Tuesday, 29 October 2013 08:43

It’s Time to View Your Role as a Communication Expert

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kupe Oct29I teach a class on applying improvisation skills that focuses on how to be a better team player, collaborator and communicator. I start the class off by asking people what skills they need to be effective in their role. In this session people generally say communication skills, problem solving, negotiation skills, influence, teamwork, etc. Many of the underlying competencies in the BABOK. They also bring up the multitude of techniques familiar in our community like use cases, user stories, impact mapping, context diagrams, workflow diagrams, etc. In my last blog post I argued that decision making was not an underlying competency it was what a business analysis professional does. In my classes and here in this post I argue that the same applies for communication skills.

As I was formulating my thoughts for this post I attended a Greater Atlanta IIBA chapter meeting where a panel discussed communicating to executive level employees. My friend and BA thought leader Jonathan Babcock made a statement that resonated with me. He said, in so many words, BA’s need to be great communication experts. I was so moved I almost gave him a standing ovation.

You need to view your role as communication expert. Your goal is not to complete a template, your goal is not to document Use Cases, your goal is not to help groom a backlog. You goal is to have the necessary stakeholders involved in your initiative gain a shared understanding of the problem and how to go about solving that problem. It’s that simple. The tools and techniques are there to help you communicate. They are not what you do.
Other professions, not yours, have communication as an underlying competency. For example, a plumber. Their main competency is plumbing services. Their goal is to get water from point A to point B without any leaks (over simplified, but you understand where I am going). Their main role is not communication. Yes, they have to communicate with other team members and a homeowner, but it is truly a secondary competency.

Communication challenges are at the core of why in our profession best practices are not always the best practice. Being a communication expert means you are communicating with individuals. Every individual is different. Everyone has their preferred communication style, their own information needs. So when someone says I have a requirements best practice you can’t assume it will work for you and your team. That practice was the best for their team. You need to understand what works for your team and your situation. Now don’t stop learning from others. Just use other people’s experiences to help come up with your approach.

In our community waterfall vs agile is a big topic. This comparison and these conversations are masking the real issue. If you have the mindset of communication first, nothing else matters. Regardless of methodology used you add value to your team by helping gain that shared understanding. Do what is necessary to gain that. New techniques or new uses for existing techniques surface all the time. Use them to help you communicate.
When you view your role as a communication expert you will start to see how to identify when you have done enough analysis. Knowing when you have done just enough analysis is not when a technique is complete to a certain level of quality. You know it when you have communicated clearly and there is a shared understanding. When that goal is reached you are done. There is no silver bullet here. If everyone on the team is very familiar with the business area and problem to be solved it may happen faster. If the problem and solution are complex and there are new team members it will take longer.

Without being able to see your faces or ask you directly I am going to assume we all have a shared understanding. If not, let’s continue the conversation in comments below.

All the best,

Don't forget to leave your comments below.

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Kupe Kupersmith

Kupe Kupersmith, President, B2T Training, possesses over 18 years of experience in the business analysis profession. He has served as the lead Business Analyst and Project Manager on projects in the energy, television, sports management and marketing industries. Kupe is a trained improv actor, a mentor for business analysis professionals, a Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP) and an IIBA Board Member. He is a big believer that we can work and learn while having fun. Kupe is a connector and has a goal in life to meet everyone!


+4 # Laura 2013-10-29 13:14
Very well stated Kupe, and I couldn't agree more. Thiinking of communication as what we do, as opposed to some underlying skil - l such a simple way to put it, but so very powerful.
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0 # Susan Thompson 2013-10-29 13:38
Agreed. I don't use the term best practices; instead will speak of something as a good practice in a particular context.
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+1 # Cathy Brunsting 2013-10-29 14:01
As always you are spot on Kupe. Projects succeed or fail based on how well the team communicates with each other, not based on the quality (or quantity!) of the documentation.

Too often I've seen teams so focused on the process, on completing that darn template, on following what the book says, that they forget that their goal is to solve the business problem! Or, people get locked into what they can or can't do as part of their role. They focus on being 'successful' in their role only, not on making the team successful as a whole.
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+3 # Sean Best 2013-10-29 17:00
Kupe, well said. I'm a PM however your observation applies just as much to PMs as it does to BAs. Just as a BA will need to pull tools & techniques out of their tool box to not only communicate the right message, in the right way to the right people, PMs also need to do the same. There is a blend of soft & technical skill sets that a professional practitioner must be prepared and able to put in place to be successful in both professions. I enjoyed your article! Thanks!
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0 # Kupe 2013-10-31 05:24
Absolutely Sean!
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+6 # Brad Gibbs 2013-10-29 23:02
Great observation Kupe. I have been a BA for nearly 15 years, but came to the profession from a pure business background rather than IT. When people ask me what I do, I say that I provide a communication conduit between business users and IT developers.
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+1 # Jim Hurst 2013-10-30 09:45
Hi Kupe, unsurprisingly, the same big topic exists in my company. Communication is king. In my experience most major problems in projects, that I have been involved in, can be traced back to a failure to communicate. It seems so simple, but so much so, that its often overlooked. Thanks
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0 # Kupe 2013-10-31 05:27
Jim, it does get overlooked or downplayed too often. That's why I wrote the post. We should always strive for how can we better communicate. Thanks for chiming in.
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+2 # Keith Warrick 2013-10-30 10:41
Great post, Kupe.

Successful business analysis - determining the problem, need or opportunity - are all about communication. Without that one has nothing to complete a requirements document, diagram, etc. It's so obvious that we sometimes miss it.
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+1 # Angela Thomas 2013-10-30 13:16
Excellent article!
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+5 # Jonathan Babcock 2013-10-30 19:52
Great article, Kupe, and thanks for the shout out! Always enjoy rapping with you on all things business analysis!

It can be easy to lose the notion of the true value of what a BA does in the sea of techniques, models and methodologies.

At its most basic, as a business analyst, I'm trying to get what's in the business owner's mind regarding the problem and criteria for success into my mind with as little loss of fidelity as possible.

Then, after analyzing the problem and those success criteria, I'm trying to transfer that understanding - again, with as little loss as possible - into the minds of those who will be delivering the solution in a context that they can easily understand and use.

Yes, there are techniques and models and good practices that are useful in facilitating this communication, but it is important to remember that the goal isn't to create the spec or process flow or mock-up, or to "follow the process," but to create a shared understanding of the problem and what is required for a solution to be successful.

If a business analyst can do that much, he/she has put the organization in a good position to deliver a successful solution.
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+1 # Jarett Hailes 2013-10-30 22:03
Hi Kupe, great article as always and timely for me - I am prepping to deliver a course on communication success factors to BAs in a couple of weeks and you succinctly highlight why good communication is so important.

When studying the components of communication models like Rothwell's (Sender, Receiver, Message, Channel, Encoder, Decoder, Feedback and Noise), I've found that you can greatly benefit by having at least a passing knowledge of psychology to sufficiently understand each recipient as well as yourself.

If you are self aware of your own biases and how that affects your encoding of messages, as well as the current views, beliefs, goals and needs of your audience(s), you increase the odds of picking channel(s) and crafting messages that will cut through any noise and decoding challenges to achieve a shared understanding.
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+1 # Scott Bolton 2013-10-31 09:12
Good communication is like telepathy. It is subtle, efficient, and nudges the receiver in a direction.

I've informally described my job as two different skill sets:
1) The ability to keep an accurate mental simulation of a complex situation which you can perform thought experiments on and
2) The ability to transmit a concise and consistent image of that model to others on demand.

If you can pull these two things off, your tools and methods don't matter. I don't care what methods you use and your co-workers won't either.
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+2 # Aaron Whittenberger 2013-10-31 11:28

In this month's Cincinnati IIBA meeting, I listened to Roxanne Miller of Requirements Quest talk along these same lines but take it one step futher, by saying "BAs have to be experts in collaboration". You also eluded to what I have been saying for years that one of the main goals of the BA is to create "Shared Vision"...

"You goal is to have the necessary stakeholders involved in your initiative gain a shared understanding of the problem and how to go about solving that problem."

I think that is the definition of collaboration.
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0 # Kupe 2013-10-31 11:44
Hey Aaron, You wont get an argument from me that collaboration is key. Could be semantics or a 1 and 1a thing or chicken or the egg thing.
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+1 # Duane Banks 2013-10-31 18:43
Well, Aaron stole my thunder, but I been preaching for a year or so that communication is overrated. Relationship is much more important than communication. Once you establish relationship, communication is simply another soft skill.

Kupe, having taken your class, you create an environment of relationship. Yes, you teach communication, but what I most benefitted from was the camaraderie amongst the participants. Also, if I recall, most of your exercises encouraged relationships moreso than communication.

I think you need to re-write this article LOL.
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+2 # Saurabh Pandey 2013-11-01 01:58
Communication is a stepping stone towards establishing and nourishing a relationship. It is as the author notes in a previous comment, a chicken or egg thing.

I believe communication is the primordial soup from which every thing else emerges.
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0 # Duane Banks 2013-11-02 09:33
Saurabh, if I briefly discussed the weather with a person I had come across on an elevator, I don't establish relationship with that person, we simply communicated. Communication is simple compared to the complexity of relationship. Engaging complexity bears more fruit than engaging simplicity.
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+1 # Saurabh Pandey 2013-11-03 01:47
Quoting Duane Banks:
Communication is simple compared to the complexity of relationship. Engaging complexity bears more fruit than engaging simplicity.

I agree Duane. I believe I said, communication is the 'primordial soup'. You didn't establish relationship with the lift guy, but you could have counted on your communication skills to do that. It would be really hard to do otherwise.
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+1 # Kent McDonald 2013-10-31 23:34
You are right that if you have a mindset of communication (or collaboration as it were) nothing else matters. It's worth mentioning that a key piece of the agile mindset is collaboration, so perhaps choice of approach matters a bit.
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+1 # Kupe 2013-11-01 04:15
Many of you know me...Kent, Duane, Aaron and others. So you know I am all about collaboration, relationship building and communication. Let me first tackle relationship building. The reason I promote that so much is it helps foster great communication. You should not view your role as just a relationship builder. And collaboration is a way to help communicate better. I don't think you should view your role as a collaborator.

Why, because you can communicate well with someone and not have a deep relationship with them and you can communicate without collaborating.

Now Duane, this is not to say I wont write another article...I am just not re-writing this one!
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+1 # Duane Banks 2013-11-02 08:32
"You can communicate well within someone and not have deep relationship"

Kupe, though you can communicate without relationship, I'm not so sure about how "well" you can do so.

But I can say with more certainty, there is no collaboration without relationship.

I strive to make relationship as the centerpiece of my business analysis practice. I'm reliant on others (SMEs) to arrive at an holistic understanding and documentation of the requirements.
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+1 # Duane Banks 2013-11-02 09:22
To be clear Kupe, I'm not questioning the lesson of your article. That's a good and pertinent message. I'm only nitpicking the "chicken or the egg" sequence. Not a big deal.
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+1 # Kupe 2013-11-03 06:33
Duane, I love the debate. Even if we agree with each other! Thanks for keeping the conversation going. My goal is always to generate discussion within the community.

I still argue you need to have great communication skills since building a deep relationship is not always needed or possible. For example, you need to meet with the CIO regarding a major initiative. You don't have a deep relationship and you get 30 minutes with her. Do you try and build a relationship? Or do you use your active listening skills to ensure you hear and have a shared understanding of what the CIO expects?

Man...I love this stuff!
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0 # Duane Banks 2013-11-03 12:21
Yeah, we mostly agree as usual, but I do enjoy keeping a good conversation going :).

Regarding the CIO (or any stakeholder), where possible, the BA really needs to establish relationship prior to the need to consume the relationship. For C-level execs, the only recourse may be as you said, "you use your active listening skills to ensure you hear and have a shared understanding of what the CIO expects."

I suggest that a *deep* relationship isn't needed. Business relationships is a matter of give and take. Once I identify my primary stakeholders, I try to do something for them. Even if its as simple as getting a PC tech to fix a problem the stakeholder had been having with his/her PC. I've actually done this on occassion. It's a great relationship starter!
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+1 # Wei Ern 2013-11-01 05:39
Great article.
Communication is important but people tends to forget.
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+1 # Maggie 2013-11-01 06:02
Excellent Article.

Communication Skills has always been my favorite subject to learn more about. I also believe it add greatly to our confidence and self esteem as a professional as well as a person.
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+1 # Kate Gwynne 2013-11-06 09:07
Kupe - if I didn't love you before (and I did) I do even more now. You couldn't possibly have picked a topic that is closer to describing the value of a BA - communication expert!

I've struggled to help Project Managers and Client Service Reps understand that they need to involve BA's on projects because their projects need someone who is a requirements management and communication experts....not because they need a software requirement document. BA's - just like PM's or CS or QA - should be engaged because of the value they provide, not the documentation they produce.

Thank you THANK YOU for talking about BA's as communication experts!

Your friend,
Kate Gwynne
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0 # Kupe 2013-11-06 17:41
I knew you would agree! Thanks for the comments.
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+1 # J John Jones 2013-11-06 09:36
Kupe, thank you for this article.

During my job search, I was so defeated when a recruiter in a screening interview asked if I had written a Use Case. My truthful answer was "No." At my previous employer, we didn't use 10% of the components of a modern BRD or FRD. We wrote narration. He was turned off immediately. Over 15 years of talking "business" and "technology" didn't mean anything to him, just the document.

The discussion about relationships has been interesting. My resume emphasized the rapport building I did with each assignment. I think the essense of that rapport or relation with stakeholders, business or technical, is trust. You show you can listen and feedback a real understanding of their needs, opinions, and requirements, the value you bring in their eyes grows.

Thank you for reinforcing the emphasis I want to project in my work, a Business Analyst who can communicate (both listen and present) in the right terms, tone, and style for the audience.

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0 # Kupe 2013-11-06 17:42
Obviously you have the right mindset!
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+1 # Don Moreau 2013-12-16 15:23
Very well said Sir!

We (myself and a few of my peers) were having a discussion around this today where we were making the point that filling out a template and not being able to change the template to improve communications was the wrong approach.

Whatever the method, if the method efficiently establishes shared understanding with and approval from the relevant Stakeholders the method is worthwhile.

Thank you for validating at least that part of my approach.
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0 # Deepa 2013-12-29 01:02
I have just started reading your articles, really good.
Knowledge sharing.
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0 # Bivek 2014-02-13 06:51
Kupe, Thank you for this smart article

I will agree with you. communication creates a real relationships and ease out many of the confusions we have in the projects. When we analyzes many of the projects what i found is the projects has lot of artifacts but that the lack of proper communication is the real reason of the failures...

Good article.. small but though provoking..
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