Tuesday, 09 March 2010 08:18

Launching Fledgling Business Analysts

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launchingfledglingA fledgling is a bird that is out of the nest but still dependent on its parents for food and care. Recently I was contacted by a technical support/system administrator in my company who wanted to know more about this profession called "business analysis". This young man, let's call him Brandon, had been singled out both by his peers and his manager to be the person to talk to internal customers. Brandon had shown a talent for engaging with the customers to find out if what they asked for was what they really needed. (ding!)

Brandon hasn't written formal requirements and he hasn't done work on a project that has lasted for more than two weeks. He has experienced customers changing their minds half way through the delivery of the service. He has realized that he is the only one in his peer group who can "speak geek" and in the next breath "speak manager" and not break a sweat. (Ding ding!)

I gave him a whirlwind tour of business analysis by introducing him to the IIBA website and giving him a "tips of the waves" tour of the Knowledge Areas in the BA BoK. Unfortunately the corporate training for business analysis skills section that used to be in place is on hold for a while.

Other than suggesting he join the IIBA, download the BA BoK and find a local chapter to join, I couldn't really offer him much more personal support for learning about the BA profession because of the geographic separation between us. Brandon asked if I knew any BAs in his location whom he could job shadow. "Job shadowing" is a way for a person, typically a student or intern, to learn about a day in the life of a professional by following the professional around for a day. To my delight, one of the senior BAs that I contacted, let's call him Steve, responded with "yes, I'll set up some time with Brandon". Steve deserves a halo and wings.

Steve's generosity made me think about what I would do if Brandon were to shadow me. What exactly could a senior BA invite a fledgling BA to watch or listen to?

Traditionally job shadowing is done all in one day. Given that Brandon is working a full time job, I had suggested that he consider having Brandon shadow him in a few two-hour sessions over a couple of weeks, or some similar arrangement. Here's a list of seven suggestions for job shadowing activities where the senior BA spends several increments of time with the fledgling.

Bring the fledgling with you when

  1. You are collecting information from stakeholders for the business case.
    Give the fledgling the business case template or the work-in-progress business case so they have something to ground the information that will be swirling around.
  2. You are eliciting requirements from, or reviewing a use case with the stakeholders. If more than one session is planned, it would be great to have the fledgling observe a sequence of elicitation sessions. 
  3. You participate in a requirements document peer review. If you want to make a huge impression, pick a peer review that has one of your BRDs on the agenda. Give the fledgling the business case and the BRD to review a couple of days in advance - whatever they can soak up is fine.
  4. You discuss the requirements with the architects, infrastructure people, or user interface advisors, for the purpose of articulating a design.
  5. You and the project team discuss the scope changes requested by the customer.
  6. You and the PM discuss the plans for a User Acceptance Test.
  7. You conduct the daily review of the UAT progress with the stakeholders.

It's okay if any of the above interactions don't go as smoothly as you might have liked. It is important to model patience, resilience and perseverance. It is important to model "leaving your ego at the door".

If you're thinking to yourself, "Well, I'm not so sure I'd be a good person to shadow, I spend a lot of time just typing at my computer", read the suggestions again. What do they have in common? You got it, "interacting with other people". I can't think of anything more boring than watching someone else type.

Many years ago I participated in the Expanding Your Horizons (EYH) conferences. EYH is a program designed to encourage girls in grade school through high school to take classes in math and science. A young lady came up to me after my talk; she seemed vaguely familiar. She had attended my EYH presentation two years previously as a junior in high school. My heart soared when she said she had changed her original college plans and was attending Carnegie Mellon University in the Artificial Intelligence/ Computer Science program. She was having a blast in school and had just stopped by to say hello during Spring break.

Going back to Brandon's situation - he is lucky! Brandon's manager recognized a diamond in the rough and suggested that he look into business analysis as a career path. Brandon had the wherewithal to follow through and find a senior BA to talk to. (ding ding ding!) And, true to the nature of "being the bridge", Steve, the heaven-sent senior BA, decided to check out the raw talent and stepped up to the task letting Brandon job-shadow him. Maybe in six months I'll get an email from Steve, "Hey, remember that guy Brandon? He has been re-assigned to my team as the junior business analyst."

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Cecilie Hoffman is a Senior Principal IT Business Analyst in the Business Analysis Center of Excellence, Symantec Services Group, Symantec Corporation. Cecilie's professional passion is to educate technical and business teams about the role of the business analyst, and to empower the business analysts themselves with tools, methods, strategies and confidence. Cecilie is a founding member of the Silicon Valley chapter of the IIBA. She writes a blog on her personal passion, motorcycle riding, at balsamfir.com. She can be reached at Cecilie_Hoffman@Symantec.com.

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