Tag: Career

Designing Case Study Interviews for Hiring Awesome BAs – A Hiring Manager’s Perspective

When I first started hiring business analysts, there was a while there where I was great at hiring BAs that didn’t quite fit what I was hiring for. As a BA myself, I recognized the need to pivot beyond a verbal interview to get a real-time look at a candidate’s skillset. I needed to see what a candidate could do and evaluate that against what was needed for the role I was hiring for.

Enter the Case Study.

Designing the perfect case study is a lesson in trial and error, with each candidate revealing ways to make it better. More than ten years later, I’m still running case study interviews (and have hired some of the absolute best BAs I’ve ever worked with) and have a few tips for hiring managers that want to design their own.

  • Keep it simple. It’s a high-pressure situation, do not give your candidate a page of text. You will miss your mark due to misinterpretations, assumptions, over-analysis, time-crunch. A simple picture, a simple task. It’s enough.
  • Pick a couple key skills to evaluate. You’re only going to get so much out of the case study without making it overly complex. What are the two or three key things you’re looking for and design to see those skills in action.
  • Do not send the case study out ahead of time. You’re just asking for someone to show up with a ten foot long, professionally printed flow chart. Yes. This happened.
  • Be VERY VERY clear. Be specific about what you’re asking the candidate to do or produce. Are you expecting them to interview you, draw a diagram, write a requirement? No matter how clear you think it is, someone will misinterpret it. Repeat your ask multiple times.
  • Make it relevant to you. Use simple scenarios from real life; industry or domain relevant, something your candidate may face on the job. This will give make it real for both you and the candidate.
  • Be flexible. Everyone will interpret your case study differently based on past experiences. Don’t look for your perfect answer, and don’t design with right or wrong in mind. Instead look for skills being used, the questions being asked, the way ideas are communicated; capabilities are the key.
  • Make it fun. If you’re stressed, they’re stressed. Keep it casual, make a joke, lighten up. Turn down the pressure to allow your candidates to battle their nerves and show their skills off better.

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There are innumerable ways to go about evaluating for a particular skill through a case study. Here are a few examples:

  • Facilitation and/or Elicitation Skills. Give the candidate a basic scenario – even something as familiar as ordering a pizza online. Ask them to gather requirements from their client (you) for a new feature. You should predefine your feature with a couple alternate scenarios or edge cases. See how well your candidate elicits your requirements. Did they catch those alternate scenarios?
  • Modeling. After gathering the requirements during the facilitation portion of the case study, ask your candidate to create a simple flow chart, use case diagram, context diagram – whatever you’re looking for. Did they accurately model the requirements? Do they know how to communicate using models?
  • Working with ambiguity. Include very little detail in your scenario. Throw them into the project with a paragraph and a pat on the back (totally unrealistic, right?). Ask – how would you start? What would you do? Look for how the candidate thinks and how they plan to work knowing very little. Did they talk about identifying stakeholders? Understanding the objectives, benefits or KPIs? Making a requirements management plan? Did they approach the unknown in a way that made you confident they could work through it?
  • Strategic thinking, risk analysis, problem solving. Throw a couple blockers into the scenario. The clients are swamped and rarely answer emails. Technical stakeholders are distributed across multiple departments and have competing priorities. The vendor hasn’t provided a data spec for the extract you need to document. The timeline for the project has been moved up and you’re being asked to compress requirements timelines. Don’t be afraid to throw in real scenarios you deal with regularly. I’ve gotten good ideas on problems I was dealing with myself!

In all the above case study scenarios, you can design the challenge and evaluate the output differently depending on the skill level of the role being hired for. For a junior practitioner, I would evaluate a flow chart with a different lens than someone with 10 years of experience. I would expect a senior BA to identify more subtle risks and have tighter mitigation strategies than someone two years on the job.

The case study can be adapted for anything!

As you continue your case study journey, you will continuously tweak, adapt, and perfect. I’ve gotten it so close to where I want it that I enjoy seeing how else a candidate can trip me up and force me to adapt yet again.

My latest tweak: virtual case studies during pandemic times means you must send your candidates a copy of the case study. A digital copy can be forward to recruiters who then give it to other candidates. Candidates then magically produce a ten-page requirements document in half an hour. It took me a couple interviews to figure out that magic. Tweak time! Now there are variations of the case study used at random.

However, you integrate case studies into your process, above everything else, keep it simple and don’t take yourself too seriously. You’d probably find a case study interview stressful too! For those of you on the receiving end of a case study interview – don’t panic. Have some fun with it and show what you can do knowing that the hiring manager’s expectations will be more closely aligned to your skill set upon hiring and you’ve set yourself up to be more successful in the role in the long run.

4 Tips that can help you in your new job as a Business Analyst

You have just been hired as a business analyst in a new organization. Many new processes and unknown business terminologies can make you feel confused and feel stressed. This is absolutely normal, and time is required to understand how the things are working.

Below are some tips in order to successfully adapt to your new role.

#1 Understand the approach towards BA

Try to learn the approach of the company toward business analysis field and the attitudes of your team towards the tasks of a business analyst. Search and ask about standard processes your company is following when it comes to business analysis. It is vital to know what your organization is perceiving as good work and what is valuable. You need to take your time and dive deeper and not to be misled by the first impressions.

#2 Understand the Context

In the first period erase if possible, from your memory the way things were done in your previous job. As it is widely stated there is no one size fits all. Give some time to understand the context and how the context is affecting the way the things are done. Try to find the usefulness and the why behind the approaches that are used in your new environment. Most probably the context will give you some answers.

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#3 Understand the Business Domain

Try to figure out the characteristics of the industry your company provides solutions for. Try to learn as much as possible for the specific industry, trends, rules ,processes and standards. You can ask for information more experienced colleagues or search in previous artifacts that may exist in company’s knowledge hub. You may also request from your manager a short training in basic industry related topics. When you like your job and you are passionate about it learning is not actually so hard.

#4 Understand the Τools and Techniques

Try to figure out which are the techniques more commonly are used in your new job. Then try to gain knowledge and practice on mastering those techniques. For example, you can understand that a business process diagram is commonly used. Spend some time to develop your mastery in creating this kind of diagram. You may attend a short e-course or check previous such diagrams prepared in the past from the team.

In a new beginning you need to figure out first the as-is situation. That needs time and willingness to learn. Try to understand, make your own homework, and then ask question. Do not underestimate the need for comparing the information you receive with other sources of information. Moreover, remember not to propose a change if you have not understood first the context and the reason behind some approaches that are established in your new team.

Business Analysis | Role or Capability?

I love this question! It opens the door for so many different perspectives (which is key in our line of work). Before we answer this, let’s start with a story.

A recent employer pulled me aside after about 2 weeks on the job (as a contractor) and said “We’ve been told that we don’t need business analysts on this project. I’m curious what your thoughts are on this?” Despite my obvious hesitations with wanting to keep my job and income, I said “That’s probably right. However,…” and I went on to explain that while a person sitting in that role/title isn’t necessary, the function is. It is critical to have someone performing the business analysis activities to ensure a successful solution delivery – digging into and understanding the business and user needs, the problems they are facing, understanding the value that they are seeking, etc. Generally speaking, developers are busy developing, QA engineers are typically busy testing, etc., so someone needs to do it.

I do believe this open and honest discussion is a big reason why I was converted from contractor to permanent employee. They trusted me enough to ask the question and I trusted them enough with a thoughtful answer.

What is a Business Analyst and what do they do?

This is sort of a loaded question in my opinion. There are so many variations out there in the job world. Some people have the title of Business Analyst but don’t really perform typical “BA” activities (as outlined in IIBA knowledge areas). While some have different titles but are neck-deep in the strategy analysis, solution assessments, etc.

The IIBA Defines it as:

The Business Analyst is an agent of change. Business Analysis is a disciplined approach to introducing and managing change in organizations, whether they are for-profit businesses, governments, or non-profits.

 The global community on Wikipedia defines it as:

business analyst (BA) is a person who analyzes and documents the market environmentprocesses, or systems of businesses.

When talking to family and friends, I usually describe it as “I work with people and teams to understand what they need, want, and why. What problems they have and how they currently go about solving those problems. So that I can help define possible solutions. The solution could be new technology, a new process, new data reporting, organizational structure, etc.” While most of us know that there is a LOT more to it than this, that’s a decent elevator pitch to those who truly have a minimal-to-no understanding of the function.

Why is there so much confusion about BA’s? Let’s take a closer look:

Can you have the BA title but do something else?

Yes, you can. While there are market standards, companies are free to title jobs in any way that fits their organization. At times, these titles may not match with the wider job market. Because of this, there are situations where people do get the title of Business Analyst but aren’t performing the typical “business analysis” activities. This can create a lot of confusion and headache at time of job searching for both candidate and employer.

Can you perform BA duties and not have the BA title?

Also, yes. In many cases, people are performing Business Analysis activities while having other job titles – and some have no idea that what they’re doing is considered business analysis. For example:

  • Have you ever investigated potential tools to use for a project or need?
  • Have you ever helped your team/a team define problems they have with a current process?
  • Have you yourself identified problems with a current process and defined a new one that would address issues/gaps?
  • Have you help identify individuals that may be impacted by an upcoming change?
  • Have you helped to facilitate a brainstorming session?
  • Have you done a current-to-future state analysis?
  • Have you made a process flow to articulate how something is done?

Guess what…each of these are business analysis activities. And frankly speaking, most of us in a professional setting has performed these activities before. And in most cases, regularly!

So even if you don’t have a title of Business Analyst, you probably still have the experience!

Circling back to the original question: Role or Capability?

The answer is both – it can be a role and a capability.

While I believe having the business analysis capability is far more critical than a title, sometimes if feels good to be able to call yourself a business analyst as well.

Set your project up for success and make sure you have someone performing business analysis activities (even if you must call them something different)!

Do you realize that relationships are BAs bread and butter?

Working as a developer for over twenty years I have noticed developers lack social skills. Now I know you are shocked! You probably spilled your coffee when you read that.

As a Business Analyst, you may take your social skill prowess for granted. As Epictetus said, “It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.” Let us revisit those skills now.

Re-Focus on Relationships

It can be helpful to review these skills periodically. We can fall into the trap of complacency. Use a few basic questions to evaluate your progress.

  1. Who are my most important business relationships?
  2. How am I investing in these relationships?
  3. What value am I bringing to this relationship?

Similar to the agile retrospective we can have a relationship retrospective. Check-in with your most important people. See how things are.

Occasionally things can seem fine at the surface. Of course, when we dig in we find something different. Perhaps the relationship can be strained. The person may feel you are taking advantage of them.

Overlooked

My mother would often dispense wisdom when I was growing up. She was a teacher for many years. She shared this one once, “Secretaries make things happen.”

As a kid, many people would overlook the school secretary. Using my mother’s advice I made sure to stay on the good side of Mary.

Mary was our high school secretary. She could put in a good word for you in case you got in any trouble. That may have happened to me a few times. Mary was a life-saver!

Are there any professional relationships you are overlooking? Perhaps you need to patch things up with some of the testers. Team harmony is vittle to a smooth project.

Have a plan

A few years ago I was fortunate to work with a transformational leader. He led a technology team. John was his name. He saw the potential to change the way his team worked.

John brought me into his office. He said to me, “Tom technology people can be a bit transactional. They get asked to fix a problem and they do. Similar to the way a bank teller gets a check and deposits the check.”

“Yes, I see that, but how is that an issue?” I said to John.

“Bruce just visited our biggest center. He upgraded the two servers and got on the plane to go back home. A day later the community director called me and asked why he didn’t complete the upcoming maintenance patching. Bruce never spoke to him.”

“Tom I want my team to be more like financial planners. A financial planner builds relationships. Then they can anticipate needs. I want you to help change my team to think like financial planners.”

John then shared with me a plan on how we could transform his team. He outlined how each time his team members traveled they would talk to the community directors.

This would help them build relationships instead of just fixing the problem. John wanted his team to build in time to connect. Have a plan for relationships.

In summary, as Business Analysts we should not overlook the fundamental aspect of relationships. Don’t leave them to chance, have a plan. Keep them in focus as they are your bread and butter!

Tom Henricksen is a Technical Professional and Human Skill Enabler and you can contact him on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/tomhenricksen/

10 Sure Shot Ways to Prevent Failure in the ECBA Exam

With the adoption of digital transformation projects being one of the top goals for the companies, the demand for the business analysis career is booming. As a result, the demand for this profession is growing at a double-digit rate year on year.

Business analysts play a crucial role in facilitating digital transformation projects by designing systems aligned with business goals. They are also pivotal in implementing new business processes, removing inefficiencies from the existing processes, and reducing operational costs.

Due to the strategic nature of this role and the earnings involved, more and more professionals are considering transitioning to this role as their next career move.

A quick way of learning the techniques and skills for becoming a business analyst is to get an internationally recognized certification like ECBA.

ECBA provides a firm understanding and a solid foundation for a business analysis career. It is the entry-level certification from IIBA aimed at professionals stepping into the BA domain.

This certification allows professionals many opportunities for career growth and skill development.

The ECBA course was designed to keep the needs of entry-level BAs in mind. The focus areas are- requirements analysis, modeling, and requirements life cycle management, with a lot of emphasis on modeling concepts tools and is well structured. The certification is based on BABoK version 3.0 of the IIBA.

While getting certified is a rewarding experience, there are many who do not succeed despite investing time, effort, and commitment to prepare.

This blog talks about the top reasons people fail in their ECBA exam and recommends strategies that can help avoid the failure traps.

  1. Memorizing BABoK

Answering questions on the ECBA requires a proper understanding of the concepts in BABoK. In addition, the application of the tasks and techniques needs to be understood clearly. Though retaining concepts from BABoK is helpful, it is not advisable to memorize and write them during the exam.

  1. Not understanding BABoK terminologies

ECBA exam is knowledge-based. For answering correctly, you’ll need to be familiar with the terminologies. IIBA exams use terms from BABoK that your organization may not commonly use. Familiarize yourself with the terms and how they relate to the terms used by your organization. Your performance in the exam can be hampered if you cannot correlate the knowledge from BABoK. The exam is based on content from BABoK and not specific organizational practices.

A  BABoK glossary can help explain the different terms.

  1. Not understanding the purpose of each task and the roles of various stakeholders
    Not understanding the tasks’ purpose and stakeholder roles could make it hard to clear the ECBA exam questions. Therefore, focus on understanding BABoK terminologies and concepts and understanding stakeholder roles and responsibilities rather than memorizing them.
  2. Unsure of the strength, limitations, and application of techniques

Since ECBA is aimed at freshers and newbies, their knowledge of the BA terms and techniques is at times limited. Being unsure about the strengths and application of the techniques can be a limiting factor while writing the exam.

So, while preparing for the exam, it is imperative to understand the purpose and application of the techniques.

Also, remember advanced techniques like diagrams or those with extensive financial calculations are unlikely to come for the ECBA exam.

  1. Giving equal priority to each Knowledge Area

To prepare effectively, one needs to be aware of the ECBA exam pattern and the weightage given to each knowledge area as per the exam blueprint.

Therefore, it is best to prepare by giving weightage to areas by looking at the exam blueprint.

Most questions are expected to be single-sentence questions. The best areas to focus on would be understanding the purpose of tasks and techniques, definitions of role and requirements characteristics, etc. Any other questions like diagrams and calculations, advanced modeling concepts, advanced techniques are unlikely to appear.

  1. Not knowing clever ways of answering the questions

The ECBA exam has many questions that can confuse the exam taker due to the words used in the questions. Care should be taken while answering questions that typically include words like not, never, certainly, always, only, etc. There can also be trick questions asking for ‘missing items’ or ‘the least likely option.’

There might be answers containing words that sound like BABoK terms but are not from BABoK.

Read the questions and options clearly. Then, choose the option that has BABOK terminology. These are made-up terms to confuse the exam taker; beware of those.

Deal with questions smartly and carefully. Don’t rush through them distracted by time constraints.

  1. Not having proper infrastructure for the exam

Just like any other exam, it can be stressful to write the ECBA certification exam, especially for those professionals who might not have appeared for an exam for years.

The easiest part is to have the infrastructure ready to avoid stress building up due to its lack.

It is important to go through the infrastructure checklist and ensure that the mandated documents and resources like ID card, camera, clean room and table, computer (having admin access), uninterrupted power supply, an empty room without unnecessary items like headphones, etc., to name a few, are all available at the time of the exam

In an already tense situation, unwanted stress due to infrastructural issues should be avoided. For example, last-minute delays in starting the exam can cause unnecessary stress and lead to the exam going beyond one’s control.

Here is a must-follow e-book for tips on Dos and Don’ts of the IIBA online exam.

Do’s & Don’ts of IIBA Online Exam

  1. Poor time management

Another mistake first-timers make is spending too much time per question. Unfortunately, there are a lot of cases where people are unable to complete the exam due to a lack of time. The exam requires 50 multiple-choice questions need to be answered in one hour. So, one doesn’t have the luxury of time in completing the exam.

Time management is an absolute key parameter in acing the ECBA exam. Avoid taking breaks during the 1-hour exam as the clock does not stop for you.

  1. Spending more time on one question

Some questions are more time-consuming than others. Be conscious of the time spent on each question. Divide your allotted time in such a way that you have about 10 minutes towards the end to review the answers. If a question takes more time, it’s wise to mark it for review, move on and get back to it later. Devise a time management strategy that best suits you and helps maximize your time during the exam.

  1. Not having the right resources for preparation
    ECBA exams, like other competitive exams, have a blueprint or pattern. Not doing enough actual exams like simulators and model questions will make it challenging to face the exam confidently. Proper preparation resources, practice tests, and ECBA exam simulators are needed to pass the exam.

The ECBA Certification Training Course will give you the resources necessary to prepare for certification. In addition, this will help you to determine the best study method for you. Grab a copy of our best-selling eBook- 200 IIBA Exam Mock Questions with IIBA Exam Info utilized by 1000s of BA professionals to ace their IIBA exam.