Skip to main content

Author: Kupe Kupersmith

Decision Making: An Underlying Competency or What A Business Analyst Does

kupe Aug27I don’t read the BABOK® all the time, but when I do I focus on the Underlying Competencies. This area is somewhat hidden but needs to be found by all business analysis professionals. The Underlying Competency knowledge area in the BABOK® provides a description of the behaviors, characteristics, knowledge and personal qualities that support the practice of business analysis. However I say they don’t support what you do as a business analysis professional, it is what you do as a business analysis professional. For today’s post I am going to have us take a look at a specific Underlying Competency—decision making—to make my case.

You should view decision making not as something that supports your work, but rather all analysis techniques and processes support decision making. One of your main responsibilities is to help others make better decisions. If decisions are not made during a project nothing can be accomplished. Think about your work. How do you decide on what tasks to do first in your day? We all know that there is not enough time in the day to do everything you want to accomplish. Therefore, you have to make decisions on a daily basis of what activities you should or should not focus on, prioritization. This decision should be based on the work yielding the highest impact on the issues that are most important to your customers. Before you can make good decisions about what to focus on, you need to help your customer decide what is most important to them. To help them do this use supporting techniques and processes, examples include Impact Mapping, Root Cause Analysis, and defining the problem and business outcomes. You see, these tools help to make decisions; decision making does not support them.

Throughout a project there are so many activities that support decision making. One of the key reasons for undertaking stakeholder analysis is to determine who the decision makers are and how they make decisions. Not everyone will agree on the top priorities for the project, so understanding who makes the final decision is critical. If you can’t get a group to decide on the best path, this decision maker has to make the call so the project can move forward. The absence of a decision maker means the risk of project failure increases.

Once you know who the decision makers are you need to know their speed in decision making and what information they’ll need to make a decision. How do you find this out? By asking them. When it comes to the speed of decision making, I split people into two groups: The first is the person that does not want any information until the last responsible moment, and then they want it all. They can take in this information and make a decision fairly quickly. The other wants information over time. Even if the information is changing, they like to get the information so it can whirl around in their head for a longer period of time. Then, when they need to make a decision they feel comfortable making the call. If you approach either one in the opposite way, they will get frustrated. Stakeholder analysis supports decision making!

Elicitation is another activity that completely supports decision making. What? Elicitation is about drawing out information. Yes, this is true, but who cares if you draw out information and don’t use it. You draw out information to help make decisions. Sometimes I think brainstorming is the most misunderstood activity because it gets viewed as a way to quickly come up with ideas. There is so much more to brainstorming. After coming up with great ideas you have to make decisions about how to move forward, like ordering features or stories in terms of importance. The beauty of brainstorming is it allows for the best chance of buy-in. By having everyone share their thoughts and ideas openly they are more likely to buy into a decision on moving forward. Their idea does not have to be chosen, they just need to know their idea was heard by the group. I wrote a blog post about buy-in if you want more information about it.

The last technique I want to hit on today is prototyping. You draw pictures of a part of the system to help your customer make decisions on how they want to interact with a system. You can have multiple pictures and play the eye doctor role, do you like it better like this or like this…one….or two. And it helps the development team decide on the best ways to design the system or features.

Start thinking of all the analysis techniques and processes as tools to facilitate decision making. Having this mindset will allow you to make decisions about what is most important. If the activity you are about to take on helps the team come to a good decision faster: do it.

I have decided I have said enough for now!


Break Down the Business Analysis Boundary

kupe July23I seem to be getting inspiration from police departments lately. Stick with me, it is just a phase. Over the past six weeks, my city has been hit with a greater number of burglaries and robberies than normal. This rash of crime caused our small community to push our elected officials and police department for answers and accountability. To meet our needs for more information, the police chief agreed to meet the neighborhood at a monthly community meeting. The chief not only came with a few of his lead staff, but was also joined by representatives from two adjoining police departments. Since criminals do not see borders, the three police forces have come together to stop the crime in our area. 

What sparked my thought for a blog post was the willingness of the three police departments to share evidence and plan their approach to stopping the crime as one—not three separate—entities. If you know anything about police work in the United States, you know jurisdiction is typically a line that does not get crossed. Information is not shared freely between police departments. The attitude has historically been we will deal with our cases and you can deal with yours. If a crime was committed in our jurisdiction we want to catch them and convict them.

A similar attitude can be found on project teams. In many corporate environments individuals have the attitude of boundaries around one’s role. I’ll do my job, you do yours. The goal of individuals is doing their job well. If they do their job well then they think they are OK. If someone does not do their job well then it is their fault. The same is true from project team to project team.

What my local police and the other departments did is decide to focus on results and remove ego. The police departments don’t care who makes the arrest, just as long as the arrest is made. They shed a lifetime of a “this is how it has always been done” attitude and came up with an approach they think will work to address the goal. As a tax payer (stakeholder) I applaud my police department for looking for better ways to address our current issue. I think better of them for using this approach rather than one of isolation, even if they caught the criminal(s).

You and your team members have to do the same. Forget about titles and focus on the goal of the project. Your focus should not be about you. Do you think your stakeholders care if the business analysis was done well and the project failed? In the end all they care about is the project results taking care of their needs. They want you to do a good job, but more importantly, they want their issue resolved.

Most likely your teams are decided for you. You don’t get to pick and choose all the people you want to work with. The skills of the team members will include programming, business analysis, project management, quality assurance, database administration, subject matter expertise, etc. Your team has to come together and outline the tasks required to meet the goals of the initiative. Together the team needs to assign tasks based on expertise of each individual regardless of title. The team needs to be accountable for delivering a successful solution. In the large scheme of things, doing well on part of the project means nothing. A perfect example of this is if the business analyst does not have direct responsibility for project scope. If they just take the scope as is and don’t make sure there is a clear understanding of the business goal to be addressed, they are a bad team member. The fact that they did a great job with the functional analysis gets discounted if it was based on a bad scope. This may result in the true project needs not being met. A failed project and an individual failure.

This can’t happen without a culture shift and redefining how the team is rewarded. The days of collaboration are here and they are here to stay. Specialized work is still needed in some areas, but not all. Team members need to be rewarded for team results and behaviors that produce successful solutions. With my team I try to be clear on the goal of an initiative then leave it up to the team to determine the best approach. I reward open communication, collaboration, taking risks, the “I’ll take that on” attitude, failing fast, and owning up to mistakes. Smart, passionate team members truly collaborate, perform, and show results.

Don’t define yourself and others by their job descriptions. Focus on being a high performing team member and not just a high performing Business Analyst.

Communicate. Collaborate. Succeed.


Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

Getting Business Analysis Measures Correct

kupeFeature ArticleJune25My local news station had a story that made me think of how easy it is to get performance measures wrong. The Atlanta Police Department recently announced to police officers that revenue from traffic violations will be used for police officer pay raises. Early backlash from residents and police officers from the announcement is that officers will begin enforcing more traffic violations than they have in the past since more violations means more money for them. Department officials later stated that officers will not change the way they decide to enforce the laws. They just want to incent officers to appear in court more to prevent cases from being dismissed. 

I think the Atlanta Police Department (APD) has the right idea in mind, just the wrong implementation. They want to increase officer pay…good thing. They plan on doing that with a specific revenue stream which officers have control …good thing. The bad thing is they were not clear on what they wanted to measure. By leaving the measure too broad they may not achieve the behavior change they desire. Police officers can easily increase violations knowing many people just pay the fine without going to court. 

If APD feels that if officers showing up in court more often will increase revenue then maybe they should measure court appearances. As an example if an officer shows in court 80% vs. 50% they get a raise. If it was only this simple for those measuring business analysis!

The perfect measures elude BA managers or those trying to measure business analysis. A primary issue around business analysis measurement is that the focus is on measuring business analysts, those performing the role of business analysis. Things that are measured include things like how many requirement defects were found or how long does it take a BA to complete a deliverable. The problem with these measures is that it causes behavior that does not align with project goals. In the case of defects the BA may spend too much time on analysis in the hopes that there are no defects or spend time defending themselves as to why the defect was not their fault. Both of these behaviors do not result in positive impact on projects.

The first thing for you to get your arms around is there is no silver bullet when it comes to BA measurement. Business analysis is not manufacturing. There are too many variables at play and you can’t blindly apply measures done at another company to your team. Even be open to having different measures for different teams.

You need to look at current project challenges and right fit measures to change behaviors to address them. One example is lack of clarity around the reason for the project. One of the measures they are considering is ensuring specific BA activities around whether scoping is completed. These activities are known to help ensure clarity around project goals and objectives.

Let’s talk about requirements defects some more. Defects found alone are not an issue. What is an issue can be when the defects are found. If a defect is found too late it can have a serious impact on the project. So do you just measure defects? This may be too broad like the Atlanta Police Department issue. What you can measure is how requirements are reviewed. Does the BA have peer reviews, when is the developer brought in, how long after a meeting with a stakeholder does it take to get validation on requirements, etc. As a result of measuring review activities you can change the behavior of the team which should lead to fewer defects later in projects.

Another thing to be open about is subjectivity. My colleague Paul, has a great presentation on business analysis measures that covers a number of ideas that you can apply to your team. One of those measures is asking a BAs stakeholder would you want to work with this person again. Paul goes on to give more detail questions like were you engaged in the requirements process and did the BA utilize your time properly. Before you start saying you can’t measure that, personalities will come into play. I challenge you to ask yourself why personalities should not come into play. We work on projects for people and with people. How teams get along and collaborate greatly impacts project success. For more on this you can read one of my past posts, No One wants to Work with a Jerk.

Business analysis is not done for business analysis sake. It is done to help improve the business and is primarily performed as part of a project or initiative. BA measures should focus on changing behaviors to improve those projects.

All the best,


Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

Women Have a Sixth Sense, Men Are Oblivious

I am a man, so I am completely qualified to say that men are oblivious. This is first demonstrated at a young age. Men, think back to when you were playing in the school yard and girls were chasing you. You had no clue the girl or girls chasing you liked you. I just witnessed this with my 10-year-old son. It was clear his classmate liked him and he was clueless. For men who have not embraced this quality, please do. That’s all I have to say about men. You all know what I am talking about.

On the other hand, women have a sixth sense. I am not a woman nor do I play one on TV. I do, however, have enough interactions with women that give me the ability to make this declaration. Many, if not all, women have an uncanny ability to read between the lines. Someone says something and they know the true meaning of the comments. Women can read an email and pick up on the subtle meaning of the sentences. Just as men are oblivious and can’t do anything about it, women too cannot control this trait. Someone says something, and they have this mental database of everything ever said by and about this person and form a hunch. The good thing is women are so in tune with your stakeholders and pick up on the smallest verbal inflections and non-verbal cues. (You may not have to read my last blog post.) The bad thing is that there are no clear facts to support their hunch. So sometimes a hunch or assumption is valid; sometimes it is wrong.

This is not to say men don’t pick up on cues or don’t have hunches and make assumptions. We are just genetically disposed to assume it has nothing to do with us. A few weeks ago I said something to a female friend and went on my merry way. The weekend came and went. On Wednesday of the following week we were having a conversation, and she apologized for being mad at me. Mad at me?! I could tell she was not happy, maybe even mad… just not mad at ME. I had no clue: oblivious. It turns out her reading between the lines was slightly off, and she made an assumption and ran with it. In this case her running was away from me because she was pissed.

In your communication with stakeholders, you need both of these traits. Sometimes you need to read between the lines and make assumptions. Other times you need the comfort of being oblivious and ask questions that many don’t ask because they assume they know the answer or assume they should know the answer and don’t want to look dumb.
Men, you need to focus on the subtle cues made by your stakeholders. You need to see when a stakeholder is frustrated, concerned, or not engaged with the project as needed. You then have to validate your assumption and actually consider how it is related to you or your team.

Women, keep it up and form those hunches. Just make sure you validate them and don’t assume a hunch is always accurate. Men have it a little easier—everyone knows we are oblivious. So, when a man asks, “Help me understand something” or “I’m not sure we are all on the same page” no one is surprised.

The situation where the benefit of obliviousness and a sixth sense comes in is when there is an “elephant in the room”. The elephant in the room is a problem that everyone knows is there but no one wants to acknowledge. As a leader on your team you need to expose and address the elephant. To even see there is an elephant in the room, you have to be in tune with your team or situation. But it’s not enough to stop there and assume that someone higher up the food chain will bring it up if it needs to be addressed. I don’t care where you are on the corporate food chain, you are a leader. It is your job to expose the elephant so it will be acknowledged and addressed. Here’s the thing, if you do nothing with the elephant you are viewed in one of two ways: You are really oblivious and don’t even know the elephant is there—not good. Or, you are viewed as too cowardly to address the situation—again, not good.

Be the best you can be by having the right level of obliviousness and a sixth sense.

All the best,


Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

Get a Clue about Non-verbal Cues

Kupe FeatureArticle april23I was recently on a flight and out of nowhere the turbulence got bad — I mean real bad. I could feel the sweat bead on my forehead and I felt queasy. I looked up and half the plane grabbed for the air controls trying to turn them up. People with hats on took them off and wiped their head, indicating to me that I was not alone. By the frantic nature of some I could tell they could not get to their barf bag fast enough. No one had to tell me they were sweating or nauseous. I could tell by their actions. Their actions are the non-verbal cues. 

You lead many meetings and presentations so it is imperative you have a clue about non-verbal cues. Over the years I have become better at gauging my audiences in classes, presentations and meetings, which allows me to adjust on the fly if I feel I am losing my audience. This post is not just about what to look for; it’s mainly about what to do so you will be looking for it and how to avoid the bad non-verbal cues.

Most of you probably know to look for facial expressions, how people are sitting, if they are engaged in the conversation or trying with everything they have to keep their eyes open. If people are slouched over, looking at their phones or falling asleep, you know they’re not engaged. Something is not right and you have to make an adjustment. If they are sitting up, leaning in, asking questions, or participating fully in exercises, you can feel good that they are engaged in the session.

The first thing is to make sure you do what is necessary before the session to ensure people are engaged. For purposes of this post, let’s consider the sessions as elicitation sessions, requirements reviews or UAT sessions: meetings or presentations that happen during a project or initiative. First, make sure you invite the right people to the meeting and ensure they know why they were invited. I recently heard someone say that a meeting you are leading is the participant’s party, not yours. So they need to know why their attendance is so important. 

Next, know your stuff. You need to be prepared for meetings. I’ve written about this before. With many organizations having a back-to-back meeting culture, this is difficult. How do you prepare for one meeting when you are in another? It’s not possible. It is imperative you block off time in your calendar to prepare for meetings. This can be accomplished by blocking off time between meetings or blocking off some time at the beginning of the day to get prepared for all the meetings you have. If you are prepared, you can relax in the meeting and stay focused, not on the content, but on the people. If you are so focused on or nervous about the content of the meeting or presentation, you will not be paying attention to the audience and their non-verbal cues. 

Side note: if you do not feel prepared or you want some help, ask a colleague to be your non-verbal cue eyes. In a long one-day meeting I had, my colleague called a break in a meeting I was leading. At the break she clued me in on her take of the non-verbal cues so I made some adjustments. The meeting went well after the break. 

Now that the meeting is starting, what should you do? Show some excitement! If you are not excited about the meeting, why should anyone else? If you appear bored everyone will take the cue from you and be bored as well. I know some of you have heard someone leading a meeting say, “This is going to hurt me more than…” sorry that was my dad! They’ll say, “I don’t want to be here any more than you do.” That is a big no, no. That gives everyone the go ahead to disengage. 

In the session, make it interesting for the audience. Don’t push content on them. Ask questions, do an exercise and get people moving. Think about the types of meetings you enjoy more and gain more benefit from. Is it the ones where someone talks to you for an hour and gives you content, or the ones where you are engaged and part of the meeting? Most people prefer the latter. 

But how do you get a sense for non-verbal cues in a virtual meeting? Glad you asked. In a virtual environment, you can do the same thing. You still need to be prepared. I argue you need to be more prepared because it is easier for people to disengage or become confused. And since you can’t see them, unless you are using video, it takes more work to gauge the audience. The good thing is the technology available to us is improving. To gauge engagement, ask questions and have the attendees respond using the raise-hand feature, the chat feature or have them respond via the phone line. If people don’t react in a timely manner, that is a sign they have disengaged or checked out. The response time is your non-verbal cue. Some tools now have a feature where the attendee can indicate they stepped away. Instruct the attendees to use that so you know who is in the “room” and who is not. If you have a presentation, don’t sit on one slide for too long. In our virtual classes we use the 60, 10, 5 rule. For every 60 minutes we give a 10-minute break and have interactions with the student at least every 5 minutes.

Even if you are prepared and invite all the right people, there are situations where someone does fall asleep. The best thing you can do is not get flustered or take it personally. What helps me is I assume the person just partied hard the night before. I feel bad for them. Then I take it as a challenge to get him and everyone else very involved.

To more engaged and productive meetings,


Don’t forget to leave your comments below.