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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
BATimes_Feb15_2024

What’s The Point of Peer Review?

When time is tight and the pressure is on, it feels like ‘peer’ review is a luxury we cannot afford, but what’s the cost of this decision?

 

What Is Peer Review?

Sharing our analysis outputs (whether this is documents, models, presentation slides or feature tickets) with other business analysts before they are shared with any other stakeholders is the essence of peer review. BA peer reviewers should be able to share useful observations and insights about the output, whether or not they have specific business domain knowledge.  If something is not clear to a fellow BA, there is a good chance it will not be understood by customers, suppliers, stakeholders and other recipients.

 

 

Why is Peer Review Valuable?

Many business analysts have a tendency towards perfectionism, and the longer we work on something without feedback, the more disappointing it is to receive any feedback, however constructive. It is much harder to accept and incorporate feedback on a polished final draft than an early rough draft. We need to share our work early in the process to be able to influence our own thinking and approach, and prevent us making significant errors or omissions.

 

Why is Peer Review Valuable?

Peer review is valuable from multiple perspectives.

 

#1 The producer

The person who created the output. We all bring assumptions to our work, whether this is a single piece of acceptance criteria, complex model or large document. The producer gets the benefits of a fresh perspective and the opportunity to catch errors and drive out assumptions. A peer review should be a way to improve quality without any worry of reputational or relationship risk. It also provides the opportunity for increased consistency across BA products and to learn lessons from other business areas.

 

#2 The peer reviewer

There is always something to gain from seeing how someone else works, whether they have more or less experience than us, and wherever they sit in the organisational hierarchy. So as well as making a valuable contribution to our colleague’s work we are likely to learn something through peer reviewing.

 

#3 Stakeholders

Any business, dev team or project stakeholders that will also be asked to review/validate/approve the deliverable will benefit greatly if a peer review has already taken place. Some errors and ambiguities will have been addressed, saving them time and increasing their confidence in the quality of the output.

 

The Review Triangle

This model reminds us that the highest number of errors should be spotted and rectified by the person creating the output, as part of a specific review phase.

 

 

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Self-Review

The model emphasises the need for self-review, which is a separate activity to creating the analysis output, and involves:

  • Standards check (adherences to templates, branding and guidelines)
  • Assumptions check (provide key, glossary etc.)
  • Accessibility check (e.g. readability, compatibility with assistive tech, alt text for pictures)
  • Sense check
  • Error check
  • Spelling and grammar check.

 

Moving from a ‘creating’ to ‘reviewing’ mindset can be achieved by taking a break, and switching to reviewing when we return, or moving to a different device as this often forces us to look at something differently.

 

Peer Review

Peer review is also about adherence to standards, and is valuable even when the reviewer does not have relevant subject matter knowledge. They should be able to identify and challenge assumptions made, spot logic knots and highlight the use of acronyms and jargon. They can also share insights and observations from their own experience, such as level of detail and formats preferred by different internal audiences.

 

Stakeholder Review

Stakeholders should not be faced with errors that we could have easily caught through self or peer review. This does not mean we should only share perfect  and complete outputs, but that we give stakeholders the best chance of spotting significant gaps and fundamental errors by removing low level distractions.

Many stakeholders find it difficult to simply ‘ignore’ spelling and other small errors. This level of error can undermine their confidence in our analysis.

Depending on the number of stakeholders and the complexity of the output, it is often better to do a group review exercise (synchronous) rather than a comments based (asynchronous) review. This is for several reasons:

  • Confidence everyone has actually seen what is being reviewed/validated/agreed
  • Prevents multiple stakeholders making the same (or conflicting) observations
  • Changes can be discussed and agreed.

 

Conclusion

The benefits of peer review, to individual BAs, the internal BA community and to our stakeholders and customers is significant. Attempting to ‘save time’ by avoiding this activity is a false economy. Organisations that aspire to be a truly ‘learning organisation’ encourage and enable effective peer reviews. Where organisations don’t place emphasis on this, BAs can choose to role model this commitment to quality and learning, and lead by example.

 

Further reading

Delivering Business Analysis: The BA Service Handbook, D Paul & C Lovelock, 2019

 

BATimes_Apr12_2023

360° Feedback for BA Teams

Does your BA team actually care what other people think of the BA services provided?

Many business analysts do not consider their internal stakeholders to be ‘customers’. So when we try to understand ‘what customers think of us’ it’s common to only consider the ultimate end user of the organizations’ products or services.

 

Feedback

It is important for BA teams to seek regular feedback. This enables continued service improvement and growth. Knowing what our stakeholders think of our services provides both suggested improvement areas and a baseline from which improvement can be evidenced. It also helps BA leaders make the case for strategic and financial decisions, such as recruitment or investment in professional development activities.

 

Zones Of Feedback

Using a 360 approach allows us to consider the different groups of customers and stakeholders whose opinions matter. The perceptions of the performance and capacity of the BA team all impact the reputation, effectiveness and influence of business analysis within the organisation.

If the BA team is considered to be unresponsive or inflexible in our approach – internal customers may try to work around the BAs or actively avoid engagement. Ensuring the BA practice or team has  a positive reputation is key to being engaged at the right time and being able to carry out appropriate business analysis activities.

 

Zone 1 – The BA Team/Practice

As with any team, its important for managers and leaders to understand if its members are happy. Do people like being a member of this team? By asking questions about wellbeing, workload and future plans, we can understand if people are happy in their BA role. This includes:

  • How are we doing as a team?
  • What could we do that would make your role easier?
  • What can we learn from other places you have worked?
  • Are you hoping to progress within the organization within the next 18 months?
  • Is your workload manageable?

 

When team members feel that they are supported and appreciated, they are much more likely to perform well in their role, and stay longer within their organization.

This should be one of the zones from which feedback is sought most frequently. This can be a combination of anonymous quantitative feedback (quick polls, pulse surveys etc.) to inform simple metrics and more detailed qualitative feedback based on conversations to allow a deeper understanding of views.

 

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Zone 2 – Multi Disciplinary Teams

These are the teams which individual BAs contribute to. This might be project or delivery teams brought together for a fixed time period, or product teams with ongoing responsibilities for product development and maintenance. It is useful to understand the experience and perspective of the customers who work with business analysts day-to-day. Do these close colleagues understand and value the contribution made by business analysts to the team?

Feedback should be sought at sensible times, such as delivery milestones, when a BA leaves an assignment/team, or as in input to structured performance review cycles.

 

Where projects/stakeholders continually request the same business analyst(s), it suggests a lack of faith in the BA team and a reliance on the skills/knowledge of an individual. If that is the case, how can the BA team share knowledge and skills and improve consistency of the BA services delivered?

It’s also worth considering if feedback received is actually about BA capacity (being over loaded/ too stretched) rather than capability, and how that issue could be addressed.

 

Zone 3 – Other Professional Disciplines

This zone includes all the related and adjacent professional disciplines within the organisation, who the business analysts sometimes interact with. This includes business functions such as HR, finance, marketing, compliance, business teams and subject matter experts. Often they don’t form part of multi-disciplinary delivery teams,  but BAs may often interact and engage with them.  Its useful to understand the reputation of BAs amongst project managers, product owners and developers – even ones who don’t regularly interact with BAs. How likely would they be to spot the need for business analysis activities and seek out a BA?

 

Zone 4 – Pipeline Professionals

This is the potential talent pipeline into business analysis from elsewhere in the organization. Roles such as IT helpdesk, call center operatives and front line business teams. Do they know business analysis exists within the organization? Do they aspire to become BAs? Are there routes for them to follow? Do we provide opportunities to share our skills and knowledge to make business analysis visible, accessible and desirable? In a competitive recruitment market and for a competitive advantage, we cannot afford to ignore internal development routes into business analysis.

 

Zone 5 – Senior Leaders

This zone includes all senior leaders and decision makers. Not just whichever executive has reporting line responsibility for business analysis, but all influential leaders. The skillset of business analysts has a huge amount to offer those in leadership positions: BAs are objective critical thinkers, able to identify and define problems and investigate feasible solutions. Few zones of the organization need access to these skills more than the leadership team!

Do they know how business analysts offer value? Do they know how to get BAs involved? Are they factoring business analysis time and resources into their strategic plans and estimates? Do they genuinely want more evidence based decision making? If so, they need more business analysis!

It’s hard to get the time and attention of these leaders, but for us to help them (and the organization, to the best of our ability), they need to know we exist.

 

External Stakeholders

Any of these zone could also extend to cover external stakeholders, such as third party suppliers, partners, regulators, and external clients. While it may not be possible to engage in formal feedback processes due to organizational relationships, it is still possible to seek appropriate informal feedback to strengthen relationships, understand expectations and ultimately improve results.

 

Methods Of Obtaining Feedback

A variety of different approaches can be used, and this needs to take into account the culture of the organization and the expectations of different groups.

Consider a mix of:

  • Informal catch-ups over coffee
  • Email requests
  • Online surveys/ system
  • Formal recognition and review processes.

“We haven’t done it before” and “no one else does it” are not good reasons to avoid seeking feedback!

 

Conclusion

By thinking about these zones of stakeholders it is possible for the BA team to get a 360° picture of our performance, perception and reputation. If we don’t like the feedback, or don’t feel it reflects reality – then what action does that prompt? We can’t change opinions for the positive, if we are too scared to ask about current perceptions.

If BA teams can be brave and lead the way on establishing a 360 feedback culture, it will lead to better results and better relationships in the long run. It will also normalize the giving and receiving of feedback, which is a key contributor to high performing teams.

BATimes_Jan25_2023

Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

New year…new job?  Many professionals are grappling with this decision and it’s hard to bring objective assessment into such an emotional decision. So how do we know if it’s time to go?

 

Reasons To Go

People rarely leave their job for salary increase alone. Forbes reported in 2022 that company culture, low salary, poor management, lack of  work-life boundaries and remote working were the top reasons people gave for leaving. In reality it is a complex blend of these reasons and others.

Once the idea of a new job has taken root, its hard to displace. By understanding what is making us want to explore if the grass is greener elsewhere it is easier to make an informed decision.

 

Reasons To Stay

It would be easy to assume that the reasons people stay within organizations and roles are simply the opposite of why people leave (I want to stay vs. I want to leave). But there is a further dimension which is partially or sometimes completely outside the employees control (I have to stay). External factors such as market conditions, skills and perceived “employability” can make someone stay in a role. So reasons to stay can be both personal, (“I like the culture and people”) and environmental (“I won’t find another role at this level/salary etc.”).

We all have responsibilities that cannot be ignored and not everyone gets to do their dream job, but it is always worth exploring the role that fear and self-doubt are playing in our decision making.

 

The Wheel of Work

A spider chart is a great way to visualize the key factors at play in a decision and how we feel about each aspect. One commonly used by coaches with their clients is the Wheel of Life. Here, we will narrow in on one area and consider all the factors which contribute to the decision to move jobs or stay put.

 

Step 1: Select up to 10 key factors related to work – the things which are making you think about moving, and the things which make you want to stay. These will be different and personal to each of us and will also change at different periods of our life. Try to select the ones which are most relevant to you right now.

Factors which commonly impact decision making in this area include:

  • Autonomy
  • Bonus/ Pension etc.
  • Community
  • Culture and values
  • Flexibility of location/ability to work from home
  • Length/cost of commute
  • Level of responsibility
  • Level of stress
  • Life Balance
  • Meaning/impact of the work
  • Recognition
  • Relationship with manager
  • Progression opportunities
  • Salary
  • Security/stability
  • Support for professional development
  • Variety
  • Working relationships

 

(Listed alphabetically, so as not to imply importance as this is different for each of us).

These are fairly tangible considerations. There will also be emotions which are more difficult to quantify, such as levels of anxiety, fear, boredom, respect, appreciation etc. that could also be candidates for inclusion in the analysis.

 

BATimes_Jan25_2023

 

Step 2: Enter the selected aspects around the wheel. Evaluate your current job against each of these. Ask questions around each aspect to prompt deeper thinking.

For example if considering “working relationships” – questions might include:

  • Who are my closest colleagues?
  • How often do I get to work with them?
  • Have people I care about left?
  • Have we stayed in touch?
  • Is this the best team I have worked in?
  • What made other teams better/worse?

 

Plot the figures 1-5, 5 being ‘could not imagine better’ and 1 being ‘could not be worse’.

 

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Step 3: Consider what this diagram is telling you. Is it surprising or confirming? Is it low in every aspect? Are there related highs or related lows? What’s the common thread? Is it just one aspect of the job you don’t like that is making everything feel worse?

 

Step 4: This creates a baseline. This can either be used to identify actions for improving your current situation, or as a basis for comparison for other opportunities. Once you have clarity on which aspects you are happy with and where things could improve – it is much easier to have a positive and constructive conversation with your boss. It demonstrates self-reflection and commitment to making your most effective contribution to the organization. Changing projects can sometimes feel the same as moving organizations – with new colleagues and fresh challenges.

There will be lots of ways to address the low-scoring areas identified.

 

Once you know what is important for you in a role, it can help your job search. It can also inform the questions you ask the recruiter/hiring manager. If you are in an organization with a strong and supportive community of practice for business analysts, it may be something which is important for potential new roles. Do they have one? If not are they open to establishing one?

Without paying attention to what is important, it is hard to translate a general feeling of dissatisfaction or unhappiness into tangible actions – either a targeted effort to change aspects of your current role, or a clear understanding of what a new role would need to offer.

 

Staying or Stagnating?

Using the wheel of work can help us to understand what is truly important at this point in time. Staying does not have to mean stagnating. Making an active choice to stay in your current role is as important as deciding to make a change. Committing to your role and organisation, committing to your personal development and committing to do this job to the best of your ability are all incredibly positive and this is a valid career strategy. This strategy may well pay long term dividends.

 

Conclusion

It’s a big decision to make, as our jobs are inextricably linked with our health, wealth and happiness. The decision has a lot of factors, which are incredibly subjective and there is no simple right answer or formula that can be applied.

Ultimately, we all know when it’s time to move on.

 

Further reading
Job Crafting for BAs C Lovelock, Jul 2021
Are you Losing BAs? C Lovelock, February 2022

 

BATimes_Jan11_2023

Bad Bosses for BA’s

Our relationship with our manager has a massive impact on our work, health and happiness. What makes a good leader for BAs and what can we learn from bad bosses?

 

Project Managers

PMs are often attracted to their role because they are skilled at delivery. It is very difficult to balance the competing demands of meeting delivery milestones with nurturing and developing individual team members. Having the combined roles of line-manager and delivery-manager puts project managers in an unenviable position, and if the performance evaluation of the PM is primarily concerned with project delivery, it is clear which role will take precedence.

Some of the worst examples of PMs managing BAs include:

  • Treating the BA as deputy PM
  • Assuming the BA wants to become a PM
  • ‘Hoarding’ the BA on their project, despite requests to expand horizons and develop
  • Vetoing analysis tools and techniques the BA wants to apply
  • Preventing the BA from speaking/presenting to senior stakeholders, reducing the visibility of the BA and unintentionally (or intentionally) taking credit.

 

If the person doing these things is also your line manager – how can you address the behaviours or find appropriate support?

 

Learning points

Where a BA is line managed by their PM, there needs to be recognition that there are two different relationships at play. The ‘best’ outcome for the project (BA assigned 100% of the time, forever) is unlikely to be the best outcome for the individual BA. PMs will sometimes have to put the needs of the individual above the project, or risk losing them from the organization entirely.

BAs may want to partition meetings or request separate ‘line management catch-ups’ which have more emphasis on personal development and wellbeing and less on project delivery.

The PM/BA relationship works best when they are a professional partnership. The roles have different skills and approaches, but are working towards the same delivery goals. This can be severely compromised if the PM is the only ‘boss’ for the BA.

 

Product Specialists

Product managers and product owners sometimes find themselves managing BAs. They may also want to ‘hold on to’ their BA indefinitely. They often value product knowledge over the BA skillset and expect BAs to become subject matter experts. If the only training and development opportunities they can imagine for the BA is ‘more product knowledge’, then BAs are not getting the support and encouragement they need from their boss. They may not understand the breadth of the BA role and skill set, and subsequently only allow the BA to operate in a very narrow role with a constrained set of tools, techniques and relationships.

 

Learning points

Refer to job descriptions to keep both BA and boss focused on the wide remit of the role, not narrow product knowledge. The BA should build strong relationships with business stakeholders and relevant teams, so they have easy access to business knowledge, but don’t become the keeper of this knowledge. Encouraging regular discussion of succession planning and rotation and re-assignment normalises the idea that a BA will not stay with a particular product for the long term, and what we are providing is a business analysis skills-based service, not a product knowledge-based service.

 

The Absent Executive

Whilst it may be appealing on paper for a BA to report directly into a CIO or other senior executive, it comes at a price. It can be very difficult to get their time, leading to an inattentive and shallow line management relationship. The BA is often faced with the choice of a distant relationship, with irregular catch-ups and never knowing if something more important may overwrite one-to-one time OR attempting to become the right-hand-man of the exec, picking up a range of problems and projects, but is subject to rapidly changing priorities. Neither of these are particularly appealing situations and neither provides considerate and consistent line management support for the BA.

 

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Learning Points

Reporting into a senior executive requires a high level of autonomy and independence. Some BAs enjoy working in this way so this can work well. However, everyone deserves to have a positive and supportive relationship with their boss and not see themselves as the lowest priority item on a very long to-do list. Investing in other meaningful relationships with more accessible colleagues may help to address the gap if a management void occurs. This could include a mentor, coach or trusted and supportive peer. Developing the community of business analysts helps to provide support and direction if there is an absence of management.

 

General Manager

There has been a rise in the belief that ‘a good manager can manage anything’. The problem is, this is not actually true and multiple studies spanning many sectors find that:

  • A manager who has skills and experience of a function leads to a higher performing function
  • People whose boss has skills in their discipline are happier and are better at their jobs!

 

A manager who does not understand or value business analysis is the worst possible boss for a BA.

 

Learning Points

BAs can help managers to understand the role and remit of business analysts and can champion the application of repeatable, rigorous analysis to aid decision making, understand customers, avoid risks, identify opportunities and improve services. It is always worth investing the effort to raise the profile and highlight the impact of good business analysis.

 

Organizations with sufficient numbers of BAs (5+) should be investing in a BA leadership role such as:

  • Head of Business Analysis
  • BA Manager
  • BA Team leader
  • BA Chapter lead
  • Head of profession for business analysis

 

Having individual BAs reporting to a range of roles and scattered throughout the organization does not allow the consistent application of business analysis, the opportunity to continuously improve or appropriate development and support of BAs.

Successful BA leaders are skilled and experienced in business analysis. They understand how to recruit and develop BAs and enable appropriate utilization and retention of BAs, saving the organization time, effort and money.

 

Conclusion

While there will be many examples of successful line management relationships from all of these roles, it is important to recognise the potential pitfalls and how they can be addressed. Not everyone is cut out to be a manager of people. Having a boss who cares about us as an individual, is interested in providing support and offering development and values the contribution we make should be the minimum we expect from our line managers.

Having a bad boss is bad for your health and career, so if you can’t change you manager, change your manager.

 

Further reading
Are you Losing BAs? C Lovelock, February 2022
BATimes_Nov16_2022

Recruitment Metrics for BA Teams

Being involved in BA recruitment is a big responsibility. It’s hard to recruit right now, and it’s easy to blame the competitive market and skills shortage. It’s tempting to leave measurement and metrics to HR teams, but there are a number of key concepts all those involved in BA recruitment need to understand.

 

Time To Fill

From the point we become aware that a new or replacement BA role is needed, a clock starts ticking. Whether someone has handed in their notice, or a new project has emerged, we now have a gap that needs to be filled. It is so important to understand our average time to fill (TTF) for each role on the BA career path, as this aids decision making, including the use of short term resources such as consultants, contractors and secondments.

Typically more senior roles take longer to fill, because the talent pool is smaller and the demand greater. Having internal talent pipelines reduces the TTF and creates internal progression routes and clear BA career pathways. Ensuring these are in place improves knowledge retention, employee loyalty and morale and serves as an attraction factor for BAs outside the organization.

TTF includes internal processes of gaining agreement and approvals, getting a role posted and engaging with recruiters. This is often a hidden time over-head, and usually an area where organizations can speed up their recruitment.

 

Time To Hire

This marks the time between making a role available for applications and having someone in post. It includes the interview process and the notice period of the candidate.

Recruiting managers often put pressure on candidates to try to reduce their notice period. This is unfair, when it is the only period of time in the whole process which is outside of the recruiting organizations’ control. If we want people in faster, we should look to improve our own processes! Sometimes organizations exclude notice periods from their time to hire metric, to stay focused on the elements within their control.

Knowing the average time to hire helps us keep stakeholders informed, and contributes to better planning and onboarding.

 

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Conversion

At each stage of our recruitment process people drop out or are ruled out. This can be visualized as a recruitment funnel. Understanding the conversion rates between different steps in the process allow us to answer question such as:

  • How many applications do we typically need to find one appointable BA? [conversion rate from application to accepted offer].
  • How many candidates accept our offer? [conversion rate from interview to accepted offer].
  • What can we do to improve our conversion rates? (Faster processes? Better marketing of roles? Better communication with applicants?…)

 

If we understand where in the process we are losing people, and really consider the candidate experience, we increase the chances of a successful recruitment outcome, and save both time and money. Different organizations have different levels of formality, and may include more or less interview rounds and steps in the process. However formal or informal, it is valuable to understand the key conversion rates.

 

Attrition/Turnover

This is the rate which we lose BAs from the team over a given period. Not all attrition is bad, we need to support people to move to new and appropriate roles, and we need to allow BAs with new ideas and different experiences to join the team. Generally an attrition rate of less than 10% is considered healthy for team stability and business continuity.

Retention is the opposite measurement to attrition. This is the percentage of the team that stay during a given period. Focusing on ‘increasing retention’ is a more positive framing of the issues than ‘reducing attrition’. Recruitment is expensive, the cost of replacing BAs is far more than the cost of investing in appropriate initiatives which retain talented BAs in the organization. By asking and listening to what individual team members want from their role and employer we can increase retention rates (money will be a key factor, but not the only one!).

 

Tenure

This means understanding how long people stay with us and can be considered  at different levels:

  • Average length of time in each role/grade within the BA structure
  • How long people stay within the BA team
  • Total amount of time spent within the organization.

 

This is helpful to understand the rates of progression within the team. If we have entry level/development roles within the team, how long before people typically progress to a practitioner role? It allows trends and patterns to be explored. If we find people either stay less than 1 year or more than 10 years, what insights can be gained? What does that tell us about our recruitment and retention processes?

With further analysis we can understand the push and pull factors which keep BAs within the team or encourage them to look elsewhere. It also allows us to consider what internal development routes we offer into related professional disciplines.

 

Conclusion

In this competitive market, with increased demand for business analysis skills and the ‘great resignation’ making people consider their options, BA teams need to fully understand our own processes and look for improvements. A greater focus is needed on recruitment and retention, and we can no longer rely on ‘recruiting as we always’ have to make great appointments and grow our teams.

 

Further reading
Are you Losing BAs? C Lovelock, February 2022
Job Crafting for BAs C Lovelock, July 2021