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Best of BATimes: Approaches for Being a Lead BA

You’ve worked your way up the BA ladder – started as a Junior BA, then a BA, then a Sr. BA, and now you’re a Lead BA on a project working with other BAs. What do you do? This article focuses on some of the Do’s and Don’ts of being a Lead BA. Some of it is science and some of it is art.

 

Requirements Governance:

1. Who do you take direction from your PM or your BA Manager:

The first place to start as a Lead BA is establishing your own personal Requirements Governance. Who do you provide status updates to and who do you take direction on requirements from – PM or your BA Manager? The scenarios I’ve encountered are:

  1. You as the Lead BA take your BA requirements direction from the PM and provide status updates to your BA Manager.
  2. You as the Lead BA take your BA requirements directly from your BA Manager and provide status updates to your PM.
  3. The third and most often scenario is where both the PM and your BA Manager are of the opinion that you take requirements direction from them and provide status updates to the other.

Tip: Right at the beginning of the project start the conversation with your BA Manager and clearly establish the relationship you’ll have with him or her and with the PM (in my experience coaching BAs too many Lead BAs don’t have the conversation upfront and then find themselves in a bind when scenario C) above becomes an issue during the project itself). If the answer is taking your requirements direction from them, set up a short meeting with your BA Manager and the PM to establish this relationship as PMs generally don’t like that arrangement, and it’s best to get them to discuss it face to face. If the answer is taking your requirements direction from the PM, then simply follow-up the meeting with a confirmation email to your BA Manager and just let your PM know that you’re effectively going to report to them and take, where appropriate, BA approach direction from them.

 

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2. Establish your role as Lead BA on the BA team:

Make sure it’s clear to the BAs you’ll be leading that you are the Lead BA, and they will work with you in that capacity. A couple of ways to communicate this:

  • Ensure you’re called out on the project governance as the Lead BA and ensure the BAs you’ll be leading review the project governance
  • Where you’re taking your Requirements direction from your BA Manager have them send out an email to the BAs you’ll be leading that you’re the lead and that you’ll be guiding the approach etc. to the Requirements deliverables

 

3. Start by learning about your BAs:

At the beginning you’ll need to establish how experienced the BAs are with eliciting, documenting, and analyzing requirements, how familiar they are with the project subject matter, etc./ by scheduling quick little chats with the BAs you’ll be working with

  1. If you’re dealing with Sr. BAs with lots of experience, then your focus with them will be on making sure things are going smoothly and that they working to the timelines for their requirements work packages; You can give them fairly large and complex requirements work packages
  2. If you’re dealing with more Jr. BAs then you will be in a more guidance/ mentoring mode – periodically reviewing their requirements and providing feedback, mentoring on approach to different types of requirements such as documenting process flows and business rules, etc.; Initially limiting the scope of their work packages to small well-defined pieces of requirements; have little chats with them about how things are going

 

4. Develop a view of the requirements work packages:

Typically, a group of BAs is assigned to a project because the project is complex and there are multiple “groups/ categories” of requirements that need to be created to deliver the scope of the project. At the outset understand the drivers and objectives of the project and establish a view of the requirements work packages. Some examples of this are:

a. Achieving compliance with regulations or another compliance-related purpose:

    1. You may need to look at work packages focused on complying with different sections of the regulations
    2. If the compliance covers multiple departments or Lines of Business (LOB) you may need to focus on requirements for each department/ LOB to comply with the regulations

b. Developing and implementing a large technology system or platform:

      1. You may need to look at requirements work packages focused around different groups of users with the system – for example if it’s a workflow system you likely have work packages for customer-facing components, back-office-facing components, etc.
      2. You may need to look at requirements work packages focused on different functional features. For example, a customer-facing platform for a direct investing platform may consist of trading-related features, viewing account holdings, researching different securities, etc.

 

5. Managing the requirements work packages:

a. Establish a view of the project timelines with respect to the requirements work packages based on their complexity etc. I prefer a matrix like this to do so (using the direct investing platform as an example) based on the requirements lifecycle – plan, elicit, analyze, document, get sign-off (note do this in Excel or Project to track progress, etc.)

Plan Elicit Analyze Document Sign-Off
Trading requirements 01/01/22 to 10/01/22 10/01/22 to 25/01/22 25/01/22 to 02/02/22 02/02/22 to 16/02/22 16/02/22 to 28/02/22
Security Research requirements 01/01/22 to 10/01/22 10/01/22 to 25/01/22 25/01/22 to 02/02/22 02/02/22 to 16/02/22 16/02/22 to 28/02/22
View account holdings requirements 01/01/22 to 10/01/22 10/01/22 to 25/01/22 25/01/22 to 02/02/22 02/02/22 to 16/02/22 16/02/22 to 28/02/22

b. Based on what you learned about the BAs you’re leading assign them to different work packages – and monitor their progress on their work packages against the. I’ve found the best way to keep track of this is using a matrix like this that I update on a weekly basis:

Legend:

P – Plan, E- Elicit, A- Analyze, D- Document, S- Signoff

BA1 BA2 BA3
Trading requirements P – Jan. 1/22
Security Research requirements P – Jan. 1/22
View account holdings requirements P – Jan. 1/22

 

With these 2 matrices, you can keep track of who’s doing what and how they are doing against the target dates so you can provide status reports to the project team as required.

 

6. Monitoring progress and connecting the BAs as a team:

The most effective approach that I’ve found to monitor the progress of my BAs is to hold weekly meetings – with a twist. Most people just do a status check-in during their weekly meetings – how are you progressing against your timelines. I believe that weekly meetings are a good chance for the BAs to inform and help one another. I encourage them to talk about challenges they are having – someone else in the team may have encountered this and have a solution/ approach to tackling it. I encourage them to talk about effective approaches that they’ve found to doing things that may be helpful to other members of the team. Finally, I ask each BA to give a brief overview of the requirements they are working on. As most projects with a BA team have a common goal – by talking about requirements it will quite often identify synergies or conflicts between requirements/ work packages that will help move the project forward more efficiently.

 

Conclusion:

Hopefully, these approaches will help you become a more effective BA Lead. There are lots more approaches and in future articles, I may expand on them.

 

Published on: 2022/01/27

Editing for Success: Applying Hollywood Wisdom to Projects

I’ve long been a believer that a good movie is 90 – 120 minutes long. Sure, there’s the occasional storyline that can keep my attention for longer than that, but generally speaking after a couple of hours I’m getting pretty restless. One of the reasons I rarely go to the movie theater these days is that films seem to be getting longer and longer, and unlike watching at home I can’t press ‘pause’ in the theater!

 

It turns out that I’m not alone. Celebrated film director Sir Ridley Scott, who directed films including Alien, Gladiator and Blade Runner recently spoke about the ‘bum ache’ (‘butt ache’) factor of films. Too long sitting down and apparently movie-goers will get uncomfortable, and this is something that he takes account of in his editing. A classic case of “less is more”, and a director being empathetic to his audience.

 

Less Is More

I know virtually nothing about movie production, but I’m guessing that it is probably technically easier to produce and distribute a long film than it was, say, 40 years ago. I gather that in the past films came on multiple spools, all of which had to be physically duplicated and distributed. Apparently since the early 2000s, films have been distributed digitally to theaters. With fewer constraints, you could have a ten hour film if you really wanted it.

Yet being unconstrained isn’t a good thing. I’m guessing few people are lining up to watch the ten hour film “Paint Drying” (which is a real film, but was a protest against the cost of censorship). The fact that it’s possible to do something because a constraint is removed doesn’t mean that it’s actually a good thing to do. Sometimes constraints can foster creativity.

 

From Hollywood To Projects: Time As A Constraint

I’m guessing that you probably don’t work on Hollywood movies, but there’s a direct parallel with projects here. After all, a Hollywood movie brings together a collection of specialists for a period of time to create a deliverable that will generate benefits for its sponsor… which sounds strongly analogous to a project!

One constraint that you and I probably come up against frequently is time.  There never seems to be enough, and time is always the thing being squeezed. It is easy to become somewhat jaded to this, and either just accept the deadline (but implicitly know that it’ll never be met) or rally against it.

Certainly, calling out unrealistic deadlines is an important thing to do. Yet, in some circumstances an alternative approach is to test the constraint and see how it balances against others.

 

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Let’s imagine that a sponsor has set a deadline of 1st January for the launch of a product or project deliverable. We feel there’s a risk that this is an arbitrary deadline, so we start to tactfully ask “if it was two weeks later, but 10% cheaper, would that be beneficial?”.  If the sponsor says “Absolutely, yes!” then we know that they probably value the budget over a fixed deadline.  Or we might ask “How about we delivered it on that date, but the quality was lower?”. They might answer “No! Absolutely not”, at which point we know quality is paramount. We might ask these types of questions about all sorts of things, including scope, timeframe, deliverables, style of delivery and so on.

What we’re doing here is understanding which are hard constraints that genuinely can’t change (or, there would be a significantly negative impact of breaching) and those that can potentially bend. Not achieving regulatory compliance by a mandated date, where the regulator is strict and there’s a significant fine, might be an example of a hard deadline. It’s better to pay more now, and dedicate more resources to ensure compliance. Other things which appear to be constraints might be more malleable.

 

Product Management and Business Analysis as Film Editing

Once the hard constraints are identified, it’s tempting to be deflated. Rarely are we dealing with a situation where there’s too much time, resources and budget. Yet another way of looking at this is to think about the movie theater experience… sometimes less is more. Much as an ambitious scriptwriter might have a scene cut because it’s not essential to the story (or the location is too expensive to hire), we can ‘edit’ elements of a project or product in or out.

This probably sounds obvious, I mean scoping and prioritization is crucial. Yet, too often scoping and prioritization are carried out somewhat in isolation. It’s easy to end up with an incoherent set of features, or (worse) to find that only the person who shouts the loudest gets what they want…

 

If we reframe this as a process of ‘editing’, then we are keeping in mind the coherence and desirability of the product as a whole. Imagine asking twenty people for their favorite ever scenes in movies. Perhaps one mentions a scene from Wargames, another from the Barbie movie, another from Love Actually and so on.  Now imagine making a film out of these ‘best’ scenes… it wouldn’t make any sense.  The same can be true of a product too. If the features aren’t coherent it can become somewhat of a Frankenstein’s monster that is difficult to use and doesn’t really serve any single purpose well.

Another thing about editing is that it involves compromises and making difficult decisions. I’d guess actors probably hate having their biggest scene cut. And script writers probably hate being told they can’t have that on-location scene in Barbados due to budgetary cuts. But, it is the editing that means that the film makes money (achieves its financial outcomes) while also providing an experience that the consumer wants (achieving another of its core purposes).

 

I suspect this is a balance that we all tread on our projects and products, and bringing it to the fore and making tradeoffs transparently and purposefully can only be a good thing!

Best of BATimes: Nine Key Skills That Every Good Business Analyst Needs

Being a successful Business Analyst means you have to have a variety of different skills and be adaptable to a changing environment. Every Business Analyst will bring their unique blend of skills and experience to the role, of course, but I’ve highlighted below what I think are the most common skills that a good BA will need. Feel free to add in the comments any other skills that you have found helpful in your BA career.

 

1. Understand your objectives.

Being able to interpret direction is important. If you don’t fully understand what and, more importantly, why you are being asked to do something, there is a risk that you won’t deliver what’s required. Don’t be worried about asking for further information if your brief isn’t clear.

2. Good verbal communication skills.

It is essential that you are a good communicator, regardless of the method of communication. You must be able to make your point clearly and unambiguously. It is also important that you know how to ask insightful questions to retrieve the information you need from stakeholders. For example, if your stakeholder isn’t a technical specialist you may need to ask your questions in plain English – avoiding jargon and acronyms. Being able to communicate information at the appropriate level is vital – some stakeholders will need more detailed information than others.

3. The ability to run stakeholder meetings.

Although using email provides a useful audit trail, sometimes it is not enough to communicate with stakeholders via email. Don’t underestimate the value of face to face meetings to discuss problems in more detail and clear up any queries. Often you will discover more about your project from a face to face meeting where people tend to be more open about discussing situations. You can always follow up a meeting with written confirmation if an audit trail is required.

4. Be a good listener.

Listening skills are key to being a successful BA. You must be able to listen and absorb information. This will allow you to analyse thoroughly the information gathered to specify requirements. It’s important that you don’t just listen to what’s being said, but are able to understand the context of what’s being said – the motivation behind it, the circumstances behind what’s being said, and even what’s not being said. Voice tone and body language can help you understand the message behind the words.

 

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5. Hone your presentation skills.

It is likely that at some point in your career as a BA you will need to facilitate a workshop, or present a piece of work to a stakeholder or project team. Consider the content of your presentation and make sure it matches the objectives of the meeting – there is no point in presenting information about implementation methods if the meeting is being held to discuss requirements gathering. These presentations are not only for you to present information. They can also work as an excellent way to extract more information or clarity from stakeholders if you are unclear on something or are looking for more detail on a particular area of the project.

6. Be excellent at time management.

A BA must have excellent time management skills to ensure that work is completed on time and the project does not fall behind schedule. Multi-tasking is an important skill, but you must also be able to prioritize activities – understanding which are more critical than others – and concentrate on them. Remember that you need to manage your own time and activities, but you may also need to manage other people’s time if you are dependent on them for information. Make sure that they know when you need them to deliver.

7. Documentation and writing skills.

Requirements documents, reports, specifications, plans and analysis. As a BA you will be required to deliver a range of different types of documents. You will need to ensure that your documents are written in a clear and concise manner, and at a level that is appropriate for your stakeholders. Avoid nuances specific to a particular workstream as they may not be understood by all stakeholders. As an inexperienced/beginner BA, it is unlikely that you will have experience writing requirements documentation, however, strong writing skills are an excellent starting point. Experience will lead to clear and concise requirements documentation.

8. Stakeholder management.

It is essential that you know how to manage all of you stakeholders and know how much power and influence they have on your project. Stakeholders can be your strongest supporters or your biggest critics. An experienced BA will be able to analyse how much management each stakeholder needs and how they should be individually managed. Do they need face to face meetings and detailed information or are they content with high-level reports? Are they supportive of your project? Knowing the answers to these key questions will help you to manage your stakeholders and the wider project. Can you influence them directly or do you need to influence someone who can influence them.

9. Develop your modelling skills.

As the saying goes a picture paints a thousand words. Techniques such as process modelling are effective tools to convey large amounts of information without relying on text. A visual representation allows you to get an overview of the problem or project so that you can see what works well and where the gaps lie. A typical process model will have several different levels of detail to allow a BA to engage with stakeholders in a language that they understand.

 

Published on: 2015/09/07

Beyond the Finish Line: Understanding the Art of Value Enablement

We recently needed some repair work done to the roof of our house, so called some local roofing firms. Understandably, roofers don’t always answer their phones immediately (I guess they are often out on site working), so we left voicemails for three different roofers.

Out of the voicemails we left, only two of the roofers replied. Both came round, inspected the roof, and explained what needed to be done. They both said they had availability and would send over a quote showing how much the work would cost. However, only one of the roofers actually sent a quote. We accepted the quote and I’m pleased to say that the work is now complete.  But this got me thinking about business, business analysis, and value-enablement more generally.

 

Close, But Stopped Short

Let’s examine the approaches that the different roofers took. The first one didn’t reply. We might argue that this is bad customer service, but if they knew they were busy and had no shortage of business, then not replying might be an acceptable thing to do. It might not be a good long-term approach, but it doesn’t waste any of my time or their time. So while I might have preferred them to drop over a quick reply, I can understand why they didn’t.

The roofer who I really don’t understand is the one who came out, inspected the roof, but didn’t follow up with an estimate. They were so close to actually getting the work, but they failed because they didn’t carry out the final task. They’d spent time (and gas) driving out to see the roof, only to implicitly ‘give up’ by not following up. I found this really puzzling!

 

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When Is Value Enabled?

This led me to think about value in a broader context, and I think it has some interesting parallels with business analysis. The roofer did all the work to potentially enable some value for him (payment) and for me (a fixed roof), but stopped just before a crucial moment.

In a project or product context, usually we are building (or changing) something with the purpose of enabling value for a range of stakeholders. The value that is enabled may vary for each stakeholder group. A retail bank releasing an app might provide convenience for its customers, while also saving money (and increasing profit) for its shareholders. For the app to be a success, it needs to balance the different perspectives on value. If it’s inconvenient, or hard to use, it’ll backfire—it might actually increase the number of times people call the call center, meaning operational costs increase. Knowing what different groups value is important so that this balance can be struck.

Yet as well as knowing what value can be enabled, it’s important to know when that happens and what the precursors are. Imagine a bank released a self-service banking app but didn’t advertise it to its customers. Sure, some early adopters might find it in the app store, but there would be a range of people who would use it if they knew about it that probably aren’t actively looking for it. Delivering the app without a communications and engagement plan alongside might end up being similar to the roofer who didn’t send a quote… it stops just short of the line for value enablement.

 

Finding The Finish Line

It is worth fostering discussions over what needs to happen not just for a product or project to be delivered, but what needs to happen for value to be enabled. It is too easy to stop just short of the finish line and declare success prematurely. “On time” and “on budget” are important aspects, but “on strategy” and “on benefit” are things that make a long-term difference. In the fog of urgency, it’s important that we don’t lose sight of these.

As James Clear comments in his book Atomic Habits, there’s an old saying that “the last mile is the least crowded”. Perhaps that’s just as true in a project and product context, and by focusing on the last mile and cultivating conversations about value we can help achieve better results for our stakeholders and communities. And surely that’s worthwhile?

 

Baking Success: Unveiling the Sweet Similarities Between a Small Baking Business and a Business Analyst’s Role

Embarking on my journey as a baker just under two years ago, I have joyfully crafted birthday cakes, engagement cakes, baby shower confections, and more. Recently, I faced a culinary challenge that pushed my skills to new heights. This cake wasn’t just another creation; it was a test of my abilities, filled with many “firsts” that transformed my approach to baking. From applying a white chocolate ganache coat to mastering a full fondant covering, I encountered unexpected hurdles that required constant adaptation.

As I navigated the complexities of this ambitious project, I realized that I was implementing a form of agility in motion. Much like a Business Analyst (BA) adapts to evolving project requirements, I found myself breaking down the cake-making process into smaller, manageable increments. Baking the layers two days in advance and freezing them, preparing the frosting a day ahead, and meticulously crafting fondant toppers became a harmonious dance of preparation and adaptation.

This experience illuminated the surprising parallels between my role as a baker and the responsibilities of a Business Analyst. In both worlds, adaptability is the key ingredient for success, allowing for the seamless integration of unexpected challenges into the creative process. Let’s delve into the sweet symphony of similarities between managing a small baking business and excelling as a Business Analyst.

 

  • Adaptability is the Key Ingredient:

In the world of baking and business analysis, adaptability is the secret sauce that leads to success. Just as a baker adjusts a recipe based on available ingredients or customer preferences, a BA must be flexible in adapting to changing project requirements, client expectations, and market dynamics. Both roles demand a skillful balance between structure and spontaneity, ensuring the final product meets or exceeds expectations.

 

  • Customer-Centric Approach:

In both professions, understanding and satisfying the customer’s needs are paramount. Bakers pay close attention to customer preferences, dietary restrictions, and flavor profiles. Similarly, a BA delves deep into understanding the client’s business requirements, ensuring that the solutions provided align with the client’s goals. Both roles involve effective communication and active listening to create a product or solution that leaves the customer delighted.

 

  • Requirements Gathering as a Recipe:

Much like developing a baking recipe, a Business Analyst must meticulously gather and document requirements. In baking, this involves understanding the desired flavour, texture, and appearance of the final product. In the business world, requirements gathering entails collaborating with stakeholders to determine the functionalities, features, and constraints of a project. Both processes require attention to detail, precision, and a knack for turning abstract ideas into concrete plans.

 

  • Project Management:

Running a small baking business involves managing resources, timelines, and deliverables – much like a BA managing a project. Both roles require effective project management skills to ensure that everything runs smoothly, from planning and preparation to execution and delivery. Time management, coordination, and the ability to troubleshoot issues are crucial aspects that bridge the gap between these seemingly diverse professions.

 

  • Continuous Improvement:

In the dynamic worlds of baking and business analysis, there is always room for improvement. Bakers experiment with new recipes, techniques, and ingredients to stay ahead of trends and meet evolving customer tastes. Similarly, BAs must stay informed about industry best practices, emerging technologies, and changing market trends to provide innovative and effective solutions.

 

  • Understanding Global Trends and Market Dynamics:

In the ever-evolving landscapes of both baking and business analysis, awareness of global trends is paramount. For a baker, staying attuned to culinary trends such as the rise of veganism or the demand for gluten-free options is crucial. Just as a baker adapts recipes to cater to changing dietary preferences, a Business Analyst must be cognizant of market trends and technological advancements. Incorporating global trends into business strategies ensures relevance and competitiveness. The ability to anticipate shifts in consumer preferences aligns closely with a BA’s role in recognizing emerging market demands, enabling both to proactively adjust their approaches for sustained success.

 

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  • Risk Management:

The concept of risk is inherent in both the realms of baking and business analysis. In the baking business, the risk might involve experimenting with a new flavor combination or trying out an innovative baking technique. Similarly, in business analysis, the risks could range from technological uncertainties to unforeseen changes in project scope. Both roles require a keen sense of risk management – identifying potential challenges, developing contingency plans, and mitigating risks to ensure a successful outcome. Whether it’s predicting how a cake batter will rise or foreseeing potential project obstacles, effective risk management is the insurance policy for success in both fields.

 

  • Visual Thinking:

In the world of baking, the visual appeal is as important as the taste. Creating aesthetically pleasing cakes involves a form of visual thinking, where bakers conceptualize designs, color schemes, and decorations. Similarly, Business Analysts employ visual thinking when crafting process flowcharts, diagrams, and user interface designs. Both professions rely on the ability to translate abstract ideas into tangible visual representations that effectively communicate complex concepts. Whether it’s envisioning an elaborate cake decoration or designing a user-friendly interface, visual thinking is a powerful tool that enhances creativity and clarity in both baking and business analysis.

 

Conclusion:

Despite appearing dissimilar at first glance, both industries align on fundamental concepts such as versatility, prioritizing customers’ needs, meticulousness, and a steadfast dedication towards enhancing one’s performance constantly.

 

Just as a baker meticulously crafts a cake, considering evolving culinary trends and customer preferences, a Business Analyst navigates the complex landscape of project requirements, global market dynamics, and technological shifts. The parallels are striking – both professions demand a delicate balance between structure and spontaneity, transforming challenges into opportunities and setbacks into stepping stones.

The recipe for success transcends the boundaries of specific industries. The amalgamation of these skills – adaptability, customer-centricity, attention to detail, continuous improvement, global awareness, risk management, and visual thinking – creates a masterful blend that resonates across baking and business analysis. Whether you’re sculpting a delectable cake or orchestrating a cutting-edge business solution, the essence of success lies in skilfully blending the right ingredients to create a masterpiece that not only delights but endures in the ever-changing landscapes of taste and technology.