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BATimes_Jun27_2024

Priming: A Powerful Tool for Business Analysts

Big doors swing on little hinges.” W. Clement Stone

 

Imagine walking into a store and hearing your favorite song playing in the background. Instinctively, you feel more at ease, more inclined to browse, and perhaps even to buy something. This subtle influence on your behavior is no accident—it is an example of priming at work. Now, picture leveraging this same psychological phenomenon to enhance the effectiveness of business analysis. Welcome to the world of priming, where a well-placed word or image can shape perceptions, drive engagement, and ultimately lead to more successful projects.

 

Historical Context of Priming

 

Priming, a concept rooted in psychology, began to gain traction in the 1970s. Researchers like David Meyer and Roger Schvaneveldt conducted seminal experiments demonstrating how exposure to certain stimuli could influence subsequent responses. For instance, people could respond faster to related words (like “doctor” and “nurse”) than to unrelated ones (like “doctor” and “bread”). This discovery highlighted the subconscious ways in which our minds process information, laying the groundwork for priming’s application across various fields, including business analysis. The foundational studies revealed that our brains are wired to create associative networks, meaning that exposure to a particular concept can automatically activate related concepts. This insight has been pivotal in understanding how to strategically use priming in business contexts to shape decision-making, improve stakeholder engagement, and enhance communication strategies.

 

Real-Life Examples of Priming

 

Priming has been effectively used in many real-world scenarios. For instance, in retail, stores often play specific types of music to influence customer behavior. A study by North, Hargreaves, and McKendrick (1999) found that playing French music in a wine store increased the sales of French wines, while playing German music boosted the sales of German wines. This subtle priming technique tapped into customers’ associations between the music and the product.

 

In another example, Priming is a powerful tool in political campaigns, frequently used to shape public opinion by consistently emphasizing particular themes or issues. Barack Obama’s “Yes We Can” and “Change We Can Believe In” slogans serve as prime examples of this strategy in action. These slogans were not just catchy phrases; they were meticulously crafted to prime voters to embrace a sense of collective empowerment and the possibility of positive change.

 

During Obama’s campaign, the repetitive use of these slogans created a cognitive framework that associated his candidacy with optimism, hope, and unity. Every time voters heard “Yes We Can,” they were subtly reminded of the potential for change and progress, fostering a sense of personal involvement and collective action. This emotional resonance was further reinforced through speeches, advertisements, and campaign events that consistently highlighted these themes.

The effectiveness of this priming was evident in the overwhelming support Obama received, particularly from younger voters and minority groups who felt directly addressed and included in his vision. The campaign’s ability to prime these voters to associate Obama’s candidacy with positive change and empowerment played a crucial role in his electoral success.

 

Personal Anecdote: Priming in Action

 

In my experience as a business analyst, I have found priming to be an invaluable tool in guiding stakeholders towards beneficial decisions. One notable instance was during a project aimed at selecting a software solution for case and document management.

 

Having previously worked with a highly effective software that streamlined operations and significantly reduced processing times, I was confident it would be the ideal choice for our current project. However, I knew that simply presenting this software as the best option might not be enough to gain stakeholder buy-in.

 

To prime the stakeholders, I began by sharing a series of success stories and case studies from other organizations that had successfully implemented this software. In pre-meeting materials, I included testimonials from satisfied users and highlighted measurable improvements in efficiency and accuracy. During our discussions, I subtly referenced these examples, framing our needs in a way that aligned with the strengths of the software.

 

As a result, when it came time to evaluate potential solutions, the stakeholders were already positively inclined towards the software I had in mind. The decision-making process was smoother, and the eventual adoption of the software led to significant improvements in our case and document management processes.

 

Applications of Priming in Business Analysis

 

Having seen how priming can effectively influence stakeholders in a real-world project, we can now explore how this technique can be systematically applied in the realm of business analysis.

 

 

The application of priming in business analysis provides a strategic advantage in enhancing stakeholder engagement, improving requirements elicitation, facilitating change management, and ensuring clear communication. By understanding how subtle cues can influence perceptions and decisions, business analysts can effectively guide project outcomes. However, the true power of priming lies in its implementation. To harness this potential, it is essential to employ specific techniques that ensure priming is both subtle and impactful, driving the desired results while maintaining ethical standards.

 

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Implementing Priming Techniques

 

Now that we understand the applications of priming in business analysis, let us delve into practical strategies for effectively implementing these priming techniques in your projects. To effectively implement priming techniques, business analysts should consider the following steps:

 

 

Conclusion

Priming is a subtle yet powerful tool that business analysts can use to enhance their effectiveness in various aspects of their role. By understanding and strategically applying priming techniques, analysts can improve stakeholder engagement, facilitate better requirements elicitation, support change management, and enhance communication. As with any tool, the key to successful priming lies in its thoughtful and ethical application, ensuring that it serves the best interests of the project and its stakeholders. Drawing on historical insights, real-world examples, and personal experiences, business analysts can harness the power of priming to drive project success and foster positive outcomes, ultimately shaping the landscape of business analysis for the better.

BATimes_Jun18_2024

A Business Analyst/Project Manager Guide to Untangling the Technical/Process Debt Mess

Usually, there would be a discussion about how only IT Business Analysts encounter technical debt as it is a Code Mess. Regardless of the industry you are working in, it may be something other than a technical debt. Still, when you are working on projects that can contribute to a similar concept or backlogs that were cleared to meet deadlines or immediate requests but weren’t cleared the right way, it is referred to as a process debt. Technical debt is specific to code, but accumulating debt from shortcuts applies to any project. Process debt refers to problems created by rushed or incomplete work outside of coding. Both technical and process debt can hinder future progress and require additional effort to resolve.

 

Who are the Culprits of Technical/Process Debts?

Truthfully, there isn’t one specific culprit, as fingers should be pointed at the project managers, business analysts, developers, and business stakeholders; hence, there is shared blame. By working together and understanding the long-term costs of technical/process debt, teams can make better decisions about how to build software, products, or projects.

 

Is Technical/Process Debt in itself a bad thing?

In some situations, technical debts can be a strategic decision to get a product or a feature out the door as quickly as possible. This might be because of need, deadlines, unclear or evolving project requirements, or even resource shortages. In this scenario, it might not be a bad thing in itself, but the key is to be aware of whatever debt accumulates and ensure a strategy to pay it down eventually. It becomes bad when it isn’t fixed and becomes the norm.

 

Another question would be, what is the role of Business Analysts and Project Managers in the Debt Den?

We exist as a bridge between business needs and technical realities. Why, as a bridge, most of us do not write the codes, but the individuals who do are part of our key stakeholders. We must keep them on track to slash the technical debt to its bare minimum until it is non-existent. By acknowledging that everyone can contribute to a project’s “debt,” teams can work together to prioritize quality and avoid shortcuts that create problems later.

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What are some reasons for a quick fix that could lead to the accumulation of technical/process debts?

Deadlines (Realistic/Unrealistic): This is usually the primary cause of debts. Truthfully, some of these deadlines may be unrealistic, and some might even be realistic. Still, before deadlines are fixed for every task in a project, business analysts must have estimated the effort required for every feature/product/process. This estimation should have considered the complexity of such a task, possible roadblocks, stakeholders’ expectations, and risks. If this estimation isn’t done appropriately, unrealistic timelines or deadlines might be created. Another focus would be a dependence on Speed versus quality. In an ideal world with realistic deadlines and processes, there would be no need to cut corners; however, cutting corners is almost unavoidable when the pressure is on delivery by a specific date. In code writing, developers should have ample time to write clean, well-documented code that’s easy to understand and modify. But under pressure, corners are cut. Code becomes spaghetti-like, with functionality prioritized over readability and maintainability. This makes fixing bugs and adding new features later much more complex and time-consuming.

Solution:

Proper time estimation and setting realistic deadlines, allocate buffer time in project schedules to account for unforeseen issues or delays, allocate dedicated technical/process debt cleanup sprints, or integrate small improvements into regular development cycles and existing business processes.

 

Unclear or evolving project requirements: If the requirements are ambiguous or not well-defined, this could lead to technical debts. The business analyst’s role is to ensure the requirements are clearly identified, verified, validated, and accurately prioritized based on business value and user needs (other prioritization criteria exist). Potential relationships and dependencies are also expected to be accurately identified. When this is correctly done, it ensures that the project scope is clear and the project direction is visible to all.

Solution:

A proactive requirement-gathering system is recommended where early and frequent stakeholder involvement exists in the project/software development lifecycle. Different elicitation techniques can be used, but regardless of which technique is used, there must be a comprehensive understanding of needs and expectations. Also, remember that features or requests must be based on business value/user need/impact, not sentiments.

 

Absence of code/process reviews: This would serve as a quality check to ensure that inefficiencies and errors do not exist. Code reviews act as a safety net, catching bugs and potential issues before they become significant problems. Inexperienced developers are more likely to make mistakes that can introduce bugs into the codebase. Also, if processes aren’t documented or reviewed, they can be applied inconsistently across the team. This can lead to confusion, errors, and wasted time.

Solution:

Code reviews by senior developers can catch these errors early on, preventing them from becoming more significant problems and leading to a cleaner, more maintainable codebase. This reduces bugs, improves performance, and makes future development more straightforward. For processes, reviews provide a structured way to identify bottlenecks, redundancies, and areas for improvement within workflows. This allows teams to address these issues and streamline processes.

It is essential to state that Code/Process reviews should be seen as a learning opportunity, not a blame game. A positive and collaborative review environment encourages open communication and helps team members feel comfortable asking questions.

 

Conclusion

Technical and process debt doesn’t have to be a burden. By equipping yourselves with the right tools and strategies, you, as BAs and PMs, can become champions of clean code and efficient processes. You can expose these debts, develop a plan, and work together to build a robust and sustainable foundation for your projects. Remember, a little planning today can save a lot of headaches tomorrow –  so go ahead and untangle that debt mess!

BATimes_Jun12_2024

Beyond Jargon: Bridging the Gap Between Precision and Clarity

A while back, I was taking a flight from London City airport. It’s an airport I don’t fly from very often, and I was looking for a place to fill my water bottle. Unlike other airports, I couldn’t find a water fountain anywhere. The airport staff all seemed busy, so I did what any good BA would do, I took to Twitter (or is it X?) to ask the airport social media team where I could get some water.

I got a reply really quickly, with the social media team letting me know that I could get water from any food concession in the airport. So, I went to one of the food shops to grab some sandwiches and got them to refill my bottle at the same time. Problem solved.

However, another Twitter user pointed out at the time that it’s a little odd they used the term food concession and not food shops or food stalls.  I mean, what even is a concession? A little bit of digging uncovers this definition:

 

“A retail concession is a dedicated space within a single-brand store that is used by a non-related but complementary brand. Retail concessions are essentially shops within a shop…“ (Quote from Unibox site)

So here, the airport is technically correct. The food shops are technically concessions, they are ‘shops within a shop’, or in this case ‘shops within an airport’ (let’s face it, airports feel like one big shop these days!).

But who, outside retail, regularly uses the term ‘concession’? And in the context of my query, does it really matter that it’s technically a ‘concession’ and not a ‘shop’?

 

A Balance of Precision and Understandability

As it happens, I did understand what was meant, so this wasn’t an issue. But I wonder if a tourist who has a basic grasp of English would understand (this was an airport after all). It strikes me that with communication there’s a balance of precision and understandability.

Some terms will communicate things very precisely, but only to those who are within a domain. My career started in insurance: words like “cover”, “peril”, “loss’, “policyholder”, “insurable interest” have very specific meanings. Those things are important within the insurance company… but outside most people just want to “insure their car” or “protect their house”.  Of course, for all sorts of legal and regulatory reasons, there needs to be precise and formal T&Cs and policy wordings. But the way that the organization communicates needs to be in a way that’s understandable.

 

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Does Your Internal Lingo Accidentally ‘Trickle’ To The Outside?

This is an area where BAs can help. Often, Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) will be defining the text that needs to appear on websites, letters, emails and so forth. SMEs are usually fantastic stakeholders with so much knowledge. They are great to have on board!

Yet, the challenge of having so much knowledge is they might forget what it’s like not to know so much. An SME who has worked in insurance for 30 years might not easily remember what it’s like to buy your first insurance policy. Yet, it’s likely that the solutions we define (and the communications that go out) will need to be understandable to someone completely new to insurance too.

Highlighting where internal lingo has inadvertently trickled to the outside world can be useful. Asking questions like “would an average customer understand this phrase?” or “what about someone who has never bought our products before, would they know what this means?” can help. Having a set of personas can be even more helpful.

 

Prototype, Test and Learn

Another stage that is often missed when defining and designing websites, emails, letters and other forms of interactions with customers is to take the time to test and learn. Showing a customer a rough prototype with the wording and seeing how they react would be a great way of getting an early steer. Prototyping a letter that is going to be sent to 150,000 subscribers and getting input from 100 might help uncover misunderstandings or ambiguities. This might save thousands of confused calls to the call center, and thousands of quizzical emails.

In summary, communication is always a balance of precision and understandability. Knowing the audience, testing and learning helps avoid miscommunication and misunderstanding. BAs are well-placed to foster these types of activities.

BATimes_Jun12_2024

Learn Business Analysis From A Chameleon

Professionals in the dynamic field of business analysis must constantly adjust to shifting surroundings and a wide range of stakeholder needs. Surprisingly, there are a lot of lessons to be gained from the natural world, especially from chameleons, which are known for their remarkable adaptability.

 

Let’s discover useful insights that can be applied to the subject of business analysis as we examine the striking parallels between a chameleon and a business analyst (BA).

 

  1. Flexibility: The Skill of Adjustment

Chameleons are renowned for their extraordinary adaptability and ability to blend in with a variety of environments. Business analysts also need to be adaptable and capable of wearing many hats to take on issues head-on. When working with testers, QA teams, or product owners, BAs must modify their methodology to suit the unique requirements of each stakeholder group. Because of their flexibility, BAs can manage expectations and communicate with effectiveness in a variety of teams.

 

  1. Communication and the Language of Colour

Colour is a potent means of expression and communication for chameleons. They communicate their goals, feelings, and responses to their surroundings through colour shifts. Likewise, the foundation of a good business analysis is efficient communication.

 

  1. A 360-degree view

Chameleons have a unique 360-degree view of their surroundings due to the ability of their eyes to move independently. They can see openings and threats from every angle because to their broad vision. Business analysts also employ a comprehensive strategy when doing project analysis. Strategic decision-making is guided by the comprehensive perspective of business analysts (BAs), who examine corporate processes, identify potential risks, and evaluate market trends. This wide-ranging viewpoint ensures that all aspects of a project are considered, leading to more knowledgeable and useful answers.

 

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  1. It’s not about size, but about essence

The small Parson’s chameleon and the superb dwarf chameleon are two examples of these species that vary in size but share similar traits. Business analysts of all levels can benefit from an understanding of the fundamental concepts of the field. All BAs, no matter how experienced, must adhere to basic analytical processes, stakeholder engagement tactics, and problem-solving approaches. By following these uniform guidelines, it is ensured that all BAs, regardless of “size,” offer meaningful insights and advance project success.

 

  1. Using a Strategic Approach to Issue Solving

Chameleons use clever problem-solving techniques to navigate their environment when hunting or evading predators. In a similar way, business analysts (BAs) identify and resolve complex business problems using their analytical abilities. Business analysts (BAs) play a critical role in assisting businesses in accomplishing their goals through the application of problem-solving approaches, root cause analysis, and practical recommendations. Their ability to think strategically and solve problems effectively demonstrates their value in any undertaking.

 

  1. Flexibility in the Face of Adversity

Chameleons are excellent models of resilience since they can live in hostile and unpredictable environments. BAs also frequently encounter obstacles to successfully completing projects, which might range from shifting stakeholder objectives and financial constraints to technological disruptions. Resilience is a critical trait for BAs as it enables them to overcome setbacks and maintain focus on the project’s objectives. Their ability to remain composed under pressure and be innovative is crucial to overcoming challenges and keeping the project moving forward.

 

  1. Expertise in Transition Management

Chameleons go through metamorphosis throughout their lives, changing from hatchlings to fully grown adults at each stage. Likewise, BAs thrive in leading teams through stages of evolution and transition and managing change.

 

To sum up
The comparison between business analysts and chameleons highlights the latter’s remarkable ability to adapt, communicate, and observe from multiple perspectives. BAs may successfully navigate difficult project environments and achieve desired results because to chameleon-like traits like adaptability, strategic thinking, resilience, and change management abilities. As we continue to learn from nature, the chameleon serves as an inspiration for the dynamic work of the business analyst.

 

BATimes_Jun8_2024

Key Documentation Prepared by Business Analysts

Documentation is the core part of the business analysis process that provides clarity, standards, and process details that help organizations in decision-making. The documentation provides information about the guidelines, requirements specifications, roadmaps, communications, blueprints, and solutions that are crucial for the execution of the project.

Business analysts create various documents to translate complex requirements into accessible language that can be understood both by the technical and non-technical staff of the team. Business analysts bridge the gap between the business stakeholders and the technical team by creating various documentation that provides clear, concise information on the problem statement, business objectives, key requirements, restrictions, exclusions, and solutions that help in the alignment of the team.

A well-crafted document by the business analyst helps the organization secure the budget required for the execution of the project and forecast any risks during the implementation of the project. Documentation also helps to align the project with the overall organization goal and describes the value added to the organization goal by the execution of the project.

 

Key Documentation Prepared by The Business Analyst

  1. Business Requirements Document (BRD):

The business requirements document is one of the most common documents that is prepared by a business analyst. BRD captures the big picture of the project and stakeholders’ business needs. It provides detailed information on the project goals, objectives, and approved solutions, along with the key deliverables that define the scope and associated benefits of the project’s execution.

Although the fields in the BRD change from organization to organization, here are the key fields in the BRD document:

  • Project details

The project details section includes information such as project name, project number (if applicable), organization department details, business sponsor details, key stakeholder information, project manager, architects, and details of the technical team members working on the project.

  • Project Overview

The project overview provides high-level project objectives and their benefits. This is the section one would read to get the complete summary of the project.

  • Project scope and out-of-scope items

The project scope lists the deliverables of the project; this helps both business stakeholders and the technical team be on the same page and provides clarity on requirements.

Project out-of-scope lists all the items that are identified as outside of the project scope. Identifying the out-of-scope during the initiation of the project helps to avoid any scope creep during the execution of the project.

  • Assumptions

The assumptions section provides a complete list of assumptions relative to the scope of work. These assumptions are agreed upon and approved by the business stakeholders.

  • Current and future state business processes

The current state of the of the business process depicts a snapshot of the current state of the organization, and the future state highlights the deliverables of the project.

This section helps to have a side-by-side comparison of the enhanced functionality that will be achieved by the project.

  • Business requirement

The business requirement is the main section of the BRD. This section lists all the action items that are required to achieve the project scope.

Along with the action items, it is important to assign priority to each item, as it helps the technical team identify which task they need to pick first.

For projects where the implementation of the business requirements is divided into multiple releases, it is important to include release details in the business requirements section.

  • Business rules

The business rules section consists of all the project-relevant business rules that were agreed upon and approved by the stakeholders. Business rules usually trace back to business requirements.

  • Project risks

The project risks section includes all the risks identified and mitigation measures for the risks. Identifying the risks ahead helps the team focus on their tasks and reduces uncertainty during the execution of the project. Identifying risks earlier also helps to make better business decisions.

  • Cost-benefit analysis

Cost-benefit analysis is the last section of the BRD. In this section, you describe how the project objectives will make a profit for the organization and estimate the ROI that can be achieved with the execution of the project.

 

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  1. Functional Requirements Document (FRD):

The Functional Requirements document provides information about the business problem and approved solutions for the problem. FRD is the contract between the business and the technical team to deliver the accepted solution. It provides information about key functionality that a solution system needs to have and the performance of the system. FRD captures all the nitty-gritty information about the solution product.

The FRD document is different from the BRD , as FRD focuses more on the nitty-gritty details of the solution and BRD focuses on the broader view of the overall project.

The style and fields of the FRD document change from project to project. Here are the key fields of the FRD document:

  • Project details

The Project Details section includes detailed information about the project, such as project name, project unique number, organization department details, business sponsor details, key stakeholder information, project manager, architects, and details of the technical team members working on the project.

  • Project Description

An overview of the project, its benefits, and the approved solution. This is the section one would read to get a complete overview of the project.

  • Project Background

The project background describes the problem statement of the project and the purpose of the project.

  • Project scope and out-of-scope items

The project scope lists all the deliverables of the project, including the technical details of the solution system. This section helps both business stakeholders and the technical team be on the same page and provides clarity on requirements.

Project out-of-scope lists all the items that are identified as outside of the project scope. Identifying the out-of-scope during the initiation of the project helps to avoid any scope creep during the execution of the project.

  • Assumptions

The assumptions section provides a complete list of assumptions relative to the scope of work. These assumptions are agreed upon and approved by the business stakeholders.

  • Functional requirements

The functional requirements section describes what the system must do. Functional requirements must be drafted in a way that provides complete information about the business needs and specifications needed in the solution system.

  • Operational requirements

The operation requirements section describes how the system must operate, i.e., how fast the system should respond, how many responses the system needs to provide in the given time, etc.

  • Requirement Traceability Matrix

The requirement traceability matrix is described in detail in the section below.

The requirement traceability matrix is used to track the implementation of the functional requirements. The RTM is updated throughout the project to show the progress made in the implementation of the functional requirements.

  • Glossary

List all the business terms and their definitions.

 

  1. Non-Functional Requirements Document

The non-functional requirements document defines how the system must behave. This section is crucial for the execution of the project; it describes the capabilities of the system operation and its constraints. Non-functional requirements provide information about system users, scalability, operation, hardware and software, performance, retention and capacity, accessibility, and security.

The solution system can still operate by just executing the functional requirements, but it might not meet all the business expectations in terms of security, performance, scalability, etc.

 

Below are the fields that are going to be part of the Non-Functional Requirements document:

  • Security

Security is the most important section of the non-functional requirements document. This section captures all the security guidance that needs to be incorporated by the project execution team during the implementation of the project. It captures security architecture guidance, authentication, data security, risk management, and technology development guidance.

  • Users

This section provides information about the business expectations for the number of users that will use the system. And a number of concurrent users that the system can support without letting the system performance degrade.

  • Scalability

This section captures business expectations for the data volume that the system must support. It also captures the volume that the system can support during peak and non-peak times.

  • Operational

The operational section is different from organization to organization; this is the section that captures the Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 3… (Severity 1, Severity 2, Severity 3…) incidents that arise and the action plan to resolve the incidents. Based on the severity of the incident, a recovery strategy is defined to get the system back up and running.

  • Hardware and software

This section includes information about any new hardware components required for the execution of the project and the specifications of the hardware components.

It also captures any new software installation or software configuration required for the completion of the project.

  • Performance

The performance section answers questions such as how fast the system needs to perform. What should be the response time of the system?

  • Retention and capacity

The retention and capacity section captures data types that need to be stored in the database and the data retention time frame required for the data. It also talks about the capacity of the database and the various logs that will be available.

  • Accessibility

This section captures information about who can access the system and the minimum requirements for accessing it.

 

 

  1. Requirement Traceability Matrix

The Requirement Traceability Matrix is the document used during the implementation of the project to trace the requirements to its test cases and further to any defects. The main purpose of this document is to prove that all the requirements have been successfully executed and tested by the project execution team.

The requirement The traceability matrix generally consists of the following fields:

  • Requirement Number

The requirement number is the business requirement or the functional requirement number that is captured in either the BRD or FRD document based on organization standards. All the requirements for the project are listed in this column.

  • Requirement description

A brief description of the requirement.

  • Test case number

The test case number is the unique number used to identify the test case for a particular requirement.

  • Testcase description

A brief description of the test case and its scenarios.

  • Test execution result

This section captures if the test case was a ‘Pass’ or Fail’ during the execution of the test case.

  • Defect number

If the test case execution fails, then a corresponding defect is created, and this section captures the defect’s unique number.

  • Defect Status

This section is used to capture defect status such as ‘Open’ or ‘Complete’. This helps to know if the defect was successfully fixed and tested.

 

Conclusion

Throughout this paper, we have discussed various documents prepared by a business analyst that play a crucial role in the project’s success, driving communication and streamlining the process. From the initiation of the project to the implementation and final deployment of the product, these key documents guide the team through the project lifecycle and ensure the team is aligned with business objectives at every step of the project.