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Tag: Business Analysis

Business Analyst and the Agile Business Analyst

Often I have been asked how the role of the BA would change in an agile environment. Software development teams transitioning form a Waterfall methodology to an Agile methodology often have difficulty in clearly defining roles and responsibilities of the team members. This is especially true for the role of BA, as agile teams include a business owner who plays a more involved role than in a Waterfall process.
Though there is a business owner working closely with a development team playing a product owner role, the role of a BA is extremely important in organizing the business needs and creating the roadmap for the team. Business Analysts serve a critical role in understanding the problem domain and digging into the root cause of the business need or the problem. Business Analysts have to adapt to the new process and understand not just the template of the artifacts that needs to be produced (Epics and User Stories) but the spirit of the agile methodology. This will help the team dynamics and will help avoid user stories written like functional requirements.

The following table tries to compare how the role of Business Analyst changes in an agile environment.

BA Agile BA
Requirements are documented in Use Cases, Business Requirements, Functional requirements, UI Specifications, Business Rules. Requirements are documented in Epics, User Stories and optionally Business (or Essential) Use cases.
Focuses on completeness of requirement and spends time in ensuring the requirement is unambiguous and has all the details. Focuses on understanding the problem and being the domain expert so that s/he can answer questions from the development team swiftly and decisively.
Focuses on getting a ‘sign off’ on the requirements. Focuses on ensuring the requirements meet the current business needs, even if it requires updating them.
Often there is a wall between the BA/Business and the Development team. Agile BA/Product Owner is part of the team.
Tends to dictate solutions. Has to remain in the problem domain, leaving the development team ‘space’ to explore different solutions.
Long turnaround. Quick turnaround.
Focus on what the requirements document said. In other words, output (Artifact) is a well written thorough requirements document. Focus on the functionality of the developed software.In other words, output (Artifact) is the software that meets the business needs.
  Needs the ability to look at the big picture (with fewer details) but also needs the ability to break the big picture into smaller pieces, so that the development team can execute on it in two to three week intervals.
Focus on being very specific in the requirements (construed as inflexible) Leave room for negotiation (and be flexible) as long as the problem is solved.

Love to hear your thoughts and experience.

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Watch Out For Think-Holes

ferrer Oct1Answer to last month’s question: Change the “head of the fish” to balance benefit as well as cost. Example: “Why does internal service impact profitability?

Most of us have a pretty high opinion of our own thinking*. We are biased, but don’t see it that way. This makes complete sense. WE are ALIVE**. We are the latest survivors of billions of years of disaster, uncertainty, death and taxes***. We are the WINNERS! We must be doing something right. Right?

Right! As survivors, we have tremendous adaptations. Adaptations that got our ancestors away from lions and tigers and bears oh my!**** These adaptations are less useful than they used to be – see if you agree.

Fast thinking vs. slow thinking:

We have almost instantaneous abilities to recognize friends, spot strangers, see (and dodge) dangers, identify objects and their uses, feel body language, judge tone of voice and much, much more. The Nobel Prize winning economist Daniel Kahneman describes these abilities as System 1 thinking. 

Here is an example of System 1 thinking:

What is this picture?

ferrer Oct01

Here is an example of System 2 thinking:

If the average expenditure by a middle class consumer ($50K-$115K/year) at a SaveMoreBySpendingMore™ store is $18.25, and middle class consumers represent 94% of SMBSM customers in 2012, and our total customer visits per year in 2012 were 78,543,228, how much revenue came from middle class customers? *****

If the above seems excessive as an example, try this example of “slow” thinking (for most of us):

How much is (40 x 52) – 80?

Even though we “know” we can calculate the above fairly quickly, and we have a sense that the answer is not 17, or 15,000,000, we (I mean I, as my brilliant readers are not so limited) cannot calculate it as quickly as we can recognize a $100 bill.

The “thinkhole” here is the temptation to go with “first intuition” when it is not always the best approach. This can be appropriate (“Duck – here comes a rock!”), it can also be less (way less) than useful (“Let’s build a really cool space airplane just like the astronauts/pilots always wanted. That will be cheap, reliable and fun, just like flying jets.”). One way to characterize a BA is as a person who is willing to do the complex thinking for a larger group.

Anytime a complex decision is offered to a meeting, there is a real danger of the decision being made “quickly”, and almost surely “wrongly”. In such situations we must be ready with clear options and open facilitation to keep discussion (and follow up analysis) alive.

Some of you may recall the training video “Going to Abilene”, where a bunch of IBM trainees decide to go to Abilene after one of them tosses it out as an idea. They have a miserable, hot, dusty day and only get 1 hour in Abilene for their trouble. When they get back to training camp, they argue and place blame until they realize what happened. They went to Abilene because no one wanted to “contradict” their colleague or “put down” the idea. The colleague who suggested Abilene was quite clear. “Don’t blame me! It was just a thought. I didn’t think it was the greatest thought in the world, but when everyone went along I didn’t want to stand out!”

Solution: Do the slow thinking. Don’t force decisions. Simplify for the audience. 

Let’s look at some other thinkholes:

Aversion to Loss will prevent Desirable Strategies for Gain

Would you rather have a 100% chance at $1000, or a 90% chance at $1200 with a 10% chance of losing $50? Why? What if you get to play 10 times in a row? It is difficult to overcome fear of loss. The loss can be intangible – reputation, comfort, preference, etc. These fears can actually prevent our work as change agents. 

Solution: Do the “math” so all can see the tradeoffs, then duck . 

Preferring Apple Pie to Cherry, Cherry to Peach, Peach to Apple

Most individual pie eaters (not all) are consistent (their preferences are transitive, and Apple will beat Key Lime via Cherry), but most groups are not. Politics can illuminate this. In 2000, many democrats preferred Ralph Nader to John Kerry, and John Kerry to George Bush. By voting for Ralph Nader (their first choice), they got George Bush (their last choice). 

Those on the left that preferred Nader were NOT happy with Bush, and yet could not make the rational choice – to vote for Kerry instead. Groups can be “dumb”, even when individuals are smart. 

Solution: Show choices AND consequences, when it matters. 

Overestimation of rare effects

This shows up most often when use case “alternatives” spin out of control. We may be discussing retail transactions, and everyone agrees we should take cash, credit, debit, bitCoin, PayPal and checks. The debate breaks down when we start discussing barter, which is far more complicated (and rare, in commerce). There is no denying that barter happens, AND it may be a waste of time holding up decisions and consensus and progress to handle barter. 

Solution: Add it to the alternative paths, and schedule it for LATER.

Misunderstanding probability

This one I want to make money on. If I explain, I won’t make any money. I offer the following bet, without explanation, to anyone who wishes to take it (the law firm of Finch and Associates, LLC will hold the money and administer the bet, unless they don’t want to ):

I am willing to bet my $1 against your $1 that: If we pick 50 people at random, then at least two of them will share the same birthday (same month and day, though possibly a different year).

If that is not attractive we can make it my $5 against your $1 as long as we pick 70 people at random.

Any takers? Why or why not? I have lots more, open your wallets.

Solution: Which humble reader shall provide?

Thanks for reading, leave any thoughts, and have fun!

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

* Not my humble readers, who know that they are WAY too smart to fall for this.

** Life is clearly biased in favoring existence over non-existence.

*** Us, and Naegleria fowleri, so don’t get too excited.

**** And humans. Next time you are nervous in public, now you know why.

***** Answer next month. No more scroo’n ‘round, on with Thinkholes!

BA CoE – The Value Differentiator

Need of a BA CoE

While the Business Analyst’s (BA) role interfaces to multiple organizational stakeholders during the execution of a project, very rarely do they interact with other BAs unless the project is big enough and needs multiple BAs. The ‘solo’ nature of the role creates a challenge towards cross functional area development, skill enhancement across business analysis and business domains. High level of collaboration is required to address these challenges; this collaboration can be achieved through a community which is focused on skill development and upgrade.

Additionally, the same community can be structured to provide a unified ‘Business Analyst’ view to the various stakeholders and also to nurture talent within the community thereby earning the tag of BA CoE – Business Analyst Center of Excellence.

The CoE thus becomes the notional ‘owner’ of the BAs, responsible for team formation, team development (both in skills and numbers), BA allocations and load management, evaluation and overall reporting to the universe of stakeholders.

Effective Center of Excellence

The focus of the CoE has to be in multiple areas of activities, ranging from capacity management to ensuring adequate availability of skilled BAs for training and development, knowledge management and capability building of all members of the CoE, thus providing a consolidated status to the CoE and plans to the senior management and stakeholders.

Towards achieving its objectives, the CoE needs to focus on the following areas:

  • Capacity Management: BA requirements for the complete planning year
  • Capacity Utilization: Optimal utilization of pool resources, based on complexity and sub-domain
  • Training and skill development: With distinct skill sets and knowledge levels across the BA CoE, it needs to ensure that training and mentoring is made available to all the members on a near continuous basis. The training focus should cover
    • Fresh graduates being trained as BAs
    • Junior BAs introduced to business domains and mentored on BA skills
    • BAs trained on business domains prior to involvement in projects
    • Senior BAs and BAs trained on mentoring skills
    • Based on requirement, specialist certifications within the identified domains
  • Knowledge Management: Creating and maintaining a strong knowledge repository for the BA CoE, which can be leveraged for greater productivity as well as knowledge enhancement
  • Productivity Enablers: Effective, practical and simple to use BRD, FSD, Use Cases etc. templates are the productivity enablers for BAs. They use these templates at various stages of their day-to-day project and reporting activities. The BA COE should be the ultimate owner of all these templates.
  • Performance Management: BA CoE should facilitate the performance target setting and, coordinate the evaluation for the diverse groups across business and technology in ensuring measurement of quality delivery

Avoiding the Trap of Resource Pool

More often than not, a BA CoE is operated as a resource pool; where the focus is on end-user interfacing and delivery at the expense of capability building. Organizations have a tendency to measure the success of a BA CoE based only on the number of BAs deployed on productive engagements (internal or external). The success of BA CoE should also be measured by key productivity drivers like capability building and knowledge sharing.

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Filling your Toolbox: Factors that Influence BA Skill Development

wick Sept17Everyone has a career toolbox—a collection of tips, tricks, skills and techniques. The tools accumulate over time:

  • Some tools come with the toolbox: innate gifts, talents.
  • We purchase tools: training, degrees, memberships in professional organizations.
  • Other people buy or donate tools: employers offer training, mentors, experience.
  • If we are inventive, we build our own tools.

Most BAs have a few standard tools they use frequently, but many of the tools just lay in the toolbox, unused. We don’t schedule time to check inventory, get rid of old tools, determine what is missing or anticipate future needs. We don’t fill our toolboxes efficiently or effectively.

BAs need to fill their tool boxes, but they shouldn’t fill them passively—just accepting the opportunities presented. Instead, BAs should choose, with intention, which skills they add. 

Three factors influence this purpose-driven approach to BA skill development:

  • Awareness
  • Desire
  • Support

If individuals and organizations cultivate these attributes, BA skill development efforts will be effective, efficient and will provide lasting value. 


BAs can’t develop skills effectively unless they understand the strength and value of their current capabilities. 

So, what’s the current state of your BA toolbox?

  • Do you know your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Which competencies have you mastered?
  • Which competencies are missing?
  • Which skills will future projects require?
  • Which skills will be required for career advancement?
  • Which skills are valued by your organization?
  • What business/technology/cultural trends will influence the value of certain skills?

Essentially, you need to be aware of your own capabilities, but also understand how external entities value your skills. 

Here are a few ways to cultivate awareness:

  1. Complete a BA skill assessment. You can do this informally by creating a comprehensive list of BA skills from sources like the BABOK and then rating your mastery of each skill on a scale of 1-5 or you can use the IIBA’s competency assessment tool
  2. Track stakeholder feedback. Make note of verbal and non-verbal feedback you receive from stakeholders. Find patterns and trends that indicate your strengths and weaknesses.
  3. Maximize your annual evaluation process. For those lucky enough to receive meaningful performance reviews—take advantage of the opportunity—get honest feedback from your manager.
    • Ask about your reputation.
    • Define skill-related goals.
    • Suggest new skills that would benefit the organization.
  4. Evaluate training provided by your organization.
    • Why is the training being offered?
    • How can you apply the skills in your current environment?
    • What are the expectations upon completing training?
  5. Compare yourself to others. Choose a few BAs you admire or consider successful. Identify their strengths. Determine if developing similar skills would help you achieve your goals.
  6. Review industry job descriptions:
    • Which skills appeal to you?
    • Which skills seem to be in highest demand?
    • Do you have all of the skills required for your dream position?


Since the BA role centers on facilitating change in an organization, BAs need to be willing to change themselves too. BAs can’t develop skills effectively without the desire to learn, grow, experiment or improve. Without desire, BA skills get old and begin to lose value.

A BA with desire:

  • Advocates for training, mentoring or experiences that will bring value to the BA role and the organization.
  • Takes risks by experimenting with new skills and techniques.
  • Practices new skills until they see results—do not just try skills once with ho-hum results and not try again.

An organization wishing to cultivate desire:

  • Establishes a vision for the BA team.
  • Identifies and communicates the skill set needed to achieve the vision.
  • Communicates expected results.
  • Provides answers to: “How will new skills address my pain and challenges in my job?”


Some BAs have awareness and desire, but find skill development limited by the leaders in their organizations. 

Many BAs report to technical or business managers that do not have a clear understanding of the BA role. BAs in this position often struggle to obtain meaningful skill development opportunities.

In organizations where skill development is a priority, this is what you might experience:

  • Leaders encouraging the use of new tools and techniques.
  • Leaders modeling desired behavior by experimenting with new skills.
  • Stakeholders, team members, and peers accepting change and encouraging experimentation.
  • Skill development plans with flexibility to accommodate learning styles.
  • A strong team atmosphere.
  • A healthy respect for the lessons-learned from failure.

Can you think of other factors influence BA skill development? Please leave your comments below.

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BA Practice Lead Handbook 10 – Business Analyst Practice Sustainability: Change the Way we do Projects

The remaining articles in this series will be about sustainability: building a BA practice to last. In this piece, we present the BA Practice Lead’s role as critical to changing the way we do projects to focus on business benefits, customer value, creativity, and innovation.

Changing the Way We Do Projects

An organization’s culture is durable because it is “the way we do things around here.” Changing the way it selects projects, develops and manages requirements, and manages projects, while focusing not only on business value but also on innovation, is likely a significant shift for an organization. Even today, many organizational cultures still promote the practice of piling project requests, accompanied by sparse requirements, onto the IT and new-product development groups and then wondering why they cannot seem to deliver.

Creating and Sustaining the New Vision of Project Work

A common vision is essential for an organization to bring about significant change. A clear vision helps to direct, align, and inspire people’s actions.

Whether implementing professional business analysis practices, a new innovative product, or a major new business solution, the business analyst needs to articulate a clear vision and involve the stakeholders in the initiative as early as possible. Executives and middle managers are essential allies in bringing about change of any magnitude. They all must deliver a consistent message about the need for the change. Select the most credible and influential members of your organization, seek their advice and counsel, and have them become the voice of change. The greater the number of influential managers, executives, and technical/business experts articulating the same vision, the better chance you have of being successful.

Implementing Cultural Change

Rita Hadden, specialist in software best practices, process improvement, and corporate culture change, offers some insight into the enormity of the effort to truly change the way we do projects. To achieve culture change, Hadden suggests organizations must have a management plan to deal with the technical complexity of the change and a leadership plan to address the human aspects of the change. According to Hadden, successful culture change requires a mix the following elements:

  • A compelling vision and call to action
  • Credible knowledge and skills to guide the change
  • A reward system aligned with the change
  • Adequate resources to implement the change
  • A detailed plan and schedule.

Make sure you understand the concerns and motivations of the people you hope to influence. Clearly define the desired outcomes for the change and how to measure progress, assess the organization’s readiness for change, and develop plans to minimize the barriers to success. The goal of your BA Practice is to create a critical mass, a situation in which enough people in the organization integrate professional business analysis practices into their projects and maintain them as a standard. To become leaders in their organizations, your business analysts need to learn all about change management—becoming skilled change experts. 

Fostering Creative Leadership

I must follow the people, am I not their leader?
—Benjamin Disraeli, British Prime Minister, parliamentarian, statesman and literary figure

Creativity has always been important in the world of business, but until now it hasn’t been at the top of the management agenda. Perhaps this is because creativity was considered too vague, too hard to pin down. It is even more likely that creativity has not been the focus of management attention because concentrating on it produced a less immediate dividend than improving execution. Although there are similarities in the roles of manager, leader, and creative leader, there are subtle differences as well. The table below shows the distinctions between these roles. 

Objective Manager Leader Creative Leader
Define what must be done

Planning and budgeting:

  • Short time frame
  • Detail oriented
  • Eliminate risk

Establishing direction:

  • Long time frame
  • Big picture
  • Calculated risk

Establishing breakthrough goals and objectives:

  • Envisioning the future direction
  • Aligning with and forging new strategy
Create networks of people and relationships

Organizing and staffing:

  • Specialization
  • Getting the right people
  • Compliance

Aligning people:

  • Integration
  • Aligning the organization
  • Gaining commitment

Aligning teams and stakeholders to the future vision:

  • Innovation
  • Integration
  • Expectations
  • Political mastery
  • Gaining commitment;
Ensure the job gets done Controlling and problem-solving:

  • Containment
  • Control
  • Predictability

Motivating and inspiring:

  • Empowerment
  • Expansion
  • Energizing

Building creative teams:

  • High performance
  • Trust development
  • Empowerment
  • Courageous disruption
  • Innovation

Comparison of Managers, Leaders, and Creative Leaders

Sustaining a Culture of Creativity

Good, and sometimes great, ideas often come from operational levels of organizations when workers are given a large degree of autonomy. To stay competitive in the 21st century, CEOs are attempting to distribute creative responsibility up, down, and across the organization. Success is unsustainable if it depends too much on the ingenuity of a single person or a few people, as is too often seen in start-ups that flourish for a few years and then fall flat; they were not built to last, to continually innovate. Success is no longer about continuous improvement; it is about continuous innovation. Because creativity is, in part, the ability to produce something novel, we have long acknowledged that creativity is essential to the entrepreneurship that starts new businesses. But what sustains the best companies as they try to achieve a global reach? We are now beginning to realize that in the 21st century, sustainability is about creativity, transformation, and innovation.

Although academia has focused on creativity for years (we have decades of research to draw on), the shift to a more innovation-driven economy has been sudden, as evidenced by the fact that CEOs lament the absence of creative leaders. As competitive positioning turns into a contest of who can generate the best and greatest number of innovations, creativity scholars are being asked pointed questions about their research. What guidance is available for leaders in creativity-dependent businesses? How do we creatively manage the complexities of this new global environment? How do we find creative leaders, and how do we nurture and manage them? The conclusion of participants in the Harvard Business School colloquium Creativity, Entrepreneurship, and Organizations of the Future was that “one doesn’t manage creativity; one manages for creativity.” Management’s role is to get the creative people, position them at the right time and place, remove all barriers imposed upon them by the organization, and then get out of their way.
Putting it all Together

So what does this mean for the Business Analyst?

Understand Creativity as an Art and a Discipline. BAs would be prudent to take into account the views of John Kao, author of Jamming: The Art and Discipline of Business Creativity. According to Kao, drawing up a “Creativity Bill of Rights” can help you and your team members feel as if they are truly responsible for their own decisions. The Creativity Bill of Rights proclaims the following beliefs:

  • Everyone has the ability to be creative.
  • All ideas deserve an impartial hearing.
  • Similar to quality, creativity is part of every job description.
  • Shutting down dialogue prematurely and excessive judgment are fundamental transgressions.
  • Creativity is about finding balance between art and discipline.
  • Creativity involves openness to an extensive variety of inputs.
  • Experiments are always encouraged.
  • Dignified failure is respectable, poor implementation or bad choices are not.
  • Creativity involves mastery of change.
  • Creativity involves a balance of intuition and facts.
  • Creativity can and should be managed. The business analyst instinctively knows when to bring the dialogue to a close.
  • Creative work is not an excuse for chaos, disarray, or sloppiness in execution.

So what does this mean for the BA Practice Lead?

Mature organizations devote a significant amount of time and energy to conducting due diligence and encouraging experimentation and creativity before rushing to construction. The due diligence activities include enterprise analysis, competitive analysis, problem analysis, and creative solution alternative analysis, all performed before selecting and prioritizing projects.

This new approach involves a significant cultural shift for most organizations—spending more time up front to make certain the solution is creative, innovative, and even disruptive. If you are a BA Practice Lead, insist on these up front activities before a Business Case is created and used to propose a new initiative. If your BAs are on projects and these activities have not been adequately performed, help them pull together a small expert team and facilitate them through this important due diligence and create/recreate the business cases for their projects.

Portions of this article are adapted with permission from The Enterprise Business Analyst: Developing Creative Solutions to Complex Business Problems by Kathleen B. Hass, PMP. © 2011 by Management Concepts, Inc. All rights reserved. The Enterprise Business Analyst: Developing Creative Solutions to Complex Business Problems

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  • Rita Chao Hadden, Leading Culture Change in Your Software Organization: Delivering Results Early (Vienna, VA: Management Concepts, 2003), Page 133-226.
  • Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, “The Creativity Crisis,” Newsweek (July 19, 2010): 44–50,  (accessed April 2011).
  • Teresa M. Amabile and Mukti Khaire, “Creativity and the Role of the Leader,” Harvard Business Review (October 2008),(accessed July 2010).
  • John Kao, Jamming: The Art and Discipline of Business Creativity (New York: Harper Collins, 1996Page 75-93.