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Tag: Career

The Mind as the Canvas

In the ever-evolving world of business analysis, the ability to convey complex data insights and concepts is paramount. For many, Visualization is a fundamental tool, often associated with software applications such as Power BI, Tableau, or Excel. In these tools an image containing all data points is generated for visual consumption and interpretation.

However, for Business Analysts who are certified with Sight Loss, this traditional approach of transcribing an externally generated image visualization into the mind can present a barrier to conducting their duties. In order to overcome these barriers it is essential to embrace non-visual representation, not only to ensure the Business Analyst with Sight Loss can complete their job, but by doing so it also develops and encourages many other benefits for the entire business.

 

Using a traditional Visualisation method, namely consuming and transcribing an external image into the consumers mind for analysis and interpretation, presents significant challenges for those who cannot access the external image in the first instance. Visualisation is an internal process and we use external stimuli to reconstruct this in our minds. These mental images can be real or imaginary, for example if I ask you to think of a pink elephant, you can do so, despite it not existing. The objective of having a pre-generated image to transcribe is one of time saving through consistency. By having technology that converts non-visual data into a visual image saves the user from having to do this themselves. Further, it also ensures that every consumer of the image has the same input and is therefore the internal process goes from reconstruction to transcription.

 

Think back to the pink elephant, if two people had to imagine it and compare, there would be differences in the size of the elephant, the ears, the hue of pink, and many other variables. Any question raised by the variability can be removed when transcribing, because you do not have to think about the construction of the image just the result of the image.

 

It is therefore logical to conclude that the essence of visualisation lies in cognitive processing and data communication methods. The communication method traditionally gives a visual representation before entering the mind, which is usually accepted by the brain as fact. There can be no more clearer way to draw out the problems of this than the recent phenomenon of the Changing Dress, which appears either Blue and Black or White and Gold to different people. Both versions are subjectively true. We accept pre-generated images to be true because of various reasons from the size of the dataset the image has been generated from, to the relationship between stakeholders, to the attitude and aptitude of the Analyst.

 

The concept of non-visual data representation is a crucial avenue for enabling not only Analysts with Sight Loss to excel in their roles, but to ensure that the risk of incorrect data insight is minimised.

 

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There are several benefits to not relying solely on a pre-generated image. Firstly, enhanced data comprehension, namely non-visual data consumption that relies on auditory, tactile, and textual methods to convey the knowledge of data as data points, not visual graphics. Utilizing alternative communication methods can allow access and interpretation of complex datasets in a new and engaging way. This approach allows for a deeper understanding of the data, in the same way that reading a book cover-to-cover (i.e. the dataset), instead of just the blurb (i.e. a pre-generated external image) gives a fuller understanding of the content.

 

Secondly, when presenting findings to stakeholders, it can be beneficial for them to understand it not in a mental-visual aspect but as data points, facts, and relationships. This includes verbal descriptions, accessible documents, audio tracks and storytelling (as opposed to story boarding). By doing so, analysts can articulate their insights clearly and persuasively without traditional visual aids or statistical jargon. It can also enable the stakeholders to engage more effectively with the data and can apply their own domain knowledge, further helping the project being undertaken.

 

Thirdly, for those BAs with sight loss, the advancement in technology means that they can process data more effectively with Screen Reader software and tactile graphics, building a graph in the mind. Much in the same way that following instructions on Google Maps and actually walking the route, are two very different experiences. These tools can provide real-time feedback and enable analysts to explore data, scenarios, and outliers effectively, all while maintaining the focus on the data itself, instead of interpretations of data.

 

Fourthly, a further benefit of non-visual communication is increased collaboration and teamwork.  Non-visual communication allows analysts to work seamlessly with both sighted and colleagues with sight loss, to share their findings, develop requirements, and craft compelling data narratives, centred on the concept or data’s intrinsic qualities.

 

Further to these benefits, non-visual communication can encourages innovative problem-solving techniques, because it does not funnel people into thinking visually, it does not bias them towards any particulars, by predisposing them to the stimuli of a pre-generated image. Analysts with Sight loss can apply their unique perspectives to explore different approaches and scenarios, contributing valuable insights to the analysis process without relying on visual cues.

 

In conclusion, within the realm of business analysis, non-visual processing is crucial for individuals who have sight loss to equally participate, but it can also present business-wide benefits. Embracing non-visual approaches empowers all staff members of an organisation to excel in their roles, offering enhanced data comprehension, alternative communication, and adaptive problem-solving techniques that focus on the data itself, not a pre-defined notion. As we strive for inclusivity and diversity in the workforce, it is essential that the business analysis field acknowledges the value of non-visual processing and provides the necessary support and resources for Analysts with Sight Loss to thrive.

 

In doing so, we ensure that all individuals, regardless of their Sight capability, have an equal opportunity to contribute their skills and insights to this dynamic field, with the primary focus on processing as the valuable core of their analysis.

Ego Check: The Secret Sauce of Successful Business Analysis

You’ve spent days or even weeks working through your discovery and analysis details to craft wire frames for a new application or capability. You know what your stakeholders might ask for in terms of alternatives, so you create those versions as well. The day arrives when you’re finally ready to share with business and IT, the work you’ve labored over.

 

The big meeting happens and your stakeholder destroys everything you’d worked so diligently over, ripping your heart out.

Sound familiar? Some people take this as a crushing defeat and question their choice of profession.

Don’t let this be you!

 

You need to have a thick skin in this game. As a business analyst, your role resides at the crossroads of business operations and IT solutions. Navigating the complexities and personalities of both requires not only some technical knowledge and business acumen but also a crucial personality trait — the ability to leave your ego at the door. While this notion may seem daunting at first, it stands as one of the most invaluable skills a business analyst can possess.

Bringing your ego along in conversations tends to add chaos, disrupting free-flowing communication in an environment that might already have some chaos. Setting aside your ego entails acknowledging you don’t have all the answers; that meticulously crafted strategies may necessitate revisions; and that your perspective, no matter how comprehensive, may not encapsulate the entirety of a problem or its solution.

 

Within the dynamics of a business environment, ego can often act as a hindrance, impeding effective communication. A business analyst who can restrain their ego is more amenable to guidance for research and receptive to feedback, fostering continuous learning and growth.

While criticism is frequently viewed unfavorably, it carries substantial value within a business context, serving as an indispensable tool for development when harnessed constructively. As BAs, our mission revolves around streamlining processes, enhancing capability & value, and facilitating change — tasks that demand perpetual scrutiny and re-evaluation. Feedback, including criticism, serves as a critical lense through which we refine our insights and strategies.

 

You need to be strong enough to withstand the critique to investigate what the underlying cause or comments are about. When the feedback seems overly harsh and does not feel like it is constructive, exercise what you have available to you – use your tools to continue the conversation. Start by expressing appreciation for the input. Depending on the harshness of the initial comments, this can be disarming, so utilize the connection to ask questions for feedback that could be actionable areas for your improvement.

 

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In addition to seeking constructive feedback, you can also practice the agile principle of Simplicity. If you don’t quite understand what “the art of maximizing the amount of work not done” really means for a BA… it’s this; don’t spend so much time trying to produce a pristine wireframe or perfectly crafted requirement. Do enough to identify value during conversations.

While on a project or during a product increment, the initial requirements documentation is really intended to be just enough to draw out the valuable conversation to confirm understanding while narrowing in on the solution and it’s constraints to facilitate realization of the business value.

 

Internalizing feedback can obstruct the broader perspective and overall objective of the task at hand. Conversely, leveraging feedback as a means of self-improvement can significantly elevate your standing within the team, while enhancing the quality of output and fostering stronger work relationships.

Keeping your ego in check does not mean a dismissal of your ideas, opinions, or self-assurance entirely. Rather, it involves striking a balance — knowing when to advocate persistently for your ideas and when to step back, listen, and glean insights from others. For seasoned analysts, this should be second nature but it’s worth a reminder from time to time.

 

In conclusion, the absence of ego can quell the chaos, amplify your capacity to discover and comprehend the real issues, and embrace diverse perspectives to construct robust and effective solutions. Thus, resisting the urge to take criticism personally and ensuring that our egos do not overshadow the primary goal of problem-solving constitutes an trait every successful business analyst must master.

Connecting the Dots: The Crucial Role of Synthesis

A few years ago, I was working in a fast-paced environment where we very quickly needed to achieve a shared understanding of a particular problem that existed, and then elicit and analyze requirements for improving things.

 

I’d spent a couple of days speaking to some of the key people, largely in back-to-back meetings, and I was working really late in the office, energized by the conversations I’d been having. I’d managed to find an empty meeting room where I could spread my notes over a large table to think things through. Over the past couple of days I’d had countless conversations, been given documents to read, been shown IT systems, processes and more… It was a lot to take in! Plus of course not everyone necessarily agreed on the nature of the problem, or even what a desirable solution would look like. So my thoughts went to “what next… how do I arrange and make sense of all of this ‘stuff’?”

Luckily, the meeting room had a whiteboard. I instinctively started drawing the ‘problem’ that had been described to me. I drew people, IT systems, data and information flow, customer interactions, bottlenecks, problems.  It was a messy drawing that wasn’t intended for anyone but me.  If you’re familiar with the idea of a rich picture, it was very much like that. Crucially, it helped me make connections between pieces of information that different stakeholders had told me. This act of synthesis—bringing things together—helped gain a more holistic picture of what was going on.

I was midway through pondering whether two concepts were related to each other, when a very senior stakeholder walked through the door. He asked what I was drawing, and I talked him through my messy diagram. He started instinctively adding things to it, not only adding his perspective to the mix but also highlighting things I’d missed (or misunderstood). Even though this happened years ago, I can still remember parts of the diagram now….

 

Analysis Needs Synthesis

Of course, that drawing on a whiteboard was really just an interim work product. It wasn’t a deliverable, and although I recorded it by taking a photo, it wasn’t ever intended to form part of any user stories or requirements documentation. It was really just an exploration of the problem domain and the connections within it. It helped me to get my own head around the situation, so that I could ask better questions and know which areas to examine further. It also helped me to understand which areas and perspectives I was missing.

This highlights the importance of synthesis as well as analysis. Synthesis is described by the Merriam-Webster online dictionary as:

“…the composition or combination of parts or elements so as to form a whole…”

 

There are of course other definitions too, but this sentence is particularly useful for us as BAs. It’s very easy to think that our job is elicitation and analysis, capturing different viewpoints and pieces of information about a situation.  Yet without synthesis, those different pieces of information are of limited use! There will likely be contradiction, conflict, different views and more.  We all instinctively know this, but it is worth highlighting how important synthesis is in what we do.

 

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Synthesis Techniques

Ironically, many of the techniques that we use on a day-to-day basis have synthesis, as well as analysis, built at their core.  I have already mentioned a rich picture, but many other techniques (when used with synthesis in mind) can help in bringing together different pieces of information and viewpoints.  Here are just a few examples:

  • Concept model and glossary: Bringing together (and reconciling) different terms, and the connections between terms
  • Process model: Creating a view on how the work should take place, taking into account a number of stakeholder’s viewpoints
  • Prototype: Bringing together and testing assumptions made, or a set of requirements assembled from varying stakeholders,.
  • Multiple Cause Diagram: After conducting ‘5 whys’ with different stakeholders, creating a combined diagram and presenting it back and saying “what else?” and “what’s wrong here?”
  • Workshops: Bringing people together to synthesis and discuss their views
  • … and many more besides

 

The Importance and Relevance

To do our jobs well as BAs, we need to consider synthesis as well as analysis, and this means making time for it. In my opening example, I mentioned I was working late in the office, drawing on a whiteboard. I was working late that night mainly because I was energized and excited about the project but also because time was so short and I’d focussed on planning the elicitation but less so the synthesis of the information I’d gleaned.

When you’ve conducted a whole number of interviews, read documents, seen processes and systems as they are operated, there are so many sources of information. It’s easy to just jump on to the next elicitation activity, or jump straight to writing a problem statement (or user story) or whatever. Yet, doing so robs us of the opportunity to see the bigger picture.

Building in time for synthesis—the sort that allows us to see connections—will help ensure we don’t implement a change in one area that inadvertently makes things much worse elsewhere. Of course, time is always tight… but if we don’t make time for synthesis, we might end up having to make time for rework. And that’s definitely best avoided!

 

Crafting a Compelling Business Case: A Practical Guide for Business Analysts

Developing a business case is akin to telling a compelling story—one that captivates your audience and persuades them to invest time, resources, and support in your idea. As a Business Analyst, mastering the art of creating a persuasive business case prior to crunching the numbers and making the pitch is essential for driving successful projects within your organization. Here are eight major points that will help you navigate the intricate landscape of business case development (i.e. “make the case”).

 

  • Basics of Making a Business Case

Let’s kick things off with the foundational principles of constructing a business case. Regardless of the nature of your proposal or the industry you’re in, the process remains surprisingly consistent.

First and foremost, abandon the idea of diving into logical arguments or grappling with intricate numbers right away. Instead, envision yourself as a storyteller, beginning with the identification of a problem or opportunity. Ask yourself: What business need are you trying to address? Once you’ve pinpointed this, it’s time to introduce the characters in your story—stakeholders, beneficiaries, and subject-matter experts.

Stakeholders, often high-ranking decision-makers, hold the power to greenlight or reject your business case. Beneficiaries are those who stand to gain from your proposal, while subject-matter experts provide insights into problem-solving. Collaborate with these individuals to explore various alternatives, considering efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and alignment with your organization’s culture.

Having chosen the best option, create a high-level project plan to estimate the time and resources required. Finally, clearly articulate the value your solution brings, setting the stage for the subsequent number-crunching phase, including ROI, break-even points, payback periods, net present value, and internal rate of return.

 

  • Learn How Your Organization Evaluates Business Cases

Understanding how your organization reviews and approves projects is crucial for tailoring your business case effectively. Answer questions such as: Does your company have a formal evaluation process? Is it connected to other processes, and how detailed do stakeholders want the information?

Leverage the knowledge of a colleague familiar with the evaluation process. In large companies, formal templates and specific review times may exist, often tied to annual budgeting. Some organizations use a “tollgate” process, where approval is sought for project phases, allowing gradual commitment of resources.

Smaller organizations follow a similar pattern, albeit with less structure. Identify decision-makers’ authority levels, and if your organization lacks a defined process, seek insights from successful colleagues who navigated similar challenges.

 

 

  • Know Who’s Calling the Shots

Understanding who holds the fate of your project is paramount. Whether it’s an individual or a small committee, knowing your audience allows you to tailor your case to their priorities. Your boss might have insights into the decision-makers, whether it’s the CFO, division head, or a committee representing various organizational facets.

Identify the dominant department, as their goals often carry significant weight in decision-making. Find a champion within that department or committee who can advocate for your proposal. Remember, the goal isn’t just approval but informed decision-making, even if it means rejection.

Once you know the decision-makers, understand their priorities. Senior leaders look for projects aligning with the company’s strategy, emphasizing the importance of ensuring your case dovetails with broader objectives.

 

  • Understand the Audience’s Objectives

Aligning your business case with your company’s objectives is pivotal. Begin by identifying these objectives through sources like annual reports, CEO letters, and all-staff communications. Grasp the overarching themes—whether it’s growth, cost-cutting, global expansion, or regional focus.

Those evaluating your case are likely responsible for meeting these objectives. Clearly demonstrate how your proposal contributes directly to these goals. Understand the priorities, values, and decision-making styles of stakeholders by engaging with experts from various functions and consulting your boss.

Remember, stakeholders may not always agree on how to achieve company goals, emphasizing the need to involve experts from diverse functions when building your business case.

 

  • Clarify the Need

Before delving into team-building and solution brainstorming, the business need must be crystal clear. Referred to as the “pain point,” it’s the urgent problem or opportunity driving your proposal. It could be a sales force losing bids, service desk requests falling short, or an opportunity for substantial cost savings.

Document the pain point(s) thoroughly, noting the origin, impact, and the solution’s objectives. This documentation serves as the basis for your recommendations, making it easier to present a compelling case to stakeholders later on.

Whether you identify the need yourself or stakeholders present it to you, rigorous research is essential. Document everything, keeping notes on paper or digital files to refer back to when faced with conflicting or partial information.

 

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  • Build a Cross-Functional Team

Developing a business case is not a solitary endeavor. Relying solely on your perspective risks overlooking crucial aspects. Instead, assemble a cross-functional team comprising individuals from various departments and perspectives.

While you may not have a dedicated team, bring together individuals at different points in the process. Include a finance representative to provide a big-picture view of costs and benefits. Engage beneficiaries to voice their concerns and ensure a holistic problem-solving approach. If the project impacts customers, involve customer-facing representatives like account managers or customer service representatives.

External experts can offer valuable insights, whether sourced from your network, online communities, or vendors. The key is to form a tight team of experts focused on the specific case, respecting the organizational chain of command and securing support from reporting managers.

 

  • Consider Alternatives

The brainstorming phase is where your cross-functional team shines. Encourage the exploration of potential solutions, using problem statements as a starting point. Look beyond individual departments, considering how other organizations or departments might have addressed similar needs.

Emphasize that these sessions are working sessions—opportunities to generate options without delving into detailed project plans or specific vendors. Facilitate creative thinking while reminding the team of limitations and constraints. The goal is to consider all viable options before narrowing down to 2-3 choices.

Thought-provoking questions guide this process. Which option costs the least? Is it the fastest to implement? Does it have the fewest risks or bring in the most revenue? Present each option with at least one significant advantage and be ready to share rejected options and the reasons behind their dismissal.

 

Think Through the High-Level “How”

Paint a vivid picture of how your proposed solution will be implemented within the organization. While not a detailed project plan, this outline provides a realistic basis for estimating costs and benefits. Consider what tasks need to be done before, during, and after the project switch.

Engage subject matter experts and stakeholders in this process. Anticipate potential roadblocks and resource requirements, securing buy-in from involved departments. Validate your proposed solution with your cross-functional team, ensuring feasibility and uncovering any hidden costs or constraints.

This high-level planning stage helps you identify whose support you’ll need and ensures that all costs, including one-time expenses, are accounted for. It sets the stage for detailed financial calculations and further strengthens your business case.

 

Here’s to crafting a compelling case that resonates with stakeholders!

Best of BATimes: Nine Key Skills That Every Good Business Analyst Needs

Being a successful Business Analyst means you have to have a variety of different skills and be adaptable to a changing environment. Every Business Analyst will bring their unique blend of skills and experience to the role, of course, but I’ve highlighted below what I think are the most common skills that a good BA will need. Feel free to add in the comments any other skills that you have found helpful in your BA career.

 

1. Understand your objectives.

Being able to interpret direction is important. If you don’t fully understand what and, more importantly, why you are being asked to do something, there is a risk that you won’t deliver what’s required. Don’t be worried about asking for further information if your brief isn’t clear.

2. Good verbal communication skills.

It is essential that you are a good communicator, regardless of the method of communication. You must be able to make your point clearly and unambiguously. It is also important that you know how to ask insightful questions to retrieve the information you need from stakeholders. For example, if your stakeholder isn’t a technical specialist you may need to ask your questions in plain English – avoiding jargon and acronyms. Being able to communicate information at the appropriate level is vital – some stakeholders will need more detailed information than others.

3. The ability to run stakeholder meetings.

Although using email provides a useful audit trail, sometimes it is not enough to communicate with stakeholders via email. Don’t underestimate the value of face to face meetings to discuss problems in more detail and clear up any queries. Often you will discover more about your project from a face to face meeting where people tend to be more open about discussing situations. You can always follow up a meeting with written confirmation if an audit trail is required.

4. Be a good listener.

Listening skills are key to being a successful BA. You must be able to listen and absorb information. This will allow you to analyse thoroughly the information gathered to specify requirements. It’s important that you don’t just listen to what’s being said, but are able to understand the context of what’s being said – the motivation behind it, the circumstances behind what’s being said, and even what’s not being said. Voice tone and body language can help you understand the message behind the words.

 

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5. Hone your presentation skills.

It is likely that at some point in your career as a BA you will need to facilitate a workshop, or present a piece of work to a stakeholder or project team. Consider the content of your presentation and make sure it matches the objectives of the meeting – there is no point in presenting information about implementation methods if the meeting is being held to discuss requirements gathering. These presentations are not only for you to present information. They can also work as an excellent way to extract more information or clarity from stakeholders if you are unclear on something or are looking for more detail on a particular area of the project.

6. Be excellent at time management.

A BA must have excellent time management skills to ensure that work is completed on time and the project does not fall behind schedule. Multi-tasking is an important skill, but you must also be able to prioritize activities – understanding which are more critical than others – and concentrate on them. Remember that you need to manage your own time and activities, but you may also need to manage other people’s time if you are dependent on them for information. Make sure that they know when you need them to deliver.

7. Documentation and writing skills.

Requirements documents, reports, specifications, plans and analysis. As a BA you will be required to deliver a range of different types of documents. You will need to ensure that your documents are written in a clear and concise manner, and at a level that is appropriate for your stakeholders. Avoid nuances specific to a particular workstream as they may not be understood by all stakeholders. As an inexperienced/beginner BA, it is unlikely that you will have experience writing requirements documentation, however, strong writing skills are an excellent starting point. Experience will lead to clear and concise requirements documentation.

8. Stakeholder management.

It is essential that you know how to manage all of you stakeholders and know how much power and influence they have on your project. Stakeholders can be your strongest supporters or your biggest critics. An experienced BA will be able to analyse how much management each stakeholder needs and how they should be individually managed. Do they need face to face meetings and detailed information or are they content with high-level reports? Are they supportive of your project? Knowing the answers to these key questions will help you to manage your stakeholders and the wider project. Can you influence them directly or do you need to influence someone who can influence them.

9. Develop your modelling skills.

As the saying goes a picture paints a thousand words. Techniques such as process modelling are effective tools to convey large amounts of information without relying on text. A visual representation allows you to get an overview of the problem or project so that you can see what works well and where the gaps lie. A typical process model will have several different levels of detail to allow a BA to engage with stakeholders in a language that they understand.

 

Published on: 2015/09/07