Author: Bronia Anderson-Kelly

BATimes_Nov10_2022

Best of BATimes: 99 Tips To Be A Fantastic Business Analyst

Published on August 29, 2019

1. BA yourself

This is one thing that only some professions can do. An Actuary can’t actuary himself, a developer can’t code herself, a mechanic can’t mechanic himself. We can analyze ourselves. Use your skills. Decide what a fantastic BA is; research, interview, question and then review yourself. Do some gap analysis and then formulate an action plan.

2. Be nice

No one wants to work with a jerk. No one wants to help and supply information to a jerk so engender support. Thank people, go out of your way to be personable, establish friendships and mutually positive working relationships.

3. Understand project lifecycles

Get to know all the steps in project lifecycles, not just your own and especially the intricacies and peculiarities of the adaptation used by your organization.

4. Be a mentee

There is much to be learned from Analysts further along the road than you.

5. Present well

Don’t dress like a scruff, smell nice, clean your teeth. These are surely basics but I have met people in business who have overlooked these things and they are avoided. You can’t be avoided and be successful. 

6. Prep prep prep

When you go to meet a stakeholder, especially for the first time, prepare. Understand who they are in the business and project context. Ask them for any pertinent information to be sent for your review in advance. Maximize the time with them to appear (or be) effective and efficient and they will happily give you more.

7. Be on time

Your prompt arrival in the office and at meetings will give you more poise than if you rush in late. It is the fruitage of an organized and self-correcting individual.

8. Work on your confidence

We’re not all naturally confident but by reassuring ourselves of our abilities in our BA skills or in our industry knowledge we can instill the needed confidence and trust from our business stakeholders that we can understand their world view and needs.

9. Don’t reject difficult things

They help you grow. Be the BA that accepts unusual assignments and see your career enriched and flourishing.

10. Get good at cost benefit analysis

Don’t leave this to the PM. At project inception, or for minor changes, be able to determine with appropriate certainty whether to accept or reject activity. Maintain a project which can stand-up on its own merits.

11. Be optimistic

Pointing out the bad may be necessary but if you find yourself always the nay-sayer then fix it. Problems are our business. Our optimism can make for a gentler change process.

12. Get your desk in order

Give your workspace a make-over. Keeping it clean and orderly can help you be organized and looks a lot more respectful.

13. Go to a conference or two

Hear some new stuff. Mingle with your peers. Feel proud to be part of a greater something.

14. Help others

You have a project deadline, sure, there’s always one looming but give your fellow BAs your assistance. It will broaden your knowledge and strengthen your team.

15. Be strict about your change management

Keep a record of changing requirements and details about them. It will save you the red face when, inevitably, someone will ask you later for paperwork.

16. Do your actions

If the PM has to continually chase you for your actions they will resent it.

17. Don’t be offended by the red pen

Your work will be reviewed, heavily. Welcome critique and correction. Never be upset about any proposed edits. The individual has spent time immersing themselves in your work and for that you can be grateful. It will make your work better, or at least more acceptable to your audience.

18. Volunteer to share your knowledge

Blog, post, present at lunch-and-learns, write-up how-to guides. There are always people who don’t know what you know so share.

19. Model

Use models a lot. Business people invariably find models easier to verify than paragraphs of information and it brings the potential delivery to life. Architects, Developers and Data Analysts thrive on a well-produced model.

20. Learn, learn and learn some more

If you have the means then don’t stop learning. There is so much training available in BA skills, industry knowledge, peripheral project skills, business knowledge, techniques and soft skills.

21. Offer plentiful walk-throughs

By walking-through your outputs with developers, testers and business representatives you reduce the risk of misinterpretations.

22. Finish your projects

This is especially true if you are a contractor. It’s not good practice to leave a project part-way through if you can help it.

23. Develop strategies for juggling

You will have to work on many things at once. Find what works for you to avoid loss of productivity. If you have yet to nail this there are plenty of productivity tips and hacks on the internet.

24. Clear paths for people

Be someone who anticipates down-stream problems and blockers for yourself and others and intervene.

25. Categorize people but know your exceptions

Use personality and character traits to help you understand the motivations and reactions of your team but note that exceptions exist. Tailor your interactions to fit.

26. Don’t jump to solutions

Have problem-formulating conversations to focus your mind away from solution-mode.

27. Form collaborative relationships

When you collaborate you are more likely to get early and continuous buy-in, nothing will come as a surprise to your end client and you get immediate feedback on your work. It’s worth the extra effort.

28. Find your key SME voices

The quality of Subject Matter Experts is not equal. I have seen business users hide information for a variety of reasons (most understandably) making elicitation more than the usual effort and I have had System Testers guess answers and present information as fact. Hunt for good sources of information and verify what is said.

29. Play requirements back

Saying things like: “So if I understand this right, what you needs is…” saves misunderstanding.

30. Work to uncover implicit requirements

What assumptions have you or your customers made that they haven’t vocalized. Set aside some time and thought to uncovering these.

31. Know your audience

The level of detail that you go to should reflect your audience, know this before you start your elicitation. Get it wrong and you either waste time or have to re-work.

32. Recognize that accuracy is important

Particularly in your written English. If you can’t get that right, what else might get called into question.

33. Start with context

Ask: “Why the project exists?”, “What will be the end results?”, “What benefits are sought?” Then work from there.

34. Document what you won’t build..

..and get it agreed. It doesn’t mean it can’t be changed but it will at least be recognized as a change rather than something that you missed.

35. Get creative

With care not to promise an outcome, suggest ideas and alternatives to users during elicitation. Possible options can be used as a sort of model to tease out other requirements.

36. Read widely

The IT industry is constantly changing and working practices follow hot on the heels. Our understanding of business practice, psychology, methods for collaboration and effecting change progresses. Manuals, how-to guides and handbooks to support our work are plentiful.

37. Don’t forget your non-functionals

If you don’t include these in your document template as standard, add a section for each non-functional as a reminder to consider it.

38. Don’t gild the lily

It may not be scope creep as such but it’s easy to gold-plate our requirements with unnecessary items. Admirably this is usually in response to wanting to deliver the best but these types of extras add up. Work out what your Minimum Viable Product is and then be sure to note any additions as just that.

39. Revisit your prioritizations often

Work with your group of SMEs to get your product features delivered in the right order but remember that things change so schedule re-prioritizations throughout delivery.

40. Evaluate your own skills

Choose a couple of areas for improvement, write them down and formulate some actions that will help you improve them.

41. Look for “free”/cheap benefits

By knowing what’s off-the-shelf or can be achieved with relative ease you can maximize the product and minimize the cost.

42. Ask for feedback

At suitable points during and at the end of projects get personal feedback. Asking people who will give you constructive critique is valuable. Keep it. In years to come you can see how this helped you to change and grow.

43. Find balance

Don’t neglect your personal life. Finding a good work-life balance helps you cope with the ups and downs of projects.

44. Connect with others

Associate with other Business Analysts. Everyone knows different things and that diversity is valuable. Learn, share, help and be helped.

45. Know when to shut up

You’ve raised a risk or an issue but no action has been taken, so you raise it again or differently. It’s good practice to be assertive but there comes a point when you have sufficiently noted it and taking it further causes consternation. Learn where that point is and stop before you reach it.

46. Be a mentor

You know more than you think you know. Give back to the profession by sharing that with someone following in your footsteps.

47. Work as a team

When you work with other BAs, even if you’re tasked on different items, work together. Peer review, support, offer and ask for opinion and share experience.

48. Make your research visible

If you do background reading, conduct surveys, read manuals, hold workshops then put your findings as links or appendices to your documents. Don’t make someone who may need to pick up your work at some later point have to start from scratch.

49. Expand your comfort zone

Do something a little bit uncomfortable, just a little. It will make you capable of more in the future.

(See www.batimes.com/articles/personal-growth-through-discomfort.html)

50. Be agnostic to the solution

If you begin with a pre-determined solution or have a particular software package in mind you won’t be working on behalf of your client.

 

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51. Be flexible to software development lifecycles

Learn to work waterfall, agile, fragile, whatever your client wants. Help them build on what they have.

52. Work with positive people

When you get a choice, pick to spend your work hours with optimists. Lift your chin up and thrive with them.

53. Don’t plagiarize

It’s fine to get inspiration from other text but word them in your own way. The process of breaking something and re-working it allows you to assimilate it properly.

54. Create your own templates, improve others

If templates don’t exist within your organization start to build a repository as you work. Have one eye on how a future project may use the template. If your organization does have templates, seek ways to improve them.

55. Hone your toolkit

Rich pictures, sequence diagrams, business model canvas, running workshops.. and the other scores of tools and techniques in the BA toolkit. Practice them and then get them into your workplace. The more the merrier.

56. Encourage newbies

We were all new once. The profession is constantly refreshed with new and trainee BAs. Welcome people. Help them.

57. Don’t get stereotyped

Take on projects in areas that you haven’t done before so that you have experience and confidence in delivery in as wide a range of topics and disciplines as possible.

58. Avoid too much future-proofing

While it’s a very useful consideration some attempts at future proofing just don’t fit with the future when you get there. Unless it has wide application and has relatively no cost or impact to the project don’t overengineer it.

59. The devil is in the detail

Ask for detail and then spend time understanding complexities. If you don’t, annoying requirements will rear their ugly heads later, when you’re further down the road than is desirable.

60. Order your own tasks

It’s in our nature to do enjoyable things or things which are easy or small first and then rush others. Avoid this by monitoring deadlines and dependencies taking into account impacts from other people and their availability.

61. Decide what your goals are

Ask yourself where you want to be in 5 years and put a plan into place. It may be various certifications, it may be working on certain types of projects, with technologies or in specific locations. Work out the steps you need to get there.

62. Ask for help

No man is an island. There is no shame in asking for help whether about your career, with techniques or technical aspects.

63. Archive and catalogue

Don’t leave files, part finished documents, reference material and other artefacts as collateral damage of your work. Archive your documents, catalogue your information and generally make it easy for people to work out what are the most recent versions and what supports them.

64. Have a to-do list

Don’t risk forgetting important tasks for something as simple as keeping a list. Be organised.

65. Its ok to make mistakes

We are human and mistakes are inevitable. Know that you will make them and decide that dealing with them diligently and humbly will be appreciated and respected.

66. Estimate using metrics

If you’re asked to estimate for a piece of work, use quantitative methods as much as possible and share the information on which it is based.

67. Add a glossary

I have not seen a BA deliverable yet that hasn’t benefitted or would benefit from a glossary (either within the document or at project level). To determine what goes into it, consider your audience. You may need to add business terminology to give framework from IT readers and IT and project terminology for the business.

68. Vanilla is not the only flavor

Don’t forget about alternative flows. The abnormal activities are generally the pain points for most businesses. Overlook them at your peril.

69. Get your must-haves right

The MoSCoW rating is incredibly useful and the priority of requirements must be stated explicitly but it is only useful if you have ratified that a must-have requirement is absolutely necessary. Double check.

70. Chunk up your work and take breaks

By creating a series of much smaller tasks you maintain motivation as you complete activities and as a result have natural break points to re-energize you ready for the next task.

71. Speak up

If you see a possible method of improvement have the courage to vocalize it, respectfully and professionally.

72. Flesh out a plan but be flexible

Plan your assignments in a work-breakdown structure, so you can keep an eye on your own progress but don’t be too rigidly stuck to it that you can’t make the most of stakeholder time when they are available.

73. Do it now

If you get the choice between doing it now and doing it tomorrow; do it now. Procrastinating individual items adds up to lost time and missed deadlines.

74. Be motivated and committed

Volunteer enthusiastically, actively pursue end goals, deliver on your deadlines.

75. Find your USP

Maybe you’re a people person, good with data, can see the bigger picture, are an influencer, have specific technical expertise or domain knowledge, run killer workshops, are highly accurate….everyone has a unique selling point. Whatever it is, find it and use it.

76. Be an observer

Keep an eye on what your peers are doing. Look for cross-over and gaps between their work and yours.

77. Don’t cut corners

Guessing, not completing research fully, ignoring the quiet opposing viewpoint, not determining the full stakeholder group, failing to verify background information, removing valid approval stages are all ways to store up later problems. Don’t cut corners.

78. Run your own project

Is it possible to start a little business of your own? Doing this lets you really test your BA skills.

79. Display kindness and patience

When projects get pressurized this will make you stand out and be someone others want to have around.

80. Understand your Subject Matter Experts

Put yourself in their shoes. You’ve invited them to sit in a long meeting? Make it interesting, schedule breaks and bring biscuits.

81. Get your unfinished specs reviewed

Reduce your own risk of large rework by shipping parts of your document early and get feedback.

82. Take the initiative

Make suggestions. Improve your own team’s processes. Create bodies of knowledge. Organize socials Involve yourself.

83. Keep your requirements updated to the end

A change has been made at the eleventh hour, everyone knows about it, is there any need to take time-out to correct the documentation, especially when the pressure is on?….Yes. If you don’t, no-one will be sure of any of it in the future.

84. Take a step back

During meetings and workshops, take time to observe; interactions between people, gauge motivations. There is a lot more to be learned than comes in through the ears.

85. Control/Challenge scope

Consider scope constantly. It is the bread and butter of getting the optimal solution for the composite group of stakeholders.

86. Mock stuff up

User interfaces, documents, reports. Let your end users see and play with the final product at the design stage.

87. Minute your meetings

It doesn’t have to be War and Peace but make notes. Dictate, doodle or mind map if it’s a more effective or efficient method for you.

88. Give people a “starter for 10”

People provide what you want more quickly if they’re not starting from scratch. If you have a template, provide it. If you want data, provide the table to be populated. If you want a quote, propose a sentence.

89. Learn standards

If there is a UML or ISO way of doing something then try to use it. It’s less ambiguous.

90. Use data analysis tools

Many Business Analyst roles include research in data. You can be more self-reliant if you are capable at manipulating it.

91. Use requirement ‘numbering’ for more than a unique reference

Use prefix letter, suffix letters and sub-numbering to store information about the source (stakeholder or actor), expected delivery method (various IT systems, manual processes, teams, department or companies) and dependencies on other requirements.

Eg, CS75-S.1 (CS = Customer Services, S = SQL, .1 = 1st child requirement)

92. Don’t be vague

Make requirements specific. Eg the phrase “needs to be run regularly” should be “needs to be run twice a day, usually at 12pm and 5pm” and the phrase “other systems use it” should be “three Access databases, listed in Appendix C, link directly to the data”

93. Find your best packages

Find and get proficient with tools and application supporting BA work. Eg, for producing and tracking requirements, for producing diagrams, flows and other models, collaborating and conducting meetings, managing work, etc.

94. Change control your documents

Applying version control saves your readers’ time. Be specific about what’s changed in your version history and use function for highlighting changes.

95. Understand development basics

Gain some knowledge in the basics of development; processes, data and events, components and re-use, integration with other applications, design principles and constraints. Learning to write in a pseudo code style can help with that mentality.

96. Understand test basics

Gain some knowledge in the basics of testing; test condition design, what a tester needs from your documentation.

97. Conduct Stakeholder Analysis

Don’t leave this to your project manager, do your own. Know who your influencers are, your VIPs and any potential “troublemakers”.

98. Ask effective questions

Questions are the keys that unlock treasure troves of information. Closed questions are useful when you need to be specific and open questions are needed to allow free-flow of knowledge transfer. Learn how to make them effective and unbiased.

99. Get qualified

There are a number of qualifications tracks available in various jurisdictions. International Institute of Business Analysis, British Computer Society and International Requirements Engineering Board. For gaining knowledge in the fundamentals as well as sharpening practitioner skills it is invaluable and a résumé necessity.

100th Anniversary of Poirot; Lessons in Analysis

Thanks to my mother, Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot was a huge part of my childhood.

That iconic theme music whistling out of the TV most Sundays in the 1990s is as familiar as the smell of a roast dinner.

The murder mysteries were a popular watch. The last episode of David Suchet’s Poirot in 2013 was viewed by over 5 million people in the UK. But, why was the Belgian Detective so captivating? Maybe as we watch the plot unfold we pit our “little grey cells” against his trying to deduce the murderer before he does! We don’t want to miss a moment just in case something innocuous turns out to be a big clue.

Surprisingly it’s been 100 years since the first publication of the first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, in October 1920.

Business analysis and solving murder mysteries

Business problems can be compared to murder mysteries. We Business Analysts often arrive at the scene of the crime (business problem) with very little background knowledge. We meet a variety of characters (stakeholders) from which we must gather clues (information and requirements). The information is often fragmented. It starts off unclear and is even contradictory. We have to devise our own method of analysis and the order of our investigation. By probing the situation and people connected to it we can understand the context and help the business to “solve” the problem.

Lessons from the Belgian Detective

A few Poirot quotes give us some fun insights:

Arriving at the truth

“Understand this, I mean to arrive at the truth. The truth, however ugly in itself, is always curious and beautiful to seekers after it.” – The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

Lesson: In order to provide solutions we must first understand the problem. We want to get to the core issue, and this can take some work. We may have to really dig into the problem statement, work with different stakeholder groups and frame the problem within the context of the business. There will be many different “world views” and it’s our job to piece them together.

Just as Hercule reminds himself of things he has seen at the scene of the crime, we must keep returning to the original issue as we work so we don’t lose focus.

Optimising our line of questioning

“I look first at my witness, I sum up his or her character, and I frame my questions accordingly.” – Murder on the Orient Express

Lesson: Often we get limited time with our stakeholders. By researching our subject first, gaining as much insight as we can before we meet, we can ask relevant questions. If we can get some understanding of the personality and ability of our stakeholders, it can be very useful. I use an estimate of Myers Briggs where I can and then look at motivating factors. Has the individual been involved in a project or engaged with a Business Analyst before? Have they contributed to change requirements in the past? They may be aware of our goals or they may not be. They may understand our need to uncover tacit knowledge and readily share or they may only answer concisely. When we know this, we can tailor our questions to the person.


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Use your brain

“Hercule Poirot’s methods are his own. Order and method, and ‘the little grey cells’.” -The Mysterious Affair at Style

Lesson: Business Analysis isn’t about simply documenting requirements. For better or worse, we’ve got to use our brains. We’ve got to connect the clues. Some of us are better at storing knowledge in our heads and later referencing it than others. Whether we are or not, use rigour. When we document requirements in a catalogue and have a structured storage method for gathered information it allows us to cross-examine the material and return to the source if needed. Once you have one, analyse it. Look for issues and opportunities. Brainstorm possibilities. Research.

Inspire confidence

“Rest assured, I am the best!” – Five Little Pigs

Lesson: Stakeholders need to know that we will represent their needs correctly and fully. I’ve found the most effective way to do this is organically, by asking relevant and intelligent questions. It shows we’ve understood the situation. Give them time to explain and then play back the conversation clearly. If you’ve worked on a similar project or field before, share it. Be prepared, dependable, thorough, diligent… these all inspire confidence in our abilities.

Listen

“It is a profound belief of mine that if you can induce a person to talk to you for long enough, on any subject whatever! Sooner or later they will give themselves away.” – After the Funeral

Lesson: I have a shocking habit of jumping in too early. When I allow people to fully expand their point there are often useful titbits (clues, if you like) which more often than not have a bearing on the project outcomes, my understanding or how I tackle the analysis.

Double check, dig deeper

“Ah, but my dear sir, the why must never be obvious. That is the whole point.” – Five Little Pigs

Lesson: We often make assumptions or let other people’s assumption become our constraints inadvertently. By using techniques like 5-whys and root-cause analysis the problem we end up solving will be the real issue and not the perceived issue. This makes us better analysts.

Encourage full disclosure

“It is not the past that matters, but the future” – Death on the Nile

Lesson: Allow stakeholders to be open and honest. People are often embarrassed by the as-is procedures. I have seen the sense of relief wash over the faces of subject matter experts when I reassure them that no matter how “bad” their current way of working is, that’s ok. The world is held together by sellotape and spreadsheets. Administrators often think it’s just their company or just their team that have poor processes. Once they know it isn’t, they can relax and tell you the real truth.

There is, no doubt, plenty more we can learn from Christie’s much-loved century-old character but for now, “mon amis”, that is all.

99 Tips to be a Fantastic Business Analyst

1. BA yourself

This is one thing that only some professions can do. An Actuary can’t actuary himself, a developer can’t code herself, a mechanic can’t mechanic himself. We can analyse ourselves. Use your skills. Decide what a fantastic BA is; research, interview, question and then review yourself. Do some gap analysis and then formulate an action plan.

2. Be nice

No one wants to work with a jerk. No one wants to help and supply information to a jerk so engender support. Thank people, go out of your way to be personable, establish friendships and mutually positive working relationships.

3. Understand project lifecycles

Get to know all the steps in project lifecycles, not just your own and especially the intricacies and peculiarities of the adaptation used by your organisation.

4. Be a mentee

There is much to be learned from Analysts further along the road than you.

5. Present well

Don’t dress like a scruff, smell nice, clean your teeth. These are surely basics but I have met people in business who have overlooked these things and they are avoided. You can’t be avoided and be successful. 

6. Prep prep prep

When you go to meet a stakeholder, especially for the first time, prepare. Understand who they are in the business and project context. Ask them for any pertinent information to be sent for your review in advance. Maximise the time with them to appear (or be) effective and efficient and they will happily give you more.

7. Be on time

Your prompt arrival in the office and at meetings will give you more poise than if you rush in late. It is the fruitage of an organised and self-correcting individual.

8. Work on your confidence

We’re not all naturally confident but by reassuring ourselves of our abilities in our BA skills or in our industry knowledge we can instil the needed confidence and trust from our business stakeholders that we can understand their world view and needs.

9. Don’t reject difficult things

They help you grow. Be the BA that accepts unusual assignments and see your career enriched and flourishing.

10. Get good at cost benefit analysis

Don’t leave this to the PM. At project inception, or for minor changes, be able to determine with appropriate certainty whether to accept or reject activity. Maintain a project which can stand-up on its own merits.

11. Be optimistic

Pointing out the bad may be necessary but if you find yourself always the nay-sayer then fix it. Problems are our business. Our optimism can make for a gentler change process.

12. Get your desk in order

Give your workspace a make-over. Keeping it clean and orderly can help you be organised and looks a lot more respectful.

13. Go to a conference or two

Hear some new stuff. Mingle with your peers. Feel proud to be part of a greater something.

14. Help others

You have a project deadline, sure, there’s always one looming but give your fellow BAs your assistance. It will broaden your knowledge and strengthen your team.

15. Be strict about your change management

Keep a record of changing requirements and details about them. It will save you the red face when, inevitably, someone will ask you later for paperwork.

16. Do your actions

If the PM has to continually chase you for your actions they will resent it.

17. Don’t be offended by the red pen

Your work will be reviewed, heavily. Welcome critique and correction. Never be upset about any proposed edits. The individual has spent time immersing themselves in your work and for that you can be grateful. It will make your work better, or at least more acceptable to your audience.

18. Volunteer to share your knowledge

Blog, post, present at lunch-and-learns, write-up how-to guides. There are always people who don’t know what you know so share.

19. Model

Use models a lot. Business people invariably find models easier to verify than paragraphs of information and it brings the potential delivery to life. Architects, Developers and Data Analysts thrive on a well-produced model.

20. Learn, learn and learn some more

If you have the means then don’t stop learning. There is so much training available in BA skills, industry knowledge, peripheral project skills, business knowledge, techniques and soft skills.

21. Offer plentiful walk-throughs

By walking-through your outputs with developers, testers and business representatives you reduce the risk of misinterpretations.

22. Finish your projects

This is especially true if you are a contractor. It’s not good practice to leave a project part-way through if you can help it.

23. Develop strategies for juggling

You will have to work on many things at once. Find what works for you to avoid loss of productivity. If you have yet to nail this there are plenty of productivity tips and hacks on the internet.

24. Clear paths for people

Be someone who anticipates down-stream problems and blockers for yourself and others and intervene.

25. Categorise people but know your exceptions

Use personality and character traits to help you understand the motivations and reactions of your team but note that exceptions exist. Tailor your interactions to fit.

26. Don’t jump to solutions

Have problem-formulating conversations to focus your mind away from solution-mode.

27. Form collaborative relationships

When you collaborate you are more likely to get early and continuous buy-in, nothing will come as a surprise to your end client and you get immediate feedback on your work. It’s worth the extra effort.

28. Find your key SME voices

The quality of Subject Matter Experts is not equal. I have seen business users hide information for a variety of reasons (most understandably) making elicitation more than the usual effort and I have had System Testers guess answers and present information as fact. Hunt for good sources of information and verify what is said.

29. Play requirements back

Saying things like: “So if I understand this right, what you needs is…” saves misunderstanding.

30. Work to uncover implicit requirements

What assumptions have you or your customers made that they haven’t vocalised. Set aside some time and thought to uncovering these.

31. Know your audience

The level of detail that you go to should reflect your audience, know this before you start your elicitation. Get it wrong and you either waste time or have to re-work.

32. Recognise that accuracy is important

Particularly in your written English. If you can’t get that right, what else might get called into question.

33. Start with context

Ask: “Why the project exists?”, “What will be the end results?”, “What benefits are sought?” Then work from there.

34. Document what you won’t build..

..and get it agreed. It doesn’t mean it can’t be changed but it will at least be recognised as a change rather than something that you missed.

35. Get creative

With care not to promise an outcome, suggest ideas and alternatives to users during elicitation. Possible options can be used as a sort of model to tease out other requirements.

36. Read widely

The IT industry is constantly changing and working practices follow hot on the heels. Our understanding of business practice, psychology, methods for collaboration and effecting change progresses. Manuals, how-to guides and handbooks to support our work are plentiful.

37. Don’t forget your non-functionals

If you don’t include these in your document template as standard, add a section for each non-functional as a reminder to consider it.

38. Don’t gild the lily

It may not be scope creep as such but it’s easy to gold-plate our requirements with unnecessary items. Admirably this is usually in response to wanting to deliver the best but these types of extras add up. Work out what your Minimum Viable Product is and then be sure to note any additions as just that.

39. Revisit your prioritisations often

Work with your group of SMEs to get your product features delivered in the right order but remember that things change so schedule re-prioritisations throughout delivery.

40. Evaluate your own skills

Choose a couple of areas for improvement, write them down and formulate some actions that will help you improve them.

41. Look for “free”/cheap benefits

By knowing what’s off-the-shelf or can be achieved with relative ease you can maximise the product and minimise the cost.

42. Ask for feedback

At suitable points during and at the end of projects get personal feedback. Asking people who will give you constructive critique is valuable. Keep it. In years to come you can see how this helped you to change and grow.

43. Find balance

Don’t neglect your personal life. Finding a good work-life balance helps you cope with the ups and downs of projects.

44. Connect with others

Associate with other Business Analysts. Everyone knows different things and that diversity is valuable. Learn, share, help and be helped.

45. Know when to shut up

You’ve raised a risk or an issue but no action has been taken, so you raise it again or differently. It’s good practice to be assertive but there comes a point when you have sufficiently noted it and taking it further causes consternation. Learn where that point is and stop before you reach it.

46. Be a mentor

You know more than you think you know. Give back to the profession by sharing that with someone following in your footsteps.

47. Work as a team

When you work with other BAs, even if you’re tasked on different items, work together. Peer review, support, offer and ask for opinion and share experience.

48. Make your research visible

If you do background reading, conduct surveys, read manuals, hold workshops then put your findings as links or appendices to your documents. Don’t make someone who may need to pick up your work at some later point have to start from scratch.

49. Expand your comfort zone

Do something a little bit uncomfortable, just a little. It will make you capable of more in the future.

(See www.batimes.com/articles/personal-growth-through-discomfort.html)

50. Be agnostic to the solution


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If you begin with a pre-determined solution or have a particular software package in mind you won’t be working on behalf of your client.

51. Be flexible to software development lifecycles

Learn to work waterfall, agile, fragile, whatever your client wants. Help them build on what they have.

52. Work with positive people

When you get a choice, pick to spend your work hours with optimists. Lift your chin up and thrive with them.

53. Don’t plagiarise

It’s fine to get inspiration from other text but word them in your own way. The process of breaking something and re-working it allows you to assimilate it properly.

54. Create your own templates, improve others

If templates don’t exist within your organisation start to build a repository as you work. Have one eye on how a future project may use the template. If your organisation does have templates, seek ways to improve them.

55. Hone your toolkit

Rich pictures, sequence diagrams, business model canvas, running workshops.. and the other scores of tools and techniques in the BA toolkit. Practice them and then get them into your workplace. The more the merrier.

56. Encourage newbies

We were all new once. The profession is constantly refreshed with new and trainee BAs. Welcome people. Help them.

57. Don’t get stereotyped

Take on projects in areas that you haven’t done before so that you have experience and confidence in delivery in as wide a range of topics and disciplines as possible.

58. Avoid too much future-proofing

While it’s a very useful consideration some attempts at future proofing just don’t fit with the future when you get there. Unless it has wide application and has relatively no cost or impact to the project don’t overengineer it.

59. The devil is in the detail

Ask for detail and then spend time understanding complexities. If you don’t, annoying requirements will rear their ugly heads later, when you’re further down the road than is desirable.

60. Order your own tasks

It’s in our nature to do enjoyable things or things which are easy or small first and then rush others. Avoid this by monitoring deadlines and dependencies taking into account impacts from other people and their availability.

61. Decide what your goals are

Ask yourself where you want to be in 5 years and put a plan into place. It may be various certifications, it may be working on certain types of projects, with technologies or in specific locations. Work out the steps you need to get there.

62. Ask for help

No man is an island. There is no shame in asking for help whether about your career, with techniques or technical aspects.

63. Archive and catalogue

Don’t leave files, part finished documents, reference material and other artefacts as collateral damage of your work. Archive your documents, catalogue your information and generally make it easy for people to work out what are the most recent versions and what supports them.

64. Have a to-do list

Don’t risk forgetting important tasks for something as simple as keeping a list. Be organised.

65. Its ok to make mistakes

We are human and mistakes are inevitable. Know that you will make them and decide that dealing with them diligently and humbly will be appreciated and respected.

66. Estimate using metrics

If you’re asked to estimate for a piece of work, use quantitative methods as much as possible and share the information on which it is based.

67. Add a glossary

I have not seen a BA deliverable yet that hasn’t benefitted or would benefit from a glossary (either within the document or at project level). To determine what goes into it, consider your audience. You may need to add business terminology to give framework from IT readers and IT and project terminology for the business.

68. Vanilla is not the only flavour

Don’t forget about alternative flows. The abnormal activities are generally the pain points for most businesses. Overlook them at your peril.

69. Get your must-haves right

The MoSCoW rating is incredibly useful and the priority of requirements must be stated explicitly but it is only useful if you have ratified that a must-have requirement is absolutely necessary. Double check.

70. Chunk up your work and take breaks

By creating a series of much smaller tasks you maintain motivation as you complete activities and as a result have natural break points to re-energise you ready for the next task.

71. Speak up

If you see a possible method of improvement have the courage to vocalise it, respectfully and professionally.

72. Flesh out a plan but be flexible

Plan your assignments in a work-breakdown structure, so you can keep an eye on your own progress but don’t be too rigidly stuck to it that you can’t make the most of stakeholder time when they are available.

73. Do it now

If you get the choice between doing it now and doing it tomorrow; do it now. Procrastinating individual items adds up to lost time and missed deadlines.

74. Be motivated and committed

Volunteer enthusiastically, actively pursue end goals, deliver on your deadlines.

75. Find your USP

Maybe you’re a people person, good with data, can see the bigger picture, are an influencer, have specific technical expertise or domain knowledge, run killer workshops, are highly accurate….everyone has a unique selling point. Whatever it is, find it and use it.

76. Be an observer

Keep an eye on what your peers are doing. Look for cross-over and gaps between their work and yours.

77. Don’t cut corners

Guessing, not completing research fully, ignoring the quiet opposing viewpoint, not determining the full stakeholder group, failing to verify background information, removing valid approval stages are all ways to store up later problems. Don’t cut corners.

78. Run your own project

Is it possible to start a little business of your own? Doing this lets you really test your BA skills.

79. Display kindness and patience

When projects get pressurised this will make you stand out and be someone others want to have around.

80. Understand your Subject Matter Experts

Put yourself in their shoes. You’ve invited them to sit in a long meeting? Make it interesting, schedule breaks and bring biscuits.

81. Get your unfinished specs reviewed

Reduce your own risk of large rework by shipping parts of your document early and get feedback.

82. Take the initiative

Make suggestions. Improve your own team’s processes. Create bodies of knowledge. Organise socials Involve yourself.

83. Keep your requirements updated to the end

A change has been made at the eleventh hour, everyone knows about it, is there any need to take time-out to correct the documentation, especially when the pressure is on?….Yes. If you don’t, no-one will be sure of any of it in the future.

84. Take a step back

During meetings and workshops, take time to observe; interactions between people, gauge motivations. There is a lot more to be learned than comes in through the ears.

85. Control/Challenge scope

Consider scope constantly. It is the bread and butter of getting the optimal solution for the composite group of stakeholders.

86. Mock stuff up

User interfaces, documents, reports. Let your end users see and play with the final product at the design stage.

87. Minute your meetings

It doesn’t have to be War and Peace but make notes. Dictate, doodle or mindmap if it’s a more effective or efficient method for you.

88. Give people a “starter for 10”

People provide what you want more quickly if they’re not starting from scratch. If you have a template, provide it. If you want data, provide the table to be populated. If you want a quote, propose a sentence.

89. Learn standards

If there is a UML or ISO way of doing something then try to use it. It’s less ambiguous.

90. Use data analysis tools

Many Business Analyst roles include research in data. You can be more self-reliant if you are capable at manipulating it.

91. Use requirement ‘numbering’ for more than a unique reference

Use prefix letter, suffix letters and sub-numbering to store information about the source (stakeholder or actor), expected delivery method (various IT systems, manual processes, teams, department or companies) and dependencies on other requirements.

Eg, CS75-S.1 (CS = Customer Services, S = SQL, .1 = 1st child requirement)

92. Don’t be vague

Make requirements specific. Eg the phrase “needs to be run regularly” should be “needs to be run twice a day, usually at 12pm and 5pm” and the phrase “other systems use it” should be “three Access databases, listed in Appendix C, link directly to the data”

93. Find your best packages

Find and get proficient with tools and application supporting BA work. Eg, for producing and tracking requirements, for producing diagrams, flows and other models, collaborating and conducting meetings, managing work, etc.

94. Change control your documents

Applying version control saves your readers’ time. Be specific about what’s changed in your version history and use function for highlighting changes.

95. Understand development basics

Gain some knowledge in the basics of development; processes, data and events, components and re-use, integration with other applications, design principles and constraints. Learning to write in a pseudo code style can help with that mentality.

96. Understand test basics

Gain some knowledge in the basics of testing; test condition design, what a tester needs from your documentation.

97. Conduct Stakeholder Analysis

Don’t leave this to your project manager, do your own. Know who your influencers are, your VIPs and any potential “troublemakers”.

98. Ask effective questions

Questions are the keys that unlock treasure troves of information. Closed questions are useful when you need to be specific and open questions are needed to allow free-flow of knowledge transfer. Learn how to make them effective and unbiased.

99. Get qualified

There are a number of qualifications tracks available in various jurisdictions. International Institute of Business Analysis, British Computer Society and International Requirements Engineering Board. For gaining knowledge in the fundamentals as well as sharpening practitioner skills it is invaluable and a résumé necessity.

Personal Growth Through Discomfort

Delivering a full day’s worth of education to a 25-strong class of 13-year olds is definitely NOT my day job but that is where I found myself one bright day early in June.

I had signed-up for some volunteering with Junior Achievement, a charity which delivers programmes on the topics of work readiness, understanding business and entrepreneurship to school children.

It seemed like a great idea at the time. As a Business Analyst I have gleaned plenty of bits of information about structures and methods of successful companies and as a consultant I had plenty to share about differences in various workplaces and how to add a bit of entrepreneurship to extend your offering.

But now I was faced with at least 5 hours of educating teens in workplace behaviours, job choices, pay checks and budgeting.

Why did I do it? I can’t pretend that it’s for selfless philanthropy, no, it was to expand my comfort zone.

Why is important?

My current read is a book by Professor of Psychology Jordan B Peterson, 12 Rules for Life – An Antidote to Chaos. In it he discusses two states; “Order” the known, the structured, the disciplined, almost habitual part of our existence and “Chaos”, the unknown, the unfamiliar, the blind-siding situations that make us uncomfortable, anxious, scared even. From that description Chaos is something we would want to avoid at all costs. However, our existence spans both Order and Chaos at any time to a greater or lesser degree. Peterson writes: “To straddle that fundamental duality is to be balanced: to have one foot firmly planted in order and security, and the other in chaos, possibility, growth and adventure.” “Order is not enough. You can’t just be stable and secure, and unchanging, because there are still vital and important new things to be learned”

In order to grow and to learn we need to push ourselves, temporarily be in our discomfort zone, embrace just the right amount of Chaos.

This is especially important for Business Analysts. We are constantly learning. We need to learn in order to represent stakeholders well, to find new ways to work, to be more effective, to increase our knowledge base and skillset. We grow in our knowledge of our business domain, our soft skills and our technical understanding. This will naturally happen just by performing our day job, but it will be exponentially enhanced if we actively pursue things outside of our comfort zone.


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How do we go about it?

Be a bit courageous. Aristotle wrote “An individual develops courage by doing courageous acts.” The more we venture into brave new worlds the better we will be at doing it. We will expand our comfort zone.

Some ideas for moving out of or expanding our comfort zone might be simply to “speak up”. If we’re not the sort to share ideas, concerns, proposals for solutions in a group situation then giving ourselves a little nudge into the unfamiliar might yield much benefit. We will feel the satisfaction of having contributed and could learn much about ourselves and what motivates us. On the subject of assertiveness, Psychology Today notes “Being assertive is associated with a number of benefits, ranging from less anxiety and depression to a greater sense of agency and better relationships.”

A further step might be to share our skills. I delivered a number of “lunch and learn” sessions on the subject of using games in the workplace. This had interested me after reading Gamestorming – A toolkit for innovators, rule-breakers and changemakers by Gray, Brown and JMacanufo. In order to deliver the session, I had to do plenty or research, learn new skills in a presentation package, develop some vaguely interesting content and organise the events. Maybe this is an endeavour that we could embark upon; to organise something to share our abilities, interests, experience or knowledge with others?

We could also volunteer for activities that are a little (or a lot) outside of our normal role. Inevitably there are always “all-hands-to-the-pump” situations at critical moments of our projects. Maybe we could try triaging defects, allocating work, producing data reports, floor-walking at post implementation, covering Project Manager holidays or similar if we haven’t done that before.

It might be that we don’t normally delve into a highly technical realm; how about we take a course or read that highly-specialised document?

Pick something, a little something, and test it out. Analyse what benefits you have got out of it and how you have grown.

All of this might make you feel anxious or it might make you feel excited, maybe both. That’s no bad thing. A 2017 Study entitled “Must We Suffer to Succeed? When Anxiety Boosts Motivation and Performance” indicates that anxiety, when positively viewed, increases energy levels and results in improved performance.

As Eleanor Roosevelt purportedly said: “Do one thing every day that scares you.”

How will you grow today?