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Author: David Barrett

6 Things You Can Do Today to Prepare for Leadership Tomorrow

Many of us are in what I call a pre-leadership position. We are in a role where we are managing people and making mid-level decisions on projects and initiatives that are important to the health and success of our organizations. Generally, we are looking forward to a future as a senior leader – here or elsewhere.

If you know me or have heard me present, or been a regular reader of this blog, you might know that I often refer to our Professional Strategic Plan: a process that creates an action plan for our professional future. Within the plan, we will find action items to get us from ’here’ to ‘there.’

So what if we are managing today and want to become leaders tomorrow? What should I find in the list of action items in my Professional Strategic Plan?

Actually, there are two parts to this list: one for immediate action and one that addresses parts of the plan that can’t happen overnight.

This week we start with the short term list. 6 things we can do today to prepare for leadership tomorrow. In my presentation “From a Good Manager to a Great Leader” I call this ‘act like a leader before you are one”:

1. Knock your responsibilities out of the park.

In everything you do, do it beyond expectations. Kill it – day in and day out. This level of performance will get recognized by your managers, your peers and especially the leaders in your current organization. This is one of the most important traits of any future leader. Show your stripes now.

2. Help your boss succeed

My Father-in-law used to say “make heroes out of everyone around you.” You do not have to be the star attraction to get recognized. The ‘supporting role’ is often the more important and many times the most rewarded.

3. Seize leadership opportunities, no matter how small.

Take on anything you can now to practice being a leader. Events, presentations, marketing campaigns, new product launches – anything. You won’t be left out there alone, hopefully. Use the experience to learn and to explore your new skills.

4. Don’t be a jerk

Jerks complain a lot but don’t contribute to any solutions. Jerks make life miserable for others and put our organization’s reputation at risk with behavior that is unacceptable these days. Jerks don’t believe in teamwork and don’t believe that paying it forward has any merits. Don’t go there.

5. Find role models

Find people whom you want to emulate, who are doing what you want to do in the future or stand out as examples of the kind of leader you want to be. If you know them personally, foster that relationship, feed it, nurture it and make lots of notes. If they are a public personality and inaccessible in person, read everything they write, watch them on Youtube or on Ted Talks and attend any event that gets you closer to their thoughts, ideas, and dreams.

6. Build Relationships

Now. Not later. Connect with key people in your life on a regular basis. Set dates in your calendar to touch base every few months. Find new relationships that might be able to connect you with key people some day in the future or who are authorities in their own right. The relationships in your professional life are probably the most important asset you have. Now is the time, when you don’t need it, to seek out and establish your professional support system so that it is there for you when you really do need it.

The Harvard Business Review (Fall 2014) said, “If you want to become a leader, don’t wait for the fancy title or the corner office. You can begin to act, think, and communicate like a leader long before that promotion. Even if you are still several levels down and someone else’s calling all the shots, there are numerous ways to demonstrate your potential and carve your path to the role you want.”

Are you planting the seeds today for your new leadership position tomorrow?

Come see David at the Toronto Workshop Series December 7-8, 2016

Speaker Spotlight! Business Analysts – Do We Need Them?

Come hear David at Project Summit BA World Boston on October 27 delivering his keynote presentation “What’s In Your Communications Engine?”

I originally wrote this post in 2010 as I sat on a flight from Sydney to Wellington, New Zealand. I was there running a Business Analyst conference in each city. Here is what I wrote at the time…

These folks,  (business analysts) are really struggling: for recognition, for job security, for a well defined career path and for a recognized set of defined core competencies. Most of their organizations are just now figuring out what a BA is, and can do, but unfortunately the recognition is limited to a few departments or individuals.

Most of their peers have not got a clue as to what they do.

If you are project manager working on construction, engineering or any other large capital project – ignore this plea. You have your architects, you appreciate them and you support them. Thank you.

Related Article: Promoting and Selling the Role of the Business Analyst

But all other PMs reading this – it is time you woke up and realized how valuable a BA can be to you. If you want good, solid, detailed specs for your project – find a BA. If you want to work on a project that has complete customer sign-off before you even get on the scene – find a BA. If you want to walk into an environment that has all stakeholders identified and consulted with – find a BA. If you want a ‘partner’ on your project that will help you when anything changes in mid-stream – find a BA!

Business Analysts are out there and every IT and non-IT business project needs one. Not all projects will get one – but they need one. BAs are being educated, they have conferences to go to, they have their own association (IIBA) to belong to, a body of knowledge and a professional certification programs to aspire to.

For years you have been complaining about incomplete customer specifications, weak links to the stakeholders and no blueprints whatsoever. This is why we need business analysts! They are called Business Analysts (BA), Business Systems Analysts (BSA), Requirements Managers, Systems Analysts and many, many more titles – but they all mean roughly the same thing. They will help you build the right thing the first time. And so now in 2015 I re-post… Some organizations understand this. Others hear it but have still not taken up the challenge. Others are still in the dark.

Where are you on this?

Promoting and Selling the Role of the BA

Barrett FeatureArticle April2Back in 2003 when a group of 17 of us thought about and discussed the idea of establishing an association for business analysts (later to become the IIBA), we struggled with many issues, as you can imagine. One of the key questions we discussed that first meeting was simply, what is a BA? It was interesting how many people around the room had different opinions about the roles, responsibilities, and even the proper title for the business analyst.

Now 10+ years later, we are still struggling with the same issues. The core issue makes it very difficult for many of us to grow as business analyst professionals and to promote the role within our organizations. When many still don’t understand what a BA does, and many others still don’t appreciate its value, it makes our lives very difficult. This is our career. If we want to grow and mature as BA professionals, we need a stronger

BA awareness both locally and worldwide.

Selling and promoting anything in this world is easy if our audience ‘gets it’ in the first place. But if the sale requires education first then the job is much trickier. I remember working for Symantec back when the idea of a computer virus was relatively new and I had to make my numbers selling site licences of Norton Anti-Virus. That was really hard. First I needed to explain what a virus was and then I needed to convince them that this was an important issue.

The same goes today for the role of the BA.

The process of promoting the role of the business analyst and selling ourselves as a valuable asset to our organizations isn’t a slam dunk. As a result, we need to be armed with the right tools and approaches to be able to get through to our customers, management, and even our friends about what we do and how we do it. Then we need to convince them that we add value to the world.

This article will address the process and offers some tips, tools, and techniques that we can use to help others better understand the role of the BA.

The most important part of the puzzle is to be able to articulate clearly and concisely what the business analyst is. If we can do this well, it can be used in many locations and instances: at work, at home, across the backyard fence, and at the neighborhood Christmas party. So often, as part of small talk at a party or during a discussion at work, we hear the words, “So what do you do for living?”

The problem that we BAs have when we are asked this question (with my apologies to so many people out there) is that we are far too technical and detailed in our approach to the answer. The key is to keep it simple; keep it short, concise, and use terms that our audience will understand. The trick is to leave out words like requirements, processes, software development, stakeholders, business improvement, and more. The truth is our jobs involve all of these wonderful but technical words. We have to leave them aside.

My approach to the question is short, simple, and in terms that anyone can understand. I use the word architect very quickly when describing what a BA does. The word is understandable by everyone. We all know what an architect does when we are renovating our home or watching others design a large building. Once my audience understands that the BA is an architect, my job becomes much easier. From there I very quickly bring the analogy to reality. I go on to confirm that they work with customers at the front end of any project to search out and document exactly what the customer is asking for — and to be sure that they are getting what they really want. They will work throughout the process of design from simple sketches to detailed blueprints just as an architect would on a large building. In the BA’s case, the projects are smaller but not necessarily less important. And I also explain the types of projects that BAs work on: lots of software projects, as well as process improvement projects within an organization, and very importantly small business projects. (I always highlight that BAs do not just work on technology projects.)

And again, I keep it short, simple, and in terms my audience understands.

The next logical step would be to tackle the questions, “Why do we need this person?” or, “Who cares?” We will also often hear, “Why not let the project manager do it?” To the last part of that question, I have a simple answer. Project managers can’t do this properly — they are not equipped. I suggest to my audience that project managers and business analysts think and work very differently and are not cut out to do each other’s job as well. To the first part of the question my answer is also simple: if you employ a BA (or architect) at the front end of any project you are ensuring your project and your stakeholders a better end result. Too often our projects involve reworking and more investment because we didn’t get the specs right, up front. A BA will save you time, money, and effort because you will know exactly what you should be building up front.

By now I have established what a BA does and where the value is. With this framework, my work promoting and selling the role of the BA becomes much easier.

There are many vehicles we can use now in our mission to grow BA communities. We have already established the 15-second elevator speech when someone asks us that question, “What do you do for a living?” But be careful because often you will be asked to explain more. “How do you do this? What tools do you use?“ Again, the BA will tend to get far too technical and detailed. I call this vehicle the two-minute reception speech. You now have to go slightly deeper and give your audience a better understanding of what you do and how you do it. This vehicle is only two minutes long because we run the risk of losing our audience at this stage very quickly. If they want more even after this, I will finally admit it’s time to get technical, but they will ask for it by this point.

Other vehicles available to us are the resume, the LinkedIn profile, the bio, and even the job description. So many people are reading about the business analyst these days and still don’t get it. Or they are reading your profile or resume and don’t understand. Be very careful about your job experience as a business analyst. Again, keep it simple and understandable. Your audience will appreciate it.

Within our organizations, we have vehicles available to us to promote the role as well. The project management office (PMO), business analyst office (BAO), or community of practice are all terms that are becoming more prevalent in today’s organizations. These are wonderful centers or communities that we can use to promote our role. Lunch and learns, monthly presentations, professional development days are all great vehicles within our organizations that can help us. Maybe the ‘community’ does not exist. If that’s the case, build it yourself. Again, keep it simple and straightforward. Creating a community of practice for business analysts within your organization does not need executive support or sponsorship. Just do it. Announce a gathering in the lunchroom of business analysts to discuss tools and techniques or career progression and watch everyone pop in to see what’s going on.

Write an article like this one and share it with others, or create a portal or website page within your organization’s domain. Create a blog. All of these vehicles are at your disposal in order to help promote and sell the role of the BA.

The bottom line to all of this is if you want to grow as a business analyst you have to take part in growing the community of business analysts around you. You need to help promote and sell the role of the BA even if it doesn’t involve you directly. Get involved with the IIBA, creative center of excellence or community of practice. Have at the ready a 22-second elevator speech and two-minute reception speech. Write an article.

Create a blog.

Long live the business analyst.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.