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8 Things I Learned from Being a New Business Analyst

I was not very sure about what my role as a BA would look like, what was expected of me and how I needed to go about things.

But reading so many articles online, especially from the BA times (I start my day with the BA times; it’s like my morning newspaper) has helped me gain lots of knowledge which I would have otherwise gathered only with experience. As a newbie BA, I don’t have too much to contribute (yet), but I would love to share my experience on my first project process mapping. I hope this helps other newbie Business Analysts on what and what not to do.

Okay, so my task was to map out the current supply chain process of the company, identify loopholes/ gaps or areas of improvement and suggest fixes. Sounded simple enough – till I actually dived in.

1. Be Confident

Being new to the post and industry, I had lots to learn and gathering information just by observation was not going to help me. I had to conduct one on one interviews. Everyone was busy (or claimed that he or she were busy), and they were not very keen on going out of their way to make time out for me (I don’t think they even knew what I was doing there). So after politely asking them to make time for me, the first few days I ended up sitting at my desk waiting for people to get free. Obviously, I was not proactive or firm (that does not mean you need to be rude). Instead of “Please could you let me know when you are free,” make it “Kindly give me a time and date so that we can set up a meeting to discuss the process.” See, more professional and more chances that they are going to take you seriously. Even better, get that into an email with your boss in cc. Now he knows you are in action.

2. Always Confirm Information Collected from More Than One Person

I made the mistake of gathering information from only one person per department. Big mistake! It is not necessary that the information that he or she is giving you is accurate, so you need to double check. After I realized this and began double checking, I faced instances of getting different pieces of information from different people of the same team! Initially, this was puzzling, and then it started to get hilarious. This pointed out a big gap in their process: lack of complete process awareness.

3. Probe and Probe Further

I loved the part where I could interview people but overlooked the very important part of creating unambiguous questions. I realized that when I interviewed them unless I probed further about something, I would not get all the information. Just by sticking to the questions that I had prepared for the interview, I would not get a 360° view of the process. So I learned that after I ask a question, I need to ensure that I cover the who, what, why and how of it too, before moving on to the next.

4. Focus on the AS–IS and Be Objective About It

It was exciting to improve a process but I needed to remember to focus on the as–is first. Many times as I was interviewing them, I would immediately jump to finding gaps and faults in the process. The conversation now steers in that direction and rest of the interview would be a mix of what is and what is not and what could be. Result? At the end of the interview, I was not sure if I had the as–is process or the to–be process or a combination of the two. So just listen, be objective and ask questions about the information that you are collecting, but do not jump into being Sherlock Holmes just yet.

5. Document Your Journey

I am aware that the least amount of time should be spent on documentation, but I must say it actually helped me to document as I gathered information. This helped because by wording out the details as I collected, I found that there were incomplete pieces of information gathered. For instance, I would document part of the process as “The yard foreman informs the warehouse about the collected items” – whoa! Hold on there. How was the information passed? Who was informed in the warehouse? Coordinator? Supervisor? The little details give you a much better idea about the process flow and information flow. So after I gathered my information, my sentence looked like this: “The yard foreman verbally informs the warehouse coordinator about the collected items.” No ambiguity and absolute transparency. Please note that at this stage of documentation the focus should not be on the font and alignment of your document, but content.

The other frills can be looked into at the last stage of documentation and review.

6. Ask!

As a newbie, I found it a good practice to ask the person concerned what problems they face. Handling the same process on a daily basis, they will already have identified loop holes that the management would have ignored or not seen. Also, you need to analyze whether their concern is actually worth taking note of and if it fits into the big picture.

7. Enjoy the Planning Phase

I had jumped right into the project, but what I have realized is, before you take the big leap, take a few days just to plan the entire thing out – who you are going to interview, who is going to read your document, what needs to be included in your document, etc. I think the BABOK v3 chapter 3, covers this nicely. You might have to change your plan along the way, but it’s better to dive in half prepared than not prepared at all. In my next project, I am definitely going to be better prepared. Plus planning is always fun –executing your plan is the problem!

8. Open Your Mind, Be Creative

The person I replaced had been a senior BA who left for a better opportunity. I felt little vulnerable at the beginning and wondered the rationale for hiring me the fresher and not a senior analyst. When I expressed my concern to my project manager, he replied, ”Oh! We decided we needed a fresh mind so that we can have some creativity around here”. All that time I was searching around the net for solutions to problems I had found in the process never once realizing that maybe being creative and thinking for myself was actually is what is more important. With that being said, I valued all the information I gather from the net – it’s taught me a lot (thank goodness for Google). Sometimes all we need to do is take a good hard look at the problem, get our creative juices flowing, get excited about creating something new, and for all you know the solution will be real simple. You don’t have to be worried that you don’t have the experience yet.

Sure, some of your ideas are going to get rejected but it will definitely spark up an interesting conversation, and it will make work pretty interesting. I don’t think it matters at what stage of your BA career you are at. We BA’s have a chance to be creative in our jobs, and that excites me.
Well, I really hope that this helps someone out there. I’m excited about being a Business Analyst. I’m looking forward to a lot more experiences that I can share! Cheers!