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Tag: Change Management

BATimes_May24_2022

10 Soft Skills You’ll Need To Be A Successful Business Analyst

You might already know the technical skills you’ll need to be a great Business Analyst (BA) but do you know the essential soft skills? The role of a BA is deeply rooted in working with people. You’ll often be coordinating with stakeholders, running workshops, or presenting documentation to teams. To be a successful BA you’ll need the following soft skills to compliment the technical ones.

 

Rapport Building

You’ll need to build rapport with your stakeholders early in a project which you can do in many ways. While you’re waiting for a meeting to start ask your stakeholders questions like, “how is your day going?”, “what are you doing in the weekend?”. I’ve been in meetings where everyone is silent until the workshop begins. Take advantage of this time to build rapport by finding common interests, showing empathy or complimenting them on something such as a tie, a picture in the background of the Zoom or their promptness. This may seem trivial, but it will set you up to succeed as the project rolls out. Your stakeholders will be more likely to attend meetings/workshops, feel more comfortable contributing and start to champion the project and the changes you’re making within the organization.

Empathy

The Oxford Dictionary defines Empathy as ‘The ability to understand and share the feelings of another’. This is an important soft skill for a BA because we need to put ourselves in our stakeholders’ shoes to understand the problems we are trying to solve. To have empathy means to understand the pain points within the organizations Current State which is essential when we’re trying to fix them. Try to imagine how frustrating it must feel to have outdated, manual process at work when the technology we use at home is so advanced these days. Use empathy to speak to these pain points and get stakeholder buy in and drive user adoption.

Enthusiasm

Depending on the scope of your project Stakeholders may be attending a lot of workshops and meetings so it’s important to be enthusiastic and positive about what you’re doing. Let’s be honest there’s nothing worse than a dull or dry workshop consisting of people talking at you with slides of written content. To get people to come along for the journey we need to engage them and be enthusiastic about what we’re doing. Speak positively about the benefits and outcomes of your project, show visual diagrams and ask questions to get people involved. Having a positive and bright disposition will pick people up when they engage with you, help them focus on the content and be more likely to contribute.

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Active listening

When we’re working on current state or establishing things like user journeys, user personas, use cases or processes a key soft skill you’ll need is Active Listening. Active listening is a pattern of listening that means listening to verbal and non-verbal cues without judging or jumping to conclusions. When you’re active listening you’re not thinking about what to say next you are completely focused on the person communicating. Don’t interrupt them or propose solutions at this stage, instead paraphrase and reflect what you’ve heard back to the person. This will ensure you don’t miss anything, don’t misinterpret anything and help you understand the paint points your users are experiencing in more depth.

Creativity

When making changes to the organization such as processes, we need to find solutions that work for everyone. For this we will need to think outside the box because realistically we may not be able to meet everyone’s needs, or some people may just be averse to the changes. To facilitate the transition, we can use creative visualizations to get everyone on board the journey; Miro, Figma and Visio are great tools for creating visual diagrams. You can do role plays during workshops, online or in person to outline the steps of a new process. Be creative and use your imagination to make it fun and engaging for your stakeholders.

 

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Adaptability

As a BA you may find yourself on new projects for new businesses often and every situation will be unique. You will need to assess each business’s unique culture, ways of working and environment. Some businesses may be very formal and highly governed while others may be casual and more agile in their approach. To be successful in all these environments you need to be able to adapt, this means finding the right language, terminology, pace, document structure and hierarchy. Recently I worked on a project for a very successful company that still had a startup mentality. They embraced agile ways of working and feared having their autonomy taken away, because of this the word ‘Governance’ was a trigger for many of the staff. We had to adapt our language to suit the client and instead of ‘Governance’ we used ‘Guidelines’. Be adaptable and understand the culture you are working in, don’t work against it, work with it.

Communication

Clear and concise communication is important to be successful as a BA. When working with people things can get lost in translation, its our jobs as BAs to ensure they don’t get lost! Be willing to speak up and ask for more detail if you don’t understand something or when you notice others aren’t understanding it either. At times you may need to control the pace of a discussion, to speed it up to keep people engaged or to slow it down if it is moving too fast. There are times when you will need to paraphrase what someone has said to communicate it more effectively to the broader audience. You can use terms like “what I’m hearing is…” or “To put that another way might be…”. Utilizing your communication skills will ensure workshops and meetings stay on topic and you get what you need out of them.

Patience

You may find yourself in a situation where you already know the journey ahead for your stakeholders for example a company is implementing an out-of-the-box solution. You’ll need patience to assess their current state to find gaps and bring the stakeholders along for the journey so they can get excited about their new technology and processes, even though you already know the outcome. Another example of using patience is in workshops where different participants repeat information to you, you need to actively listen so they feel heard, but it could get a little boring for you. Lastly, not everyone you encounter is going to be a great communicator, some people talk for too long, some people get off topic, some people are hard to understand, and you need to listen to these stakeholders trying to communicate ineffectively and decipher what they’re saying, this takes patience.

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Improvisation

You will find yourself in meetings with technical people, non-technical people and people from all different units of the business. Analogies are a great way to explain complex strategies or technology to people that don’t understand what you’re talking about. If someone doesn’t understand something a great way to describe it to them in terms they can understand may be using analogies. You can improvise and tell them about “One time I went to the supermarket and at the checkout this happened…. Which is like this technology system that does this…”. You will get better at this over time and come to understand what works for stakeholders from different Business Units.

Conflict Resolution

Often our stakeholders may disagree on things like current state or how future state should be. We need to manage both points of view and bring the team to a consensus where possible. Consensus may not be possible in all situations, but we still need to handle the conversations constructively so that everyone agrees upon the next steps.  Some pointers for conflict resolutions are

  • Defuse Anger and facilitate communication
  • Separate people from problems
  • Listen first, talk second
  • Set out the facts
  • Explore options together

Using these tips, we can find a way to move forward together and keep the project on track.

People Process and Tooling (The PPT framework) is a great way to approach IT changes within an organization. I believe the most important aspect in this framework is people because the technology and processes are no good if the people within the organization don’t use them. You can use these soft skills as a BA’s when engaging people to ensure organizational changes are adopted and in turn, you will be successful too.

The Business Analyst’s Approach to Problem Solving

As a business analyst you will have to understand your clients’ needs and constructively provide valuable solution options. You will have to find the real roots of the needs and approach problems in a way that will enable change.

Your task is not just to collect requirements. It’s to elicit requirements in order to ensure long – lasting change. It is common for clients to come up with the solution in mind. For example, a client may request an addition of a step to the process. Diving more and trying to figure out the actual need behind this request may reveal that there is another way of treating the actual need.

The following stages are commonly used by Business Analysts when problem solving is required.

1) Problem Definition

Τhe first step in the approach is the problem definition. Gathering information, ascertaining its validity against other sources of information, and analyzing the available information are key at this stage. The way a problem is identified first and then defined can have a significant impact on the alternatives that may be emerge. Identifying the problem will also delineate the goals and objectives that the alternative solutions should cover. The more complete a problem statement is, the easier it will be to identify alternatives, selection & evaluation.

Common pitfalls in this stage include:

  • Too wide or too narrow definitions of the problem can impact the quality of the solution. Analysts are asked to find the balance between small and large range so that there are several alternatives.

 

  • Focusing on the symptoms rather than the causes is a common mistake in defining a problem. Of course the subjectivity involved in characterizing the symptom often makes this mistake inevitable. Many techniques such as the “5 Whys” can help in avoiding this pitfall.

 

  • Choosing the right problem means that while there may be parallel problems we must choose with a systemic approach the problem that is most possible to some extent another problem. Systemic thinking is of paramount importance as there is usually an interdependence between seemingly unrelated problems.

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2) Alternative Solutions

Once the problem is identified, the analyst, should, together with the technical team to search for possible solutions.

Solution options has to be aligned with the project scope, the overall business needs and the technical feasibility. Solutions options must be realistic from business and technical side and of course valid in the eyes of the stakeholders.

A common mistake in this step is to abandon an alternative too quickly. This often happens under the pressure of time and other circumstances. However, because an alternative seems convenient, this does not make it ideal. It may have harmful side effects, or it may be less effective than other alternatives that would result if given enough time at this stage.

One way to limit the error of the incomplete “pool of alternatives” is to involve key stakeholders in discussions of identifying different solutions. It’s a good way for different perspectives to be presented and contribute to different solution alternatives.

3) Identify the best solution

For every solution option an assessment shall be done against the other solution options. The business analysts in collaboration with the key stakeholders identify the criteria that will be used for this comparison.

A cost-benefit analysis is commonly used for each solution option in order to figure out the benefits against the costs. However sometimes the full benefits or costs cannot be monetized, and indirect benefits or costs may be derived by the implementation of a solution. So, it is not a good idea to compare different options based strictly on a cost – benefit analysis as it is not easy to think about all costs and benefits and give them a value.

An analyst understands the cognitive limitations of human information processing capabilities and the difficulty of making optimization decisions. It is worth noting that the best alternative is choosing an environment of delimited rationality. An environment of delimited rationality is created as the limits of the decision-making process are set by the available information and the context.

Problem solving is vital in all aspects of business from people problems to technical problems and from short-term to long-term problems. And problem-solving involves two completely different, possibly conflicting thought processes: creativity and decision making. A business analyst shall continuously try to improve problem solving skills by implementing in practice useful techniques and approaches and continuously following up the outcomes.

Fishing Tips for Business Analysts

Taking a client on a fishing trip requires some planning and some reconnaissance. A guide never wants to hear ‘that’s not that I came for,’ or worse, ‘that was a bust.’

It’s not uncommon to take a person fishing under the premise of ‘I don’t care what I catch, or ‘I don’t really care if I catch anything! I’m just looking for a day on the water.’ In some cases, the client is being open and honest, but for others – as the day wears on – the attitude and expectations can change. The ‘I’m good for anything, fish or no fish,’ thinking can change after a few hours or fishing over lifeless water, or in the early morning spring cold.

I took one gentleman out who just wanted to catch a meal of pan-sized trout for a meal. After catching a few that matched these criteria perfectly, he eagerly offered ‘enough with the small ones, where are the trophies!?’

Know The Client. Know the Ask

Knowing your client in Business Analysis (as well as in guiding anglers) gives you an out-of-the-gate advantage. Conversations around where the client’s expertise lie, as well as their vested interests in the project, allows you to deduce what might be most important to them, as well as the depth to which they want to be involved in the process, including scoping a solution.

A client yet to catch their first fish may be content with just that, but a client who fishes frequently may have a better idea of what’s out there to be had and have different expectations. Knowing a bit about them identifies the extent to which they can help plan and steer the process.

If a client is one of the owners of the business, for example, and clearly understands the business functions, they may want to be very hands-on in the details of the project. Conversely, perhaps the client is currently getting things done manually in the organization, meaning that any form of a solution will be a step up and advantageous, and they will like to be more dependent on you (the guide) to document a potential solution.

Conversations upfront, with pointed questions about what the request or ‘Ask’ is, and what the expectations are, will make for a smooth trip, shall we say.

Don’t Gold Plate.

A few years ago I was listening to my brother talk about an Atlantic salmon trip he was going on up in Labrador. He was telling me all about what the guide had told him and what was being promised. According to what he was told, this would be significantly better than the angling trip of a lifetime!

A few weeks later he called me back to tell me the trip was essentially a bust. They spent half their time fishing for sea trout (an activity they hadn’t signed up for), and they had missed the best run of salmon, meaning no one in the party caught their limit.

Telling a client everything that is possible for a solution to accomplish potentially leads to some headaches. In my humble experience, I find that having the client detail what it is they need keeps things in better scope. Leading the client with lofty ideas oftentimes gets into solutioning (the how) as opposed to good analysis (the what). A solid understanding of a plan that answers the client’s need is the best starting point, as opposed to burning up the budget with the bells and whistles which can come later (if deemed necessary). As my current manager often says, ‘add the larger pebbles to your jar first.’

Knowing if the client wants to fish for crappie, codfish, or tuna informs the gear you will need, the location you will fish, and how long the trip will be.

In terms of solutions, the local fishing supply store uses an inventory management system, and so does Ikea. There are endless reasons why they don’t need to implement the same one.

Consider the Bigger Environment

Even after you’ve talked to the client and they outline what species of fish they want to catch and how and where they want to catch them, be prepared for surprises. Wanting to fish for brook trout probably won’t work if the wind is in the easterly direction; cod fishing is unenjoyable if there are heavy seas or a lot of choppy waves, and salmon fishing is tough in shallow water in the late summer heat.

Considering external factors (the bigger picture) is one key to avoiding disaster: numbers of transactions, size and type of media/data to be stored, user access to a network or internet connection, personal information stored or moved through the solution, or accessibility and UX/UI issues.

Clients who are moving employees from a manual, paper process to a digital interface may need to consider employees computer skills and abilities. Even if most users are somewhat savvy, there may be some who are intimidated by technology, and they can’t simply be left out of the planning. Perhaps client readiness needs to include employee training.

Has the client implemented software and hardware upgrades prior to deploying a new Learning Management System? Have they considered the use of smartphones as devices that users will log into the LMS with? Have they considered the Information Management issues around the collection and use of personal information during registration?

Whether taking a paying client fishing for tuna, or a buddy fishing for a few pan trout, there are things to consider in order to mitigate problems and end up with a solid solution (full livewell). Ask the questions, know the client, don’t over-promise, and think outside the box, seem to be simple yet effective adages… in the office or on the water.

Either way, good luck!

Developing a “Sense of Purpose” for a Business Analysis Initiative

Βusiness analysts can contribute in delivering the sense of purpose and worth concerning a business analysis initiative. This sense of purpose will contribute to the better effectiveness of the work that is performed between the BA team and the different stakeholders. As the business analysts are continuously communicating with different stakeholders and deal directly with their needs, they are the best source to contribute to the capturing and the diffusion of a common purpose that may also serve as a success criterion for the initiative.

The capacity to effectively lead a business analysis initiative is directly related to the pursuit of a worthy purpose. The purpose may be the most powerful link to join people and processes in a common effort. General/ Organizational purpose can be transformed and decomposed into more specific and detailed initiative purposes. The degree to which we pursue an ennobling purpose is the degree to which we attract others.

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Purpose attracts and therefore serves as a unifying force. There is unity of effort and energy to the degree of shared purpose. Our level of satisfaction and our level of energy is directly related not only to our understanding of our own purpose but also to whether the organization and specific project to which we contribute, share that same purpose.

Below you can find four considerations for effectively managing the sense of purpose as a business analyst:

  1. Big Picture

Being able to see the things holistically and the long-term value and effects of any task can help you embrace a worthy purpose that will give you energy and motivation but also distribute this sense of purpose to the other stakeholders

  1. Respond to “Why”

In order to successfully spread a sense of purpose, you need to instill a sense of worthy purpose. It is to answer the why question, why should work overtime for this project? Why should I sacrifice? Why should I dedicate my time to achieving high-quality deliverables? The answer has to be something that is worthy, something that is ennobling.

  1. Focus on the Perception

You may feel you have communicated effectively the purpose to the other stakeholders but do the others perceive the purpose as something worthy and important? Perception is reality. What people think they hear is the truth according to them.  So, we have to think through our communications in a very deliberate manner, in a planned manner, thinking through how it’s going to be received on the other end and making sure that people are receiving the message that we want them to receive.

  1. Align with the Organization Purpose

The organization’s purpose and the core values of your organization should be aligned with the project-specific purpose. Projects or initiative specific purpose may be derived and be a more detailed and case-specific purpose of your general organization purpose.

Effective execution of business analysis tasks requires convincing key stakeholders (both internal and external) that your analysis and your conclusions are valid so that you can transition from your analysis to implementation. As such, you must be able to summarize your findings in a message that makes a persuasive argument that aligns with the sense of purpose. An argument that mirrors progress towards the realization of this purpose. Therefore, defusing a sense of purpose and then communicating results towards achieving this purpose is an integral part of your effort in any business analysis task you are engaged with. One that is worthy of careful consideration.

A Natural Born Manager

Everyone, it seems, wants to be recognized for their leadership abilities. ‘Leader’, ‘leading’ and ‘leadership’ are in vogue terms for CVs and professional social media profiles. Everywhere you look, there are books, articles, and presentations on the topic, and leadership courses abound. Indeed, being called a ‘natural born leader’ is considered a high compliment. But could this obsession with leadership be at the expense of other, possibly more important qualities?

This article will look at some of the characteristics associated with leadership and management, the role they play in defining and driving organizational change, and what they mean to business analysis.

Leadership vs. Management

The table below lists qualities often attributed to leaders and managers respectively.

You can find similar lists each lauding slightly different traits, but they all share the same sentiment – leadership is about inspiration, innovation, and change, while management is about structure, problem-solving and routine. For some, leadership is something an individual possesses innately – a natural tendency, as opposed to a skillset that can be learned and improved. Management, on the other hand, is usually viewed more as a skill set that is developed over time and with experience. But are they really that different? And can one set of qualities be used to accentuate the other?

Leadership and Management in Times of Change

For an organization undergoing transformational change, there is no denying leadership is important. Having a charismatic leader who can articulate a vision to a wide audience can make the change journey easier. But organizations do not need many leaders. For most organizations, a single, visionary leader may be enough. Indeed, having too many leaders may be detrimental to an organization, particularly if the leadership group is unable to agree on a single, coherent vision.


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Now consider how many managers are required to execute change. This question is far more problematic and influenced by many variables, such as the size, scale, and complexity of the change. However, two things are for certain:
  • Leadership does not guarantee change success. Indeed, leadership in the absence of management capabilities is unlikely to result in successful change.
  • Measures of change success are likely to draw on management qualities. A change is only successful if it can be embedded and maintained over time… or in other words, whether it results in a level of stability – a quality associated with management.

It is important to remember that leadership and management are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, good managers will often have leadership qualities, and good leaders certainly require management skills. In some instances, the distinction between leaders and managers may not be clear. Individuals may be required to move between roles depending on the situation, particularly in more agile or dynamic contexts.

Business Analysis: Leadership, or Management?

Business analysis is often at the forefront of efforts to translate the vision of leaders into maintainable solutions. As such, the good analysis may be confounded with leadership. Analysis that is produced through wide consultation succinctly describes the situation and context, considers different perspectives, and clearly communicates a solution may be able to achieve more in envisioning and driving change than anyone recognized as a ‘leader’. Yet, it would be wrong to diminish the contribution of an analyst’s management capabilities in the delivery of such analysis. A good analysis involves problem solving, persistence, and structure – all qualities associated with management. And should that analysis lead to the implementation of an innovative, proactive solution – Is that leadership? Or just a by-product of good management?

A range of techniques is available to assist Business Analysts in delivering quality analysis.  If we look at the available techniques, many of them epitomize management qualities. Take for example the 15 business analysis techniques in the Business Analysis Book of Knowledge (BABoK)2 that are sometimes considered the core techniques. Figure 1 shows these techniques on a Venn diagram based on whether they generally accentuate management or leadership qualities:

Figure 1: Core Techniques of the BABoK

This diagram shows the majority of these techniques on the management side of the Venn diagram as they involve analyzing and structuring information – qualities associated with management. There are some techniques that are more flexible and can be employed to promote innovation and experimentation – more traits associate with leadership, and others that can emphasize different qualities depending on the context. This is good news for Business Analysts who want to improve and expand their capabilities into different areas or contribute to an initiative in a different way – there is usually a technique that can help.

Of course, Business Analysts also require underlying competencies across a number of areas. The BABoK includes a whole set of competencies grouped under the heading Analytical Thinking and Problem Solving, which are qualities (as per Table 1) associated with management. However, the BABoK also lists creative thinking, adaptability, and even leadership and influencing as underlying business analysis competencies – qualities associated with leadership.

At the end of the day, even the most revered business analyst ‘leader’ is likely to extol management qualities over leadership qualities as that is the nature of the analysis. For example, any Business Analyst with a new, innovative, or interesting idea is likely to immediately start asking questions such as:

  • Is there a business need?
  • What is the impact of the change?
  • What does success look like?

…and, thus, immediately start analyzing and creating structure. In the end, we can’t get away from the fact that business analysis is focused on the delivery of viable solutions to problems. Therefore, while leadership qualities may be an asset to a Business Analyst, management capabilities are fundamental to business analysis.

Conclusion

The intention of this article is not to deride leadership qualities or diminish their value. Indeed, leadership skills are important, and I would encourage any Business Analyst to work on developing their leadership capabilities. However, focusing on leadership is not healthy. Over-emphasizing the importance of leadership can be at the expense of other qualities and detract from the core capabilities required to elicit and understand requirements, analyze solution options, drive change, and support sustainable services – things that are fundamental to business analysis.

I, for one, would consider it a compliment to be called a natural-born manager.

Resources:

  1. Capowski G., Anatomy of a leader: Where is the leader of tomorrow?, Management Review Vol. 83 Issue 3, 1994, p. 10-18.
  2. Business Analysis Book of Knowledge v3, Institute of Business Analysis, 2015.