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Top 6 Critical BA Skills for the Future (and today!) – Part 2

When I wrote part one of this article series, I wanted to go deeper and have heard from many that deeper is where part 2 needs to go!

You’ll see the original six critical BA skills below with additional details and questions to help your team think about how to apply these valuable skills. 

1. Data Insights: Analyzing Data to Identify Customer Behavior Patterns

What does this look like for BAs in practice? It’s about BAs getting comfortable analyzing and applying customer/user data throughout the project lifecycle. Data insight skills include a continuous process of modifying system behavior based on an understanding of what is valuable to the user.

BAs with great data insight skills understand how customer behavior data can be used to boost the customer’s experience. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself or your team to develop new data insights:

  • How can you use customer data to drive and prioritize your backlog items?
  • What insights does the data give to prioritizing sprints and release goals?
  • What does customer behavior data teach us about how the system should respond to users?
  • What system data can we use to use to adapt (in real time) to user experiences?
  • What data is too large in numbers and complexity for the human brain to process and how can we simplify it for our customers?
  • What value is the customer hoping to receive from the system and which data provides this value? (Are you providing more data than needed to provide user value?)

2. Requirements Anthropology: Observing and Empathizing to Boost Value and Improve the Life of the User

Data insights are critical, but it can be difficult to elicit user/customer behavior data from our typical stakeholders. The difficulty comes because customer needs change faster than we can write a requirements document!

Here’s an example: I signed up for a Spotify account so I could listen to music while working out. On day two, after carrying my phone from machine to machine, I hopped on the treadmill and discovered an immediate NEED: A treadmill with Spotify login capabilities! I wanted the treadmill at the gym to let me access my Spotify running playlist, rather than carrying my phone. A week ago I would not have had that requirements, and now it is something I want bad! I would prioritize it over many other ideas for the gym.

That’s where requirements anthropology skills come into play. BAs borrow the mindset of an anthropologist to keep pace with the changing needs and behaviors of their end users.

Data gathered from customer observations six months ago is out of date. Requirements anthropology encourages real time observations and continuous delivery to meet those changing needs.

How can we observe and evaluate the customer experience AND deliver changes in days? For some BAs, this is easier with agile cadences that include continuous delivery prioritized by end user value. If observations generate system or process change requests with higher end user value than current backlog/roadmap items, they move to the top of the “to-do” list.

For all BAs, agile or not, requirements anthropology calls you to act on what you see when observing users and customers, especially when you can add immediate value. On a recent project, I observed users for 10 minutes and found four quick fixes that were not logged as defects. Once fixed, these simple changes dramatically improved user experience and business operation metrics.

3. Visualization: Using images to explore and learn.

I am not a visual genius and it is pretty hard to find those with the rare talent. But we don’t need perfect, formal, elaborate visuals. Get up from that chair in meetings and sketch on the whiteboard! Draw concepts and connect the dots. In virtual meetings, use that virtual whiteboard! Use basic shapes like stick figures, boxes, circles, arrows, etc.

Visuals create deep, shared understanding that’s more effective than detailed requirements documents; creativity and engagement skyrocket as well. Experiment with various high level models and diagrams and tools connect concepts or data visually.

Did you know the brain engages deeper for the person doing the drawing? Give other people ownership by handing off the marker (or the screen control) and encourage them to add or modify. There is something magical about creating visuals that cannot be duplicated by pure dialog. Our brains crave visuals to enhance the verbal part of the conversation.

4. Forensic Thinking: Evaluating Assumptions and Perceptions to Uncover Facts

Forensic thinking encourages BAs to expand their definition of elicitation and explore techniques beyond stakeholder interviews and requirements workshops. An elicitation approach that includes both collaborative and research-oriented techniques helps BAs fill gaps and connect dots that are not obvious with a single technique.

Use techniques like collaborative games and create workshops that use multiple techniques in the workshop to gather insights. Then, use the questions that come out of these workshops to research, analyze and prioritize the next steps in your requirements approach. Also, use experiments with users, data and/or rules to test out assumptions rather than simply listing assumptions at the end of a document.

5. Data Security: Balancing Risk and Value

This is where our favorite non-functional requirements pop up! Unlike the past, BAs use value to analyze and prioritize non-functional requirements like data security. The primary goal is to get the right level of quality without compromising value, and it is so tough! The trade-offs between user experience and data security risks usually creates uncomfortable dialog.

If you’re ready to start the conversation, here are a few tips:

  • Challenge yourself and the team to really think about how data security impacts the user and the business.
  • Find the balance between fear and user experience impact. This may mean doing some A/B testing and seeing the difference in user behavior on two different security models.
  • Respect data security needs while also embracing the reality that less security can improve the user experience in ways that might outweigh the risk.
  • Debate where to draw the line. Where are you comfortable trading data security for user experience?

6. UX – User Experience: Collaborating in Short, Informal Iterations to Build an Integrated Experience

Let go of the concept of a UX “phase” with distinct start and end dates. Don’t jump into screen updates and formal mock ups. Instead, encourage your team to let UX evolve as the team collaborates and learns.

  • Start with quick hand drawn screens.
  • Build, and iterate, and iterate more to get to the right balance and experience for the user.
  • Approach UX with an integrated mindset. Look at the user experience and all of the screens as a whole rather than perfecting a single screen.
  • Map screens to user-focused process models. Identify the critical parts of the process that impact the value the user gets.
  • Walk the walk of the user, in real time in a team meeting, rather perfecting a document.

Are these skills on your radar in 2017? I would love to know how your team is integrating value, customer behavior and visuals into your daily routines. Please leave your comments below.