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Author: Mike Boris

Mike is a Sr. Consultant and the Business Strategy Technology Lead at Moser Consulting. With a degree in Ceramic Engineering from Rutgers University, Mike’s career has been focused almost exclusively on process design and improvement. He started with process and materials design for aerospace coatings in the late ‘80s, and made the switch to IT after saving the company from the sure destruction of Y2K. Over his 30+ year career Mike has had the pleasure of digging into processes in regulated pharma, industrial manufacturing, field service, government, insurance, airlines, marketing, and utilities, among others, and would love to experience more.

Requirements Gathering: Pants or not?

It’s been a long time since I’ve had to wear real “business casual” pants to work. Not since the Before Times has a client seen me from the waist down. Well not anymore! For the first time since February of 2020 I will sit down with a client…in person…in a room…with pants on. I can’t tell you how happy that makes me.

We BAs are social creatures. Being locked-up in my house for the better part of 2 years was not…shall we say…optimal. Don’t get me wrong, It was great spending every minute… of every hour… of every day with my lovely wife of 32 years. Really…it was…great. It’s just that I struggled to do my job well… heck, I struggled to get out of bed sometimes.

I have spent 30 years splashing around in the wading pool of process design and improvement…and almost every day was spent interacting with live human beings. A June 1st article in the BATimes by Lee Templeton, listed “10 Soft Skills You’ll Need To Be A Successful Business Analyst” (check it out, it’s a good read). As she points out, these soft skills are people related skills…you know…for working with people. I have these skills! I’m really good with these skills! But now that the world has seen that working from home actually…er… works from home… there’s a perception that getting together in a brick and mortal room is no longer necessary (as if donuts and coffee weren’t necessary). Unfortunately most, if not all, of the skills on the list… the skills I have… suffer in both application and effectiveness during a virtual meeting.

We all know that rapport building is the poster-child for BA skills. It’s number 1 on Ms. Templeton’s list for a reason. We can’t do our job without it. Clients need to trust us. We’re going to get them to air their dirty laundry… to tell us the bad and the ugly as well as the good. They say “you can’t read the room on a Zoom”. A more truthful statement has ne’er been uttered. I need to pick up on the vibe in the room so I can adjust my strategy, delivery, and approach. Where are people sitting? Is their body language open or defensive? Who’s giving furtive glances to whom? Well let’s see…people are sitting at their kitchen tables…their body language is, well …slouchy… and they can’t glance at anyone. Of course, I can see that much only if they have their cameras on! A quick show of hands…who’s had their initial meeting with a group of SMEs where everyone had their video turned off? I swear I lose a little piece of my BA soul every time a window goes dark. Oh, I can build that rapport, and those relationships… eventually… but what I could do in 30 minutes in person can take hours online. C’mon SMEs! I don’t have all day!

Back to the list…Enthusiasm. Great…I’m enthusiastic. This should be an easy one. But just how enthusiastic can I be when I’m a head in a box? I’m talking with my hands like an Italian grandmother…showing how this flows into that, where this step loops back to here…and no one can see it! OK…Creativity… creativity… maybe I should throw up a whacky virtual background… break some ice… get a chuckle from the guy sitting out on his deck. What do I have that wouldn’t A) offend someone, B) make me come across as goofy and unprofessional, (as opposed to goofy but professional?), or C) make my head disappear? Ugh. Boring corporate logo it is.

So what’s a BA to do? Well, we need to Adapt (another soft skill from Ms. Templeton’s list). We need to find new tools and techniques that not only allow us to do what we did in the Before Times, but to do it better. We need to embrace the new reality, jump on the bandwagon, go with the flow, and do some other catchy phrase that hopefully involves the word “paradigm”.

Remote learning for school was the necessity that drove the invention of new types of learning software. The glazed-eye inducing PowerPoint deck was joined by game-based and interactive Q&A platforms, concept visualization tools, old-people-friendly software for creating short videos and animation, and my favorite…virtual whiteboards. I have fond memories of the smell of a new dry-erase marker in a room with whiteboard walls… of gliding around the room scribbling this over here, laying down an arrow to that over there, drawing a cow in the corner while everyone’s on a bio-break…ah, the good ol’ days. But we must Adapt, right?


My first go at Adaptability was to find an online whiteboard. Boy howdy! There’s a lot of ‘em. Here’s as far as I got before succumbing to virtual overload. (deep breath, here we go)… Microsoft Whiteboard… Miro… Explain Everything… TutorialsPoint… Educreations… Limnu… Mural… Groupboard… Ziteboard… ConceptBoard… LiveBoard… StormBoard… ThisBoard.. ThatBoard, and TheOtherBoard… and my favorite “we’ve run out of whiteboard names” board: FigJam. It was interesting to see the differences in functionality…and by extension, the requirements the BAs wrote. Some were straight up blank boards (i.e. lazy BAs), some were big on templates, some had magic Post-It notes, some allowed you to embed files, some had voting and cute little avatars, and some tried to do everything…and failed spectacularly. I even bought a graphics pad and pen to see if my horrible handwriting was just as horrible in the virtual world. It was worse.

OK, so I spent so much time on the virtual whiteboard tool investigation that I stopped there… but my point is that there are options out there for adding virtual tools to our BA toolbox. Software, however, is not a soft skill. It’s only part of the picture. We need to consider what new people skills we might need. One example is Virtual Contributor Management (I just made that up).  We’ve all had to deal with the “Dominant Contributor”. You know, the guy who takes over the conversation, is first to jump in with the answer or a comment, and routinely interrupts polite people. He’s hard enough to manage in a room, but in a virtual meeting, he can shut down the highly knowledgeable, but introverted, SME with much greater efficiency and speed (not a process improvement, by the way). We need to learn, and get comfortable with, how best to “mute” a Dominant Contributor (without using the actual “mute” button…although…) and invite others to join in. We also have to sort out the “You go; No, you go; No, you go…” politeness pit of doom. Our audience is now scattered to the four winds, and we have to be able to wrangle them into a cohesive, responsive source of information. What? Are you looking at me for the answer… Good luck because I don’t know. That’s a soft skill I’m working on.

But I don’t need know how to do that just yet, because next week I’ll dust off my neglected khakis, pack up my Big Bag o’ Real World Soft Skills and go meet with actual warm bodies in a real room with a real whiteboard! Maybe I’ll even bring donuts.


Note to self: Socks…don’t forget socks.

My day job. What a BA does between projects

In the world of Agile Scrum, the Sprint is King.

Two weeks to get a selected amount of work done and demonstrated to the customer. There are articles and books galore about how to determine the amount of work that can be done…team velocity, planning poker, random number generator, crystal ball…, but very little discussion about how the PO (tonight, the part of the BA will be played by the PO) is supposed to get the User Story Acceptance Criteria (pinch hitting for Requirements…number 42, Acceptance Criteria!). There’s backlog building and grooming and Sprint planning, but where does the information that goes into the building and grooming and planning come from? Talking with the customer, of course. After all, they’re the ones who know what they want, right? (That’s a story for another time).

When I took my first tentative steps into Agile Scrum, I was horrified to learn: A) that I was expected to create User Stories with Acceptance criteria for the Backlog Grooming session out of thin air, B) that those User Stories would represent two weeks’ worth of work for the team and C) that that work was to be demonstrated to the customer at the end of those two weeks! What were these people drinking? How was I supposed to go to my customer and ask for two weeks’ worth of requirements? “Hi, I’m here to get your requirements for the SGP (Super-Giant-Project), but I only want to know what you want to see a week from Friday.” “Oh, and I’ll be back on the following Monday to ask you again…and again…and again.”.
That can’t be right. How would I get any sort of understanding of the business process two weeks at a time? The answer is, of course, you don’t. Whether you call yourself a BA or a PO, or just an interested party, you need to have some level of understanding of the processes that are going to be impacted by your SGP. You don’t need to know every little detail about every little step in the process, but you do need to know if Step 27 sends information back to Step 3. This is where what I call “My Day Job”, comes in.
My Day Job consists of those activities that happen outside the execution of a formal project. You know, those 10 minutes between the signing of the Project Charter and the first Kick-off meeting. This is the time to set the groundwork for the tasks you’ll need to define for each Sprint. “But Mike”, I hear you say, “the customer knows their process, and they’ll be in the Scrum meetings”. They do, and they are, but I’ll bet they don’t know that the data from Step 27 needs to flow through 6 edge firewalls, 2 app zone servers, a DB proxy and my uncle Frank’s Facebook page.


As BAs, excuse me, POs, we know how to capture current-state and recognize those critical processes that require more understanding. THAT is my Day Job – To come to the Scrum table with a mid-level understanding of the processes we’re about to change. Do I need to know about the afore mentioned DB proxy? No, but I, and the developers, do need to know that the data I need in Step 3 comes from far away, through a lot of flaming hoops.
In the first meeting with the Scrum Team I draw a horizontal line on the whiteboard. Above that line I draw little boxes with arrows in-between and a big arrow going from the last box back to the first. Below that line I draw lots of circular arrows. My Day Job is above that line; Agile development is below. When the team decides where to start, I can look at my notes (e.g. BPMs, Use Cases, etc.) of the business processes and drill down deep enough, and in the right place, to write meaningful User Stories that define what the business needs, and highlights what the developers need to know (i.e. flaming hoops). Now I’m ready to feed the Agile development beast.

Of course, the hardest part of my Day Job is getting the time to do it. If you’re fortunate, you get a few weeks’ notice before the kickoff, so you can talk to the business. If you’re really, really, fortunate, your boss will shut down project work and have all the BAs in your group draw BPMs for 5 weeks (this actually happened to me! I miss that guy…). Reality, of course, lies somewhere in-between. Any current-state BPMs or process designs you can create will not only help with defining the User Stories for today’s project, they are a great for identifying the pain points and opportunities that could be the impetus for tomorrows.

I sleep much better now that I know I don’t have to do my job 2 week at a time.