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Author: Jeff Hutchings

Jeff Hutchings lives in Newfoundland, Canada, and currently works as a Senior Business Analyst. He is an avid outdoorsman with a particular passion for fishing the various species offered in Newfoundland’s bountiful rivers, lakes, and oceans.

Fishing Tips for Business Analysts

Taking a client on a fishing trip requires some planning and some reconnaissance. A guide never wants to hear ‘that’s not that I came for,’ or worse, ‘that was a bust.’

It’s not uncommon to take a person fishing under the premise of ‘I don’t care what I catch, or ‘I don’t really care if I catch anything! I’m just looking for a day on the water.’ In some cases, the client is being open and honest, but for others – as the day wears on – the attitude and expectations can change. The ‘I’m good for anything, fish or no fish,’ thinking can change after a few hours or fishing over lifeless water, or in the early morning spring cold.

I took one gentleman out who just wanted to catch a meal of pan-sized trout for a meal. After catching a few that matched these criteria perfectly, he eagerly offered ‘enough with the small ones, where are the trophies!?’

Know The Client. Know the Ask

Knowing your client in Business Analysis (as well as in guiding anglers) gives you an out-of-the-gate advantage. Conversations around where the client’s expertise lie, as well as their vested interests in the project, allows you to deduce what might be most important to them, as well as the depth to which they want to be involved in the process, including scoping a solution.

A client yet to catch their first fish may be content with just that, but a client who fishes frequently may have a better idea of what’s out there to be had and have different expectations. Knowing a bit about them identifies the extent to which they can help plan and steer the process.

If a client is one of the owners of the business, for example, and clearly understands the business functions, they may want to be very hands-on in the details of the project. Conversely, perhaps the client is currently getting things done manually in the organization, meaning that any form of a solution will be a step up and advantageous, and they will like to be more dependent on you (the guide) to document a potential solution.

Conversations upfront, with pointed questions about what the request or ‘Ask’ is, and what the expectations are, will make for a smooth trip, shall we say.

Don’t Gold Plate.

A few years ago I was listening to my brother talk about an Atlantic salmon trip he was going on up in Labrador. He was telling me all about what the guide had told him and what was being promised. According to what he was told, this would be significantly better than the angling trip of a lifetime!

A few weeks later he called me back to tell me the trip was essentially a bust. They spent half their time fishing for sea trout (an activity they hadn’t signed up for), and they had missed the best run of salmon, meaning no one in the party caught their limit.

Telling a client everything that is possible for a solution to accomplish potentially leads to some headaches. In my humble experience, I find that having the client detail what it is they need keeps things in better scope. Leading the client with lofty ideas oftentimes gets into solutioning (the how) as opposed to good analysis (the what). A solid understanding of a plan that answers the client’s need is the best starting point, as opposed to burning up the budget with the bells and whistles which can come later (if deemed necessary). As my current manager often says, ‘add the larger pebbles to your jar first.’

Knowing if the client wants to fish for crappie, codfish, or tuna informs the gear you will need, the location you will fish, and how long the trip will be.

In terms of solutions, the local fishing supply store uses an inventory management system, and so does Ikea. There are endless reasons why they don’t need to implement the same one.

Consider the Bigger Environment

Even after you’ve talked to the client and they outline what species of fish they want to catch and how and where they want to catch them, be prepared for surprises. Wanting to fish for brook trout probably won’t work if the wind is in the easterly direction; cod fishing is unenjoyable if there are heavy seas or a lot of choppy waves, and salmon fishing is tough in shallow water in the late summer heat.

Considering external factors (the bigger picture) is one key to avoiding disaster: numbers of transactions, size and type of media/data to be stored, user access to a network or internet connection, personal information stored or moved through the solution, or accessibility and UX/UI issues.

Clients who are moving employees from a manual, paper process to a digital interface may need to consider employees computer skills and abilities. Even if most users are somewhat savvy, there may be some who are intimidated by technology, and they can’t simply be left out of the planning. Perhaps client readiness needs to include employee training.

Has the client implemented software and hardware upgrades prior to deploying a new Learning Management System? Have they considered the use of smartphones as devices that users will log into the LMS with? Have they considered the Information Management issues around the collection and use of personal information during registration?

Whether taking a paying client fishing for tuna, or a buddy fishing for a few pan trout, there are things to consider in order to mitigate problems and end up with a solid solution (full livewell). Ask the questions, know the client, don’t over-promise, and think outside the box, seem to be simple yet effective adages… in the office or on the water.

Either way, good luck!

Contextual Awareness in Business Analysis: An Analogy

In the martial arts there is a concept called seeing without looking. May seem odd, but it makes sense when it is put into perspective.

At bottom, a Martial art is any of the various fighting skills, mainly of East Asian origin, such as kung fu (Pinyin gongfu), judo, karate, and kendō. Martial arts can be divided into the armed and unarmed arts. The former include archery, spearmanship, and swordsmanship; the latter, which originated in China, emphasize striking with the feet and hands or grappling.

Most Martial Arts involve a lifetime of dedication and training, and is as much about cultivating the person as the person’s adeptness in the Art form.

Back in the day, the Martial Arts weren’t a means of getting fit or winning medals: they were often a means of survival. With a weapons ban in the Ryukyu Islands in the 16th century, using your body as a weapon for defense became commonplace.

As practitioners’ progress, brute strength and mental fortitude aren’t enough to master the Art – it takes mental clarity and intuition.

Therefore, practitioners have to master the concept of seeing a whole picture without looking at any one piece of it. Masters of the arts often tell students to see as if your eyes are peering from behind you. Mastering this meant that an opponent’s movements are perceived before they actually begin. It begins with not focusing on one aspect of what is in front of you – you are perceiving the situation without mental noise, and without guessing what happens next. An open mind and full awareness allow the fighter to detect subtle changes in breathing, expression, posture, etc.: tell-tale signs of what happens next.

As a business analyst we hate to admit, or mumble under our breath, I didn’t see that coming, or I really missed that!

I came from a technical background and what I found happening with a new BA project was that I wanted to start answering the how of a solution as opposed to the what. I understood databases, cloud storage, web interfaces and such, and I’d immediately start to formulate in my mind a potential scenario that might suit the client’s needs: “So, it seems to me that you are looking for…”

Rabbit holes appeared as places where I thought the solution should go – I wasn’t taking the entire picture into perspective. I was looking at the bits and pieces of it that made sense to me – that stood out.


The purpose of a BA – as my team and I often hear from our learned manager – is to assist the client in understanding the what. What is the ask? What is the process that this solution will support?

This requires standing back and perceiving form 10, 000 feet, not magnified-glassing the storage, UX, outputs, or data travel bits of it.

True, the BA has to dig into the individual elements of a project to get to individual, granular requirements, but seeing it as a machine as opposed to individual cogs at first, assists in this.

A standing back, context-overview approach helps you identify those subtle bits and pieces that you eventually need to document, as well as potential rocks in the road.

To take the Karate analogy further, open eyes and an open mind allow you to catch that the opponent holds their breath before an attack, or shifts the toes of front foot slightly outward before moving; both of which you’d miss if you were expecting a front kick, or you are thinking about delivering one.

After all, what you miss is just as important as what you capitalize on.

A robust research solution to capture data on wildlife in the field isn’t of much use if portions of the field are without network connectivity.

Oftentimes the environment that the solution will exist in has significant impact on the usability and added value to the business, and we miss that if we’re focusing on the software or data flow while overlooking the context.

Perhaps it means initially looking at the night sky as opposed to a zoning in on Sagittarius.  The context offers insights into what pieces constitute the whole, and which need to be examined.

For example, understanding administrative and physical safeguards undertaken by a third-party vendor is important if your solution has a cloud component you’re utilizing – even if it is a small piece of the end product.

There’s nothing new here for a business analyst, but I do find myself having to remember to see from behind me once in a while during the scoping of a project, and during subsequent documentation, in order to keep things in perspective and not to miss the factors outside (but connected to) the solution.

Elements that drive a process aren’t always evident, and I find that revisiting the bigger picture, and asking questions about the frame, and not just the portrait, are helpful.

To wax philosophical for a moment, the old Martial Arts adage of perceiving things with a clear mind is also helpful in everyday life. Observing life around us without laying our preconceived notions on them, or labelling or judging them, brings new aspects of them to life. Stillness of mind is like a physical rest for a weary back: it is necessary because it is beneficial.

Getting lost in the weeds in business analysis affects schedules and costs. The solution, I believe, is to regularly re-examine the swamp.