Tag: Best Practices

How Much Rework Do You Have?

As a requirements solution vendor we talk with people every day about their requirements issues, assist them to understand the root causes, and help them articulate a business case for investing in a solution. For most companies, the biggest single inefficiency in their software development efforts is the amount of rework that’s done due to inadequate requirements.  (The reasons as to why the requirements are inadequate are many and beyond this post but stay tuned for a new paper on the topic that goes into more depth).

When we ask people how much rework they have done on their software projects, the answer varies consistently between 5% and 25%.  I find this fascinating since industry statistics show the average rework rate to be considerably higher (Forrester: 30%; voke: 40%).  Why do people regularly report lower rework rates?  Here are some reasons based on these conversations:

Vocabulary

On many projects, rework is simply known by a different name.  In many cases it appears as contingency or padding in other line items within the budgeting process.  In others a large amount of rework is pushed in to maintenance, and in extreme cases a new project may even be positioned.

Awareness

We have had countless conversations where people were simply unaware that rework happened. One reason is related to the vocabulary mentioned above where the rework may be disguised and dispersed under different budget items hiding the true nature of this expenditure as rework.

Scope

It seems that most people only consider the rework that takes place in the development aspect of a project. The total cost of rework depends on many factors including your development process and where you may be in the development cycle, but should  include all impacted areas as well, such as: planning & estimating; all forms of testing (unit test, integration testing, regression testing, etc.); product documentation; user support; services and training; etc.  When all these are factored in, the true magnitude of rework becomes much clearer.

Denial

Rework implies that something was done wrong, requiring work to be repeated.  Nobody likes to be associated with this and for many it is difficult to come to terms with the amount of rework that actually takes place on the average software project.  While initial discussion may start with the claim of minimal rework, after a little inquiry the rate tends to creep up.  I recall one time in particular where the initial rate of 7% rework ended up being 35% after our conversation.

Combinations of the above

Various combinations of the above may be at work, each contributing to the low rework numbers that people report, and may actually believe, on a regular basis.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more reasons and would love to hear any you’re aware of. As people realize the true magnitude of rework on software projects, it quickly becomes a prime target for improvement initiatives.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.


Tony Higgins is Vice-Presidentof Product Marketing for Blueprint, the leading provider of requirements definition solutions for the business analyst. Named a “Cool Vendor” in Application Development by leading analyst firm Gartner, and the winner of the Jolt Excellence Award in Design and Modeling, Blueprint aligns business and IT teams by delivering the industry’s leading requirements suite designed specifically for the business analyst.

Top Ten Presentation Tips

Maybe you have not just become the King of England, as depicted in the highly nominated file “The King’s Speech”, but to some being asked to make a presentation evokes the same results.

Most people are never asked to be a presenter so now you have an invitation to become a member of a very exclusive group – those who have heard the flattering words, “We would like you to make a presentation for us.”

But are you one of those people who are more afraid of giving a speech than dying?

According to the Book of Lists by David Wallenchinsky, Irving Wallace and Ann Wallace, the fear of public speaking is the most common fear, surpassing the fear of flying, snakes, spiders, heights, and even death.

As frequent presenters who have overcome our fear of speaking, we have compiled our Top Ten Tips for helping overcome fears and helping you make an effective presentation based on tips from some of the best orators of the past, as well as our personal experiences.

Number 10: Determine the Type of Presentation

“A speech is an instrument which the speaker uses to get certain things done. He can’t build a bridge with a speech. But by a speech he can enlist the support and cooperation that will enable him to get the bridge built. Support, consent, cooperation, willingness, consensus, agreement, acceptance, understanding-these terms indicate real things that can be said to be true of groups after speeches have been made to them”

– Wilbur S Howell of Princeton University in “The Speaker’s Abstract: A Guide for Public Speaking (published in 1950).

The first consideration is determining the type of presentation that you will be presenting. This decision is usually dependent on the size of the audience, the venue and the expected outcome as a result of the presentation.

The first involves presenting to a small group within a meeting-like environment. In this instance the speaker or presenter has more personal contact with the group and is able to deliver a more interactive presentation. With this size group it is possible to elicit feedback and participation. These types of presentations usually are more of a persuasive nature and have an expectancy of a decision being reached at the conclusion of the session. This is a very typical presentation method for a project manager to deliver status or progress reports, project gate results or updates to steering committees and/or upper management.

At times a project manager may be requested to deliver a more structured, informational presentation to a large, mostly anonymous audience. Rather than being in proximity with the attendees, the presenter is elevated to a stage, often with bright lights which prevent any eye contact with the audience.

With the advent of technology, either small or large presentations may now be supported through virtual meetings or webinars. In these instances the same content may be presented but the audience may be scattered across the globe. Not only is personal interaction constrained, but in many cases, the actual size or composure of the audience is unknown.

Number 9: Know your audience

“There are apathetic, sleeping audiences that must be awakened; there are hostile audiences that must be defied and conquered; there are alienated or sullen audiences that must be won back; there are frightened audiences that must be calmed. There are loyal, affectionate audiences that must be further inspired. There are cool, skeptical audiences that must be coolly convinced. There are heterogeneous audiences that must be molded into some kind of unity.”

– Houston Peterson, author, A Treasury of the World’s Great Speeches

Audiences are made up of people and therefore come in many varieties. You must be able to determine the type of audience and then identify the best strategy for being able to relate to them most effectively.

Some questions to help analyze the audience are:

  • What are the demographics of the group (age, gender, economic status, education level, etc.)?
  • Why is the audience attending? (Be able to answer the question “What is in it for me? )
  • If this is an internal organizational presentation, where am I organizationally relative to the other attendees?
  • Who are the key decision makers in the audience?

There is no such thing as an unimportant audience. These people have taken time out of their life to come see you. You owe them the best that you have in you.

Number 8: Understand the logistics of your presentation

“Paying attention to simple little things that most people neglect makes a few people rich”
– Henry Ford

Hopefully the logistics of the presentation has been handled by someone else. As part of the planning, the time, date, location, room setup, and equipment required have been discussed, approved and in place prior to the event.

Even with the best planning, as Murphy reminds us “if something can do wrong, it will.”

The first concern is to arrive at the location in plenty of time to make sure that indeed everything is in place and working properly. With today’s transportation problems, whether arriving from a distance or just traveling locally, it is better to have time to spare than be running into the venue at the last moment.

When audio-visual equipment is going to be used, a test run is imperative. You want to remember to check the electrical connections, lighting, sound, and room temperature before the attendees start assembling.

Number 7: Determine the appropriate delivery method

“Speech preparation may be defined as the process of making decisions beforehand upon the content, the organization, the wording, and the delivery of a speech.”

The determination of which delivery method is most appropriate is based on the type of presentation, the knowledge of the audience and the logistics of where the presentation is to be held.

For large audiences and informative presentations a more formal presentation can be utilized. These presentations may be based on a previously submitted white paper and are scripted with carefully chosen visuals to illustrate key points. (More on visuals later).

For the smaller, more informal presentations, a more interactive speaking style may be more appropriate. These may still utilize visuals, but may incorporate more than one method (including slides, flipcharts, etc.). Because of the interactive nature of these presentations, less detailed notes supporting the content are often more appropriate.

Number 6: Organize the content of the presentation

“A speech has two parts. You must state your case and then prove it.”
– Aristotle

The first step, and probably the most important step, is to know the purpose and understand what you want to accomplish with this presentation. Once you have clearly defined the objective, then you can begin to do your research, make an outline or mind map, prepare any graphics and write your words.

Even though Aristotle was speaking about persuasive speeches having two parts, he later went on to say that most speeches have four parts:

  • Introduction – or “tell ‘me what you are going to tell ’em”
  • Statement – or “tell ’em”
  • Argument – or “tell ’em some more”
  • Epilogue – or “tell ’em what you told ’em”

This structure has withstood the test of time and can be helpful with the organization of the content of the presentation.

Churchill once said that a speech is like a symphony. It may have three movements but must have one dominant melody. Once the melody (or objective) has been finalized, it is time to “chunk” the middle.

There may be some psychological reason as to why series of threes are best remembered, but whatever the reason, but it probably best to limit your key points to three.

Above all it is important to remember that every part of the presentation concerns the audience. Never give a generic presentation. Personalize it, relate it to the news of the day.

Every presentation starts with an issue of concern to the audience and ends with “a call to action” or next steps towards resolution of the issue. From start to finish the presenter is guiding the audience through the presentation of ideas, data, and plans using the specific language of the audience. The best presentations are those in which the audience believes that the speaker is truly addressing their needs and issues.

Number 5: Determine the balance between pictures or words

“You’ve got to see it to believe it”
– Anonymous

Geri E. H. McArdle, PhD, author of Delivering Effective Training Sessions, notes that adding visuals such as graphs, charts, maps, or photos to a presentation increases the amount of retained information by as much as 55 percent. Using these percentages, people attending a presentation with visuals will remember about 65 percent of the content after three days, compared to about 10 percent who only listened to the presentation. Since many of today’s presentations are done virtually or electronically, the delivery mechanism must consist of both audio and visual components.

A study done by the Wharton School of Business showed that the use of visuals reduced meeting times by as much as 28 percent. This study also recognized the decrease in the time needed for participants to reach decisions and consensus through the use of visuals. Other results of using visuals as part of the presentation have shown an increase in the credibility and professionalism of the presenters over those who only spoke.

Even though visuals have a positive influence, a poorly developed visual can negate the results rapidly. Some basic pointers include:

  • Limit one basic idea per slide
  • Verify the text is readable
  • Be consistent with the look and feel of the text and the background (and ensure that the choice is appropriate to the logistics of the presentation)
  • Choose appropriate colors for the message and the audience
  • Combine visuals with text (remember “a picture is worth a thousand words”)
  • If you need to refer continuously to some information during your presentation, place it on a flip-chart, whiteboard or a paper handout. This will significantly help your audience to remember or recall the information without going back to the original slide and allow you to continue with your presentation.

Number 4: Elicit feedback from key stakeholders

“When there are two people in a business who always agree, one of them is unnecessary”
– William Wrigley, Jr

There are a number of points at which reviews must be incorporated into the preparation of the presentation.

After being asked to present, time should be allotted to discuss the expectations of the requester(s). This input will help guide the development of the purpose and objectives of the material. It will also reassure the requester that their needs will be met.

In order to make sure that you can connect with your audience you need to put yourself in their shoes. This may involve observing the activities in the work environment, or speaking with a few representative audience members. These activities will increase the credibility of the presentation and ensure that it is timely and addresses the current needs of the audience.

After you have completed your first version it is time to review the content with the subject matter experts. This will ensure that not only is the material accurate but also that it is understandable.

Number 3: Practice your delivery

“You ain’t heard nothing yet”
– Al Jolson

Some tricks to help ensure a smooth delivery through the use of a “dry run”:

  • Vocalize the speech aloud, making note of natural pauses
  • Rehearse in front of team members, preferably in a location similar to the final venue
  • Review the timing
  • Refine the materials, including both visuals and content, where necessary
  • Verify the required setup, including lighting and sound levels
  • Review personal presentation and voice tonality
  • Practice, practice, practice

Number 2: Make yourself “presentable”

“No one is more confusing than the person who gives good advice while setting a bad example”
– Anonymous

There are two main aspects that the presenter needs to consider on a personal level. One is appearance and the other is voice. Ignoring these items can distract and ruin an otherwise outstanding presentation.

Some hints for your appearance:

– Make sure that you are well-groomed, including the proverbial “shoes polished, suit pressed and clean fingernails”
– Dress appropriately, whether the attire is business or casual, but slightly more formal than the audience.
– The selection of the clothing should not be by chance. They should proclaim your professionalism.
– Adopt a style that suits you and that is consistent with the way the audience thinks you should dress.

There are a number of schools of thought regarding the colors that presenters should wear. The conservative view espoused by the editors of the Executive Guide to Successful Presentation suggests that grey and blue are the most appropriate suit colors for presenters while Dorothy Sarnoff of Speech Dynamics suggests that her clients wear standout colors. “When you are presenting why not be the center of attention? Have your color enter the room and claim attention with you.”

The quality of your voice is nearly as important as your message. If a voice is irritating, offensive, high-pitched, nasal, whining, or strongly accented in any way it will distract the audience from the key points of the presentation. A voice that is forced or too loud will sound strident, even aggressive. If a voice is too soft, the audience won’t get the point of the presentation because they may not even hear it.

Even though a voice coach is not a necessity, every speaker should spend time listening to their own voice. This may include recording your daily conversations and then playing those back at the end of the day. Many presenters have not heard their own voice, or not as the audience will.

John Connell, a voice-over actor heard on many commercials, says
“It all comes out in the voice. Joy, nervousness, anticipation, authority, boredom. The voice gives the audience its first real clue about you. Yet the voice is often neglected.”

There are several books on this subject, including Voice Power by Renee Grant-Williams that can provide assistance in this area.

Number 1: Showtime! Take a deep breath and smile

“Never bend you head. Always hold it high.
Look the world straight in the eye”
– Helen Keller

Here are some of our final tips to help you make a great first impression.

  • Release tension by loosening your muscles, especially your jaw and neck.
  • Breathe deeply but naturally. Don’t hyperventilate.
  • If you have butterflies in your stomach, have them fly in formation – (Author unknown)

Say some words out loud, such as “Let’s go” – to make sure that your voice is working. What you say should be enthusiastic and get your adrenalin going as well

  • Slowly, but confidently, walk up to the front of the room with your shoulders back and head up.
  • Stand tall.
  • Scan your audience, finding a few friendly faces and establish eye contact.
  • Smile.
  • Repeat your opening sentence to yourself. Each second you pause strengthens your opening words.
  • Channel your nervousness into enthusiasm and passion.
  • Go for it!!

Remember:

“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Eighty percent of success is showing up!”
– Woody Allen

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.


Steve and Greta Blash are frequent speakers world-wide at conferences and seminars. They have spoken on topics including business analysis, project management, business re-engineering/process improvement, sytems development, and business intelligence.

A version of this article was published in allPM.com newsletter in Feb 29, 2008 and presented at a PMI-SN chapter meeting in July 2008. 

How to Become a Hyper-Productive Business Analyst

BAtimes_March15_featureBeing a Business Analyst can often feel like being a rag-doll in the mouth of a large dog.  You often have a diverse group of stakeholders who all have different wants, availability, communication schedules, deadlines, priorities, documentation requirements and the like.  Meanwhile you are responsible for obtaining approved requirements from everyone in a seemingly unreasonable timeframe and can’t even get properly started because you keep getting called into meetings that have no bearing on your specific work.  Some days can feel like you’ve made little or no progress on any of your main deliverables, even if you’ve been ‘heads down’ all day.

Personal productivity is a critical factor that influences the overall performance of a Business Analyst.  Personal productivity is a concept that goes beyond the typical time management topics that concentrate more on the allocation and prioritization of activities.  To be productive, you need to maximize the results of your actions while minimizing the amount of effort that you need to spend in order to accomplish a task.  After all, most of us don’t want to work more in order to get more done; we need to learn how to get more done in less time.

Over the past few years I have experimented with various actions to determine what things I can do within the Business Analyst role which can help to improve my productivity.  Over this time period I have worked with several clients in a wide variety of projects, ranging from strategic enterprise analysis and needs assessments to scrum-driven software development.  Through my experimentation I have found several principles that have had a dramatic impact on how much I can get done in a given timeframe, regardless of the work environment or constraints. 

Clear Your RAM

As human beings we have a limited amount of short-term memory available to us.  We use this memory to keep track of things that we sub-consciously understand we don’t need to know forever; stuff like taking out the trash on garbage day or even the deadline for our requirements document.  The more information we internalize and try to keep ‘top of mind’, the more difficult it is for us to focus on accomplishing a task or processing new information.  As Business Analysts we are often constantly bombarded with new information and must perform many thought-intensive tasks, so if we’re trying to keep track of numerous mental markers we’re bound to be less productive than we could be.

Clearing your equivalent of Random Access Memory allows you to not have that nagging feeling in the back of your head that you need to get something else done or may be forgetting something important while you’re working on a task.  In order to get to this state of mind you need to develop a process that allows you to immediately document thoughts that could be stored in short term memory and thus interfere with accomplishing your current task.  This documentation should be done in a format that will allow you to trust that you will be able to retrieve the information at the appropriate time.  For some people a simple to-do list tucked in their pocket or smartphone may be sufficient.  For others a more sophisticated system like David Allen’s Getting Things Done ensures there is a place for everything and everything is in its place. 

Whatever you do and whatever tool you use, you must feel comfortable letting go of non-pertinent thoughts so you can ensure that your mind is able to focus on the task at hand.  Learning simple techniques can help you clear your mind once you’re comfortable with your chosen documentation system. Things like brief meditation can possibly be used to help you remove those lingering thoughts before you begin working on what you need to.

Eliminate Distractions

How many of you think that you are a great multi-tasker?  In the truest sense of the term (i.e. doing two or more things simultaneously) you are actually pretty horrible.  Research demonstrates that humans cannot do more than one thing simultaneously, and when it comes to rapid switching back and forth between multiple actions, most of us can only really handle two tasks even somewhat decently.  In the golden age of social networks, instant messaging, pop-up notifications and the like, we are ever more prone to face multiple stimuli concurrently, all of which serve to distract us from accomplishing the task that we set out to do.  I find that when I remove as many distractions as possible during thought-intensive activities, such as requirements analysis, I am 3-4 times more productive than if I allow myself to even have the slightest possibility of being distracted. 

Here are some things you can do to eliminate distractions in your day to day life:

  • Close your e-mail and as well as setting you the phones to go to voicemail and/or putting them (since we all seem to now have more than one) on silent. The lure of virtual contact with people by responding quickly to e-mails is one of the greatest time wasting activities we face today. If you need to focus on getting something done, this is the one thing you can do to dramatically improve your productivity. While you’re at it, close all non-essential tabs on your browser and minimize other windows. If you are in an ‘always available’ environment, put on appropriate auto-responder or voicemail messages to explain your absence.
  • Find a ‘right noise’ place for you to get work done. Some people are hyper-productive only when it’s completely quiet in their surroundings. Others enjoy the white noise of a bustling coffee shop or open office work setting. Figure out which type of environment you thrive in and go there when it is time to get serious work done.

Outsource Your Work

No, I’m not talking about hiring a Virtual Assistant or two and then heading to Antigua for a couple of weeks, but where appropriate it makes a lot of sense to have your stakeholders do things that as Business Analysts we are used to do on their  behalf.  In many circumstances this will save you (and ironically enough, them as well) loads of time and allow you to focus on your “value-add” to the process.

For instance, I used to believe that in order to gather high quality requirements myself or another BA would need to run a requirements session or perform other elicitation activities and then document the results.  This involved a lot of preparation and execution on my behalf and in many cases resulted in having to perform redundant activities across multiple stakeholders and subsequently collating and aggregating the findings. 

With one client I decided to see how much of the requirements elicitation process I could outsource to the SMEs themselves.  I held one meeting with multiple stakeholder groups to set the scope of the activity they need to perform, give them examples of what types of results I was looking for and described what would happen in future sessions.  I then let the participants work in groups or individually on their own time to develop their own requirements and then send them to me.  I only needed to follow up with one group to clarify on what they had written, the rest were in a very solid format that I could easily transpose into our knowledge repository.  All told I performed my elicitation activities in about 15-25% of the time it would have taken for me to normally get the same results.

I’ve done similar outsourcing with requirements prioritization, requirements management, requirements verification and validation, solution validation, and solution performance assessment. In each case I was able to shave off at least half of the time it would have taken for me to perform the activities on my own.

Leverage Asynchronous Activities

With many interactive activities I think most of us are used to working in a synchronous manner; we have something we need to get done that requires the involvement of someone else so we schedule a meeting to discuss the item or plan to work on the task together.  While there are many times that a synchronous forum is appropriate and the best method to accomplish something (for example, arriving at a decision or recommendation), there are many things that can be as effectively accomplished in an asynchronous manner that allow us to maximize our productivity by minimizing the amount of time we need to be involved in certain aspects of the task at hand.

For example, I have minimized the amount of structured walkthrough sessions that I perform with my clients by leveraging online collaboration tools such as wikis or multi-user office applications (e.g. Google Docs/Office Live) to allow individuals to provide feedback on requirements documents.  Rather than having 5-15 people in a meeting room at the same time and wasting the bulk of the collective mindshare in the room by going over items one at a time I have found that I get higher quality responses and more in-depth and thoughtful revisions by allowing people to work on their reviews on their own time.  The bonus is that the review process is usually shorter as well; I set a relatively short time limit on the review process which gives the reviewers a sense of urgency and priority to the activity, as opposed to spending the better part of a day trying to fit a review session into everyone’s schedule three weeks out from today. 

For simple tasks that require input I have also found that polls with a comments feature to be a great way to arrive at a majority decision or response quickly.  The key with these methods is to have buy-in from the stakeholders who will be responsible for doing things on their own time.  Otherwise such techniques enable the stakeholder to ignore their duties or claim they weren’t properly informed or involved.

Focus on High Value Options

This one probably seems self-evident, but as a Business Analyst you need to focus on doing things that provide the best value to your stakeholders at a given point in time.  Sometimes what is laid out in the project plan, while logical, may not give you enough time to focus on the things that really matter to deliver the results that are really crucial to the success of the project.  Doing those status reports may seem like a big deal but if you miss your due date on your requirements document then it may be that your efforts were a little misplaced.

In my experience Pareto’s Law applies to most Business Analyst activities; stakeholders receive 80% of the benefits of project activities from 20% of the project’s efforts.  As a result I am always thinking about which activities offer the most bang for the client’s buck and prioritize my actions accordingly.  After completing high-value activities I meet with the stakeholders to reassess the other activities and see if they’re still worth pursuing, or if new high value efforts have been identified.

To help with this constant assessment and select which activity to do when I use a backlog-like list of outcomes and actions that could be worked on.  This allows me to review my top priority items at a glance and pick the one that best fits the time slot I currently have to work on something. Since I can only work on one thing at a time I constantly juggle what is at or near the top to ensure that both long and short term goals are being properly addressed. 

If I notice that some to do’s are constantly low on the list but my stakeholders have expectations for those things to be done, I work with them to clarify the value of these activities and determine if there are ways to either automate or outsource their performance if they are indeed valuable.  Otherwise I suggest they are added to the ‘if there’s time’ pile of activities that are worked on only if all activities relating to direct value outputs are completed.

Finding Your Productivity Sweet Spot

Becoming hyper-productive is highly dependent on each person; what makes you able to efficiently complete things could be completely different than someone else in the exact same situation.  The key to improving your personal productivity is to track your performance of activities and quickly perform a self-assessment when you’re doing tasks.  This doesn’t have to be onerous or documentation-heavy; just keep track of your time on a task and your thoughts about how productive you felt on the activity.  Jot down some pertinent environmental factors (noise level, distractions, stakeholder engagement, etc.).  Then once a week take a look at the tasks you’ve performed and see what worked well and why.

Over time you can reap the benefits of increased productivity by examining how to reduce your effort on specific tasks and find ways to help you focus on doing one thing at a time. These efficiency gains should help you set greater goals for yourself and deliver greater value to your organization and stakeholders.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.


Jarett Hailes is President of Larimar Consulting Inc. and a Certified Business Analysis Professional.  He has worked with large and small organizations as a Business Analyst, Project Manager and Management Consultant, and is also a Scrum Certified Product Owner and ScrumMaster.


Do You Measure Up?

If there’s one aspect of business analysis that bears greater emphasis and attention, it’s measurement. Quantification and measurement are the business analyst’s sure-fire means to show his or her value to the organization as well as the value of the profession. However, BAs often aren’t as diligent or knowledgeable as they should be about measurements.

One of the top requirements management and development (RMD) trends to be on the lookout for this year is greater balance between the BA’s soft skills and technical proficiency with graphical modeling, cost estimates, risk analysis and other measurements. The important thing to remember is that measurements don’t have to be complicated; in many cases a spreadsheet and a calculator will suffice.

Now, let’s look at how to provide measurement procedures and techniques to gauge the value of business analysis as the organization moves from the as-is to the to-be state.

Start With a Three-Pronged Approach

Often the reason BAs don’t adequately measure is because of uncertainty or perceived complexity of measurement requirements. When thinking about measurement, it’s helpful to understand the delineation of the three key areas of the BA’s focus, each of which will demonstrate a close linkage to the others: 

  • Organizational measurement
  • Process measurement
  • People/performance/skills measurement.

Organizational measurement looks at business performance to determine whether the BA’s contribution had an impact on success metrics. Measurement is one of the key techniques for charting the course for deconstructing and reconstituting the organization to verify strategic goals are being met.

Consider another of this year’s top RMD trends-the key role RMD will play in organizations regaining market share. The means by which market share can be increased include:

  • reaching a new demographic
  • putting a new spin on an existing product
  • adding, removing or improving on existing services
  • creating a new efficiency.

At their foundation these goals and objectives have a corresponding financial value which the BA can measure. 

At the process level, using songs available from iTunes as a hypothetical example helps illustrate how the BA’s measurement is critical to creating greater efficiencies.  Consider, for instance, that the organization states a business need to increase growth by 10 percent.  Raising the price of a song from $.99 to $1.29 increases profitability, but doesn’t increase market share.  Looking at the variables that address market share, the BA would examine key performance indicators-song sample time, number of clicks it takes to buy a song, promotion and advertising-and measure the impact they have. 

Measurement can also be used to determine if an organization has the right people in place with the right skills by identifying areas of competencies and gaps.  For example, a business analyst may be a highly effective facilitator of requirements management, but poor at modeling techniques. This disparity in skills sets will obviously impact project efficiencies. 

Measuring From the Top Down

Determining measurements for each of these three areas fits within the context of the following “step top down” chart which depicts the focus areas of a project, and also serves as a guide of signposts indicating where measurement, and the opportunity for creating greater efficiencies, should take place. 

Take, for example, an organization that determines a business need to become the exclusive provider of Class A widgets. How that will be accomplished is established in goals and objectives, which require creating new efficiencies, whether by developing a new product or service, reducing production time, or increasing production levels, among other options.

The organization’s business policies and rules dictate the manner in which the organization conducts itself, and their impact provides distinct outcomes that can be measured. This measurement provides the opportunity to evaluate whether a rule or policy should be changed.  

Measurement at the goods and services level assures that the organization is selling the right products and providing the right support services. This is where measurement can determine questions such as whether enough of a product is being sold or if the product being sold is meeting market demand.

Processes help accomplish the delivery of the organization’s goods and services, and measuring their outcomes are critical to determining whether greater efficiencies can be created.  

Tasks and activities are the individual components that are necessary to support the process. Their performance and outcomes can be measured so that changes such as reducing or consolidating steps of a task can shorten delivery or output times.

 BA_March8_Glen

A favorite exercise that illustrates the concept of measuring throughout project levels is applying business analysis skills and techniques to baking a cake. Starting with a business need to produce a homemade chocolate fudge cake, consider the requirements that go into the final product. What ingredients will be used, where will they be sourced, and where and in what kind of oven will the cake be baked? Where can improvements be made in how the cake is created and in the quality of the final product?  Creating greater efficiencies in the various steps to baking a cake requires good measurements that can demonstrate what the BA’s skills contributed to the mix. 

The Quick and Dirty Checklist of Measurement Techniques

In A Guide to the Business Analysis Book of Knowledge® (BABOK®), Chapter 9 provides a high level overview of BA techniques, which include useful methods for measurements that BAs should utilize throughout a project or initiative. To avoid getting bogged down and overwhelmed with measurements, one key suggestion to remember is to conduct measurement at a frequency that is acceptable or in alignment with the project complexity. With that in mind, here are the essential BABOK techniques to refer to when gathering measurements:

9.1 Acceptance and Evaluation Criteria

These are the minimal set of requirements necessary for the implementation of a solution and the set of requirements used to choose between multiple potential solutions. 

9.2 Benchmarking

Benchmarking measures the results of one organization’s practices against another’s, and compares current outcomes with previous outcomes.  Anything pertaining to the organization, processes or people can be benchmarked.

9.8 Decision Analysis

Decision analysis enables the evaluation of different options and is particularly helpful under uncertain circumstances. The BABOK describes particular tools to use to analyze outcomes, uncertainty and tradeoffs.

9.10 Estimation

The eight estimation techniques in the BABOK traditionally have been in the project manager’s toolkit, but they can be applied to business analysis as well.  They can help develop a better understanding of the potential costs and effort that an initiative will incur.

9.16 Metrics and Key Performance Indicators

A metric is a quantifiable measure of progress and can be used to measure a Key Performance Indicator, an indicator that shows progress toward a strategic goal or objective.  As previously stated, less complexity is preferable with measurement, so whenever possible, select only three to five indicators for metric reporting.

Measuring Will Show the BA’s Value

For BAs, it’s critical to show quantification of the input they have provided and be able to definitively state that business analysis resulted in a five percent increase in profitability or a 10 percent time saving in a process or any other relevant metric of improvement. Though many organizations struggle with what should be measured, these techniques and methods will help demonstrate what the business analyst has contributed. Measurement, after all, is as straightforward as baking a cake.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.


Glenn R. Brûlé, CBAP, CSM, Executive Director of Global Client Solutions, ESI International, has more than 20 years of business analysis experience. He works directly with clients to build and mature their BA capabilities, drawing from the broad range of ESI learning resources. A recognized expert in the creation and maturity of BA Centers of Excellence, he has helped clients in industry and government agencies across the world. For more information visit http://www.esi-intl.com/.

Rethinking Asking the Stupid Question

Business Analysts ask questions; that’s what we are paid to do. We are encouraged to be inquisitive, “there are no stupid questions.” We are taught to ask “why” five times to get to the root of the motivation. Most of the time we feel good about asking questions – we’re prepared, we know what topics we want to cover and we know we are talking to the right person. And yet sometimes we realize that no matter how we twist our brain around, what we are hearing doesn’t make sense. It could be as simple as an acronym we haven’t heard before, or as complex as a decision that is so wrong-headed we can’t believe everyone just agreed to it.

What do you do when you have to ask a question you wish you didn’t have to ask? I have seen good business analysts unwittingly shoot themselves in the foot by using this common wishy washy preface.

“This might sound stupid, but…”, or “This might be a stupid question, but …”

Why do we undermine ourselves by prefacing our question or remarks with wishy washy language? The preface says essentially, “I’m insecure about asking this question and I’m expecting you to make me feel bad for asking.” Yes, that’s a harsh assessment – but I’m trying to make a point. You might think that because you are going to interrupt the discussion, the preface is a way of being polite. Is it? Putting the idea into people’s head that you are asking a stupid question nearly guarantees it, which is counterproductive to the importance of your question. Also, you want to save your “stupid” question prefaces for sneak attacks.

There are exceptions to all rules, including the “don’t ever say, “This might sound stupid, but…” rule.  In some situations the clever BA will want to launch a sneak attack by asking “crazy as a fox” question, for example, you perceive that people are going along with a line of thought that doesn’t make sense, and you’re about to bring them to their senses with cogent questions that cut to the heart of the matter. In this case, the wishy-washy preface telegraphs to the group that you’re about to pounce. Telegraphing your intent is a viable strategy to get people to pay attention.

We’ll leave the exception aside, and focus on a better approach to asking clarifying questions that require you to interrupt. In general, say what’s on your mind. It reinforces your credibility to present your ideas with confidence. Instead of flogging ourselves with the idea that “I should know this”, try adopting the Generous Listening attitude. What is a generous listening attitude? It’s the view that we Business Analysts are there to hear the essence of the other person is saying, and to it reflect back so they can hear themselves more clearly. It’s not merely replying “So what I hear you saying is …”, and it’s not asking a bunch of questions to further clarify what they are saying so we understand perfectly what they mean. Generous Listening is listening in a frame of mind that helps a person understand what they have conveyed to you and the group.

On the surface, the Generous Listening paradigm’s advice seems contrary to what we business analysts are told to do; Generous Listening advises us to avoid the questions “How?” and “Why?” questions. Before you dismiss this advice, consider creating a space in your toolkit for new questioning strategies. “How” and “Why” are great questions when appropriate, but they can shut down conversation instantly when you’d rather keep the conversation flowing and growing, and when you are interrupting for a clarifying question, usually all you want to do is get your answer, and let the discussion resume. As we BAs know, asking “How?” when a person does not yet know “What” results in mere speculation.  

Think about your frame of mind when you listen to a discussion. I know I’m listening for flaws in a person’s reasoning, overlooked cause-and-effect scenarios – my mindset is so tuned for critical analysis that I’ve assumed that there’s something wrong before they finish their sentence! Generous listening is the process of getting at the “what” in the other person’s mind and assuming the “what” is there even if they need help articulating it. The question “Why?” tends to spark defensiveness. Even when appropriate, it may be better to say, “Help me understand your thinking on this … “

Generous Listening recommends adding the following phrases to your toolkit to listen generously and expand a conversation:

That’s a great idea!

Please say more about that.

Interesting! What else?

What would that make possible?

What would that allow for?

Tell me more . . .

What would make that possible?

Help me understand . . .

When we ask questions such as, “What would make that possible?” instead of, “What could go wrong?” an entirely different conversation results. Try it! Incorporating these simple phrases will completely change the character of your communications.

Let’s get back to the short interrupt preface phrases.

Not great: “This may sound stupid but, have we assumed that … “

Do you really need the preface? Here are three alternatives.  

Okay: “It sounds like we have assumed that …, is that correct?”

Direct, but could put the person on the defensive: “Why have we assumed that …”

Better: “Would you say more about … , it seems that we have assumed that …”

Here are three additional phrases to use for a quick interrupt:

“I just want to make sure I understand, “DR” in this conversation means “disaster recovery, right?”

“Let me repeat what I just heard, you tell me if I got it right. …”

“Could I just verify what I’m recording for the meeting minutes / for my notes …  “

Tips for asking a question that you wish you did not have to ask:

Keep it simple.
Eliminate the preface, eliminate add-on questions. Phrase the question in words that the group will understand. By keeping questions simple, you avoid inadvertently inserting distractions into the discussion.

When we say “DR” here, are we talking about disaster recovery or a data repository or dead reckoning?”

The form of this question is “A, B or C?” The simplest form of the question is, “A?” Ideally someone will say, “disaster recovery”, you say, “Thanks” and the discussion continues smoothly. Alternatively, if you ask, “A or B”, someone might remember an issue related to the data repository and the discussion will veer off in that direction, leaving loose ends on the disaster recovery topic. Including the ludicrous possibility of dead reckoning adds a touch of humor which could be useful if you are trying to diffuse a tension-laden meeting, but it distracts people from the topic so use that gambit only when needed.

Be relaxed.
When asking a question you wish you didn’t have to ask, don’t make it worse for yourself by telegraphing your unease. Be relaxed, when you ask your question, wait for the answer, then let the discussion carry on. When you are nervous you will increase the anxiety level of the people around you, whether or not they are consciously aware of your discomfort.

Asking questions is our job! When building trust and a shared consensus of reality, making assumptions is the kiss of death. Asking questions, even a question that you are sure everyone knows the answer to except for you, shows that you are paying attention and striving for a solid understanding. Interrupting for clarification can be done without disrupting the flow of discussion and without undermining ourselves.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.


Cecilie Hoffman’s professional passion is to educate technical and business teams about the role of the business analyst, and to empower the business analysts themselves with tools, methods, strategies and confidence. Cecilie is a founding member of the Silicon Valley chapter of the IIBA. She authored the 2009 Bad Ass BA series for BA Times and most recently the poem, A is for Analysis. See her blog on her personal passion, motorcycle riding, at http://www.balsamfir.com/.
[email protected].