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Author: Kupe Kupersmith

Eight Steps to Improvement

Kupe’s Korner

More and more organizations around the world are recognizing the need for better understanding of business needs and have turned to the business analysis role as a way to improve. Whether these organizations have employees with the title Business Analyst or not, they are beginning to implement proven techniques to increase the success of projects. This is just the beginning. Organizations need to start setting themselves up to continually improve their business analysis practice. My colleague and friend, Angie Perris, and I came up with an eight step approach to continuous improvement. The following actions demonstrate the typical steps involved in implementing business analysis process improvement. (Note: The steps and sequence may vary from organization to organization.)

1. Secure Sponsorship and Funding

Before beginning your business analysis process improvement effort, ensure that the process improvement program has senior management sponsorship and funding. Such sponsorship and funding are critical to the program’s success. Educate senior management about the value of business analysis and developing a repeatable, measurable process. Provide an executive summary of the strengths and weaknesses of your current business analysis approach and a cost benefit analysis for this endeavor.

2. Prepare the Organization for Change

For purposes of this blog post, an organization is defined as one business unit, department, or even as an entire company. If you start with a smaller group, it is easier to manage, measure progress, and adjust to feedback. Treat this process improvement initiative as a project that can be tracked. Form a team of BA managers and senior BAs to lead the effort. Establish the business reasons and the business goals for the effort. Create a compelling case for change, include the rationale for the undertaking, a process improvement effort and the expected benefits and costs for the people affected. Poor business analysis affects all phases of the project lifecycle. Motivated employees and great technology are very important to project success but, even with the best people, they cannot perform at their highest potential when the business analysis role is not understood and respected, or the business analysis process is not efficient. Develop a persuasive presentation of the problems and opportunities to communicate with the affected organization. Below is a list of common problems that can be addressed through business analysis maturity.

  • Business and IT stakeholders have different interpretations of the requirements
  • Requirements elicitation is haphazard
  • Important requirements are missed
  • Frequent and often unnecessary requirements changes delay the project
  • •Requirements are not always verified by the affected stakeholders
  • Solution alternatives do not consider business impact to operations
  • Requirements cannot be verified
  • Customers are not satisfied with the product quality
  • Milestone dates for requirements are missed
  • Reporting requirements cannot be met

3. Provide Core Training

“You don’t know what you don’t know.” The goal here is to level-set the BAs in your organization on fundamental business analysis skills, techniques, and language that will be used in your business analysis approach. This training will be the foundation for your organization’s business analysis approach and toolkit.

4. Come Together: Form a Community of Practice or a Center of Excellence Group

Get your BAs talking and sharing. Develop and promote an atmosphere where the BAs in your organization collaborate. Communities are strengthened by building relationships where people trust and help each other reach their goals. This can be accomplished by having regularly scheduled meetings where BAs get a chance to network, discuss their challenges, and find potential mentors.

It is more rewarding to work at a company that feels like a community. A community of BAs has greater knowledge and experience than any individual. BAs have similar challenges and can help each other. This group, or a subset of the group, can coordinate process improvement activities across the enterprise and continue to exist even when a process improvement project has ended.

5. Know Where You Are

In order to find out where your organization is today you must establish a baseline assessment by evaluating the skill level of your BA community and the standard practices followed in your organization. This evaluation looks at many factors including individual interviews or surveys as well as reviewing deliverables, standards, processes, knowledge, and organizational culture. This step can occur before training if there is already a clear understanding of business analysis competencies within your organization. Compare industry accepted business analysis practices to your organization’s processes to determine a benchmark. Conduct surveys to gather information from managers, project leads, and workers to gauge cultural opportunities and barriers to change. Begin to establish a baseline of analysis performance. Build a detailed picture of the present. This includes knowing your environment, existing project methodologies, types of projects, business analysis tools, availability of business stakeholders, etc.

6. Know Where You Are Going

Define your organization’s success criteria. Compare the picture of where you are to the one of where you want to be. The difference between the two is the focus of your process improvement program. Get a balanced view from management, project leaders, business analysts, and other staff about what they think is most important. Each will have different objectives they want to achieve. Prioritize and communicate the business analysis competency areas to address and build your improvement plan. Your organization may decide to make incremental changes or dramatic innovations to your current process.

7. Execute Your Plan

Have a team start using the new practices as determined in your plan. Make sure to have a team available for support and coaching. Keep track of strengths and weaknesses. Track your progress against the plan. As organizational goals are met, your plan needs to include a feedback loop to assess if any more process improvement iterations are required. Additionally your plan should accept and evaluate change requests from anyone impacted by the new practices.

8. Track Your Success

Communicate your program’s progress in reaching the organization’s goals. Continuous process improvement yields ROI due to better articulated requirements, clearer understanding of the business analysis role and responsibilities, improved customer and IT relationships, earlier defect detection, improved risk identification and management, better control of solution scope, more satisfied customers, etc. In order to continually improve, organizations must remain vigilant along the journey. The business analysis role and process is new to many organizations. This work has traditionally been performed by various individuals in an inconsistent manner. Creating an effective, mature business analysis discipline requires management commitment, time, and resources. It doesn’t happen by accident. Only a clear strategic plan for developing the discipline and the role will move an organization to the highest level of success.

To your continuous improvement,


Don’t forget to post your comments below

Jonathan “Kupe” Kupersmith is Director of Client Solutions, B2T Training and has over 12 years of business analysis experience. He has served as the lead Business Analyst and Project Manager on projects in various industries. He serves as a mentor for business analysis professionals and is a Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP) through the IIBA and is BA Certified through B2T Training. Kupe is a connector and has a goal in life to meet everyone! Contact Kupe at [email protected].

Find Time to Build Relationships

Kupe’s Korner

Building relationships is one of the most important skills of someone performing business analysis. You can read an earlier post of mine giving reasons why it is so important. Today I am focusing on ways to build and strengthen relationships even though we have extremely busy schedules.

In a webinar I recently participated in, I polled the audience asking “How many of you eat lunch at your desk?” Out of the 400 people that responded to the poll, 250 said they almost always eat at their desk…alone! This is a good indicator that business analysts are not doing all they could to build relationships with the people they work with or that can help them. Every chance I get I ask people this question and the majority eat lunch at their desk all the time! This…drives…me…nuts. Breaking bread over lunch with others is a great way to make and strengthen relationships.

A few weeks ago, I was passionately giving my “get off your “you know what” and eat lunch with someone” speech when I was abruptly stopped. I was told, just as passionately, that once their workload is reduced they’ll be more sociable and eat lunch with others. After wiping the spit from my face, I thought about my approach to convincing people that they need to continually build and strengthen relationships. Maybe my message about building relationships and how to go about it needs a tweak.

So, here’s my tweak. The key point I am trying to convey is that you need to build relationships before you need them. “Dig the well before you are thirsty.” You have seen or heard this Chinese proverb before right?

Going to lunch every day is not what I really mean (although I do go to lunch with others probably three out of five days a week). But you do need to take time and connect with people, even if you can’t swing the lunch hour. While writing this post, I met three people getting up for a drink (which I do too often these days…you would too if you had access to free Root Beer). You can be building relationships while you work. The seven dwarfs from Snow White whistle, you build relationships. Try short emails, phone calls or texts checking in on people you know. Remember people’s birthdays and send them a quick note to wish them a happy birthday. Facebook makes it easy for you to keep up with your friends’ birthdays and you can easily send them a note. Introduce yourself to the people at the water cooler and find out something about them. You’ll be surprised what you can find out in a two minute conversation. The next time you see them, get a little deeper…pretty soon you have a good relationship.

The bottom line is you have to find ways to connect with people. We can’t succeed going it alone. I can’t tell you when, where, and why you will need each relationship. As you continue to build relationships you’ll start seeing the results of your effort every where you look. It is how I found jobs, how I get solutions to problems when I am stuck, and best of all for me, a place where I can help others.

I can’t help myself, how often do you eat lunch at your desk?

Jonathan “Kupe” Kupersmith is Director of Client Solutions, B2T Training and has over 12 years of business analysis experience. He has served as the lead Business Analyst and Project Manager on projects in various industries. He serves as a mentor for business analysis professionals and is a Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP) through the IIBA and is BA Certified through B2T Training. Kupe is a connector and has a goal in life to meet everyone! Contact Kupe at [email protected].

Show Your Value: Get Paid on Commission

Kupe’s Korner

I recently re-read an article on, Should IT Workers Unionize. The author put forward the notion of IT workers unionizing.  There were many comments left by readers for and against the model. The idea of BAs unionizing is a concept that I found fascinating, but one that I totally disagree with.

This article reminded me of a conversation I had with a good friend, David Walker, with Borland.  He asked me if I thought business analysts would do anything different if their salaries were truly based on performance, A.K.A. commission based.  This is the complete opposite of unionizing. At the time I did not give him an answer, but now I believe we would absolutely change the way we approach projects, determine what techniques to use, and how spend our time every day. Projects are still failing or challenged at a high percentage.  As analysts we play a critical role in the success of projects.  If we really want to improve project success, let’s get paid on the success of our projects.  Are you feeling the wave of change? 

Let’s take a look at the sales profession for a moment. They sell products or services for a company and most of their salary is based on how well they perform against sales goals.  They miss their goal, their commission is less; they meet their goal they get their full commission, if they exceed their goal they get their full commission plus some.  So as a BA we play a key role on teams to implement projects or change for a company.  If your project fails your commission is less, if it is challenged you get most of your commission, if it is a success you get your full commission.  Man…I am getting excited just thinking about it. 

Ok, even if we don’t go the point of changing our salary structure we need to change our mindset and work like we are being paid on commission.

Here are a few characteristics of successful sales professionals that we can apply to our profession.  A successful sales person:

  • Ensures their goals are clear. Once they are set they work towards their goal every day.
  • Does what is necessary. Nothing more, nothing less.
  • Finds resources that can help them reach their goals.
  • Builds relationships to build credibility which leads to trust.

Goals: Before you start running down a path to elicit, analyze, and communicate requirements, make sure you, the project team, and business stakeholders are all on the same page regarding the scope and objectives of the project.  As the project is underway you should always look at the goals to make sure you are still headed down the right path.

Do what is necessary:  As an analyst there are many techniques at our disposal.  Just read the 300 plus page IIBA BABOK and you’ll see how many techniques we can use. Every project is different, so you need to do the work that will add value to your project.  Nothing more, nothing less.  For more information on this topic check out this webcast.

Find resources:  If you recall my last blog post, I talked about being the go-to person.  I said you need to be a consumer of information. There are so many resources (people, training classes, articles, discussion boards, etc.) available to you, and you need to find them and use them to be successful.  Here is a quote that I continually reference. 

“No one lives long enough to learn everything they need to learn starting from scratch. To be successful, we absolutely, positively have to find people who have already paid the price to learn the things that we need to learn to achieve our goals.”
-Brian Tracy, Author

In today’s environment we can’t go it alone.  Find the information and people you need to help you.  There is no shame in asking for help.

Build relationships:  Projects are all about people.  We work on projects with people and projects are created for people.  People want to work and help those they trust.  Take the time to really get to know the people you work with. 

Let’s not wait until we are paid on commission to change the way we work.  If we change our mindset now our project success rate will start to improve.  Things will be so good we’ll ask to be paid on commission!

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Be the Go-to Person!

Kupe’s Korner

I am thrilled to be the newest blogger on BA Times. I have been practicing business analysis for over 12 years now and have found one thing to be consistent with business analysis. Our profession is 80% art and 20% science. Ask any experienced BA a question and they either try to qualify the question to its smallest denominator to give you an answer, or they give you my favorite response, “it depends.” The reason is that most of what we do is not cut and dry. Like doctors “practice” medicine, we “practice” business analysis. With every experience we learn a little more and adapt accordingly. I am thankful for the opportunity to share some of my experiences with you through this blog. I plan on focusing on the art of our profession, but I may dip into the science piece every now and then. Let’s make Kupe’s Korner a place to share ideas and experiences to help us all reach our highest aspirations. And away we go…

For everything I do I try to find my go-to person or persons. For real estate advice, I have a few agents that are on speed dial. For projects around my house, I have my father-in-law to lean on. For my electronics purchases I know people that do more than enough research, and the list goes on. What each individual has in common are knowledge, experience and passion for the particular topic. In your circle are you the go-to person for business analysis? You can be!

Recently I received my tip of the month email from author Keith Ferrazzi. In his email he provided a quote which he pulled from entrepreneur/author Guy Kawasaki. “Eat like a bird and poop like an elephant.” In short, Keith went on to say birds eat 50 percent of their body weight per day. You should do the same when it comes to knowledge of your industry. Read everything, talk to everyone, be everywhere. Don’t rely on others or be passive about it; become an absolute expert by taking the lead. Once you’ve become a hub of this information, don’t hoard it. Spread it around-like the elephant!

You need to consume as much information as you can related to business analysis and the industry you work in. Never stop finding ways to get information. As you consume this information share it with everyone that will listen. Slowly but surely everyone will start to recognize you as the “go-to person”. You’ll start to see peers coming to you for advice and your perspective. Management will want you to be part of the most important initiatives. Project managers will not want to manage a project without you or at least without your input.

Get the Scoop

So where do you turn for all this information? For starters, keep reading all the great stuff on BA Times. I recommend you begin using Google Reader and subscribe to the many online business analysis communities and blogs. Do the same for your industry. Google Reader can be your one place to collect online information. As you go you can add and delete feeds as appropriate. Seek out individuals in your company and start to increase your industry knowledge. Continue or start participating in your local IIBA chapter to gain valuable business analysis information.

At the minimum, take one hour a week and read and participate in the online communities by commenting on discussions/blogs. Be careful…it becomes addictive!

Share the Scoop

Don’t hoard this fabulous information you start collecting. Share this wealth of knowledge you have with everyone willing to listen. Share articles with the other analysts you work with. Get the ideas out on Twitter, you have a Twitter account right? Forward some of your favorite articles to relevant contacts. Post discussions on community sites like BA Times, and LinkedIn and Facebook groups.

Here is a little thing I do. As I speak with people I pick up hints of their issues, problems, and what they are passionate about. As I come across related information I share it with those individuals. Fortunately my memory is still strong, but I need to start coming up with a “system” where I capture this information for contacts and not rely solely on my memory. You should come up with a system as well.

Enjoy being the source of information and the go-to person.


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Jonathan “Kupe” Kupersmith is Director of Client Solutions, B2T Training and has over 12 years of business analysis experience. He has served as the lead Business Analyst and Project Manager on projects in various industries. He serves as a mentor for business analysis professionals and is a Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP) through the IIBA and is BA Certified through B2T Training. Kupe is a connector and has a goal in life to meet everyone! Contact Kupe at [email protected].

Putting the User Back into User Acceptance Testing

Why is getting users involved in User Acceptance Testing (UAT) so challenging? Isn’t it called UAT because the users are the main participants? My experience has shown that involving users in all phases of the project, especially UAT, is the best way to ensure project success.

I recently worked on a project in which a major defect was found after the software application moved to production. This defect caused the users to perform three days of manual processes. Users on the IT project team worked countless overtime hours. The defect also resulted in a frustrated user group and business sponsor. The project team’s morale was low and the business users lost a great deal of confidence in the project team’s ability to deliver quality software solutions. To reduce the risk of making this crucial mistake in the future the project team improved the UAT approach by getting users more involved.

Traditional Approach

Too often, User Acceptance Testing is not taken seriously. For many reasons UAT gets shortened, is not conducted in a way that ensures a successful project or, the worst scenario, is not done at all.

An approach I have used in the past consisted of the project team members—Business Analysts and QA Analysts—writing test scripts and providing demos of the new application to the users. The users would then walk through test scripts step-by-step. In some organizations the BAs write and execute the UAT tests and then present the results to the users for sign-off.

Traditional approaches are often not effective because they are missing a key ingredient—the right amount of user involvement. In the project previously mentioned, there were five major issues relating to UAT that we had to address. These are common problems in many organizations related to lack of user involvement:

• Users may not be fully vested in UAT. In the traditional approach the users are directed by the BA during UAT and are brought in too late in the project to have an impact on the test plans. This results in a lack of ownership by the users and less responsibility on their part for the success or failure of the project.

• Users do not fully understand how the new functions should work when they are asked to test them. Just seeing a demo is typically not enough. This can result in the UAT session becoming a training opportunity and not a true test.

• Tests are often generic and are not all based on real-life scenarios. If the test scripts are written by the IT project team, there is a greater risk for missing real-life scenarios. This is because, unlike the user, the IT project team does not use the application every day.

• Project team members are usually pressed for time. Often a BA has already been assigned to perform requirements activities on another project during UAT. Balancing multiple projects means that BAs have a hard time focusing on UAT, while meeting their other project deadlines.

• High pass rate of UAT test plans. Ironically, this is not a positive thing. Often a BA writes test scripts and tests them himself prior to UAT to ensure the scripts pass. When a BA writes the test scripts the users are not given an opportunity to interject enough real-life scenarios to validate the system.

A Recommended Approach

To address these common issues and increase the chance for project success we need to take a new approach to UAT.

1. Involve key users early

Once Quality Assurance (QA) begins testing, UAT planning should start. Identify users who have a deep understanding of the business requirements and are change agents for the group. Identify all of the tasks that need to be accomplished, the owners of each task, and a high-level timeline. This will help ensure that all the right people are involved.

2. Provide hands-on training of the system for the UAT participants

Providing a demo is not good enough. Once QA feels the application is stable enough, give hands-on training to the UAT participants. It is critical to explain to the users that issues may arise because QA testing is not complete. Ask the users to stay focused on how the application works and not so much on the fact that it is not fully operational.

3. Use facilitation sessions to create test plans

Have the users write their own test plans. This may sound far-fetched, but it is key to getting UAT as close to real life as possible. The BA’s primary role is to facilitate the UAT test plan creation process, but not to write a single test script. Using process workflow diagrams and Use Case documentation from the requirements package, ask the users to determine what processes and system functions need to be tested. Provide the UAT participants with examples of test scripts and explain the need to capture the goal of each test, the necessary steps, and the expected results. The steps become second nature to the users of the system, and they often find it difficult to document each step they take to accomplish a goal. Help them think through their processes in detail to ensure they have documented each task completely.

Review the test plan. Once the test plans are written, the BA reviews the test plans to ensure all the necessary functions and processes impacted will be tested.

Determine necessary inputs and outputs. Once all the test plans are written, ask the users to document the inputs they need to complete each of their test scripts and the outputs that will be generated. Make sure all UAT participants have the necessary inputs to complete their tests based on all of the outputs. If some are missing, enlist other users to create those inputs during testing execution.

Make it as close to real life as possible. To enhance the real life feel, the BAs work with the users to determine a testing schedule. Make sure the schedule follows their daily process. Again, use process workflow and Use Case documentation to ensure the test plans are executed in the order the activities would be done in real life.

4. Ensure users execute the test

The BA’s role is to ensure the test environment is set up and to assist the users as they execute the tests. The user’s role is to execute their tests and document the results.

The Results

Recommended Approach to UAT

1. Involve key users early

2. Provide hands-on system training for the UAT participants

3. Use facilitation sessions to create test plans

4. Ensure users execute the test

Using this approach can help reduce the risk of major defects making it to production and ensures the users are satisfied that the solution meets the objectives of each project. Here are some of the key results from using the improved approach:

• The UAT participants take responsibility for the success of the release. They feel part of the team due to their collaboration with the IT project team and involvement in UAT planning, and test creation and execution. They also help champion the benefits of each release to the larger user base.

• Due to the pre-test training, users are comfortable with new applications. This allows the users to develop real life test scenarios, and the time allotted for testing is not used for training.

• Since the users create and execute test plans, the tests are very close to real life scenarios and the users are more comfortable running the tests.

In addition there are tangible benefits to future projects:

• QA incorporates the scenarios documented by users in the QA test plans for future releases.

• Over time there is decreased use of the BA’s time for UAT. With the BA facilitating the UAT process and not doing most of the work, the BA can focus on other necessary tasks – like launching the next project.

Implementing the Approach

A lack of user involvement in UAT is not uncommon. I urge you to try this approach even if you have not yet experienced a drastic wake-up call, such as major defects in production.

As we are called upon to deliver solutions faster and faster, it is just a matter of time before major defects make it to production. Here are some tips for getting started:

• Start small. To help manage the changes with the new approach, identify a release with a low number of users and/or new functions. This will allow you to test the new process, discover lessons learned, and make the necessary adjustments.

• Plan for additional time. Using this new approach will initially require more time. Work with your Project Manager to plan more time into the UAT phase for your first two or three projects. As you get accustomed to this approach, it will require less time.

• Identify power users and champions of application. They are your best testers and have the most interest in the project’s success.

• Sell the benefits of the new approach to your users. As with any new approach, BAs need to help the users understand what the approach is, and how it will ultimately improve their business.

• Save the user test plans for future releases. Reuse of test plans will help speed up the time dedicated to UAT in future releases and can be used to update your QA test plans. Successful implementation of this approach helps ensure projects meet the user needs. The collaboration of users with the project team leads to a shared responsibility for the success and failure of the project.

What is UAT and Why We Do It?

UAT is the final approval by customers signaling the new system or enhancements can be deployed. UAT is unlike other types of software testing (e.g., unit testing, system testing, integration testing), because during UAT we are looking for conformity. We need to validate that the solution meets the business objectives and works correctly with real-life scenarios. UAT is typically conducted by users with assistance from the BA and other project team members.
UAT is most often conducted before a system is deployed into a production environment. For higher risk projects UAT may continue for a period of time while running the old system and new system in production. This gives the users ample time to become comfortable that the new system meets their needs. For commercial software companies UAT is also know as “Beta” testing. Here the system is launched into a production environment, but only to a subset of customers who will provide feedback on defects and necessary improvements.