Soft Skills

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I have been in the business analysis profession for many years and the one thing I have constantly had to challenge myself on is leading without really leading, or what I call leading from the side. As a business analyst, many times we are not in a position of authority yet we have to have significant leadership skills to be successful.

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From a developer's standpoint, few things are more frustrating than having to make lots of calls and research to learn what to create because the requirements are ambiguous. From an analyst's view, few things are more frustrating than having your requirements misunderstood. Yet so often, requirements are ambiguous to their readers, despite the writer's best efforts.

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I am not sure if there are many other fields in corporate America that require the finesse necessary to execute the professional pushback as greatly as business analysis. Just by the shear nature of what analysts do, we are constantly uncovering inefficiencies and making recommendations for improvements or enhancements. Sometimes those recommendations are system-focused but they can also be people and process focused.

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The path to requirements elicitation is something that analysts are rarely taught. Everyone knows that it involves interviews and research, but within most organizations, exactly how the interviews and research should be conducted is nebulous.

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A couple of months ago, I was driving along a well-traveled road here in town when my headlights fell upon a large pool of standing water. The little boy in me still loves splashing in puddles, whether on foot or in my car. I smiled at the thought of creating a huge spray. Unfortunately, the harmless puddle of standing water was actually a large pothole. What I thought was going to be a fun splash turned into a blown tire and bent rim. As business analysts, we encounter these water-filled potholes all too often.

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A lot of people think that coming up with solutions to business problems is the hardest part about being a business analyst – particularly when working with a client who knows more about the business than you ever will. Don’t believe it, after all you’ve already made considerable progress in understanding the problem – and your understanding is based on level-headed analysis rather than a potentially emotional interpretation by your client.

Now it’s time to look for solutions – to be creative and think outside the square. In this paper we’ll offer a few tips and techniques for getting the creative juices flowing. We’ll show you that anyone can be creative and that solutions can come from the most unexpected places – you don’t have to be a subject matter expert to come up with valid, workable solutions to business problems.

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Where application development is concerned, the ability to produce great code is just one small component of overall success. Just as essential is the ability for the developers to clearly grasp the business requirement – and deliver against an accurate functional specification.

Nick McKenzie, technical director at nVisionIT, notes that the process for the creation of an application is not always clearly understood. “From the business owner, to the user, to the developer, there are different perspectives and different expectations at play. As requirements pass through this chain, inconsistencies or assumptions can be introduced which can derail this process.”
 

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No matter what requirements gathering process you subscribe to-waterfall, unified, or another approach-your discovery will be markedly easier if you can identify the right subject matter experts from the beginning. Whether they exist inside or outside your organization, people who intimately know your project's product or service, its actors, and its building tools will help you create more inclusive requirements, identify your unknowns, and grow in your own knowledge of the industry.

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Business isn’t going to walk hand in hand with IT until we’re ready to truly partner with them. Here’s how.

I’ve had some interesting conversations about the role of business analysts and the best practices most of them use for requirements-gathering. And I’ve noticed a major contradiction between our desire to be effective partners with the business and the way we go about gathering system requirements.

The contradiction is this: current best practices lead us to gather requirements for a new system by using procedures that, right from the start, cause tension and adversarial interactions between IT and business people.

Author: Mike Hugos

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When I’m not consulting or managing projects, some of my time is spent teaching MBA classes at Drake University.  The fact that I teach both project management AND creativity for business creates consternation among some of my friends and colleagues.  After all, can a project manager really be creative?  Aren’t those mutually exclusive skills?

My response is a great project manager also must excel at creativity to remain a viable, valuable asset in today’s marketplace.  Gone are the days of simply managing scope within a budget and schedule; project managers must be multi-faceted utility players.  Project and program managers are being expected to create solutions, to facilitate conflicts, and to motivate resources toward a goal in ways never before anticipated.

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Good business solutions begin with good business analysis. But what's needed to excel as a business analyst and to get projects started on a good footing?

Much has been (and will continue to be) said about the set of skills that go to making a good business analyst. Forrester Research, for example, has published a spreadsheet (called the Business Analyst Assessment Workbook -- Note: subscription required) that lists more than 150 attributes of a good business analyst, grouped into categories such as Core Capabilities, Business Knowledge, Job-Specific Skills, Technical Knowledge etc. (I was particularly pleased to see this last category: It is important but not quite obvious that business analysts should also have a rudimentary general understanding of technology environments and architectures… mostly built up through seeing past analysis engagements fructify into delivered solutions).

Although the workbook is obviously intended as an assessment tool, I also found in it good for use as a training tool — for example, to bone up on technology approaches to business needs and to study sample projects, correlating the original business requirement with the type of solution delivered.

Here are 10 items from the Forrester list that I found particularly interesting and beyond the obvious (in no particular order)...

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Here we are, the end of another year, and the question I ask always is, what have we learned?

If we are not learning something, be it from a success or a failure, or something in-between, then how can we move forward?

Information security is something that needs to continuously improve and refine itself, otherwise it will fall behind the curve of those that choose a different avenue to your beloved data store.

A tool that information security practitioners often use, especially after a security incident like a virus outbreak or full out attack, is holding a “Lessons Learned” meeting.

The core concept is to be able to take something away for the incident, no matter how big or small, so that the next encounter of a similar kind does not have the same result as the first.

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In this article, I describe one very effective collaborative technique -- the Wall of Wonder (WoW) -- that helps software teams produce the kind of detailed, sharply defined requirements that effectively guide development. As an "emergent" deliverable, requirements evolve through exploration and examination using representative forms such as low-fidelity models and prototypes. A collaborative approach allows business and IT specialists to explore their requirements through these means, while accommodating the necessary fluidity of the requirements process.

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As an analyst practitioner I took it upon myself to act as a proxy for the product owner – which in a corporate environment came with the challenges of multiple stakeholders, the fact that you are not the product owner and thus don't really have the final say, and a number of other challenges that typically stump people trying to move to agile.

My circumstances were unique in some ways. I had worked in the organisation for some time and had established good relationships with all the key stakeholders. They really did trust me with their requirements because, over time, I had learnt (and shown I had earned) their business.

I also maintained high bandwidth communications with the stakeholders throughout the project and kept them informed of what was happening and how the system was shaping up in the context of their business needs. And expectations were managed.

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A lot of IT folks and or BA’s believe that if you create the requirements without the business, and then review the requirements with the business for confirmation, you can save a lot of time.

After all, creating requirements collaboratively just takes too long, and the business doesn't know what they want, anyways. In addition, we (IT or BA) know the system better than the business, so it just makes sense for us to create the requirements, and then let the business say yes or no.

Let’s see this concept in practice in the “Requirements for My New Car”: a fable.

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