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Tag: Business Analysis

Launching Fledgling Business Analysts

launchingfledglingA fledgling is a bird that is out of the nest but still dependent on its parents for food and care. Recently I was contacted by a technical support/system administrator in my company who wanted to know more about this profession called “business analysis”. This young man, let’s call him Brandon, had been singled out both by his peers and his manager to be the person to talk to internal customers. Brandon had shown a talent for engaging with the customers to find out if what they asked for was what they really needed. (ding!)

Brandon hasn’t written formal requirements and he hasn’t done work on a project that has lasted for more than two weeks. He has experienced customers changing their minds half way through the delivery of the service. He has realized that he is the only one in his peer group who can “speak geek” and in the next breath “speak manager” and not break a sweat. (Ding ding!)

I gave him a whirlwind tour of business analysis by introducing him to the IIBA website and giving him a “tips of the waves” tour of the Knowledge Areas in the BA BoK. Unfortunately the corporate training for business analysis skills section that used to be in place is on hold for a while.

Other than suggesting he join the IIBA, download the BA BoK and find a local chapter to join, I couldn’t really offer him much more personal support for learning about the BA profession because of the geographic separation between us. Brandon asked if I knew any BAs in his location whom he could job shadow. “Job shadowing” is a way for a person, typically a student or intern, to learn about a day in the life of a professional by following the professional around for a day. To my delight, one of the senior BAs that I contacted, let’s call him Steve, responded with “yes, I’ll set up some time with Brandon”. Steve deserves a halo and wings.

Steve’s generosity made me think about what I would do if Brandon were to shadow me. What exactly could a senior BA invite a fledgling BA to watch or listen to?

Traditionally job shadowing is done all in one day. Given that Brandon is working a full time job, I had suggested that he consider having Brandon shadow him in a few two-hour sessions over a couple of weeks, or some similar arrangement. Here’s a list of seven suggestions for job shadowing activities where the senior BA spends several increments of time with the fledgling.

Bring the fledgling with you when

  1. You are collecting information from stakeholders for the business case.
    Give the fledgling the business case template or the work-in-progress business case so they have something to ground the information that will be swirling around.
  2. You are eliciting requirements from, or reviewing a use case with the stakeholders. If more than one session is planned, it would be great to have the fledgling observe a sequence of elicitation sessions. 
  3. You participate in a requirements document peer review. If you want to make a huge impression, pick a peer review that has one of your BRDs on the agenda. Give the fledgling the business case and the BRD to review a couple of days in advance – whatever they can soak up is fine.
  4. You discuss the requirements with the architects, infrastructure people, or user interface advisors, for the purpose of articulating a design.
  5. You and the project team discuss the scope changes requested by the customer.
  6. You and the PM discuss the plans for a User Acceptance Test.
  7. You conduct the daily review of the UAT progress with the stakeholders.

It’s okay if any of the above interactions don’t go as smoothly as you might have liked. It is important to model patience, resilience and perseverance. It is important to model “leaving your ego at the door”.

If you’re thinking to yourself, “Well, I’m not so sure I’d be a good person to shadow, I spend a lot of time just typing at my computer”, read the suggestions again. What do they have in common? You got it, “interacting with other people”. I can’t think of anything more boring than watching someone else type.

Many years ago I participated in the Expanding Your Horizons (EYH) conferences. EYH is a program designed to encourage girls in grade school through high school to take classes in math and science. A young lady came up to me after my talk; she seemed vaguely familiar. She had attended my EYH presentation two years previously as a junior in high school. My heart soared when she said she had changed her original college plans and was attending Carnegie Mellon University in the Artificial Intelligence/ Computer Science program. She was having a blast in school and had just stopped by to say hello during Spring break.

Going back to Brandon’s situation – he is lucky! Brandon’s manager recognized a diamond in the rough and suggested that he look into business analysis as a career path. Brandon had the wherewithal to follow through and find a senior BA to talk to. (ding ding ding!) And, true to the nature of “being the bridge”, Steve, the heaven-sent senior BA, decided to check out the raw talent and stepped up to the task letting Brandon job-shadow him. Maybe in six months I’ll get an email from Steve, “Hey, remember that guy Brandon? He has been re-assigned to my team as the junior business analyst.”

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Cecilie Hoffman is a Senior Principal IT Business Analyst in the Business Analysis Center of Excellence, Symantec Services Group, Symantec Corporation. Cecilie’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 writes a blog on her personal passion, motorcycle riding, at balsamfir.com. She can be reached at [email protected].

Future Leaders Learning Program Puts Business Analysis at Core

futureleaders1Background

The Hanover Insurance Group, Inc. is a leading property and casualty insurance provider based in Worcester, Massachusetts in the United States. The company distributes its products through independent agents across the country. Established in 1852, The Hanover has grown to rank among the top 30 property and casualty insurers in the United States with more than 4,000 employees.

The Challenge

One of the core skill sets identified as being critical to The Hanover’s continued business success is that of business analysis. For the past five years, The Hanover has partnered with ESI International to deliver instructor-led learning to business analysts in its technology division. There were, however, business analysts in the business areas of the company as well.

With approximately 200 business analysts across the company, The Hanover’s leadership sought to formalize an enterprise wide strategy for positioning the business analyst role as a pipeline for analytical and operational roles. With the implementation of its Future Leaders Program in 2009, work was begun on developing a consistent profile for entry-level business analyst talent at The Hanover.

The challenge before ESI and The Hanover was to develop a learning program for the Future Leaders Program effort that could indoctrinate new team members within various business units quickly and focus on raising the bar for the entire company, steering a course for continuous leadership development.

The Strategy

With approximately 200 business analysts stretching across multiple lines of business, bringing enterprise-wide focus to this role as a career-growth opportunity is a winning strategy.

Planning for the program focused on a number of key strategic goals, including:

  • Identifying and effectively recruiting outstanding university students and recent graduates
  • Determining a consistent, common approach and language around business analysis
  • Delivering learning through a range of modalities to ensure skills and knowledge are reinforced and effectively applied

The Hanover chose to partner with ESI International to guide the development and implementation of this new program. “It was clear that they were the ideal choice as our partner for this program,” said Irene Brank, Assistant Vice President and Director of The Hanover’s Future Leaders Program. “Their direction, commitment and support have helped us chart the path to this initiative.”

The Solution

The first task was to map a set of core competencies for the Future Leaders Program, which was divided into two broad career focus areas: business management and risk management. Assessment tools to effectively benchmark and evaluate the progress of program participants were also developed.

Once recruited into the two-year program, candidates are assigned an IT or non-IT career track. At the conclusion of the two years, candidates will find placement in a role that allows them to continue to grow their career. To ensure participants have the skills and knowledge they need to be leaders, the Future Leaders Program guides participants through a range of learning opportunities:

  • Traditional instructor-led classroom curricula
  • Reinforcement workshops delivered in person and via webinars
  • A participant forum promoting formal group interaction, including program coaches
  • Corporate-wide access to online reference materials
  • Practical, on-the-job application of new skills and knowledge
  • Continued mentoring after program completion

The program’s design ensures that learning and reinforcement take place before, during and after classroom training. Pre-class webinars create a foundation that prepares participants for specific learning events and reinforcement workshops conducted after courses further reinforce key competencies.

“We believe that offering a range of learning opportunities greatly increases the program’s success,” said Ken Joseph, Business Learning Manager, The Hanover. “By combining what we could offer in-house with ESI’s various, interactive modalities, we’ve achieved a robust solution.”

The Future Leaders Program also offers coaching and mentoring, as well as the opportunity to earn professional and technical certifications including Actuarial, Business Analysis, and INS certifications.

As university graduates progress through the program, the company’s current leaders also undergo targeted learning based upon position and role, which promotes consistent knowledge across the organization. These include:

  • Traditional, instructor-led classroom courses
  • Executive level workshops and webinars that overview key program knowledge areas
  • Skill specific workshops and webinars

Results

The Future Leaders Program builds upon the success of the two companies’ partnership which has demonstrated:

  • Significant improvements in project completions and adherence to budgets
  • A dramatic reduction in project change requests
  • A reduction in project errors
  • Faster time to market for new products

While still in the early stages, the Future Leaders Program has begun to deliver decisive impact by:

  • Charting a clear and fast track for new leadership
  • Defining a consistent approach and language around business analysis
  • Improving recruiting and retention
  • Increasing organization-wide competency in business analysis

Each year, approximately 75 future leaders are accepted into the program. At this rate almost 10 percent of the company will have completed the leadership program in the next five years.

Planning Forward

The Hanover and ESI are identifying ways to further enrich the program. Specific considerations include:

  • Enhancing The Hanover’s company-wide business analysis methodology
  • The addition to the core learning program of a “live” practicum project
  • Inclusion of a set of business consulting and skills curricula focused on such topics as financial literacy, critical thinking and leading organizational change
  • Inclusion of additional project management specific curricula
  • Executive workshops to refine the mentoring skills of those managing Future Leaders Program participants to help them more effectively reinforce the program’s competencies
  • Ongoing individual and organizational assessments to add value and uncover areas for greater learning emphasis

“Despite the early stage status of the program, it’s already delivering clear benefits to us,” said Greg Tranter, Senior Vice President and COO, The Hanover. “Much of the benefit is a direct result of the emphasis we’re placing on business analysis for decision making, which is changing the way our company approaches its decisions.”

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Nancy Y. Nee, PMP, CBAP, CSM, Executive Director, Project Management & Business Analysis Programs, ESI International, provides thought leadership in the field of project management and business analysis while incorporating the industry’s best practices and professional advances into ESI’s portfolio of project management and business analysis courses and services. She is a member of numerous professional associations including the Project Management Institute (PMI®), the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA®), and the Scrum Alliance where she is certified as a Project Management Professional (PMP®) from the PMI®, Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP®) from the (IIBA®), and a Certified Scrum Master from the Scrum Alliance. www.esi-intl.com.

Disassembling Your Cube

Most of us in Information Technology have seen the movie OfficeSpace. It’s funny because we can relate to the situations that the main character, Peter, faced. I’m sure that many of us have experienced a “Did you get the memo?” situation but I question how many of us business analysts have disassembled our cube wall? In one scene, Peter disassembles his cube wall to connect with the outside world, and I’m suggesting that as BAs, we do the same thing. Now before you all take out your cordless drills and start physically disassembling your cubes, I’m speaking metaphorically. We need to break down the walls around us and understand the business that is looking for solutions.

Break Down the Wall

Many of us who practice business analysis sit within and report up through the IT environment. We may even have a title indicative of that such as Business Systems Analyst. But just because we are in IT, we need to stop constraining ourselves with IT thinking and understand what it is that our business does and how their processes work. In this age of telecommuting, multi-tasking, conference calls, and webinars, when was the last time that you actually sat with a business person as they performed their job to truly understand what it was that they did, and why they did it that way? Get out of that cube, get into the business, and learn what your business does. Better yet – see if you can learn how to do it and you try and do the work. This may be more challenging than you think; we often think that someone else’s job is simpler than our own. For instance, you may be studying an easier way for a business user to produce a certain report. When you perform the steps that they tell you, you might get completely frustrated switching between three to four different computer systems, writing down information from one to enter into another, etc. By doing so, you experience the same frustrations that they do, and you will quickly start to think of a better way to do it. While not everyone can perform the work that they are analyzing (say, a BA designing flight controls systems for a military jet doesn’t get to fly the jet – but boy, wouldn’t that be fun!), if you are able to do the work it gives you great insight to the troubles that operators face daily. You start to see the world outside your cube, looking in at IT.

Looking at your profession from the outside is not easy. Be prepared to see things that you do not like, such as disjointed ways for users to interact with the software that your organization puts out. One example; most of us probably use Microsoft Office. This office suite of tools tries to standardize commands as much as possible between Word, Excel, and Powerpoint. Pressing CTRL+F in Word (or COMMAND+F for us Mac users) initiates a search, same as the other Office products. Now consider all the other applications that you use. Is CTRL+F the same in all? I can name a text editor that uses F3 as the search, another program that has no hot key for a search and in which I have to click a button. And that’s just off the top of my head. Does your organization roll-out different applications from different product portfolios that have the design of Office’s parallel commands? Do your accounting applications search in the same way that MS Office does? How about your other applications? By getting outside of your cube and looking in from the outside, you will increase your familiarity with the area that you support. The end result is that you will be able to see a lot more of the world by getting out into it than just looking at it from within your cube.

Don’t Just Accept the Solution

By getting into the outside world, you start to see how the business operates and can start seeing solutions that you didn’t previously know existed. Users may not tell you everything because they are smart and figure out ways to get things done either inside or outside the system (or problem area). What they may see within their span of control as a solution may be completely valid. Based on everything they know, they are requesting a change in the process, but what they are really doing is proposing a solution. It’s your job to get out into the business to uncover the problem instead of just accepting their solution.

Consider this; you, as a BA, have a request from the business to create an Excel-based report from Application A. In your cube, you do your job as a BA and ask what the business need is for this new style of the report. The answer is that the business needs to input this report into an Excel spreadsheet and they cannot do this with the current MS Word-based report. Requirement captured, right? Almost! If you had been outside your cube and in the business, you would have seen users outputting the Word report from Application A and manually entering the data from the report into an Excel spreadsheet in Application B. If your requirement was to create the Excel report, it would have made the key-entry situation easier, but you still have a manual process in place (export from one system and input to another). By getting out of your cube and into the business, you would have seen that the real problem was that the business’s process required getting data from Application A to Application B, and it was not the report format. Merely accepting the requirement at face value may have saved the business a little time, but in the long run, understanding the business problem by seeing it in action would have resulted in saving a lot more time, and would have been a better solution.

Partner with the Business

Because we are so comfortable in our cubes, we tend to stay there. Yeah, we do have nice chairs but we can’t sit in them all the time. We have to get out into the business areas that we support and get them to trust us. Trust us to the point that they know that we really are there to help; to help uncover ways to improve their processes, and to help make their lives easier.

If you can show the business people that you are not just there to “take their order” as I’m fond of saying (like a waiter/waitress at a restaurant), they will become your trusted partner. But, you have to show them that you can bring something to the table. To do this will require that you understand their problems and bring a solution that shows you understand. If all you do is write down what they request, you provide no additional value. They received what they asked for, and they will wonder why you are even involved in the process in the first place.

Consider the difference from their viewpoint; they may be asking for that new report, but you find a better way to fix their business problem and make their jobs more efficient. Now they will see you as the change agent and the person who understands the problems that they face. They will start to contact you instead of their normal channels because they have seen that you were the one who sought to understand their problem and that you solved it. Instead of just the solution that you delivered on the first project, they may well start to contact you and suggest other fixes that you could make. The business has seen that you, as the BA, are the one that solved the problem on the original project, so now you are a trusted partner. While not all of the changes that they suggest will be something that you can make (or even have the budget for), they are problem areas that the business experiences day in and day out. They can be logged as future projects, or if in an agile development world, onto the project backlog.

So go ahead and break down those walls around you, and not by disassembling your cube. And while I welcome e-mails, I don’t want to see any in my inbox from your management saying that I told you to take apart your cubes. Remember, I was speaking metaphorically.

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Paul Mulvey is a Lead Business Systems Analyst at UPS. He has just completed creation of a BA Certification program within UPS and is sitting for the CBAP exam in March. He can be reached at [email protected].

Beyond Requirements Analysis – Enterprise Analysis

“What do your Business Analysts do?”

“They develop and manage project requirements, of course. What else would they do?”

What else indeed!

The BA Body of Knowledge (BABOK®) defines what a professional BA should know and do. Much of it is focused on requirements work – but not all. One of the knowledge areas that takes the BA beyond requirements work is “Enterprise Analysis.”

Enterprise Analysis (EA) encompasses those activities that the job title “Business Analyst” actually points toward: analyzing business processes. The majority of these activities is outside of projects, and in fact, put the BA into the position of recommending and justifying projects.

Enterprise Analysis

Analyzing business processes is indeed a big part of what we do during Requirements Analysis. But that is not the only context where this analysis should be done, and in fact, it is not the most valuable time to do it. In the Enterprise Analysis knowledge area, the BABOK identifies several other contexts in which such analysis should be done.

Activity: Creating and Maintaining the Business Architecture

As the name of this activity implies, “Creating and Maintaining the Business Architecture” is an on-going activity that has as its focus the entire enterprise. The “Business Architecture” is a model of all the business processes that are used throughout the enterprise. It shows how they work and relate to each other.

The net result of this is an understanding that most organizations lack, of how all their moving parts mesh with each other. This broad understanding of the enterprise’s processes becomes the foundation for all of the other responsibilities of the BA. But its bigger value comes in providing every member of the organization with a clear understanding of how his or her department and individual job fits into the bigger picture

Recommending and Justifying Projects

The bulk of the activities described in the Enterprise Analysis knowledge area center around proposing and justifying projects. These are activities that occur in some form or other in any organization. But with the BA’s involvement, they can provide much more value and ensure the organization’s resources are spent on the most valuable projects.

Activity: Conducting Feasibility Studies

Projects are created to solve a problem or to take advantage of an opportunity. It is rare for there to be only one available solution to a problem or opportunity, so part of project initiation involves exploring the alternatives. The BA can provide a valuable service by calling upon his or her understanding of the Business Architecture to analyze the feasibility of a variety of options.

Activity: Determining Project Scope

Scope definition should not be the first step in requirements development; it should be done during the project proposal process. How can the decision-maker(s) approve or disapprove a project without a clear understanding of its boundaries?

Activity: Preparing the Business Case

The business case is the logical argument for embarking on a project. It consists of contrasting the status quo (current situation) with the various options for addressing the problem or opportunity at hand and recommending the most appropriate option. In most cases, these options are being contrasted in terms of money (e.g., “If we spend $x on this project, it will result in $y increased revenue per year”).

Activity: Conducting the Initial Risk Assessment

An important piece of information that the decision-makers need is an understanding of the risks involved in a project. Clearly, you cannot do a complete risk-planning workshop before the project has been initiated (that is part of the Project Planning process). But an initial survey of the project risks can provide the decision-makers with key information.

Activity: Preparing the Decision Package

The BA has no authority to approve or disapprove any project. The people who do have that authority rarely have the time that is necessary to do the requisite research. So, the BA’s role in the decision-making process is to do all of the necessary research, and compile it into a form the decision-makers can use.

Activity: Selecting and Prioritizing Projects

After a project has been approved, it should not be a foregone conclusion that it will begin immediately. Projects must be prioritized against each other so the organization’s resources can be deployed in the most appropriate way. Again, the BA is not the decision-maker, but provides the necessary analysis to the decision-makers.

Project Work beyond Requirements

The last three activities that the BABOK includes under the “Enterprise Analysis” knowledge area are project-related activities that go beyond Requirements Analysis. They continue the theme of Enterprise Analysis by maintaining a broad organizational view of the project.

Activity: Launching New Projects

Here, the BA works with the appropriate people in the organization to ensure that the necessary resources, including the right project manager, are committed to the project. The BA’s unique role in these activities is to focus on the bigger picture of why the project was approved and how it fits into the bigger organizational context. This ensures that the intent of the decision-makers is honored as the project is framed and kicked off.

Activity: Managing Projects for Value

In this activity, the BA works closely with the project manager to ensure the project is tracking toward providing the value that was promised in the business case (above). The BA helps the project manager keep the project’s value proposition on track. And if the assumptions on which the project was approved turn out to be false, the BA can help the decision-makers determine their best response.

Activity: Tracking Project Benefits

In this last activity, the BA closes the loop on the business case (above). The business case proposed making certain investments in order to accrue certain benefits. After the project is over, the actual investments are known, and the actual benefits can be measured. At some appropriate time after deployment, the BA should report back to the decision-makers about how the results of the project compare with the business case. This discussion process will help the organization make better decisions in the future.

Expanding Your Value as a BA

Requirements Analysis is an important way for the BA to provide value to his or her organization. By adding Enterprise Analysis, the BA can dramatically increase his or her value by ensuring that every project fits well into the bigger picture and provides the best possible result to the organization.

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Alan S. Koch, PMP is a speaker and writer on effective Project Management Methods. He is a certified Project Management Professional and President of ASK Process, Inc, a training and consulting company that helps companies to improve the return on their software investment by focusing on the quality of both their software products and the processes they use to develop them.

Mr. Koch’s 29 years in software development include:14 years designing, developing and maintaining software; five plus years in Quality Assurance (including establishing and managing a QA department); eight years in Software Process Improvement and 10 years in management

Mr. Koch was with the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) for 13 years where he became familiar with the Capability Maturity Model (CMM), earned the authorization to teach the Personal Software Process (PSP) and worked with Watts Humphrey in pilot testing the Team Software Process (TSP).

For more information about Mr. Koch: http://www.ASKProcess.com/experience.html.

This article was originally published in Global Knowledge’s Business Brief newsletter. (www.globalknowledge.com)

Copyright © Global Knowledge Training LLC. All rights reserved

Pro Sports and Business Analysis Come Together

Let me share a little about me. I love my family, the business analysis profession, professional sports, Rocky Balboa, and Bruce Springsteen. When my loves blend I couldn’t be happier! It happened a few weeks ago when the Dallas Cowboys unveiled their new $1 Billion; yes that’s a “B”, stadium. Pro sports and business analysis came together for me. Let me explain.

prosports1Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, who I do not love since I am a NY Giants fan, had a pet feature for this stadium…sixty yard long, high definition screens that are 90 feet above the field and run along the side lines.

Man, and I thought my 47″ HDTV was cool.

Prior to having the screens constructed the Cowboys allegedly showed the specifications to the NFL, National Football League, and obtained sign-off to move forward. The screens were built and installed. Although I have not been to the stadium they look really cool.

The hype around the screens was all positive until the third quarter of the first pre-season game. The opposing team’s punter kicked a ball right into the screen causing a do-over. Just like that the stadium “project” went from a success to a big concern in some critical stakeholders’ eyes. The NFL is now reviewing the situation, the height of the screens, the impact on games, etc. A decision will be made soon if the screens need to be moved, who has to pay for the work and when they can safely be moved, if necessary.

So, what does sign-off really mean? Does sign-off of a requirements specification mean anything if the end solution does not meet the needs of key stakeholders? In the case of the Cowboys, they’ll most likely argue to the NFL that they received the necessary approval on the plans. This may result in the NFL picking up the tab for the move of the screens, but there is still an impact to everyone involved. In my opinion only having this type of sign-off is worthless. If you stop there, all it does is allow parties to place blame on other parties. Why do you think so many customers are skeptical about signing off on requirements documents?

Now, let’s talk about the right way to obtain sign-off. The Indianapolis Colts, who I am impartial to because they play in a different division than the NY Giants, were planning on a similar screen set-up when they were building their new stadium. To verify the screens would not impede the game, they built a “prototype” of the screens and had their punter try to hit the mock screens. He was very successful in hitting them which resulted in the team changing the design and placement of the screens due to this simulation. Now that’s what I call sign-off you can be confident about.

In addition to my disliking the Cowboys, the moral of the story is you need to make sure you obtain the right level of approval throughout a project. At different stages of a project you need to take the opportunity to ensure you are headed in the right direction. I think the Cowboys did the right thing about getting the plans approved. The issue was they stopped there. By simulating the scenario with their punter, the Indianapolis Colts were able to obtain the right level of approval.

I’d love to hear your sign-off stories, good and bad!

Have fun simulating,

Kupe

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Jonathan “Kupe” Kupersmith is Director of Client Solutions, B2T Training and has over 12 years of business analysis experience. He has served as the lead Business Analyst and Project Manager on projects in various industries. He serves as a mentor for business analysis professionals and is a Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP) through the IIBA and is BA Certified through B2T Training. Kupe is a connector and has a goal in life to meet everyone! Contact Kupe at [email protected].