Skip to main content

Author: Kupe Kupersmith

Listen to Your Grandma to be an Effective Business Analyst

FEATUREMay22nd There are so many places you can learn how to be a more effective business analysis professional.  The fact that you are reading this blog tells me you want to improve.  You can take training classes like the ones we have at B2T Training and read blogs and articles on BA Times and other online communities.  You can follow people on Twitter and get involved in discussions on LinkedIn groups.  You have mentors and coaches to help you learn and grow. That’s where I have always directed people to learn. That was until I started reading Aubrey Daniels book, Bringing Out the Best in People. 

There is a little hidden gem in the book that I had to share with you. I realized that if you just listen to your Grandma you would have a key technique for being more effective. In his book, Mr. Daniels discusses driving the behaviors of others through positive reinforcement.  He highlights research done by a psychologist, David Premack, who discovered that when people are given a choice of what to do, what they choose can be used as a reinforcer for the behaviors not chosen.  Ogden Lindsey called this principle “Grandma’s Law.” 

Let me explain “Grandma’s Law”. Think back to sitting at the dinner table as a child.  If you had a choice to eat the dessert or the vegetables what would you choose?  Most children would choose the dessert.  To get kids to eat their veggies, Grandmas say “If you eat all of your vegetables you can have dessert.”  Most kids scarf down those veggies to get to the dessert.  Sound familiar?  Did this happen at your dinner table? By putting the more desirable task after the less desirable task keeps you motivated.

This is an unbelievable effective time management tool.  In the business analysis profession you are still fighting the perception of analysis paralysis.  You are always being asked to do just enough.  You need help, you need techniques to help you do just enough and move on to the next thing.  Using Grandma’s Law can help from staying on one task longer than necessary.

Many people I poll usually order their task list in best to worst order if they can choose. They do the things that are easy or they like the most first.  After completing each task, the next one is less desirable.  There is less incentive to do the next task. Two things happen here. One, you don’t want to leave the current task because you dread the next one.  Two, you finish your day ending on a worse note than when you started.   This pattern results in you being uninspired and not completing what you need to complete.  The difficult thing for many people to see is that they spent too much time on a task than necessary.  Most people are working.  In my experience, lack of productivity is not because people are lazy or not working.  Tasks are not getting done because too much time is being spent on certain tasks and not others.

Flip that list around.  Prioritize your task list starting with your least favorite activity. I began to like most vegetables, and I am finding tasks that I thought were undesirable are not that bad or they become my favorite tasks.  Try it out and start seeing your effectiveness and inspiration soar!

All the best,


Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

The Six Key Characteristics of a Senior Business Analyst

In our profession there is a lot of discussion about what makes a business analyst a senior business analyst.  To help better delineate between the levels of BAs the IIBA® has recently released a business analysis competency model which includes five levels of business analysts. 

For today’s post, I wanted to share my thoughts on the key characteristics of a senior business analyst.  Before I unveil the list I want to say that number of years as a BA is not an indicator if someone should be classified as a senior BA.  I don’t think you can get to the senior level without a number of years of experience, but number of years alone is not an indicator. 

1. Business Analysis Techniques: Breadth and Depth of Knowledge and Experience

As BAs we need to have knowledge and experience in the various techniques to elicit, analyze and communicate requirements.  We need a large tool box which we can pull from to meet the specific needs of each project.  Without this large tool box your ability to perform at a high level for any project type that you are a part of is limited. Take a look through the IIBA’s BABOK® to see how large your toolbox is.   

I have been asked by BAs who focus on specific areas, like facilitation or process modeling, if I felt they were senior BAs.  My answer is no.  They are most definitely senior facilitators or senior process modelers, but senior BAs need a broader, deeper skill set.  

2. Project Types and Business Area Experience

Senior level BAs need experience working on multiple project types.  At the highest level there are three types of projects I feel are necessary, COTS (commercial off the shelf), new development, and enhancements/support.  Each of these project types requires some different techniques and skills.  Having worked on different types of projects gives you the knowledge of which techniques work best for each project type. This will aid in planning which is characteristic number three, coming up next. 

Working in multiple business areas within a company helps lay the foundation for strategic thinking, characteristic number four.  By being involved in multiple business areas you start to see overlapping functions and interdepartmental dependencies. This allows you to start recommending solutions that benefit the whole company, not just the specific business area you are involved in.

3. Business Analysis Planning

How do you answer the following question when you are first assigned to a project? “How long will the analysis effort take?”  Senior BAs respond to that question with an intelligent business analysis work plan. They think through the people they will be working with. They identify the stakeholders, get to know them and understand key characteristics to best work with them.  They think through critical project characteristics like the size of the project, the business risks involved, and how many interfaces the project will include.  They think through the processes that need to be adhered to for the project.  They make sure they understand what project methodology is being used for the project, project roles and responsibilities, and what deliverables are required.  Thinking through the people, project, and process gives you the ability to outline the tasks and deliverables needed for the project, to estimate their time needed, as well as the time of the stakeholders involved.

4. Strategic Thinking

A senior BA needs to see the big picture and do a deep dive for the project.  Senior BAs will try to see the bigger picture before heading into the details trying to understand where this project fits in with the organizational goals.  They will also be aware of, or try to determine how the project they are assigned to impacts other projects or business areas.  They also take a look at the big picture during the project.

In an earlier post, Get Your Head Out of the Weeds, I highlighted the need for BAs to find ways to pull themselves out of the detail during a project to ensure their project is still meeting the needs of the organization.

5. Advocate and Advisor

Many BAs report into IT departments, but still need to be viewed as part of the business team they support.  You work for the business and need to truly be an advocate for the business and their needs.  I’m sure many of you can tell stories where there was conflict between the technology team and the business.  A senior BA steps up to resolve the conflict to provide the best solution for the business. 

A way to know you have this characteristic is if the business calls you for advice before and after a project.  Do you have discussions with the business to determine what’s most important for an upcoming project? Do you attend their staff meetings to find out their pains and to understand their values and goals?

6. Ability to Learn a New Domain

The need to have domain experience for BAs is one of the biggest debates in our profession.  I do think you need some domain knowledge prior to starting a project, but that does not mean you need to have worked in that domain for years.  I believe a senior BA needs to be able to learn a new domain to be effective.  Here are three ways that I primarily use to learn new domains prior to an interview or starting a project.

  • Google: There is so much information out there at your finger tips. Google the subject you need and take an afternoon reading.
  • My network: I am a big believer that I don’t need to know everything; I just need to know the people that have the answers. I use my network to help answer questions I have to learn about a domain. Continue to build your network.
  • Personal experience: I may not have worked in banking, but I do interact with banks as a consumer. I draw from my personal experiences to help understand a domain.

Please share your thoughts around the characteristics I’ve outlined and provide one or more of your own.


Don’t forget to leave your comments below

The Results that Really Matter for Business Analysts

Feature 38567030 XSI am not here to comment on the leadership ability or motivational prowess of one of the greatest leaders of our time, Vince Lombardi. I am here to dissect one of his famous quotes; “Some of us will do our jobs well and some will not, but we will all be judged by only one thing: the result.” What is the result Vince Lombardi is talking about? This can easily be interpreted to judging each person by their individual results. That interpretation is where I find the flaw in the quote. If the result is solely based on individual actions, when is the individual judged by the result of the whole? In sports are individuals judged by the team winning their sports championship or just judged on how well they did in their own position?

The same questions need to be applied to business analysis professionals. In an early blog post, No One Wants to Work with a Jerk, I touched on this concept. Teams are not effective when one or more people are solely focused on their results at the detriment to the results of the team. Does this mean individuals should not be rewarded for individual results? Absolutely they should. They should be rewarded when their results bring the team closer to the overall result.
In the development world you are probably well aware of situations when a developer thinks about their results over the results of the project. This is often referred to as “Gold Plating”. This is when a developer adds features to a system that were not needed or requested for the project. That addition is all about the individual, not the team. The same applies to business analysts and how you spend your time. Are you spending your time on activities that make you look good or activities that make the project team look good?

When business analysts are rewarded their behaviors should be taken into account. Should a BA be rewarded for the strong relationship that they have with the business stakeholder when they disregard the relationship with their project team? In the end individuals need to be rewarded for their efforts that work towards team results. That’s why I like this Lombardi quote the best; “The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual.”

To the Results,

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.


Meet Your Business Analysis Influencer

Kupe_Mar_6_2012_32083524_XSMy goal in life is to meet everyone in the world.  I know that goal is not SMART (specific, realistic, etc.). It is not reaching the goal that is important; it is the effort I go through to try and meet the goal that counts. The goal goes deeper than just “meeting” people. I try to meet everyone I can and establish a relationship. Building strong relationships is a constant, consistent goal of mine. Some grow deeper than others, but I don’t discriminate. I meet and engage with people sometimes without knowing how I will add value to that person or how they will add value to me. For some this is a hard concept to grasp. Some feel so busy and can’t fathom spending time getting to know someone new without knowing why you should get to know them.
 We work in a highly collaborative work environment. You don’t have to do everything on your own. If you build strong relationship people are more willing to help you. So if you are too busy to build relationships it is because you are not building relationships.

If you still need some convincing regarding building relationships, here is one big reason you should bother. Build relationships to ensure your message is delivered. This thought popped into my head after seeing an interview with Bono, lead singer of U2. He is a huge advocate to reduce or eliminate the AIDS virus. He has helped raise money and awareness that is dramatically helping the cause. But Bono is not a doctor. He does not work for the Center of Disease Control.  He is not trained to do the research, administer tests or provide medicine to patients. What he does do is use his influence to help raise money to support the cause. He uses his influence to convince lawmakers they should allocate funds and resources to support the cause.  He delivers the message.

I speak with many BA professionals that get frustrated when they can’t convince their management that they need more focus on the BA practice. I speak with many BA professionals that realize projects are not going well, but are not sure how to get their message to the right person. Sometimes you don’t have the influence necessary to get your message across. Does that mean you should stop? Of course not.  You need to detach the message from the delivery of the message. The point is not who delivers the message; the point is that the message gets delivered. 

Most likely Bono won’t be stopping by your office anytime soon trying to convince your management that they need to fund your effort to start a Business Analysis Community of Practice. Go out and meet some new people in your company at all levels.  Who knows, maybe they’ll be delivering a message for you.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.


The One Question to Ask a Business Analyst Candidate

FEATUREDec13thOne of the hardest things to do in the business analysis profession is find the right candidate for the right job. It is no mystery that in spite of how far we have come, no two business analysis jobs are alike. Recruiters and hiring managers seem to be able to get a sense of a business analyst’s hard skills. They can review their resume and ask direct questions regarding the knowledge and experience with techniques like use cases, user stories, context diagrams, etc. They can quiz them on the types of projects they have worked on and the different methodologies from waterfall to agile and everything in between. I know many companies that have BA candidates present requirements deliverables and have them perform some BA tasks as part of the interview process.

Even with a case study interview process, it is still difficult to get a sense of a candidate’s analytical thinking ability. Although it is difficult to determine in an interview, it is one of the skills that separate good BAs from the great BAs. I’m talking about the ones with the ability to think abstractly, then break down an abstract challenge or opportunity and turn it into a solution. In 2011, most companies can find people with the hard skills. The accepted practices used at many companies have been around long enough, so finding people with the necessary hard-skill experience is easy. What the BA does with the information elicited is the difficult part to judge. How do you know candidate one can help your team better analyze a situation than candidate two? I have the answer. You need to see how well the candidate can guess.

In a recent Time magazine article, Good Guess, Why we shouldn’t underestimate the value of estimating, the author Annie Murphy Paul made me realize I had a valid reason to make candidates take a guess during an interview. The premise of the article is that estimation is the foundation for more analytical thinking and crucial for people searching for jobs in the knowledge-based economy in which we are in.

With the ability to “just Google it,” many people, young and old, no longer take a guess or rarely estimate because many answers are at their fingertips. By not practicing with estimation, you start to lose the ability to think abstractly. In some ways, Google makes us more efficient, while in other ways it makes us lose the necessary skill to be an excellent BA.

Here is a question I ask to see how well a BA candidate can guess. How much revenue per day is made by the Georgia State Road and Tollway Authority from cars passing through the Georgia 400 toll plaza? Depending on the answer, I can gauge an individual’s ability to think abstractly and analytically. If a candidate replies with, “Hold on, let me Google it,” I am not impressed. If they take a guess that goes something like, “There are almost 5 million people in the Atlanta area and half the people are adults. Of adults that can drive, 1.5 million own cars. Of the 1.5 million, a third probably live and work in an area that would require them to go through the toll. Of that .5 million, I’ll guess half or 250,000 go through the toll each day. The toll cost per day is $1.00, so they make $250,000 per day.” The actual answer after Googling it is closer to $60,000 per day, but who cares? What you should love about that answer is the thought process.

If you want to see if your BA candidates have the ability to think critically, keep them guessing. What great questions do you ask to determine which candidate to hire? Please share with the group below in the comments.

Abstractly yours,


Don’t forget to leave your comments below.