Author: Christina Lovelock

Christina is an experienced BA leader, has built BA teams ranging in size from 5 to 120 Business Analysts and champions entry level BA roles. She is active in the BA professional community, attending and regularly speaking at events. Christina is an examiner for the International Diploma in Business Analysis and is also a director of the UK BA Manager Forum. She has co-authored the 2019 book, Delivering Business Analysis: The BA Service Handbook, which shares insights and findings from research into Business Analysis, practical guidance for BA leaders, and case studies from across the professional community. https://www.linkedin.com/in/christina-lovelock

Do We Need A Skills Matrix?

The answer to this question is almost always no. Here’s why…

Drivers

The stated objectives for creating a person-level skills matrix are usually something like:

  1. “We want to match staff to appropriate work by understanding their skills.”
  2. “We need to identify skills gaps and shortages across the team/organisation and prioritise areas for individual and general improvement.”

These seem sensible enough. They sound efficient, future focussed and suggest it will help individual team members to engage in appropriate work and increase their skills as needed.

Reality

The skills matrix appears on the surface to help with these aims. Unfortunately, they rarely meet the intended outcomes.

Here is a typical process:

  1. Drivers 1 and/or 2 exist, and eventually someone says “skills matrix”.
  2. Key skills to include are discussed and agreed. (This takes much longer than planned; technical skills are over-represented, core skills [1] are under-represented and undervalued by this process).
  3. Realisation that we want knowledge areas not just skills. A very long list is produced…
  4. After much questioning and resistance (most) staff rate themselves against the skills and knowledge areas.
  5. This is on the whole unsuccessful due to the Dunning-Kruger effect [2] on the one hand and Impostor Syndrome [3] on the other. (Plus, the fact that most of us think we are self-aware and only 10-15% of people actually are [4]).
  6. Many difficult conversations are then required explain why Person A is not actually an expert in everything and Person B is better than they think.
  7. The people who would be “best” for a piece of work based on the output of the matrix are not available.
  8. Managers and team members are all quite bruised by the process.
  9. Matrix is not updated. It goes slowly out of date.
  10. Abandoned.

 


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Alternative Reality

The skills an individual has is one of many factors which need to be considered when assigning appropriate work. The factors include:

  • What motivates them?
  • Who do they work well with?
  • Who can build relationships quickly?
  • What kind of support/environment allows them to do their best work?
  • Where do their interests lie?
  • Who has these skills/who needs to develop these skills?
  • Is there an appropriate senior person/role model?
  • Who has earned an exciting opportunity?
  • Who needs to stick to the basics?
  • Who can juggle multiple assignments?
  • Who prefers to concentrate on one area?

It is not possible to model all these factors in a spreadsheet. This level of understanding comes from managers having good relationships with team members, being able to honestly discuss personal style, preferences and professional development needs. Managers also need good visibility of upcoming work and assignments to be able to plan appropriately and engage with team members about future work.

Training Needs And Skills Gaps

Good managers know this information without a skills matrix. Given a list of skills needed by an organisation, managers should be able to identify and quantify capacity and competency gaps. A skills matrix is a lazy substitute for good quality management and a distraction that creates the illusion of control.

Individual personal development plans which align to organisational objectives are a more motivating and effective way of establishing and then aggregating team-member level data.

How Can BAs Help?

Business Analysts may be asked to create or contribute to the development of a skills matrix or record our own skills. We can use our analytical skills to establish the drivers and intended business outcomes and suggest alternative methods of achieving those.

Is A Skills Matrix Ever Relevant?

If the answer to the question “Do we need a skills matrix?” is almost always no, then there must be exceptions. Very large, typically global organisations which operate across a number of sectors (such as retail, aviation, construction etc.) that need to quickly mobilise specialist teams need a way of “searching and filtering” on staff. This is more effective as searchable information, with some structured data (e.g., job title, location, knowledge domains) and bio information maintained by the individual (experience, preferences, etc.) to allow the right people to be identified. Implementing this type of system requires appropriate investment in technology and business change. The business case for the ‘spreadsheet matrix’ never stacks up.

Conclusion

The skills matrix is typically a misguided attempt to automate something which needs to be a human discussion. How they are implemented often demotivates staff, serves as a distraction from real work and genuine issues and fails to meet the intended outcomes.  Organisations that want the capability to understand the skills and experience of their staff need to encourage the right behaviours from managers, make appropriate investment in robust decision support tools and engage with staff to capture information which is accurate, proportional and timely.

References:
[1] Core Skills: C Lovelock, BA Times, 2019 https://www.batimes.com/articles/stop-saying-soft-skills/
[2] Dunning-Kruger Effect : J KrugerD Dunning, 1999  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10626367/
[3] Impostor Syndrome: C Lovelock, BA Times, 2020 https://www.batimes.com/articles/impostor-syndrome-business-analysis-is-not-just-common-sense/
[4] Self-Awareness: T Eurich, Harvard Business Review, 2018 https://hbr.org/2018/01/what-self-awareness-really-is-and-how-to-cultivate-it

Job Crafting for BAs

You don’t have to change roles or organizations to get more enjoyment and satisfaction from your work. There are many ways to make your current job work better for you.

Job Descriptions

The description of the BA role looks fairly similar from one organization to the next. Some ask for a bit of specialization, some are more technical, some are more strategic. Sometimes there are formal management responsibilities, sometimes informal support and mentoring. And yes, some organizations put in strange requirements and duties which make us wonder if they know what business analysis is… but, for the most part, it’s pretty standard. And yet, we all know that the practice of business analysis can be very different between organizations and roles. It is tempting to believe that it is purely the organization and culture which is causing these differences; in reality, the individual BAs often influence the role a great deal.

Job Crafting

Most organizations have many formal and informal ways that employees change or ‘craft’ their role. Including things like becoming a:

  • First aider
  • Mentor
  • Social organizer
  • Staff representative
  • Fire warden.

Most of the time people are either asked to volunteer for these roles or assume them by default, but these ‘optional extras’ often give them a feeling of purpose and wider contribution.
This is the essence of job crafting – looking for opportunities to gain or utilize skills in a way that gives pleasure or purpose. Maximizing the things you are good at and enjoy, minimizing those you don’t. The beauty of job crafting is that people enjoy and are good at different things, so no one is being disadvantaged by not carrying out their whole job description, or adding a few extra things in! And – allowing people to work in this way increases engagement, wellbeing, and productivity.

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Crafting Business Analysis

BAs often have a lot of autonomy; to apply the techniques we think are appropriate, to engage with different people, to create the outputs we believe will be suit the situation, and critically how we chose to frame the work we do.

Crafting the Process

The right business analysis approach differs from one assignment/project/product to the next. If we want to inject more creativity, we can do that. If we want more structure, we can do that too. We don’t have to stick in the narrow lane of business analysis consisting of only workshops and user stories. We can create outputs and diagrams which demonstrate the bigger picture, show how everything fits together, and offer value by creating a shared understanding. If you are interested in:

  • Creativity – use more visual methods
  • Variety – learn a new analysis technique and look for opportunities to use it
  • Re-use – create and promote templates
  • Challenge – ask for new opportunities and responsibilities

Crafting Relationships

Good relationships are what make good workplaces. BAs often know lots of people from many different departments and roles, as well as BAs in other organizations. It is possible to build meaningful working relationships, with people who bring out the best in us and motivate us. We can use different engagement methods, such as regular check-ins, newsletters, and surveys to build both engagement and relationships. If you are interested in:

  • Sharing knowledge – start or contribute to an internal community of practice or external conference
  • Developing others – offer to become a mentor or buddy for new employees
  • Learning from others – ask to do shadowing or meet for a regular coffee with someone knows about an area that you don’t
  • Socializing – create a book club/film club/special interest group at work

Crafting Purpose

The stories we tell ourselves are incredibly important for internal motivation. What brings you to work? How does your organization contribute to society or the economy? This is not limited to the public and third sectors. Financial services organizations allow people to buy homes, telecommunications companies connect families all over the world; making a profit does not preclude purpose. How does your role make people’s lives a little better? (whether they realize it or not). If you are interested in:

  • Helping people – consider how what your organization does to make a positive contribution, and how you play a part in that
  • Career development – be clear how the skills and experience you gain in this role is preparing you for the next step
  • A cause or issue – champion it through existing staff groups or start one
  • Fundraising – suggest a staff or team charity

Permission

Many of the ways to craft the BA role can be done with no consultation, permission, funding, or special training. A common reaction to job crafting is that “it wouldn’t be allowed in my organization” when the truth is, it is already happening, you just have to look for it.

Resentment

Going consistently ‘above and beyond’ should of course be recognized and rewarded by organizations, but sometimes it isn’t. Job crafting is not really about being noticed by others or seeking additional rewards. The motivation for job crafting should be that it will increase our job satisfaction, let us use or strengths and pursue our interests and improve our wellbeing. Once you start resenting your organization or boss, the main person impacted is you! Job crafting may not be enough to overcome it, but it’s worth a try.

Conclusion

BAs have many routes to crafting our roles available to us. By carefully considering the relationships we enjoy and want to invest in, by tailoring our approach to suit both the situation and our preferences, and by framing the contribution we make to our organizations and society, we can all be happier, healthier, and more effective business analysts.

Further reading: Rob Baker (2020) Personalization at Work: How HR Can Use Job Crafting to Drive Performance, Engagement, and Wellbeing

Change Resistance: 3 Types Of No

People say ‘no’ to us all the time. This can seem very final, a total unwillingness to engage.

 

Understanding which type of ‘no’ we are hearing can help us to avoid labelling people as ‘resistant to change’, and promote more effective engagement.

Resistant To Change

Change professionals can forget how hard it is to change. Organisations enter into seemingly un-ending change programmes, restructures and transformations. For those whose job is not part of this change industry, all of these well-intentioned initiatives feel like a distraction from ‘real’ business objectives and personal goals. So, as change professionals, we hear ‘no’ a lot. It comes it lots of forms such as “No one is able to attend that workshop”, “It is not possible to release anyone for the project team” and “We’re too busy”.

It is not possible to conduct business analysis or achieve any kind of change without other people. We need their input, we need to ask questions, we need them to engage. When they are unwilling, we can be quick to label them as ‘resistant to change’.

The Three Types Of ‘No’

People often avoid actually saying no, and they certainly avoid giving their real reasons and motivation for doing so.

lovelock

I Can’t

This usually comes down to either capability or capacity. I can’t help you because:

  •     I don’t know how
  •     I don’t have time
  •     I don’t have anyone available
  •     I don’t have the tools/knowledge/data required
  •     I don’t have the budget

This can be a helpful type of no, because it may reveal incorrect assumptions or the lack of knowledge or resources. It may also provide sign-posting to the best-next-step or person who does have what is needed. If there is willingness to help, but practical issues make it a ‘no’… this can be useful too. Creating a conversation which adds “yet” to the and of all the above statements changes the narrative. It becomes a discussion about planning: obtaining funds or resources, scheduling work, obtaining information.

I’m Not Allowed

There may be real or perceived barriers to saying yes – in the form of ‘permission’ concerns.


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This can include:

  •     That’s not part of my role/job description
  •     My manager doesn’t want me to
  •     I don’t have access/authorisation

These types of restriction may be real – in which they can be investigated and challenged to understand if they are still relevant or a product of historic decisions, assumptions and preconceptions. If they are perceived limitations, they can also be explored and challenged. Again, if there is a willingness to help many of these blockers can be overcome, the first hurdle is to identify them!

I Won’t

The trickiest type of no is one which is underpinned by unwillingness to help. This can be fuelled by issues such as:

  •     I don’t want too
  •     I don’t agree
  •     I don’t like you/the project/the work

Control is a major factor in whether we enjoy our work or not. People sometimes refuse to engage in one area as a reaction to a lack of control in another. Change initiatives often see education about the change as the way to overcome resistance. “Sell the benefits!”, “Explain what’s in it for them!”…

Listening rather than telling may be the best way forward from an “I won’t”. Be genuinely curious, try to see their perspective and try to address concerns and barriers. Not everyone will be convinced or motivated to be involved. Decided how much time and energy can by spent on one person.

One ‘No’ Disguised As Another

The most socially acceptable and ubiquitous type of no is “I am too busy”. This is an “I can’t” statement. When we reframe this as a question of priority as opposed to time, it can help to move the conversation forward – however “too busy” maybe a stalling tactic, where the underlying no is really: I won’t.

If attempts at tacking the question of priority, and addressing potential scheduling options do not work, then the underlying cause is not really time. Handling this honestly and openly, looking for the common ground or areas of potential compromise may help. If all else fails consider escalating appropriately, but this should not be the first thought.

Conclusion

For people to say “yes” to our many requests for input and engagement they need three things: capability, capacity and motivation.

Appropriate and proactive training and development, planning, and communication clearly have significant roles to play in ensuring these three things are in place. However, at a human and day to day level, we can all try to understand the “no” we are hearing, and work with that person professionally and compassionately to achieve the best outcomes for our organisations.

Why do we self-censor?

Obviously No One Says EXACTLY What They Are Thinking All Of The Time, But Why Do We Hold Back What We Believe To Be Valuable Contributions? In The World Of Remote Working, It Is Important To Understand This Issue.

In this context, it’s when we make a decision not to put forward our idea, question, opinion, objection or point of view. In same-room meetings, it was easy to see when someone’s body language changed, or when someone began to look confused, thoughtful or hesitant. Good meeting-chairs, and good colleagues, would pick up on this and invite the contribution. In video calls it is much more difficult to pick on these cues, so many contributions are being missed.

BAs need to be aware of self-censoring from two perspectives 1) our stakeholders may not provide the information or insight we need from them 2) we may be stopping ourselves form contributing due to a variety of underlying causes.

Here are some of the reasons people hold back.Here are some of the reasons people hold back.

Don’t rock the boat

Many of us prefer to maintain the outward illusion of a harmonious team than face some of the more difficult questions. Unfortunately the disharmony will spill out in other ways, impacting relationships and productivity. To further extend this metaphor – checking that everyone knows where we are headed and is rowing in the same direction is not the same as ‘rocking the boat’!

Confidence of convictions

If someone makes a very confident statement we believe to be wrong or disagree with, it’s difficult to voice another idea if we feel uncertain. Some people sound very confident all of the time, and leave no room for alternative interpretation or doubt. This can leave others feeling “there’s no point arguing with them”. This is not a positive outcome for organisations. Research shows that when people are “100% certain” of something, they are only right about 85% of the time.

Level of investment

When we don’t really care about the topic or issue, its more likely we will hold back. Sometimes a topic feels off track, unnecessarily detailed or covering old ground. Particularly in long meetings, or towards the end of meetings, people have mentally moved on and we are unlikely to making the best quality contribution. 

If we find ourselves consistently uninterested in the outcome of discussion, perhaps it’s time to look for a new room and a new discussion.

Discomfort and fear

Many of us avoid conflict, because it feels uncomfortable. We worry that relationships may deteriorate or be affected. We need to invest in relationships to create the trust required to constructively disagree, the security to express dissenting views. We also fear endless debate, and may feel unwilling to prolong the discussion further! People also worry about looking foolish or deliberately uncooperative. Fear is a major factor in self-censorship.

Assuming everyone else agrees 

When everyone else stays silent, it is easy to assume they all agree. When we believe we are the only one ‘out on a limb’/ ‘willing to stick their head above the parapet’ (whichever analogy is more prevalent in your organisation) we are less will in to speak our minds. 

The most innovative and productive teams have competing ideas and multiple perspectives.

How can we avoid it?


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Good facilitation

Online meetings need different facilitation skills to face-to-face meetings. Getting the best contribution from every participant, keeping everyone engaged and not simply seeking quick-agreement are essential.  The ability to exchange questioning glances or clarify positions on the way into a meeting  have been reduced – we must make it easier for people to speak when they have a different point of view.

Inviting a minority opinion with phrases such as “Is there another way of looking at this?”, “What could we be missing here?” and “Let’s hear from some who is not totally convinced” make it much more acceptable to voice dissent than questions which don’t really invite further contribution such as “So, are we all in agreement?”.

Also consider:

  • Not all contribution needs to be verbal – encourage or make different types of contribution though chat function and collaboration tools. 
  • Not all contribution needs to be ‘in the room’ – provide or take opportunities to contribute before or after sessions.

Self-reflection

It is useful to reflect on our contribution with questions such as:

  • “Am I happy with my level of contribution in that session?”
  • “Did I encourage others to speak?”
  • “Is there something I stopped myself from saying? Was it important?”
  • “How can I progress that contribution outside the meeting?”

Create a culture of reflection by posing some of these questions at the end of a session.

Conclusion

As business analysts, we need to understand this issue, as it has the potential to significantly affect our work. Being alert to self-censorship means we can encourage participation and ensure we don’t miss out on an important contribution from others, and we can question our own motivations when we choose to stay silent.

Leaders, Followers and Trusted Advisors

You may be interested in developing your leadership skills as a BA – but have you ever stopped to think about the quality of your followership skills?

We live in a world where the quality of leadership is considered to be absolutely critical to the success or failure of projects and organisations, but almost no emphasis is placed on the concept of followership. The role of ‘followers’ in organisations is often minimised, though clearly good leadership relies on good followership to actually get things done.

There are negative connotations with the word follower, no one wants to see themselves as a follower, we all want to emphasise our leadership skills and qualities. We seem to ignore the fact that being a leader almost always involves being a follower too. Everyone has a boss.

Types of Leaders

There are many leadership styles. Some are adopted consciously by leaders who understand their own values, reflect on their own behaviours and understands the impacts of their words and actions. Others are the product of default actions or inherited approaches. Leadership has been the focus of a great deal of academic research, thousands of books, millions of seminars, webinars, training courses and qualifications. The implication is clear: leadership is a skill that can be taught and honed. Where is the training on becoming a better follower? Who would attend that course?

Types of Followers

Being an effective follower does not mean always agreeing with those in leadership positions, it does not mean blindly going along with any idea or initiative which comes from leaders. It is about taking responsibility, owning problems, appropriately challenging things which don’t make sense or could be improved.  Leaders need followers they can count on to tell them the truth in a professional, concise and constructive way.

Being a good follower is something we can take pride in as BAs, as it depends on two skills we already have. The first is critical thinking, the second is active participation.


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BA Dec2 2020

Critical Thinking

Business Analysts must apply critical thinking skills all the time to be successful in our roles. The term ‘critical thinking’ encompasses the ability to systematically solve problems, construct and evaluate arguments, make logical connections, highlight gaps and inconsistencies. All of these skills can be applied in a positive and collaborative way and ‘critical’ should not be confused with ‘criticism’.

Leaders should encourage independent thinking from their followers, as leaders cannot provide all the answers and need input and scrutiny for the ideas and strategies put forward.

Participation

When we choose to act or not act, care or not care, volunteer or step back, we are sending clear messages about our levels of participation within our organisations. BAs often rail against the deterministic attitude of “we have always done it that way” or nods around the table leading to no action, and we must be vigilant about these  behaviours in ourselves.

 ‘Activism’ may or may not be in line with direction set by leaders. It is the role of leaders to listen to dissenting voices, if they have applied critical thinking and are actively participating even if it is not what the leader wants to hear, and it is the role of followers to engage in a positive and constructive way even if they don’t like where the leader is headed.

Participation begins with the courage to speak up, and in particular ask good questions, which is something BAs should be well practiced in.

Trusted Advisors

Many BAs do not seek  traditional leadership positions, but do want to have a level of influence, feel our voice is heard and make a positive contribution. This utopia is often described as becoming a ‘trusted advisor’.  How can we become trusted, so that our advice is both sought and impactful? There is no single route to becoming a trusted advisor, as it is dependent on the organisational context, levels of knowledge and experience, relationships and hierarchies, our attitude and the approach of those around us. But it starts with two skills: making an active contribution and applying critical thinking and (in other words,  being an effective follower!).

Conclusion

If we are able to move away from the negative connotations of being a follower, and see the role as equal but different to leadership, we can recognise the importance of both skill sets.

By considering the quality of our followership skills, and prompting conversations about the type of followers that contribute to the success of organisations, we can promote participation, celebrate critical thinking and achieve better outcomes together.

Further reading:

[1https://hbr.org/1988/11/in-praise-of-followers“>https://hbr.org/1988/11/in-praise-of-followers

[2] Goffee & Jones (2019) Why should Anyone be led by you?