is a more formal presentation. I’ll address each of the three checkpoints in this series.

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December ought to be a month of celebrations, but for managers it often isn’t. In many companies this is the time for the yearly performance appraisals. When top management is not trusting employees, and employees are not trusting top management, the middle manager is usually caught between a rock and a hard place. But they don’t have to be.

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Leadership is like genius, it is one of those concepts that is recognizable when you observe it in action, but is otherwise somewhat difficult to define. And creative leadership is even harder to define because we haven’t been focusing on it in the context of business, unless we are talking about new product development. But creativity and innovation in the business world is not just about product innovation. 

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As 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, 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.

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Employers are looking for critical thinking and an ability to adapt, invent, and reinvent; collaborate, create, and innovate; and an ability to leverage complexity to compete. Standout companies are using projects as the hotbed of creativity – so that means BAs and PMs have to step up their game. According to the 2011 CHAOS Report from The Standish Group, only 37% of projects delivered on time, on budget, with required features and functions.

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So many IT projects ultimately end in failure and are simply written off. Same old story, time and time again. Why is it so hard? Why can’t we figure out beforehand whether some solution will actually work once we roll it out? Most project management approaches and many IT methodologies include steps for building business cases and provide guidelines for project planning and estimating. What’s missing?

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Your meeting is underway and while you’re attentively listening to the business SME explain the detailed process for transferring a policy from one agency to another, you find yourself feverishly jotting down notes as the nuggets of information being thrown out are too juicy not to capture. Then it hits you: you have no idea what the business SME is talking about!
 

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We have always been fascinated by the exceptional business analysts who can create order out of total chaos. The ones who can ask those great questions, who can figure out what’s important and what’s less so, who can synthesize lots of information, put it all into their magic hat and come out with requirements that make sense to all the stakeholders.

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Your new system just went live and the project, that replaced a critical legacy system, is coming to a close. Business analysts gathered requirements and worked closely with users and developers, but did you capture all of the requirements?

 

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Why does it take an 'act of congress' for some organizations to realize that what they are doing is not working? I have been in many industries(media, manufacturing, financial and the judicial system) and no matter what industry I've been in I’ve seen some of the same themes.

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Facilitation is one of the most critical soft skills of the business analyst, as well as one of the most difficult to master. Working with various stakeholders requires tremendous preparation, insight and finesse in addition to an understanding of key principles of the facilitation process.

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When used properly, a performance measurement program can help BAs and their managers identify specific improvement priorities, clarify responsibilities, and drive the desired behaviors required to achieve business goals. However, in practice it's rare to see managers taking advantage of the benefits a good performance measurement system can offer...

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I often get asked, “How can I get stakeholders to attend my meetings?” or “How can I get stakeholders’ buy-in on the project?” These are complex questions and the easy answer is that you can’t. As BAs and PMs we can’t get anyone to do anything, but we can certainly influence them so that they want to.

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If I said Mentalist to you, I expect you would either think of a mind-reader of the David Copperfield ilk or the TV series of that name. In fact you would probably take it as an insult as neither of these images is particularly comfortable, but both would have a voyeuristic attraction.

The reason I bring this up is that there has always been a fascination with trying to guess what is going on the minds of the people in front of you. This is particularly apt when you are trying to understand what the in-duh-vidual in front of you really wants (aka requirements gathering).

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