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Tag: Business Analysis

Unidentified Flying Objectives (UFOs)

I was recently engaged on an initiative which was motivated by a moderately articulated business need. The opportunity promised enormous improvements to the company’s enterprise capability. However, after the initiative kicked off we were propelled into an unnecessary journey of continuous improvement towards an ambiguous and evolving concept. This initiative was weighed down by unidentified flying objectives (UFOs).

UFOs refer to strategic irregularities in the business-sphere, which hover, appear, or dissolve when scrutinised. They generally tend to appear after the launching of unplanned strategic initiatives. UFOs are not easily identifiable or definable, unless the use of instrumentation such as scope scanners or feasibility radars are applied by classified authorities called Business Analysts.

UFOs display the following characteristics: they are shallow (insufficient), disc-shaped or round (recurring), and are capable of displaying luminosity (radiance). They shape-shift or evolve moving at high speeds, often counter to the strategic initiative underway.

In some instances, trying to decipher where UFOs originate from can place the Business Analyst at the risk of painstakingly attending to ongoing marginalised and unresolved issues.

Quite the opposite, SMART objectives are specific, time-related and measurable targets that a person (or system) aims to achieve. These are basic tools that underlie all planning and strategic activities, and serve as the basis for evaluating business performance.

Nefdt june26 IMG01Why is it we often don’t get objectives right? Leaders conduct their general business, approving and kicking off initiatives with good intentions to make people, systems, structure and processes better. However, when it comes down to the setting of objectives we are often crippled during the latter stages by misalignment between objectives, deliverables and performance. The setting of objectives is also impeded by limited organisational readiness, change management, scope, economic drivers, time, and resources. Correspondingly, success tends to be emphasised by the “delivery on time and within budget” mantra.

The strategy, objectives and measurement approach is vital for business analysis and delivery success. It is imperative to justify Why we are doing it, closely reinforced with the What, Where, Who, How and When (5W’s & H).

I have persevered by taking business leaders on a very simple journey to optimise their business initiative objectives and assure success using the following 5 steps:

  1. Clarify what is driving the initiative. Is it a Problem, Opportunity or Need?
  2. Translate the Problem, Opportunity or Need into Goals
  3. Evaluate each Goal against SMART objectives and the 5W’s & H principles
  4. Transform each Goal into a SMART objective
  5. Identify how your SMART objective can be evaluated and re-evaluated to become SMARTER

Nefdt june26 IMG02The benefit of using this approach for business leaders is self-assurance in setting a clear vision with reliable measures for performance; and traceability from strategy through to delivery. A good alignment between SMART objectives, solutions and benefits will empower business leaders to make informed decisions and measure performance with confidence.

The Business Analyst is instrumental in aligning objectives to requirements and solutions for traceability management. For the Business Analyst, developing clarity of the objective(s) enables and adds value to business analysis delivery.

So travel forth at the speed of light and unlock those UFOs if you sense or observe them in your business activities. Leave behind a legacy and impart the above simple approach for business leaders to define, translate and transform UFOs into SMART objectives.

Which intuitive instruments do you use to sense, observe and investigate UFOs in your close encounters with the third kind?

How do you manage those UFOs into SMART objectives?

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

The Top 10 Business Analysis Skills for 2013

wick featureArticle June18A year ago I wrote the blog The Top 10 Business Analysis Skills for 2012.  In 2013 here are my updates!

For the remainder of 2013, I’m going to switch out the word “broker” (BA as a broker of information from stakeholders) for the word “agent”. Synonymous, yet a distinct shift towards being in the middle of not just information, but of information that keeps changing and shifting, making the relationships and dealing with complexity more important.

Some phrases come to mind this year for the role of BAs as agents:

  • Agent of change
  • Agent of innovation
  • Agent of value through ambiguity
  • Agent of value through complexity

The themes from 2012 remain the same in 2013: 

  • Business Agility
  • Innovation
  • Collaboration with stakeholders to drive agility and innovation

We’ve learned a bit more about the BA skills needed to address these themes. Here’s my updated BA skill list for 2013: 

  1. Contextual Modeling 

    Engage your stakeholders with more meaningful dialog! Contextual Models of the domain of discussion, models that provide context vs. confusion. Staying at the right level of detail for the audience is critical here. Keeping at the right level of detail (or non-detail) will help engage and get the discussion rolling without cornering the dialog into details that may not be the most pertinent and critical to value. We are learning together with our stakeholders in the complexity and ambiguity of projects today, contextual visuals and models will help drive quick and engaged learning from everyone.

  2. Communicating Details and Concepts

    What details are the ones that will make or break the solution? How do these details relate to the overall solution value? This is the mindset that is needed when communicating with our stakeholders. As BAs it is so challenging to go between the big picture and details constantly, yet such a critical skill. This requires a degree of system thinking to break down the whole into parts and then look at the parts for which add the most value overall. In 2013, increased focus must be on paying attention to the right details vs. all of the details.

  3. Curiosity

    How curious are you as a BA? This has always been a critical skill for BAs. Curiosity in 2013 is all about probing questions to help stakeholders and ourselves learn about the vision of the future state. Further, it is about being flexible and curious to change and adapt as the details change to reach that vision. Staying curious in the face of change and ambiguity will be key to success in 2013 and beyond!

  4. Negotiation

    I am using negotiation in a very specific context, that of planning BA work. Once BAs learn the tactical skills in planning BA work, next comes the negotiation with the team on the schedule. It seems like we are constantly being pinned down to a schedule that seems unreasonable to really get quality requirements and a quality solution. Using our tactical planning skills and then negotiation to a win/win to get the maximum value for the time allotted, negotiating quality and value vs. cramming in too much requirements scope for the time originally allowed. When done well, I’ve seen this work miracles with project teams.

  5. Mentoring and Coaching

    We have a skill shortage in many markets for BAs, especially at the entry level. With this, Sr. BAs will need to take on more coaching and mentoring roles to help develop the skill sets of the new BAs in the organization. What a great opportunity for Sr. BAs to delegate to new BAs while gaining more leadership skills in mentoring and coaching!

  6. Communicating Risks

    This one is the only one I am not changing a thing on in 2013!

    Project Managers focus on risks to the project budget, schedule and scope. A BA needs to focus on risks to the business value of the solution and communicating the risk. BAs are in a prime position to see the details and big picture view; this includes seeing the risks to the project, delivering a solution that does not maximize business value. I find that BAs have an intuitive sense of this, but often struggle to communicate the risk in a way that gets leadership attention. In order to get leadership attention to the business value at risk, BAs will need to develop skills in communicating the true business impact of the risk. This means going beyond communicating in terms of the features and functionalities of the process or software, and going beyond that, there is not enough time for requirements to be done right. It means communicating the impact it will have on the business operation or strategy. For example, when the functionality of a point of sale application has a requirements conflict in the process of accepting payment from customers, the focus needs to turn to the impact of the conflict on the customer service representative’s ability to serve the customers and the customer experience vs. the technical details at risk of the requirement. In the heat of requirements and design details, we often let the details drive risk discussions and never get to the bottom line impacts that can really propel leaders to make the right decisions.

  7. Leveraging Core Facilitation Skills in EVERY Meeting

    Are you running your meetings or are meetings and stakeholders running your meetings? Many BAs get into tough situations in requirements meetings and feel that other agendas and personalities are driving their meetings astray. Remember to use critical techniques to facilitate meetings like a visual “parking lot”, and established goals and objectives for the meeting. Be open to others input, but ensure you have a plan to address the original goals and objectives and use that “parking lot” to manage the scope of the meeting. Be empowered to take control of your meetings!

  8. Change Management

    Being an Agent of Change
Embracing the BA role as an agent of change will continue to show the value the organization the value the BA role brings to the organization. This year I am seeing more focus on the behavior changes needed for change to truly take place. Many of our projects are not only needed technology and process changes, but true behavior and attitude changes to drive value. As BAs we are in a key position to help identify and drive what behaviors and by who need to change to make the solution successful,

  9. Getting to Why?

    In 2012 Asking Why was on the list, in 2013 I am chaining it to Getting to Why? The reason is that so many times we are asking the wrong person. Asking Why (in the ways described in 2012’s blog) is critical, but ensuring we have asked the right person and/or all the right people is more important as more complexity surrounds our projects. With multiple stakeholders impacted we need to know WHY from each of them to ensure value is delivered to all of them. Its amazing how many different answers you get from cross functional groups, and yet, so important to understanding the context and how to create value for each group.

  10. Get Visual

In 2013 when innovation, agility, and collaboration are the trends, being able to spontaneously draw will lead to stakeholders to a deeper level of engagement. It will also stop them from checking their phones and tablets. They can only engage one sense at a time, but everyone will try 2. Lets make sure the 2 they are engaging are focused on the meeting and the goal of the meeting. If you draw they will not only listen, but visually engage as well.

    No matter what type of BA, no matter which industry, these skills in 2013 will set your projects up for deeper collaboration innovation and agility.

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The BA Practice Lead Handbook 7 – What is the Current State of Your BA Practices? And How do you Close the Gaps?

Along with a team of capable, credible business analysts, a successful BA Practice requires effective, lean methods and tools to complete the implementation phase of the BA Practice Framework introduced in earlier articles, (see article #3, So you want to be a BA Practice Lead? OMG: What have you Gotten Yourself into?

The BA Practice Framework

Hass May28 Img01

Step 1: Assess the Maturity of your BA Practice Standards

To determine the current state of your BA Practice maturity, conduct an assessment of the BA methods and tools that are prevalent in your organization today so that you can build from your current foundation. In article #6 in this series, we advised the BA Practice Lead to build a capable BA workforce by determining the complexity of current and future projects, and staff BAs accordingly. So at this point you should have a number of BAs capable of performing projects at the levels of complexity: (1) low complexity, (2) moderately complex and (3) highly complex projects. Perhaps your organization is also needing BAs who can perform at the highest level, (4) highly complex program/mega project level. If so, you have or are recruiting BAs capable of performing at these levels. Please refer to article #6 in this series, Will the Real Business Analysts Please Stand Up? – Build a Capable BA Team, to review the project complexity model and the BA Workforce Capability Model and the skills needed to perform at each level of complexity.

The next step is to determine what practices are currently in use by your BA team, both formal and informal practices. Ask your team of BAs to work together to document all of the practices they are using or have used to perform their work for each of the four project types, including:

  • BA methods, processes, procedures
  • BA requirements management tools, templates, job aids
  • BA manager tools, templates, oversight process

In addition, assess the following:

  • BA acceptance by PMs, Developers, Architects, Customers, Managers, other key stakeholders
  • BA measures of success and incentives
  • BA training programs
  • BA formal HR structures: roles, career path, pay scale (as compared to industry salary surveys)

It is helpful to use a BA Maturity Model similar to the one presented here to perform this assessment. The model is structured into four levels.

Hass May28 Img02The BA practices required for each level are described below. Feel free to use this matrix as a checklist to help your BA team conduct their assessment.

Hass May28 Img03Hass May28 Img04Hass May28 Img05

Step 2: Develop a 2-year roadmap and 12-month plan to Close Gaps in BA Practices

Along with your BA team, develop a roadmap to refine/adopt/develop practices that are missing from your practice. Move from left to right on the BA Practice Maturity Model. Once your plan has been created (remember, lean, just enough investment in BA deliverables):

  • Update BA Practice Business Case with new information learned from the assessment (See article #3)
  • Gain consensus and approval for the budget and resources to implement the 2-year roadmap and 12-month plan to close gaps in BA practices

Putting it all Together

So what does this mean for the Business Analyst?

As a capable BA, you need to have some standard tools in your arsenal. It is important to change your methods, style, and facilitation techniques as you grow along the capability levels. Low complexity projects require low complexity BA deliverables. Always use business language, vs. technical IT jargon. Use simple models, drawings, charts and graphs whenever possible to bring the requirements into view.
So what does this mean for the BA Practice Lead?

Use the experience and talent of your BA team to develop and improve BA deliverables. Resist the temptation to assign one staff person to develop all the BA standards. This approach rarely works, and will lead to disarray, lack of ownership on the part of your BA team, and therefore, lack of use of the standards.

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A Business Analyst’s Best Friends: The Business Manager

Wick FeatureArticle May7BAs need information. The best BAs get information by building and maintaining strong relationships with all project team members. From the CIO to the front-line employees, BAs rely on many “friends”. BAs need to anticipate their friends’ needs and learn how to influence cooperation.

In January, I set the stage for a series describing the BA’s best friends. This month’s friend is the Business Manager.

How does the Business Manager benefit from a BA?

The Business Manager’s team suffers or soars based on the quality of the BA’s work. If the BA is effective, these are the top five benefits to the Business Manager.

  1. BAs maximize the benefits of projects, which depending on the project, helps the Business Manager reduce costs, increase productivity, solve problems, etc.
  2. BAs minimize issues by eliciting complete and accurate requirements.
  3. BAs minimize implementation risks by support testing and training efforts.
  4. BAs ensure the solution will meet the Business Manager’s need.
  5. BAs see the big picture and anticipate issues and constraints outside of the Business Manager’s operation.

What makes a top-notch BA from the Business Manager’s perspective?

Business Managers see top-notch BAs as master observers and change agents. 

Observers: Top-notch BAs understand the needs and goals of the Business Manager’s organization from a 360 degree perspective. These BAs understand the Business Manager’s pressure from above, politics between peers, and the issues within the team. 

Change Agents: Top-notch BAs understand their role in the change management process. BAs help the Business Manager prepare the team for change by

  • successfully gathering input from all stakeholders
  • understanding and communicating all potential impacts (good and bad!)
  • maximizing the value of the change
  • ensuring a smooth transition

What frustrates a Business Manager about the BA role?

Have you heard any of these statements/questions from your Business Managers:

  • This document is way too technical for me.
  • I don’t have time to review all of these documents.
  • I already explained all of this, why do we have to go through it again?
  • My team is so busy. I don’t have any resources available to help you.
  • I told you how to fix the system. Why do we need document the current process?

All of these frustrations stem from your Business Manager’s need to maximize time. Long winded, jargon-filled, technical documents take too much time to decipher. Give the Business Manager pictures, a summary or have her team members sign-off on the details.

Also, be sure to help the Business Manager understand your process. Walk through your tasks with him. Help him understand why each step is important, what would happen if you skip a step, and which resources will increase the probability of a good outcome. 

How to say no to a Business Manager?

Most disagreements with Business Managers relate to scope. BAs need to say “no” when requirements do not align with the vision and objectives of the project. 

Here are four ways to say “no” and prevent scope creep:

  1. Ask questions: The primary goal of our project is X, how does this fit in? 
  2. Facilitate a prioritization process. Help the Business Manager and her team prioritize requirements based on the primary need of the project. The “scope creepers” will tend to fall to the bottom of the priority list. If they don’t then you may need to reevaluate the project scope and timeline.
  3. Frame the impact of the scope change in the language of the Business Manager: How would the change impact her team? How would the change impact profit, productivity, efficiency? How would the change impact the timeline of the project?
  4. Give options and alternatives—ways to address the new requirement without adding to the scope of the project.

How to influence a Business Manager to get what you need?

BAs need access to information and the Business Manager is usually the gatekeeper. How do you get the Business Manager to open the door to the kingdom?

  • Set Expectations: Discuss resource needs. Provide a project timeline with estimates for “human” resources. 
  • Respect Time: In many cases, Business Managers and their team members are overwhelmed by the thought of adding project work on top of their day-to-day operations. BAs build trust and influence by using time wisely: prepare for meetings, create agendas, be concise, know when to escalate, use facilitation skills that will elicit accurate and complete requirements quickly.
  • Give Context: Resolve issues with the Business Manager, by describing the impact from his perspective. Help him understand operational risks and impacts to morale, quality metrics, efficiency and productivity.

How to communicate the value of the BA role to the Business Manager?

Of all of the BAs best friends, the Business Manager has the best understanding of the BA role. Business managers:

  • See the BA as a liaison to other parts of the organization.
  • Move up the corporate ladder when great BAs help them maximize the value of business and technology changes.
  • Inspire innovation and collaboration when BAs help them identify options and alternatives.

What do you think? 

  • BAs: How do get the most out of each meeting with your Business Manager?
  • Business Managers: How has a great BA helped you move up the corporate ladder?

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

Is there a “Place” for Business Analysts & Project Managers in Agile Teams?

And if they belong there, what do they do? To be honest, I don’t exactly know.

It’s sort of the same question for other more ‘specialized’ roles like architects and operations engineers. They all don’t fit.

If I use Scrum roles as an example, there are ONLY three primary roles :

  1. The Development Team
  2. The Product Owner
  3. The Scrum Master

That’s it. It’s simple and clear. There are no business analysts or project managers or testers or developers for that matter. There is only a team of individual skills that are tasked with executing a list of work—a Product Backlog.

They are asked to work together—producing “working code” in increments.

The team is self-directing; self-managing, and self-organizing. That implies that it’s pretty much up to the team to figure things out. Sure you can have managers hovering around the team and providing leadership, support and occasional guidance. But the best agile teams are pretty much left alone to deliver.

There is also the notion of generalization over specialization; in that you want the team to be as generalist as possible. For example, developers can design, write use cases or user stories, test, and deliver their functional contributions. So the broader each team member views their skill and responsibilities, the better. No hard silos allowed!

Call for Feedback

So, rather than my trying articulate whether they should or shouldn’t be in agile teams, I’m looking for reader feedback to generate discussion.

  1. Do Business Analysts and Project Manager(s) have a place within Agile teams?
  2. And if they do, what do they do? Seriously, what do they focus on?
  3. How do they collaborate as part of the team? What are their primary roles? And contributions?
  4. If they re-frame from “old role” to “new role”; what changes need to be made?

My sense?

My personal sense in both cases is that, yes, there is a place for Business Analysts and Project Managers within agile teams. Not leveraging their skills as they traditionally have, but more so transforming themselves to contribute within the context of an agile team. I would also argue that there are wider opportunities within agile teams to contribute.

But that’s just my perspective. What’s yours?

Thanks for listening,

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.