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Author: Kupe Kupersmith

As If – Four Steps For Getting and Using Feedback

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As if you thought it was impossible to associate the complexity of business analysis with the simplicity of Clueless, I’ve done it!

No matter who you are, what you know or what you can do for your company, knowing how to request and manage feedback is one of the most important skills you will need in order to continue to grow and improve. Using this “AS IF” technique, I’ll guide you through the four steps for requesting, receiving, implementing and following up on feedback.

I’m going to talk about a four part system that will help you get the feedback you need.

  1. Ask for feedback
  2. Say “thank you.”
  3. Implement the feedback
  4. Feedback on the Feedback

The first step is asking for feedback. Nine out of ten people don’t give you the feedback you need in order to improve, so you have to ask them: what you did well, what you didn’t do so well, and where you can improve. It’s not natural for people just to throw out advice that you need, so make sure you ask. Start with people you trust, people you know, people that have your best interest at heart.

Step two is just say “thank you.” Don’t get all defensive. Feedback is a personal attack…or it feels like that. So it’s gonna hurt. But don’t come up with excuse after excuse of why you did something. Just say “thank you.” Then go off in the corner, if you have to, and start to cry. (But don’t do it in front of the person that gave you the feedback.) You know the old saying, “no pain, no gain.” Feedback is a little painful but you need it to really move forward and improve.

Okay. So now that you’ve recovered from the pain, the third step in the process is implementing the feedback. Sit back and really think about what you can do with the advice that person gave you. How are you going to implement this? What are you going to do differently? How are you going to change your behaviors? How are you going to improve?

The fourth step is to give feedback on the feedback. Go back to the person and say “Thank you again for that feedback! Here’s what I’m doing: I’m going to do one, two, and three differently going forward…”

By getting your feedback on the feedback, the person realizes that not only did you take the time to listen to them, you took time to think about how you’re going to implement and actually change. And the next time you go to that person they’re more apt to give you the feedback you need.

Now there’s a caveat with number three. What if you sit back and think about it, take that advice, and try to figure out how you’re going to implement it, and it doesn’t feel right?

You know yourself the best, so it’s okay not to implement the feedback. You can decide, “You know what? That’s not who I am, and that’s not where I want to go.”

Now you still need to give feedback on the feedback. Go back to the person and say, “I listened to you. I thought about it, but it’s not right for me. The advice you gave doesn’t fit with where I want to go.”

So it’s okay not to implement the feedback. Just give feedback on it. The reason you still do step four, feedback on the feedback, is that you don’t want people to see you in a similar situation doing the same thing after they took the time to give you advice. You didn’t do anything with it, so why would they give you any advice in the future? Does that make sense?

Okay so here’s a little example from my real world.

I do a lot of keynote presentations, and I’m always asking people to give me feedback. Somebody told me once, “Kupe, you say ‘gotta,’ ‘gonna’ and other kind of slang words here and there, and you really have to take that out of your speech.”

I said “Thank you,” and I thought about it, and I realized that in my approach to speaking, I want to be me. I want to be flexible up there…transparent. I want to be who I am. If I had to think about every single word I said, then I would get more robotic and it wouldn’t be me. So I decided not to implement that feedback.

I went back to the person and said “Hey, I’ve gotta tell you something,”

(And hopefully by now you got the joke…I gotta tell you something). “I’m not gonna implement your feedback, and here’s why…”

Does that make sense? That way the next time they saw me speak, and they heard me say “gotta” and “gonna,” they wouldn’t be upset. They would get it.

So I hope this is helpful. Please share with all your friends and your team, and start to improve. You’re awesome, and here’s to your improvement!

Now, it’s your turn – ask a co-worker, your boss or a friend (yes, this can be used in your personal life too) something about a recent project, task or situation to start implementing your own feedback system today. From there, keep asking questions and don’t forget to close the circle and give feedback on the feedback! For a few more tips on some subtle aspects of feedback that are important to keep in mind, take a look at our Instructor and Agile Practice Lead, Kent’s, new The Power of Feedback blog post.

Speaking of feedback…we know your inbox is full and we don’t want to create content just to have something to send you. Let us know what we can provide to help you the most: 3 Quick Questions. Thank you.

And be sure to let me know your thoughts on feedback below!

All the best,

– Kupe

*reprinted with permission from the author

Why Are We Still Talking About PM vs BA?

12 years ago when the IIBA began to form, many debates were had over what the project manager did on the team vs. the business analyst. I am sure the conversations were around before then. And I am shocked there is the same amount of discussions still going on today. It may be because I have a heightened awareness, but I dare to say there are more conversations happening today. Here are some examples of recent activities that sparked this blog.

I recently participated in a LinkedIn Group discussion where people debated the role of a Project Manager and Business Analyst. A majority of the group felt there should be two distinct roles and most had definitive answers on what a PM does and what a BA does. And there were differences in opinion. Another LinkedIn discussion was started by a question, “Should BAs be a little data scientist?” The poster went on to ask “Isn’t it about time that BAs should upgrade their skills to be associate data scientists?” Some respondents felt a strong need to clarify what a Business Analyst does.

The problem is the focus is incorrect in discussions about what a PM and BA should do on a project. It causes people to think in terms of absolutes. Unnecessary and unhelpful debates are had about the roles and people begin defending and protecting titles and job descriptions. Why is this mindset a problem? Very little, if anything, is accomplished by having the debate. The goal for teams is better outcomes to improve the business for which you work. Each individual on the team should have the same goal. In addition, people in the PM and BA field are not robots. All people have different strengths and weaknesses. To assume someone with a title of Project Manager does certain tasks and a person with the Business Analyst title does other tasks is just crazy. And if those conversations don’t put me over the edge, I start talking to people about what a junior analyst does vs. a senior analyst…what does a jr. PM do vs. a senior PM?

And these types of conversations don’t end with just the PM and BA. What about BAs and testers, Developers and DBAs, System Architects and Business Architects, moms and dads. At a macro scale it matters less than thinking about this at a micro scale. Talking about specific job descriptions at an industry level yields little results. At the team level, team members need to understand what capabilities they need to be effective and who on the team has those capabilities. This has to be done regardless of one’s title. Teams need to identify what capabilities they are lacking and fill the gap. That can be done through training and/or bringing in new team members.

What it boils down to is the focus should be on collaboration. Don’t think about your team in terms of roles, think in terms of capabilities. The focus needs to be on capabilities of a team, of an organization, not specific capabilities of a title. These two pictures created by my colleague, Kent McDonald, illustrate what I mean. Don’t create and assign tasks based on what is shown in Figure 1. Be more like figure 2.

kupe April13 01Figure 1: Team built based on roles or titles
kupe April13 02Figure 2: Team built based on capabilities

Does a CIO or the business leaders you work with care that independently you have a good BAs or good PMs? No way. They want teams to deliver outcomes that help move the business in the direction they want. You need to consider yourself a team member first. This means you will do what is necessary for team success. Second, think about how you can best help the team succeed. What skills do you bring to the table? Don’t think in terms of I am a Business Analyst and I have a job description listing 15 tasks so that’s what I can bring to the team. Work hard and work unselfishly.

All the best,

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

There has to be a Better Way You could be Rewarded

If I had some extra time on my hands I would set out to revamp how performance reviews are done, especially for project teams, especially for you. Too often performance reviews are based on individual performance over team performance. I think about this often and looking back on some posts I have written, this seems to be a topic I bring up every now and then. Recently, I attended a seminar and the speaker said something that triggered this thought again. He said, in so many words, “When working on a team you need to know your background and experience. If something comes up that needs to get done, and it aligns with your experience, say…’I can help with that’.” This is regardless of your job title or function. It seems obvious and makes sense, but often people stay in their silos. Why is that? Is it money? Is it performance measures based on your job title? Is it due to how individuals get promoted? You know the routine. You can’t get promoted into a role until you show you can do it. So people don’t focus on what the team needs, they focus on doing tasks that will get them promoted. Another thing is employee of the month programs. Too often they promote the hero mentality. People that win this award are the ones that sweep in and save a failing initiative. They work extra time and save the day. This promotes anti-teamwork behavior.

So why do I think those issues are the culprit? Because team productivity works when those things are not an issue. I am on a volunteer committee and how we are operating is an example of how teams should operate. I have no title… just committee member. The only ones with a designation are the co-chairs. The reason for that is it helps with organization and points of contact for other groups to interact with us. They know they can reach out to the chairs if they have questions/comments. The chair can then get the right people involved. When we formed as a committee we worked on three things after having a shared understanding of our goals and objectives.

  1. We talked about our experience. What we did in our professional and personal lives. What we were good at and what we were not so good at. What we were passionate about and why we wanted to be on the committee. Lastly, what we would like to get more experience with.
  2. We determine what had to be done. Knowing our goal, we discussed what things we need to do in order to reach that goal. We did a little planning!
  3. Then we let people step up and pick tasks they wanted to take on. This was not straight forward as we ended up having gaps and overlaps. There were tasks that had too many people wanting to focus on. And we had tasks no one wanted. And we had some tasks where people wanted to take on, but it was a stretch with their skills. Where there was overlap we discussed the task in more detail and made decisions on who should take the task. Where there was no one taking a task we talked to the people that could do it and did a little arm twisting! I refer to that as “voluntelling”. Where we didn’t have anyone able or stepping up we went outside the group to get help. In one case we added a committee member. In other circumstances we found others outside the team to help on specific items. The team consistently looks at our competencies and what gaps we have. With gaps we fill them by bringing other people in on a temporary basis or bring them in on a full time basis.

There are no egos. We have a very clearly defined goal and we keep our eyes on that goal. During all of this there is team recognition by others outside the organization. There are individual recognition for work people are doing. That recognition comes in the form of pats on the back. We have a mechanism for feedback, good and bad, from people outside the committee and we debrief often to make sure we self manage and correct. Our measurement is one thing and one thing only…our team objective. We meet that objective, we succeed. If we don’t, we fail. As far as I can tell there are no individual goals for making more money and career advancement. The funny thing is that by acting in this manner we are trending towards meeting the objective and exceeding others expectations. And some of us are being asked to be “promoted”. Some of the team members were asked to be on the board of the organization. (Some may think it is a promotions, others not so much!) So, we are all getting recognized as team players and who knows maybe an individual win will come from this for some.

What’s the difference? Money and hopes for promotion keep coming up as the root cause. Knowing that it is natural for you and other company employees to want more money and a promotion, what can be measured? Things need to change because the current paradigm does not support great team work.

For this post I did a search for Human Resource articles on how to reward people to gain better team work. My search came up empty. Now, I did not spend days or weeks on this, but still nothing of significance. I have spoken with others about this and the ones doing something seem to find ways “around” the system. That’s good for a little while, but not a long term solution.

In the meantime what can management do today? They can reward individuals for being team members. That is do they sit with their team and gain a shared understanding of the goal? Do they step up for tasks where they have experience? Do they do things that are necessary even though it is not something that overly excites them? Do they raise their hand and admit the team does not have the right competencies and help find others that can help? These are the things that bring about positive results and that’s the end goal.

All the best,

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

Team Improvement Comes from More than Agile Techniques

Agile is being seen as a way to help improve team performance. If we just go agile we’ll be so much better. The problem is many people are still viewing agile as a collection of techniques. Yes, there are some new approaches. I would argue there are less new techniques and more existing techniques with new names. A few years ago I saw someone introduce an agile technique called “Shadow Me”. This is where you go watch someone do their job to understand current state. We have been calling that observation for a while now. On the flip side, those not completely buying in say analysis is analysis regardless if you are on an agile team or more traditional waterfall team. These arguments or debates miss the point and don’t help teams improve. What helps teams improve is a mindset shift that takes more work to implement. There is a way of thinking that is subtle and makes a huge impact. And this mindset is where the real difference of agile comes in.

Outside of my day job I volunteer for an organization of which my family are members. I was appointed to a special committee by the board of directors. Our committee is working on an initiative where communication to members is critical. We came up with a communication plan and now working on the implementation. One of the items included having printed material at an event where a majority of the members would be attending. Our committee was not given a formal budget so a message was sent to the board treasurer to understand how we should request funds for this initiative. The treasurer’s, let’s call her Commander Cate, response was basically, this initiative is not important enough to spend money on outside resources so we should use our internal copier. Commander Cate went on to tell us what she thought was important enough to spend money on. I couldn’t believe it. When I saw the email my first thought was “who is she to tell us what to do”. She was not involved in the day to day discussions and now she wants to make decisions like this. Our committee was very clear this effort was extremely important and we wanted high quality collateral.

OK, I will admit, the treasurer was correct in this case. Spending the money on high quality printing from an outside resource was not worth it. But that’s not the point. She is in a command and control mode. She was elected treasurer and she holds the purse strings. She may even think it is her responsibility to make the call on every decision. Commander Cate does not have the agile mindset. A more appropriate response would have been similar to, “The committee can allocate x amount dollars to the entire initiative. Spend the money as you see fit. Knowing some of the other items that will require money a better option may be to use our internal copier, or see if we had ideas for raising money to fund pieces of the initiative.” Something other than “no, that is not important enough” would have been better.

This is a situation where the result would have been the same for both approaches and the change in how the conversation is framed is very important. There is a huge difference in how the team reacts and buys in to the decision based on the conversation(s) to come to that decision. What happens when you are on an initiative and someone tells you how to do your job? Frustrating right? Having parameters is important. The details need to be left up to the team closest to the details. There is never one path to get results and if the team is told how to operate within those parameters they will always be looking to those people for direction. If teams look to someone outside the team for detailed direction the speed at which you can react drops significantly. And the people outside the team don’t have all the information and in many cases can make a uniformed decision.

This mindset is not just for people outside the team, it comes in to play on the team as well. In a session where I was working with a team to have more positive conversations a student asked, “Why not just get to the point. If you know the answer, just tell the team and move forward.” You can do that in some situations if you have earned the trust of the other team members. If that is the case the team will acknowledge you have the answer and agree to buy in to that decision. Many times this is not the case. For many reasons the entire team may not trust your judgment fully or have a different approach they think is better. In that case the team won’t be bought in. I’ve written on ways to gain buy-in by being a team player and other fun stuff in other blogs like “It’s Time To Take the “NAKED” Approach to Business Analysis”, “Say Goodbye to Your Ego” and “Don’t Bother Building Consensus”. So, I won’t repeat myself regarding the how of gaining buy-in.

In the end, team improvement comes from how you work together, not the individual techniques you use. Even in those times when you know you are right resist the urge to direct the team if they are not ready to be directed. Yes, that one task may get completed faster if you tell the team how to move forward. Think about the impact to future tasks. Team work is a marathon, not a sprint (seriously, no pun intended).

All the best,

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

Know Who to Ask the Right Questions

Smartphones have made so many things easier in life. I don’t think I want to or can live without one. Besides all the benefits related to work, I am not sure I could go very long with a quick round on Candy Crush. At the same time we are letting smartphones stop us from doing the one thing that good analysis requires: connecting with others. What made me think of this was a trip on a shuttle from the airport to a conference. I was really excited because I knew we had at least a 30-minute ride. I entered the van with seven new people to meet and ready to start to get to know my fellow riders. Unfortunately, everyone but me had their head in their phone checking email, surfing the Internet or playing Candy Crush. Many of the riders were going to the same conference so it was a place I could start building relationships so we could stay in touch, share ideas and experiences — seven more people I could add to my list of meeting everyone in the world. Not so much.

This scene is not uncommon. Go to a lunch spot and you’ll see everyone on the phone. People no longer connect like they used to. And if connecting with others is not your strength, you have fewer opportunities to work on improving this skill. I recently gave a talk at an IIBA chapter called “Ask the Right Questions.” One of my points was, it does not matter if you have the right questions if you don’t know who has the right answers. As a BA professional, you need to connect with large audiences so you know who your go-to people are when you need them. This means you can’t wait until you need them to find them. There just is not enough time in the day when you are assigned to a project and have to find the right people to talk to. You have to have these relationships already so you can utilize them at the right time.

So how do you connect with others? First, take your headphones off and stop playing Candy Crush. Go have conversations with those you don’t know well and that may be needed in some form or fashion on a future initiative. When I teach my Improving Collaboration and Communication through Improvisation class, I have the class get to know each other. We do this because I want others to feel comfortable with each other so they can feel open to play the improv exercises I ask of them. To do this we play a game called Three Things in Common. Everyone pairs up and in two minutes they have to find three things they have in common. Now, if you think it is easy, it is until I add one more rule. The things in common can’t be things like, we are both men, we both have brown hair, we both wear glasses, we both work at company x, and, my favorite, we are both in this improv class. You have to get deeper than that. Find out what drives them, what their interests are, what gets them excited. Then you will start finding things in common that you both love, like the same author or movies, or you find out that you both have kids that play in the same sports league, or perhaps you share some of the same hobbies.

Why is this important? People love being around others who have things in common with them. So if you do, you’ll be more successful at getting the time with these team members in the future when you need something. Who do you pick up the phone for? Someone you know or someone you don’t? Come on, I know you see a number coming across your phone and if you don’t recognize it you let it go to voicemail!

Now, I want you to take it a step further. Find out the things they love about their job, why they work there, what skills and expertise they bring to the table, who they work with most and have good relationships with. Dig deeper into work-related knowledge and enthusiasm.

The more people you do this with, the more relationships you have with others. The more relationships you have, the more people you know when to reach out to when you are on an initiative. Set a goal to get to know at least two people a week. People excel more for knowing how to find an answer than knowing the answer to everything. Feel free to start with me. I am available for lunch most days!

All the best,

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