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Fill Your Business Analyst Toolbox

Every good mechanic has a toolbox, and that toolbox literally gives the mechanic the confidence and capability to do whatever it takes to get the job done.

Here’s an example. The mechanic gets a call during business hours, sometimes on weekends, from a customer requesting a need or want. What is the first thing the mechanic does? The mechanic asks questions about what’s broken, what isn’t working as expected, or what the customer wants and why. The mechanic needs to get to the bottom of the challenge before offering a solution. This diligence is, in fact, the most important tool the mechanic has – the skill to dive deeply and fully understand what is needed.

Related Article: Business Analyst Experience: Pay it Forward

The next thing the mechanic might do is ask to see what is wrong. The mechanic pulls the offending auto into the shop, or if the request is for something new, the mechanic might see how the manual process is being completed today.
Observation is the mechanic’s second most important tool. Not everyone has the skill to look around at all the moving pieces, check things out, put it up on a hoist, and look at what connects to what.

After the mechanic fully understands what the customer wants or thinks they need, sees what the customer is doing today or can’t do anymore, the mechanic is now ready to begin. The mechanic rummages through those stored items in the toolbox that can resolve, highlight, measure, clarify, explain, visualize, assist, poke holes, slice, or make things run smoothly. The toolbox might start out kind of light, but as the mechanic becomes more experienced, the toolbox get heavier and more valuable with the tools needed to get the job done.

Does any of this sound familiar?

Now, the business analyst gets the call – “I need, I want, I can’t, I wish.” You pull out the first tool from your toolbox. OK, virtual toolbox. This is the beginning of the deep dive.

You want to know everything about the situation, and can’t stop or move on until you have all the details and know exactly what your client is so concerned or excited about. This particular tool doesn’t ever wear out though. Notice that? It actually gets stronger and more accurate the more it is used. Business analysts are lucky this way.

Next, you need to see the challenge or your client in action. Your second tool helps you here as you’re confident about taking things apart, holding them up to standards, checking out metrics, and evaluating performance. You understand any systems that are impacted or needed, can copy down to lower testing environments, and your sign-ons are still active. You have the investigative tools that you need.

Ready to make a difference? Let’s pull out some other tools of the business analyst trade.

Most business analysts need to know how to use the desktop applications in their toolbox, such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Visio. Being able to use these tools comes in handy when it’s time to document notes and findings. This is the toolbox tray where you find your test plans, and the names and numbers of every Subject Matter Expert (SME) you will ever need. That process flow you just figured out is here for anyone who asks, and when you have to explain how you are going to fix something, that PowerPoint you had the skill to do is going to get you through.

Can we have too many computer skills in our BA toolbox? I think not, so we’ll discuss a wide variety of computer skills in another article; they will fit into your toolbox nicely.

Another set of tools you want in your toolbox (and kept sharpened) are those that let you schedule, call meetings, and get everyone on the same page. Sure, the whole BA package (BA 360!) is far more than being a requirements gatherer and meeting caller, but being able to get the right people together, show them your plans, and organize the conversation in a room is critical.

Here are some ideas regarding meetings:

1. Whether the meeting requires a conference room or call-in number, you don’t want to fumble around when you can finally get the right people in the room or on a call. Have the call-in number saved where you can find it quickly; and make yourself comfortable with Meeting Planner, Reservation Maker, or plain old Outlook for meeting requests.

2. I mentioned getting the right people in the room. Being able to figure this out is a key skill to have, and from my experience, it can be a challenge. I still get half way through a meeting and wish I had invited someone. (I even get half way through a meeting and wish I hadn’t invited someone.) Now that you have mad meeting-scheduling skills in your toolbox (right?), you can spend time thinking about who the players are for your task or analysis.

a. What process is downstream and will be impacted?
b. What upstream process has expectations?
c. Who asked for the change or new functionality?

I personally don’t like the “mass-meeting,” but if you are up to herding these cats, go for it. I prefer a room of SMEs. They don’t want their time wasted, and neither do I. Plus, they have all the information you need.

3. Another skill I believe needs to be included in our BA toolbox is whiteboarding. Don’t underestimate the skill it takes to draw straight lines and print legibly! Once you see a BA show amazing whiteboarding skills, you may never want to write on a wall or poster board again due to pure embarrassment. Seriously, try holding a marker over your head, writing the alphabet, and drawing tic tac toe boards. The attendees may not say it out loud, but everyone appreciates whiteboard talents.

There a lot more tools to talk about and we can do that another day, but now, are you ready to list what you have in your BA toolbox? You’ll be surprised at how much you know!

Find some tools missing? Sign up for an in-house training, ask the business analyst sitting next to you to teach you, or, of course, there is the Internet.

Nothing missing? Then now is the time to refresh your old skills using new technology, or challenge yourself and take on a task that requires you to dust off those old skills.

Even virtual tools can get rusty.