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Author: Kupe Kupersmith

Prepare and be Personal

I want to thank all of you for reading my blog posts and always adding to the conversation. We grow by seeking out information and challenging each other’s thoughts. Well, I want to grow too, so I read other people’s blogs. One of my favorites is Frances Cole Jones. Her latest post, Raising a Glass: How to Give a Memorable Toast made some great points beneficial to BA professionals. In short she says be prepared, make it personal, and make it universal. Even though a toast is short, you can’t wing it…be prepared. The toast should be about the uniqueness of your relationship with the person you are toasting…make it personal. Finally, when telling a story try to connect with the larger audience. Talk about something that everyone can relate too…make it universal. For today’s post I am going to focus on the first two, being prepared and making it personal.

When I talk to people around the world a common area of improvement shared is the ability to think on your feet. So many people get nervous just thinking about bumping into a Director or VP because they are not going to know what to say if they are asked a question. Many people don’t like presenting in front of a group because they feel they may freeze when someone asks a question. The only way around it is being prepared. In reality thinking on your feet is not winging it.

Being able to think on your feet comes from being prepared for any situation and then relaxing so you can recognize the situation and recall the information. For the random conversation with the VP, take a few minutes and think about what he could ask about. Then come up with your answers and practice them. Same goes for a presentation. For the topic at hand, ask yourself what can the attendees possibly ask me? Be ready with answers. The more prepared you are, the more relaxed you’ll be. This will allow you to keep an open mind, hear the questions and respond with an answer that you most likely came up with already.

While you are thinking about your responses make them personal to the audience. If you are talking with your CIO and she asks about the projects you are working on. You may want to think about addressing your CIO’s goals. Does she need to know the specifics of your project or maybe more about the goal the project is addressing? It also does not hurt to ask, “How much time do you have and how much detail do you want?”
How do you really make things personal? The way you make things personal is by building relationships with the people you work with. The better you know the people you work with, what interests them, and what drives them, the more personal you can make the response. I realize it is not realistic to build relationships with everyone. If building a good relationship with the director or VP is not doable, find out who does have a good relationship with them. Ask them to help give you the background you need.

It can seem a bit more difficult to ensure you are “making it personal” when it comes to a meeting or presentation with multiple attendees. When you schedule a group meeting you probably think about and know why you are inviting all the attendees. That’s only a piece of the puzzle. Don’t assume the attendee knows why they should be there. You have to make sure they know why they are invited. For some meetings it may be as easy as sending an email to each invitee explaining why they were personally invited to the meeting. Sometimes it takes a conversation. This is a necessary extra step you must take to make sure the meeting or presentation is personal to them. This step also gives the invitee the option of starting a conversation around why they may not need to be there.

Regardless of the situation don’t shy away from these moments even if you are not prepared. Don’t duck in a room if you see a VP coming. You learn through practice. You’ll gain information on what questions people ask and what makes it personal to them.

All the best,

Business Analysis is Not a 9 to 5 Job

If you want to excel in your role, you can’t work 9-5 with an hour lunch and two 15 minute breaks. When business analysis is all or part of your job you don’t clock in and out. You can’t stop thinking about things when you are not at work. Many people are attracted to business analysis because there is an element of art and science. It is the art that makes your role nothing close to a 9-5 job.

Being an artist means being creative. You need creativity to figure out how to engage the necessary people to accomplish your team’s goals.  You don’t work with robots, so every project, every week, every day your team members have different attitudes and different motivation. That means you consistently have to adjust how you interact with them. You and your team has to be creative to take an idea and break it down enough, just to build it back up into a solution.  This creativity does not happen in a one hour meeting.  You need to have meetings where creativity is happening, and then give yourself and others time to think.  You have been in those meetings where people can’t make decisions or just don’t feel great about the results.  This is when you have to step away and give yourself and others time to reflect.  So when does this reflection happen?  You are in meetings all day or have other tasks that fill your plate, right?  Your thinking has to come while walking from one meeting to the next, it has to come during lunch, during your ride to work and home, and while you are getting ready for work.    When I entered in the BA space I realized this and started keeping notepads all over my house and in my briefcase.  When you start thinking outside of the 9-5 window ideas hit you when they hit you. (The idea for this blog hit me while I was online waiting to go into a Bruce Springsteen concert!) They don’t wait until you are at your desk.  You need to have a system for capturing these ideas so you don’t forget.  Allow others to share ideas with you outside of the prescribed meeting times to talk about the subject. To be successful you need to be creative and you need to spark creativity. When you have a complex scenario and need a decision, don’t wait until the last minute to get the team together to come up with ideas. When pushed for time creativity subsides and people go back to doing what they know. Know when decisions need to be made and work backwards to ensure enough time is given to maximize creativity.

In addition, part of your professional development has to come outside of the 9-5 timeslot as well.  Like an artist you are paid for results.  My kids are in a band.  No one pays them to practice.  Does an author get paid for a first draft or do they get paid to do the research to write a book?  You get paid for results and expected to deliver at a high-level.  Yes, your employer most likely pays for some training and development and gives you time during the work day.  This is most likely not enough. You also need to invest time in your development.  That means using lunch time, evenings or weekends. You can meet with a mentor, attend a webinar, and go to an IIBA or other professional organization meeting.  Instead of reading a novel before bed, pick up a Business Analysis related book.  While drinking your coffee in the morning connect with and learn from others on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Read a blog or download a whitepaper. Get in the habit of continuous learning.  Keeping your mind fit is the same as your body.  You don’t go to the gym for a week once a year to stay healthy.  You go 3, 4, or 5 times a week for 30-60 minutes.  The same applies for your professional development.  Do something every day.  

There is a need for balance. You have to rest your mind. You can’t always be thinking about your job and how to improve. I’m not talking about dedicating yourself fully, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. At the same time you can’t just think about work or focus on your development between 9 and 5. You should always have an open mind. When you have conversations with your friends, something they say can give you an idea on how to improve your work. While watching TV or a movie something may spark an idea for your project. Your work is not something that is on or off. When it is not your main focus it still needs to be running in the background.

All the best,

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

Paint a Picture of Your Project Results

You have heard over and over that you need a large toolbox so that you can grab the right tool for each situation. In addition, you need to be creative and use some of your tools that were intended for one purpose for a different one. For example, using a screw driver to open a paint can. Definitely not the inventor’s intention, but it works. Over the past few weeks a number of things have led me to thinking about how teams can do a better job helping their business stakeholders elevate the conversation from a solution to desired business outcomes. You need to help them get clarity around the problem or opportunity they are trying to solve and more importantly the outcomes or results they want. This is not always easy as you know. I thought of a tool normally used to help build a companies envisioned future. Why just used it at the highest level? Why not use it for every project?

A common scenario for many of you is your team is handed a solution from the business and they want you to implement it. As someone that has been practicing business analysis you know you need to understand their problem, needs, and desired outcomes. You have already implemented solutions that your stakeholder wanted just to find out it was not what they needed. I heard a speaker the other day joke about how he has built over $10,000,000 of “shelfware”! You know you have to get to the why. But, jumping in with both feet and asking why 5 times can end up putting the stakeholder on the defense or feeling frustrated with you for thinking they did not already have this idea fleshed out. Instead of jumping in with the “5 Whys” I try to put things back on me. To start the conversation I say something like “most likely we can deliver that. First help me understand how I know my team will be successful if we implement that solution.” I quickly get to questions that help answer what success looks like once implemented. I don’t jump in trying to get SMART goals/objectives yet. That is important and needed, just not yet. I want them to paint a picture for me of what life is like once we implement a solution. And this is where you can use a tool for its unattended purpose.

From the Jim Collin’s Vision Framework you could use the steps to helping define vivid descriptions of what a company’s future looks like. Over the past few years I have done work with helping define my company’s and other organizations’ vision using the Jim Collin’s Framework. Defining vivid descriptions is always my favorite part of the process because you have to be able to visualize the picture you are trying to paint. If you close your eyes you can actually see the vivid description come to life! And, all team members can see it too, helping to make sure everyone is headed for the same goal. Here is part of the definition that explains what it is.

Vivid Description. …an envisioned future needs what we call vivid description – that is, a vibrant, engaging, and specific description of what it will be like to achieve the BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal). Think of it as translating the vision from words into pictures, of creating an image that people can carry around in their heads. It is a question of painting a picture with your words. Picture painting is essential for making the 10-to-30-year BHAG tangible in people’s minds.

For an example, here is Sony’s Vivid Description in the 1950’s:

We will create products that become pervasive around the world.… We will be the first Japanese company to go into the U.S. market and distribute directly.… We will succeed with innovations that
U.S. companies have failed at – such as the transistor radio.… Fifty years from now, our brand name will be as well-known as any in the world…and will signify innovation and quality that rival the most innovative companies anywhere.… “Made in Japan” will mean something fine, not something shoddy.

When defining a vivid description for your project’s outcomes you should use the questions below that Jim Collin’s outlines in his framework:

To be a good vivid description you need to answer yes to these questions:

  1. Does the Vivid Description conjure up pictures and images of what it will be like to achieve your vision? If the vivid description does not create a clear picture in your mind’s eye, then it is not vivid enough.
  2. Does it use specific, concrete examples and analogies to bring the vision to life, rather than bland platitudes?
  3. Does it express passion, intensity, and emotion?
  4. When reading the vivid description, do you think, “Wow, it would be really fantastic to make all this happen. I would really want to be a part of that, and I’m willing to put out significant effort to realize this vision!”?

The last one is the one I like most. You need full engagement from the team to be successful. Just having an objective of increase sales by 20% is so blah and does not really get people excited. Now you do need to get to some measureable results. Just get there by discussing the vivid description of what success looks like.

All the best,

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

Stop Calling Yourself the Bridge

kupe Feb11I just returned home for BA World Dallas and had some great conversations, including some during my presentations. During my Business Analysis is Dead, Long Live Business Analysis talk, which is based on my blog of the same name, I was discussing how I see the Business Analyst space changing. The old way of doing business analysis is dead, the new way is alive and well, just different. I asked the attendees how they see their role and a response I received was “We are the bridge between the business and IT.” With a booming voice, helped out by the microphone I had, I yelled “WRONG!” To the responder’s defense, I understood what he was saying…I just used it as an entry point to my make my case. And now, here is my case!

You can’t see yourself as the bridge anymore. Being a bridge is inefficient and less value add to the team. If you get a chance to see Jeffrey Davidson talk he does a great “skit” on being a bridge showing how long it takes to get information over the bridge and all the things that are lost in translation. It’s hilarious and makes the point! Think about a bridge in a major city. What happens when everyone is trying to get over the bridge at once…bottleneck. What happens when the bridge is closed for repairs…bottleneck. What happens when a New Jersey Governor’s office shuts down access to the bridge…let’s not go there! Do you get the point?!

You need to see your role as a facilitator, an analyzer, and an advisor. Listening to a radio talk show host explain the difference in media today vs. the past is a great analogy to how I view the present and past of business analysis. The talk show host said the role of media in the past was to provide information. That’s why everyone rushed home to hear the 6 O’clock news. Today, information is flying to our computers, tablets and phones as it is happening. So there is not much use for a radio talk show host, other than breaking news, to provide just the information. Now they have to analyze situations and provide opinions on what is happening. And if you don’t, the consumers will be looking to someone else.

This is exactly how I feel about you. You no longer have to focus as much on the information gathering and sharing or simply being called the bridge. You need to focus on the analyzing and being an advisor to your team and organization. If not, your consumers will be looking to someone else. Here are three things you can be doing instead of acting as the bridge and only bridge.

  1. Allow others to play in the BA space. If others can elicit information, let them. Act as a coach for your team to help them determine what questions to ask, give them guidance on different elicitation techniques to use. If you are having an elicitation session, bring your developer and QA analyst along for the ride. They can hear things first hand, ask the questions they have, and see how you run a session.
  2. Focus more time on analyzing. Let the information come in however it comes in and use your analytical skills to determine what the real needs are, what additional information may be needed to fill the holes, see how your project is impacting other projects, and think about the challenges of rolling out the new system or enhancements. You have plenty to do other than being the bridge carrying information.
  3. Be an advisor. You need to be part of the discussion around the solution. Early in my career the view of the BA role was to just focus on the requirements, not the solution. There were BAs that would cringe when discussions of a solution were happening before the requirements were fully vetted. Discussing the solution should be part of your role. Your team and business partners are not looking for analysis, they need solutions. If you are not part of the solution the perception is you add less value. Do you want a financial analyst to just tell you there is no way you’ll have enough money to retire, or to tell you there won’t be enough money to retire and here is what you need to do to have enough money to retire? You want an advisor, not just an analyst. Your business partners want an advisor which includes analysis of the situation and designing solutions.

Once you adopt the mindset of not just being the bridge you can open your mind to focus on what is valuable. There was a time, the bridge was needed. That just is not the case anymore. There may be times you need to be the bridge. You just do not need to be the bridge full time. Be a facilitator, analyzer, and advisor.

All the best,

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

It’s Time to View Your Role as a Communication Expert

kupe Oct29I teach a class on applying improvisation skills that focuses on how to be a better team player, collaborator and communicator. I start the class off by asking people what skills they need to be effective in their role. In this session people generally say communication skills, problem solving, negotiation skills, influence, teamwork, etc. Many of the underlying competencies in the BABOK. They also bring up the multitude of techniques familiar in our community like use cases, user stories, impact mapping, context diagrams, workflow diagrams, etc. In my last blog post I argued that decision making was not an underlying competency it was what a business analysis professional does. In my classes and here in this post I argue that the same applies for communication skills.

As I was formulating my thoughts for this post I attended a Greater Atlanta IIBA chapter meeting where a panel discussed communicating to executive level employees. My friend and BA thought leader Jonathan Babcock made a statement that resonated with me. He said, in so many words, BA’s need to be great communication experts. I was so moved I almost gave him a standing ovation.

You need to view your role as communication expert. Your goal is not to complete a template, your goal is not to document Use Cases, your goal is not to help groom a backlog. You goal is to have the necessary stakeholders involved in your initiative gain a shared understanding of the problem and how to go about solving that problem. It’s that simple. The tools and techniques are there to help you communicate. They are not what you do.
Other professions, not yours, have communication as an underlying competency. For example, a plumber. Their main competency is plumbing services. Their goal is to get water from point A to point B without any leaks (over simplified, but you understand where I am going). Their main role is not communication. Yes, they have to communicate with other team members and a homeowner, but it is truly a secondary competency.

Communication challenges are at the core of why in our profession best practices are not always the best practice. Being a communication expert means you are communicating with individuals. Every individual is different. Everyone has their preferred communication style, their own information needs. So when someone says I have a requirements best practice you can’t assume it will work for you and your team. That practice was the best for their team. You need to understand what works for your team and your situation. Now don’t stop learning from others. Just use other people’s experiences to help come up with your approach.

In our community waterfall vs agile is a big topic. This comparison and these conversations are masking the real issue. If you have the mindset of communication first, nothing else matters. Regardless of methodology used you add value to your team by helping gain that shared understanding. Do what is necessary to gain that. New techniques or new uses for existing techniques surface all the time. Use them to help you communicate.
When you view your role as a communication expert you will start to see how to identify when you have done enough analysis. Knowing when you have done just enough analysis is not when a technique is complete to a certain level of quality. You know it when you have communicated clearly and there is a shared understanding. When that goal is reached you are done. There is no silver bullet here. If everyone on the team is very familiar with the business area and problem to be solved it may happen faster. If the problem and solution are complex and there are new team members it will take longer.

Without being able to see your faces or ask you directly I am going to assume we all have a shared understanding. If not, let’s continue the conversation in comments below.

All the best,

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.