Author: Jake Thompson

I have been in the role of business analyst since September 2020. I previously worked in a financial institution's retail banking division following my undergraduate studies and earned my Master in Business Administration (MBA) while doing so. I have learned a plentiful amount while being a BA but also am opening to learning. I strive to take realistic topics and apply them to my role and be able to share that experience with others. In my spare time, books are my incredibly favorite hobby, among traveling, hiking, and occasionally writing.

Is There Such A Thing as a “Dumb Question”?

“This may sound like a dumb question…but…,” insert question here.

What prompts us to preamble a question with such a statement? We tend to dwell on the fear that asking questions, even the simplest or for clarification can be the inception of negative thought and appearing uneducated to our peers. One of my colleagues when I first began the role of business analysis reassured me that there is “no such thing as a dumb question.” However, I write this piece to dissuade the notion.

Working with myriad stakeholders and colleagues, as business analysts, remaining consistently curious is a fundamental competency to our field. How must we satiate our endless curiosity? Ask questions! As part of the lexicon to being a business analyst, questions are the lifeblood to the capacity of the work we perform. Executing a swift Google search on “how many questions do we ask a day?” the quantitative results for adults are estimated to be averaged at twenty questions per day, whereas children are in the hundreds a day. Hundreds! Notwithstanding those children may have an ulterior agenda to ask numerous questions, whether it be to annoy their parents out of humor or they’re truly curious, the comparison of frequency in questions is staggering. Yet, we focus less on the quantitative nature and more on the qualitative aspects to feeding our inquisitive intellects.


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Is there really such a thing as a dumb question? Drum roll, please. The answer is: yes. You may or may not already know the answer, others may not. Questions that are asked for clarification, for understanding, to ask why to ask how? Those are not dumb questions. In fact, I would quantify those in a simple self-designed model of asking questions as baseline questions. Breaking down the model, for business analysis, or even real-world application, questions can be categorized into four different sections, dependent on the question objective. The question objective is the “why” of your question; what you are seeking to accomplish by asking. The dumb questions, in short, are the ones you do not ask. Silence may be golden in some realms, but if you are remaining silent to avoid asking questions to clarify, to gain a deeper understanding, or even to consider another outcome, that is the underlying “dumb question.”

If you refer to Exhibit 1 provided in this article, it pictorially represents my personal model of how one may categorize questions in four different quantifications. These are: great questions, good questions, baseline questions, and dumb questions.

Exhibit 1:

Great questions are the ones we ask to discover new possibilities or outcomes. The trademark piece to being a business analyst via elicitation. These ones may be framed in ways of detailed, technical questions but the objective remains to discover what may be unseen or overlooked. They also require an incredible amount of effort in terms of research and critical thinking. You may be surprised at the sheer volume of information that can be elicited from asking a great question versus some of the others. Great questions are the cornerstone questions for a business analyst.

Good questions are the step below the great questions. These are critical, nonetheless, but have an objective to challenge assumptions, restrictions, or dependencies within projects or the task at hand. These may require an intermediate level of research or critical thinking and forward consideration to come up with. These may be your “why” questions. Much like great questions, the voluminous amount of data by asking good questions can sow benefits to be reaped in business analysis. Good questions can be the framework between the baseline questions and great questions, where the details are in between the lines.

Baseline questions are as the name implies: intended to set the baseline. These are questions that can be asked for clarification or understanding. These are just as important as any of the others and contain significance in the realm of business analysis. Baseline questions give you that foundation that opens the realm to the categories to inquiring more questions. Rest assured, there is absolutely nothing incorrect about asking baseline questions. It may open the door to good or even great questions by asking the most basic baseline question.

The next time you find yourself in a position, as a business analyst, or elsewhere, determining if you should ask the question, follow these steps. First, remember the only dumb question is the one you do not ask. Two, ask the question! Do not let fear or negative emotion impede your learning as a business analyst and the potential to open doors that may have been left untouched. It is not something that can be learned overnight but over time. Even I, myself, am still working to ask questions in my role, baseline, good, or great, and mitigating the dumb question.

In case of emergency of not knowing…just ask!

What Can We Learn from Crime Fiction in Business Analysis?

Crime fiction never sleeps. A mere Google result yields an estimated 25-40% of the fiction genre in print, is attributed to crime fiction novels and novella, yearly. These heavyweight numbers pull no punches when dominating the publishing market and continue to churn out as newcomer and veteran authors delve into this twisty and plot-driven genre. Elsewhere, crime fiction slams the gavel in landmarking the entertainment world, between streaming, regularly scheduled programmed television, even cinema. Netflix, Amazon, HBO, Paramount, Hulu, and the continual alphabet of platforms and movie studios, in their consistent battles of streaming wars, are armed to the teeth with crime fiction remaining a mainstay in their marquee content arsenals.

As we draw out the novice philosophical schemas of “good versus evil”, “crime never pays”, as a business analyst, it is prudent to discover the deeper meaning to be found when you read between the lines. Being in the field of business analysis, I swiftly became cognizant of the ensconced parallels to the realistic work I was taking on, to the fictitious roles I observed in the media mediums I had been consuming. I connected the role of a crime fiction detective to a realistic business analyst. Comparatively, likening my performance to that of taking on cases in the form of projects, occasionally multiple at a time, my goal became synonymous with solving a case. The project is the case and the mystery to solve is how to make said project successful. It became incredulously captivating to think of myself as a detective versus a business analyst and begin to observe the methods as seen on TV or read in books and apply them to my work. Of course, it is without saying that I remain a business analyst and do not self-aggrandize myself to a fictitious character, nor do I claim to know the experience of working in the field of law enforcement, crime, and the like.

 

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Think of some of the critically acclaimed TV shows out in the media: HBO’s The Wire, NBC’s Law and Order. Both of which are fictitious series’ that give us realism of what it is like to be ingrained in the world of crime, law, and law enforcement. However, take away the dramatic elements that make for good television and you get a stripped-down version that provides us certain core concepts to business analysis:

  • Ask questions: Detectives and investigators ask questions to gain information, to elicit leads, to make a break in the case. They are relentless in this practice. They talk to witnesses, colleagues, bosses, citizens, experts…the list goes on. Are we, as BA’s, not the same? Business analysts ask questions of various people to gain information, to elicit solutions, and identify the best outcome to complete their project (aka “solve the case”). Without questions on both career fronts in opposing ends, do they lose out on the objective they so wish to achieve: solving the mystery.
  • Investigate all possible outcomes: Through the commonplace term “police work”, crime fiction utilizes investigatory measures to observe every outcome. They examine patterns, evidence, trends, ask questions. They fiercely formulate hypotheses, postulate outcomes, and supplement their findings. Business analysts parallel these actions. Asking questions leads us to garnering information, making progress on our projects, and creating our own theories. It helps to solve the mystery. It does not mean you need to carry a notebook and jot down interview notes, but it is not a bad idea! Sometimes the best ideas come when we least expect it, and how often do we need to write it down, lest we forget later?
  • Be resilient: The term “hard-boiled” is not just used in breakfast to describe how eggs are made. It can also refer to the manner of how resilient detectives are. They keep shaking the metaphorical tree until something tangible comes out. They are tenaciously relentless in their work and strive to put forth their best effort to solve and make the grade. Shouldn’t business analysts be the same in this regard? As a BA/detective, one should not give up when the project seems to fall off track or when we hit an impasse in our efforts. Rather, we should work to “hard boil” ourselves and push through, for it may be the resiliency that wins the day and makes the project successful. This, by no means, encourages the copious consumption of caffeine and late nights that are often portrayed in crime fiction: know your limit but keep yourself resilient.
  • Follow-through: This is a common mistake that business analysts can make without realizing it. One of which, even I fail at, at times. Observe in some of the crime dramas you watch or fiction you may read on how often that detectives follow through on their leads, with their colleagues, with their bosses. They make the decision but often, they stick with their decision, right or wrong. They vehemently stand by their actions. As BA’s your decision, right, wrong, indifferent and within bounds, be sure to practice the concept of follow through on them. Talk to your own colleagues, bosses, experts and gather up the information you are seeking. Remember to ask questions and stand by what you decide. Learn from the as those we revere to be real and glean from them the power of follow-through.

There you have it: case closed. In the glorified world of crime fiction, we unpack useful key points that, as business analysts, can utilize in the field that mirrors what we see on television. Try this in your business analysis role, and see what comes of it: will you find that your cases (projects) are solved more efficiently, quicker, or with a bit of added flair to make your job more fun? Let me know, I would love to hear how these apply to you! And, if there is anything else that might be learned from crime fiction and crime drama applicable to business analysis, share with myself and others.