Tag: Business Analysis

BATimes_Aug17_2022

Prepping Project Tech: A BA’s Guide to Finding the Right Technology

Technology helps business analysts — and the companies with which they work — thrive. However, that depends on how well a business analyst implements tech trends to incite growth.

Finding the right technology to optimize your duties as a business analyst and catapult a business to its next level is the hard part. Fortunately, this post can help. Let’s look at five modern tech trends that business analysts can use to help facilitate growth.

 

Internet of Things (IoT)

IoT refers to physical devices connected to the internet on a shared network and the technology that enables communication between these devices. IoT also collects data on the way these devices are used.

Many devices are connected to the internet these days. An ATM, for example, is one of the most common IoT devices used in the finance industry. Instead of needing a banking associate, you can conduct much of your financial business at an ATM. You can even save your preferences to streamline your interactions going forward. This wouldn’t be possible without IoT.

IoT is beneficial for business analysts because they typically use multiple tech devices at once. You want it to be easy to transmit and sync information across all your devices to ensure you’re making decisions with the most up-to-date information, no matter where you’re accessing it from. Essentially, business analysts can use IoT to take full advantage of a digitally connected world.

 

5G Networks

The internet is an integral part of navigating your personal and professional life as a business analyst. 5G networks are growing in popularity not only because they are helping more people get online, but also because they offer secure, reliable, high-speed internet connections. With access to high-quality internet, you can have constant, quick access to the digital tools you need to incite growth and improve business efficiency.

You can also better connect with internal teams and external audiences when you use 5G. For example, let’s say you’re working with an educational institution and you’re tasked with analyzing the budget to find where to cut costs. In that case, you will want a fast, secure network connection due to the confidentiality needed when working with educational and financial information.

You want to ensure that when you access sensitive data, the information isn’t vulnerable to cybersecurity threats because you’re using low-quality internet. 5G is also beneficial because you can communicate seamlessly with your team by tracking tech sign-offs, holding brainstorming sessions, and fielding questions.

Consider purchasing a 5G service if you want to use the internet with peace of mind and speed.

 

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Machine Learning

Machine learning is a type of artificial intelligence. It uses data and algorithms to learn — and, eventually, mimic — human behavior from experience. Computers or software essentially learn to do what humans do without direct programming.

For example, machine learning is incredibly impactful in agriculture. The data collected is used to predict the quality of crops, reduce food production costs, and find defects in the irrigation system.

Business analysts can leverage machine learning to collect, process, and analyze vast sets of business data. As a result, you can pull more meaningful business insights from the information that prompt better decisions throughout the organization.

 

Automation Tools

Automation tools require little human intervention to carry out various tasks. Almost any business in any industry can find a use for automation tools. The tasks well-suited for automation are typically repetitive and mundane in nature.

For example, the healthcare industry uses automation software to queue up automated calls to remind patients of scheduled appointments. Email sequences and data collection are often automated in medical facilities, as well.

Business analysts can use automation tools to help streamline their repetitive tasks. You can also implement them in the businesses you work with to improve operational efficiency and free up team members’ time for more crucial projects.

However, implementing automation tools in any team’s workflow may be met with pushback. Many employees will hesitate because they fear that automation tools, such as artificial intelligence, will replace their jobs. However, you can get staff on board for tech transformation by sharing the bigger picture. In this case, that would mean showing them how the tools are intended to enhance their work rather than replace it.

 

Smart Devices

There isn’t an industry that can’t benefit from the responsible use of smart devices. Smart devices are intelligent, electronic devices that can connect to the internet, Bluetooth, apps, wireless connections, and other digital devices. Smart devices also interact with the person using them.

For example, you can connect your smartwatch to your smartphone and share data between the two. Both can also monitor specific vitals of the person using them, like blood pressure and heart rate, to reveal important health information.

You can absolutely hop on smart devices to facilitate growth as a business analyst. When you can access your work on devices that understand how you work, your decision-making and efficiency improve.

 

Conclusion

Business analysts need technology to succeed. You don’t have to adopt every technology trend you come across. Instead, thoroughly research each trend and weigh it against your needs to ensure it will help you and your clients blossom if you decide to implement it.

BATimes_Aug11_2022

The Importance of Creativity in Business Analysis

Being creative may seem contradictory to an analyst structured approach to everyday tasks but this is far away from truth. Creativity is something required in every aspect of our life. Although, a deterministic approach is synonymous to analysis and decisions are being made using careful research, still there is much room for creativity.

In the business analysis field, the aim of developing creativity as a skill is to provide value to the whole business analysis lifecycle and to contribute not only to better outputs but also to significant outcomes.

Below are just some occasions when creativity can be required from a business analyst:

  1. Creativity is required in finding the best way to elicit the actual business needs. You may modify and tailor an elicitation technique in order to achieve the most accurate and helpful results from elicitation activities. A creative business analyst will pose “clever” questions in order to better understand the customer. Will continuously modify predefined techniques in order to tailor them in accordance with the context and the special needs of the stakeholders.

 

  1. In case there is not a predefined product that will be used, and the solution is bult from the scratch, creativity is detrimental in order to find feasibly solutions that will provide value to the end users.

 

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  1. Business analysts advocate for the business while communicating what can be achieved with available technology. They way business analyst will transfer the information from one side to another requires creativity. Providing a bridge between technical and business viewpoints is sometimes challenging. Unorthodox ways of presentation and communication of the information may be the key.

 

  1. Drawing out additional meaning from the elicitation results requires creativity resulting from a creative dispute mindset. Asking what the actual need of the customer is and how might the end user has defined the success imply sometimes filling information gaps using creative thinking.

 

Creativity skills can be learned and improved throughout professional life.  What you first need is a desire to explore your unique creativity and a spirit of curiosity. Just ask yourself and try to come up with creative ideas in your everyday tasks.  The most important is to be critical against conventional wisdom and try always to take into consideration the context in order to tailor and use wisely the conventional wisdom.

BATimes_Aug10_2022

The Courage to Try Something Old – Part 2: Scribing

In the previous article I wrote about the importance of facilitating requirements meetings and why it can take courage to do so. In this article I’ll discuss another skill that has fallen in and out of favor over the years—scribing.

Many ancient societies valued scribes. Scribes typically were at the center of all activities and highly regarded in the areas of government, law, military, and religion. Today’s scribes are not so universally regarded, particularly in our world of PMs and BAs. Effective scribes should be at the center of requirements activities, but most often they are not. We’re often in the back of the room or off to the side. We’re not always introduced in virtual meetings. Many organizations view scribes simply as passive note-takers and unfortunately that’s how many scribes view themselves. But I have found that scribes are essential to the success of the project.

 

What is a scribe and what does a scribe do? A scribe is the role that provides documentation, either formal or informal, and anyone can play that role. PMs, BAs, facilitators, business owners, QA analysts, programmers—it doesn’t matter what the title is. Any time we’re documenting our PM or BA work we’re scribing.  Our output can include recaps of sponsor and other stakeholder meetings, requirements (models, textual, etc.), assessments, gap analyses, and business cases to cite just a few.

 

What skills does a scribe need? Like every effective PM and BA, the scribe has to create structure from chaos. That’s not easy so scribes need a variety of skills, such as listening, absorbing, clarifying, and writing. But perhaps most important is critical thinking, which comprises many skills including:

  • Conceptualizing – grasping what’s being discussed because we have enough context[i]
  • Applying – taking what we know from our experience and using it in new situations.
  • Synthesizing – absorbing lots of information, processing it, and making sense of it immediately.[ii]
  • Evaluating – knowing what’s important and what’s not, what works and what doesn’t.[iii]

 

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Why do we need scribes? Documentation is important if for no other reason than because it saves time. We cannot possibly remember all the salient topics of our project and requirements meetings. Documentation helps prevent revisiting and revisiting again all the important decisions already made and who should complete which action items and by when.

 

How much courage does it take to scribe?  Why in the world would it take courage to scribe? Because the most common scribing pitfalls relate to courage. I am often asked questions such as these:

  1. What if the PM and/or team thinks it’s a waste of time to have a scribe?
  2. What should I do when the facilitator wants to “take notes,” but in the end, much of the meeting is lost because the notes are too sketchy?
  3. What should I do when I’ve been told to sit in the back and be silent when I take notes? Most of the time I have questions or want to clarify what’s been decided, but I’m told that asking questions will take too much time.
  4. What should I do when I’m asked to distribute the documentation in an unreasonable time frame?
  5. I know it’s important to recap the highlights of my scribing output at the end of the meeting, but we never seem to have time. Our discussions always run over.

 

If we are too timid to address these issues, we will be less useful not only to our project team, but the entire organization. But it takes courage to tackle them. We need to be effective at influencing, and courage is a main component of influence. We need to ensure that everyone understands the importance of both scribing and the scribe role, and it takes courage to point these out. It takes courage to speak up about the risks of not having scribes in organizations that don’t value them. And to link an unsatisfactory product delivered to stakeholders to effective scribing. And because it takes time to be an effective scribe, we need to advise including scribing tasks in project planning.

Finally, as scribes we need to be neutral and not have a vested interest in the outcome of the meeting. As we know, the person with the pen has the power and can rewrite the project’s history. Let’s not sneak in a couple of our or our sponsor’s favorite requirements, or conveniently forget any because it’s easier than seeking a scope change. And there’s no need to document every conversation– the key items like decisions and action items will do. When done well, scribing is a thing of beauty. When not, it might well be tossed out with other old but necessary techniques—definitely not in the interest of either the project or the organization.

[i] This often comes from past experience and is one of the reasons I’m not in favor of “neutral” scribes
[ii] This is one of my favorite scribe skills because it is essential in a requirements workshop where there’s so much happening at the same time.
[iii] louisville.edu/ideastoaction/about/criticalthinking/what for the 4 basic concepts
BATimes_Aug4_2022

50 Most Dangerous Words for Business Analysts

As business analysts, it’s our primary responsibility to bring clarity to requirements communication. Unfortunately, many words spoken by our stakeholders can be ambiguous. Not understanding these words in their proper context or without adequate information can lead to situations where different stakeholders can have a different understanding of the same word.

One of my very favorite words is Manage. Manage can mean anything under the sun to anyone. For example, managing a schedule to me means creating a schedule, viewing schedule, updating schedule, deleting schedule, importing schedule, exporting schedule, reporting on schedule, and alerting schedule delays. For the developer in my team, managing a schedule could simply mean creating a schedule, viewing the schedule, updating the schedule, and deleting the schedule (The four fundamental operations on data).

Discussing the ambiguous terms with stakeholders will give them the idea that something is also missing from their end. They can do some more research to find how exactly they want the system to behave rather than giving information that is at a higher level. In this blog, I am writing down the top 50 ambiguous words I came across as a business analyst. I want all my business analyst friends to contribute to this list so that we can comprehensively list the ambiguous words.

Any time any of our stakeholders use these words, we would know that there is some ambiguity involved. It’s not that the ambiguity is always bad, but it must be clarified before something goes for designing and development. So till the time we are far away from that, it’s ok, but as we come closer to the design and development phase, we must find the real concrete information so that the development team can design the solution as per the stakeholder requirements.

 

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Rank The word What makes it dangerous
50 Most appropriate Who decides what’s most appropriate?
49 As soon as possible In the next 5 seconds?
48 In future By EoD Tomorrow?
47 ETC Missing details
46 TBD When?
45 Usually Where is the unusual stuff?
44 Generally Non-precise
43 Normally Non-precise
42 To the greatest extent Who decides the extent?
41 Properly Non-precise
40 Where practicable Conditions not specified
39 Supported Passive voice, Actor unknown
38 Handled Passive voice, Actor unknown
37 Processed Passive voice, Actor unknown
36 Rejected Passive voice, Actor unknown
35 Always Assumed certainty which does not exist
34 Never Assumed certainty which does not exist
33 All Assumed certainty which does not exist
32 None Assumed certainty which does not exist
31 Every Assumed certainty which does not exist
30 Earliest Non-precise
29 Latest Non-precise
28 Highest Non-precise
27 Fastest Non-precise
26 Flexible Non-precise
25 Modular Non-precise
24 Efficient Non-precise
23 Adequate Non-precise
22 Minimum required Minimum shall be achieved
21 Minimum acceptable Minimum shall be achieved
20 Better Non-precise
19 Higher Non-precise
18 Faster Non-precise
17 Less Non-precise
16 Slower Non-precise
15 Infrequent Non-precise
14 To the extent specified Non-precise
13 To the extent required Non-precise
12 Very high Non-precise
11 Very low Non-precise
10 Fantastic What is Fantastic?
9 Multiple currencies Which currencies?
8 Multiple languages Which languages?
7 Multiple browsers Which browsers? Even for the same browser, which versions?
6 Robust Non-precise
5 Sturdy Non-precise
4 User-friendly Non-precise
3 Great performance How do you determine that?
2 User All users or specific types of users?
1 Manage Possibly the most dangerous verb – Can mean anything under the sun

What other words would you like to add to the above list?

BATimes_Aug3_2022

Just because you are in the minority doesn’t mean you are wrong!

Speak to any group of BAs, and they will empathize with the frustrations of a familiar experience: you have spotted a potential problem on the horizon, but you’re struggling to convince teammates and stakeholders that it needs addressing (or even that it exists at all).  Argh!  So why don’t people believe us, and how can we help them see what we see?

 

The unique BA perspective

Even if you work collaboratively with a range of stakeholders, the nature of the BA role makes you something of a solo operator.  You are often the only one of your kind assigned to a multi-disciplinary project team, and – while you will be consulting widely with others – the analysis input of your role comes from you alone.  Working at the interface of many sources of information puts you in a unique position to see things others can’t.  It is both a blessing and a curse: while you can add value by making inferences and drawing conclusions that aren’t obvious to the folks on the ground, your insights are not always readily received when those folks are preoccupied with other lines of endeavor.  You want to share your findings to help improve outcomes; they want to get on with their work without the BA derailing it.  You may not be a specialist in their area, so why should they believe you?

 

The best of times

If you have good working relationships with your team or stakeholders, a carefully timed question or constructive conversation is all you need.  Project professionals are often keen problem-solvers like you.  If you need to spend more time unpacking each other’s points of view, you can resolve most queries amicably with a chat around a whiteboard.  Be mindful that specialists won’t necessarily welcome direct challenge from a non-specialist: in these situations, you may find it beneficial to cast yourself in the ‘apprentice’ role.  Ask your specialists to help you, the interested non-specialist, understand the matter at hand by walking you through an explanation; you can then cannily insert your leading questions at the appropriate point.  You may, of course, have misinterpreted something and be flat-out wrong – so be prepared for that eventuality!

 

The worst of times

Sometimes, however, that initial conversation doesn’t cut it.  You’re still sure that you’re on to something – the discussions haven’t disproven your theories – but you cannot get others to consider, let alone understand, your way of thinking.  You feel like the prophetess Cassandra of Troy from Greek mythology: fated to see the future and obliged to speak the truth, yet never to be believed.  So what’s a BA to do – why isn’t the message getting through?

 

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Understand the problem

As with any analysis, the key is to identify the root cause of the issue.  It’s easy to take it personally when your concerns are dismissed without consideration but don’t automatically assume malice.  There are lots of reasons why people may not be responding as expected:

  • You might not have communicated your ideas as clearly as you thought.
  • You communicated clearly but caught them on a bad day.
  • People with other viewpoints outrank or outnumber you – people tend to be swayed by power or a majority.
  • They might not feel secure in what they are doing and don’t want to be challenged by any ideas that could throw things off balance.
  • They may lack the contextual knowledge or technical aptitude to understand your ideas.
  • They have different priorities (or different agendas!).
  • You might not be their ‘preferred sender’.

The last point can be incredibly frustrating.  Sometimes, despite you doing absolutely everything else right, you are just not the person to whom your audience is willing to listen.

 

Formulate your plan

Once you’ve figured out what’s going on, it’s time to get a communication action plan together.

  1. Identify your target person or people.

To achieve your desired outcomes, who do you need to persuade to consider your point of view?  Sometimes, this isn’t the person you think of first.  Is there another individual whose voice is more likely to carry weight with your ultimate target?  If so, it may be better to channel your energy into helping this individual understand your concerns and letting the message travel forward via them instead.

  1. Curate your materials and your messaging.

Cut the waffle: what are the key points you need to communicate?  And how are you positioning your message?  If the presentation format you’ve used so far hasn’t worked, try something new: can you package things up differently?  People often respond favorably to visual material if it helps them get to grips with something less familiar.  Sometimes a diagram can make all the difference.

  1. Build your coalition.

Are there others who understand your perspective and could help influence the conversation with your target person or people?  More people saying the same thing can add credibility to your message through endorsement and weight of numbers.

  1. Pick your moment.
    Timing is everything. Your message is unlikely to land well if you try to share your thoughts in the middle of an unrelated but all-consuming disaster, for example!  Aim to create appropriate time and space for a calm, focused discussion.
  1. Be prepared to play the long game.

It may take several attempts to land your ideas, particularly if you have had to involve other people to help deliver your message.  Consider the overall impact of your interventions on your target person or people.  How will the sequence of interactions be experienced from their point of view?

Once you have the above in place, you can initiate your plan.  Good luck!

 

Know when to hold and when to fold

One of the more difficult things to accept as a BA is that things don’t always go how you think they should, even if you have the truth on your side.  It’s a great feeling when your suggestions are recognized, valued, and help shape the work to come, but it’s equally likely that you will hear: ‘Yes, I understand what you are saying, but we have to do it X way because of Y.’  Don’t feel disheartened if this happens to you.  If you have managed to get people to understand your point, no matter the eventual outcome, you have done your job.  You have identified a potential issue, surfaced it for consideration by the appropriate stakeholders, and enabled an informed decision to be made in consequence.  There is one less unknown in the project landscape; it’s time to let that point rest.  Onward to the next challenge!