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Working with Business Analysts Made Easy

Working-with-Business-Analysts-Made-EasyOver the last few years, many people have asked me for tips, techniques and skills you should develop when managing a group of business analysts. This article is an informal list BA managers might consider, especially if they are transitioning into management from a Business Analyst role.

Develop a BA Process

Provide a framework to which all your BAs work. Not only does this give them a consistent approach, but you a get a consistent way to assess their progress. Business stakeholders and IT staff should recognize a similar pattern in every project. In doing this, you are also training your stakeholders to think like a BA. After repeated exposure, they can foresee the next steps and come more prepared to meetings and projects.

Develop Consistent Tools and Standards

One of the worst things for a business user or developer to see is different documentation standards from each BA. I insist that everyone uses standard templates and adopts a consistent approach to diagrams and other supporting information. Be sure to make your templates flexible and try to refrain from producing overwhelming or heavy documents. I encourage BAs to try to separate documents as logically as possible. Having a functional requirements document full of use cases, mockups, data specifications and a report catalogue can quickly become a 100 page+ document and business and technical staff struggle to read it.

Get Involved in Planning Projects and then Leave the BA to it

One of the realizations when you move into management is that you cannot be everywhere all the time. More importantly, you understand that you don’t want to be everywhere all the time! It’s challenging when you move from being responsible for your own projects, running meetings and getting involved in as much detail as you like, to only having time to view projects from the periphery. One of the methods I use to stay involved, but not participate on a day to day basis, is to work with the BAs at the start of the project, to ensure they plan their efforts and evaluate the scope of their projects in a consistent and clear manner.

The scope evaluation typically takes the form of what I refer to as Power Verbs. These are the action points that you can then use to maintain your sense of the project. For example, if the project was to move house, the Power Verbs might be Investigate, Decide, Prepare, Pack, Move, Unpack, Recover. I would then spend time to expand each Power Verb into a series of action areas. These action areas then allow the BA and the manager to ensure that a project starts off with a clear understanding of potential scope. For the manager, this affords an opportunity for context any time they need to get involved, because they a basic understanding of the overall process.

By overseeing planning and providing a solid framework within which the BA can operate, the BA is free to use their own techniques and methods, while the manager is comfortable knowing the scope will be addressed.

Resource Your Team Well and Review it Constantly

One of the major areas of challenge for a manager is resource management, especially in fast paced environments. I use a tried and tested technique which I documented here, it has not failed me yet. However, regardless of which method you use, you need to find the right resources and resist the temptation to take on projects or problems yourself. It is not ideal if you assign a BA to a project and then they have to leave a few days later, because you forgot they were required on something else. I find that BA’s max out on 2 large projects or 3-4 smaller projects at any one time, any more and they lose the consistency needed to stay focused and add value. You will also want to track the time spent utilized vs. down time, as this will be a key measure in your demonstration of your success in resourcing your team.

Find a Way to Reduce BAs Moving from Project Area to Project Area

If a BA has to move business areas on each project, you will easily waste time unnecessarily as they need to ramp up to a new environment each time. To prevent this, assign your BA’s to a business area or project type and try to keep them there. As the BA gains experience they become more familiar with the stakeholders, processes and systems, they will reduce ramp up time to zero and add more value to the project. On a yearly or bi-yearly basis, try to switch the BAs around to keep them learning and developing.

Over Invest in Recruitment Efforts

Many managers are nervous about interviewing and recruitment and as a result hire the wrong candidates. If you are hiring BA’s, think about the qualities your candidates should demonstrate and try to use behavior based questions that call for specific examples. I will typically ask BA’s to do a live iteration exercise or some other activity relevant to the job to get a better sense of their real world performance. It’s better to take your time to hire the right skill set than to rush and hire the wrong person.

Don’t Forget the HR side

Being a good manager requires skills that you may not have developed as a Business Analyst. To make it harder, BA’s are usually smart people and need a specialized management style. They generally hate micro-management, are creative, and by nature are always finding problems that you’ll need to develop into opportunities. Encourage a collaborative style and get them involved with how the group progresses.

Meet as a Team Regularly

Schedule a weekly or bi-weekly meeting to talk about projects and status. You’ll find numerous instances where BA’s are overlapping or suffering from a similar pain point. Talking about these issues in a group format allows everyone to learn for very little effort.

Develop the Skills of your People to Improve Team Performance

Invest in team training but identify the skill deficiencies at the individual level. There’s really no point to sending your whole team on a use case course, if only one of them doesn’t know how to do them. Also, get creative and proactively look for free webinars and events. One of the easiest ways to develop a sense of where each BA is at is to create a competency model, specific to your process and to your environment. Use the competency model to guide where a BA needs help and improvement. It is also a great tool for managers to show leadership how the group is developing over time.

Establish Membership with the IIBA

Sounds expensive but it isn’t at all. $95 per BA for the year and you have access to a wealth of information and potential connections. The corporate membership is also a great deal and isn’t that much more expensive.

Don’t Forget your Stakeholders and Customers

As a manager, you represent your group to the wider organization. You will need to develop and maintain partnerships with your customers, especially the challenging ones. Enterprise Analysis is a great way to stay engaged as a BA Manager, but inevitably you are now going to focus on your relationships with stakeholders, ideally higher up in the organization. Don’t forget that the judgment of your success often lies in the perception your customers have of your group. It’s helpful to research how effective account, product or relationship managers operate, to give you some tips and techniques in this area.

Also, don’t forget to get to know your new peers. Build new relationships with the other managers you work with. Find out the pain points they have with your team and offer to help by changing things that aren’t working.

Change your Relationship with your Manager

You will now have a different working relationship with your manager, possibly even a different manager entirely. You have to recognize that there is more of a strategy element to the management role than was required for your role as a BA. Focusing purely on tactical and not strategy is going to quickly disrupt progress. One of the key documents to develop is a road map for your group, set some goals, establish a timeline, get all your team involved and then manage to a plan.

Remain Positive, be Enthusiastic, Lead by Example

As the leader of your group, your actions and demeanor have an instant impact on the moral of your team. Your staff will be looking to you for leadership and you need to respond accordingly. When you interact with BAs in project teams, live, breathe and demonstrate the development you want to see in them. Don’t forget to reward your staff for a job well done, even if all you can afford is a thank you, it’s a great place to start!

To conclude, while this article is not exhaustive list of everything you need to manage BAs (nor will that list ever be completed) but I hope it has given you some ideas. Remember, there is really no need to start from scratch as you mature your team and develop your management skills. The internet (Twitter, IIBA, Bridging the Gap etc) and people going through similar experiences are great sources of information. LinkedIn is also a great way to connect with colleagues, it’s also a really great way to recruit!

Don’t forget to leave your comments below

Mark Jenkins is the Associate Director of Business Analysis at KPMG. Mark leads a team of 20+ Business Analysts at KPMG in a Center of Excellence format. Prior to KPMG, Mark established a highly successful Business Analysis group at Internet Security leader Websense. Mark draws on his 8 years of Business Analysis experience, including numerous CRM initiatives and a wide range of projects, across all business areas. He can be reached at [email protected] and on twitter Mark is also the Regional Director for the Americas Eastern Region at the IIBA and will be speaking, as part of a panel discussion, on Building a BA Career Center of Excellence at the IIBA Conference in October