Tag: Learning

BATimes_July21_2022

Constructive Conflict Is Better Than False Agreement

Over a decade ago, I was in a workshop with a range of different stakeholders.

 

Everything seemed to be going well, and people seemed to be agreeing and we were even running ahead of the meeting schedule.  Around halfway through the meeting a particular issue was being discussed, a conclusion was going to be drawn and a stakeholder interjected strongly and firmly with two powerful words.  They simply said:

“I disagree”

I remember being taken aback by the bluntness.  I live in the UK and our communication style is somewhat indirect most of the time.  It’s far more normal to say “Hmmm, interesting idea, or what about…?” which is code for “That’s a crazy idea”.  Or often the temptation might be to revert to the ultimate British stereotype and apologize “Sorry to be a pain here, but I’m not sure I entirely agree”.   I’m sure British culture is not the only one that has such indirect nuance.

The reason I remember this meeting so vividly, even more than a decade ago is that those two words initially made people visibly uncomfortable.  Someone was breaking the consensus; they were “creating conflict”.  Yet that wasn’t the intention, and of course they didn’t just say that, the stakeholder went on to explain the source of their disagreement, and what they proposed instead.  Thirty seconds later (once the stakeholder had explained themselves) any feeling of discomfort gently dispersed.  What’s more, other attendees of the meeting started to question things, interject and show disagreement.   One stakeholder questioning a decision had the apparent result in creating perceived permission for others to do so.  And you know what? I am convinced that the output of that meeting was better as a result.

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Don’t Let Conflict Fester

Many of us have been taught to consider conflict as bad and consensus as good.  I suppose that is true in an ideal case, but if you’re working on any kind of large scale change how realistic is it that every stakeholder is really going to be ‘on the same page’ and in total agreement?  If a government implements a new type of tax and requires businesses to submit more information, there’s unlikely to be a standing ovation from business owners.  Yet that doesn’t mean that their input isn’t valuable—I would go as far as saying it’s essential!

Our fixation with consensus can lead to a situation where we achieve illusory agreement, a veneer of satisfaction.  Dissenting voices get marginalized, as they’ll never agree (so why spend too much time asking them?). We carefully facilitate meetings so that there aren’t big disruptive arguments, as we’re desperate to hit all of the aggressive (sorry ‘ambitious’) project deadlines. Yet this dangerous glossy veneer is very quickly broken when people start to interact with the product or service that we deliver. All we’ve done is defer the conflict to an even less convenient time, often a time when there’s so much political capital riding on the ‘solution’ that’s been designed that there’s no appetite to change it.

Cultivating Constructive Disagreement

As business analysts, we can help avoid these situations.  We have the opportunity to create space for constructive and respectful conflict, and we should certainly avoid us or others sidelining people just because they have contradictory views. In our analysis activities we should encourage constructive and respectful disagreement.

Taking an example, when setting up a workshop we have the perfect opportunity for creating the opportunity for a robust and respectful discussion.  We can lay down an appropriate set of ground rules that allow for differences of opinions to surface.  I’ve found myself opening workshops saying things such as:

“This is a controversial topic, and there are bound to be some differences of opinion.  That’s to be expected.  With that in mind please do speak up at any time and add your view, but please do be prepared to elaborate on it. Keep in mind I’ll be facilitating fiercely but fairly—and there might be times when I need to ‘park’ your item for later discussion. It absolutely won’t be lost, we will come back to it, but please don’t be offended if I need to do that.”

When we facilitate, we can actively prompt, asking questions such as:

“We seem to have complete agreement here; are there any contradictory thoughts. What have we missed?”

Ensuring that stakeholders have the ‘air time’, and ensuring that the most bombastic attendees don’t steal the limelight is crucial.  Using a range of tools and techniques in the workshop to consider not only what we want but also what could go wrong can be useful too.  Even just asking a question such as “That seemed too simple, might we have missed something?” can help.

Most of all, cultural nuances aside, we shouldn’t be afraid of the concise clarity of an expression such as “I disagree”.  When someone says it they provide us with a gift, an opportunity to better understand them.

BATimes_July20_2022

Books To Bank On For Your Business: Five Top Reads For Avid Business Analysts

In the fast-paced world of business analysis, you live and learn from minute to minute. Keeping up with cutting-edge industry developments can be a Herculean task for even the most dedicated of business professionals.

So, when it comes to studying, ensure that you are expending your time wisely on quality learning from the best. Here to broaden your knowledge base, expand your vocabulary, and share insider experience, we have collated a small but perfectly formed reading list to equip anybody from post-graduate all the way up to leadership levels with the information needed to succeed. Rather than wasting your time wading your way through reams of useless information to garner a few insightful gems of wisdom when you could already be one step ahead in applying your newfound knowledge to your latest project, use our guide to the top five reads of the moment to help you cut straight to the chase.

 

1: ‘How To Lead In Product Management: Practices To Align Stakeholders, Guide Development Teams, And Create Value Together’ By Roman Pichle

Author of no less than four books and creator of his own blog alongside an educational product management podcast, Roman Pichler is your go-to consultant when it comes to leading in product management. Within the pages of Roman’s latest offering, you’ll find out how to guide your team successfully and to foster positive relationships with your stakeholders. While technical skills and knowledge of your industry are vital elements of leadership, Pichler lends his wisdom on the more nuanced aspects of the interpersonal relationships that must be cultivated as a good leader. This includes invaluable advice on building trust with your team, creating common goals, resolving challenging situations and maintaining your own wellbeing in this high-stakes environment.

 

2: ‘Seven Steps To Mastering Business Analysis (Business Analysis Professional Development)’ By Jamie Champagne

Written by Jamie Champagne, the first ever Hawaiian to become a Certified Business Analysis Professional, this book is a simple yet thorough guide to the complex world of business analysis. An insightful read for beginners and experts alike, Jamie uses her font of experience as founder of her own successful company, Champagne Collaborations, to provide seven clearly structured steps to business success. Champagne generously provides explanations of all key terms and concepts, alongside proven techniques that are coupled with real-life examples for ease of learning. A great resource for those studying for exams in the field, or for anybody looking to understand and  increase the value of their work or to broaden their professional horizon.

 

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3: ‘Agile And Business Analysis’ By Debra Paul And Lynda Girvan

With 55 years of experience in the industry between the two of them, the brains behind Assist Knowledge Development Debra Paul and Linda Girvan have applied their expertise to an in-depth exploration into the use of Agile as an approach in business in this book. Paul and Girvan delve into what Agile means as a business analysis methodology, outlining their thoughts on it’s role in all of the most important aspects of business such as the understanding of customer requirements, the engagement of key stakeholders in the company or product, and the accurate measurement of how successfully the company is achieving its targets in relation to these.

 

4: ‘Agile Software Requirements: Lean Requirements Practices For Teams, Programs, And The Enterprise’ By Dean Leffingwell

With 30 years of experience in the software industry, Dean Leffingwell is an absolute authority in his field. Leffingwell generously shares his experience as the founding CEO of Requisite, Inc., and as Vice President of IBM’s Rational Software in a revolutionary compilation of his recommended best practices. No matter what your company structure of developmental process in the Agile business environment, Leffingwell has likely devised a business model to suit it. His application of the latest in Agile methodology, combined with his expertise in traditional management practices and lean product development creates an all-encompassing bible for anybody interested in getting the best from their business in terms of software requirements.

 

5: ‘Mastering The Requirements Process: Getting Requirements Right’ By Suzanne Robertson And James Robertson

Suzanne and James Robertson’s goal in writing this definitive guide to the requirements process was to teach business analysts how to identify requirements accurately, therefore ensuring an efficient and successful development process free from time and resource-wasting hiccups. Such has been the success of this detailed volume that it is now in it’s third edition, with constantly updated strategies that include information on how to apply it’s lessons to both traditional and to Agile business models. In this latest publication, the Robertsons have provided additional information on the Volere Knowledge Model and Requirements Process, the Brown Cow Model, as well as further chapters on specification templates, formality guides and story cards.

You can find more information about the writer at UKWritingsAcademized and State Of Writing

BATimes_July04_2022

Best of BATimes: How To Level Up Your Business Analyst Career

As a forward-thinking Business Analyst, this question is probably crossing your mind frequently.

 

You’ve established yourself in your career, but you may feel stagnant, eager for a change of scenery or simply ready to learn something new. In a competitive job market, Business Analysts need career know-how to navigate their next steps to keep their work fulfilling. Read on for simple steps you can take to take your Business Analyst career to the next level.

Understand Which Career Path You Want

To get an edge on advancing your career, you need to know where you want to end up. Business Analysts can take their careers in any one of a variety of directions. It all depends on your interests, strengths and opportunities.

As you move through your career, you’ll see that job titles and descriptions become more specialized and specific based on industry and skills. If you’re interested in the tech industry and you’re good at bridging technical work with communicating specialized ideas, a role as an IT Business Analyst could be a great fit. If you’d prefer to work in a variety of industries doing C-level consulting, you may consider a path into a Management Analyst position.

These are just a couple of examples of advanced and in-demand career paths for Business Analysts. Collabera and New Horizons Computer Learning Centers have detailed descriptions of directions that Business Analysts may take as they move throughout their careers.

Find A Mentor

A mentor is a great industry-specific resource for everything from day-to-day questions to giving insight into career decisions. Mentor-mentee relationships can begin organically, like with a trusted superior at work, or you can seek one out with a networking program. The International Institute of Business Analysts (IIBA) hosts local chapters where you can meet other analysts at different points in their careers, and they are forming a mentorship program for members.

A mentor should be someone you can see regularly, perhaps daily or weekly, and who can get to know you and your work habits well. Ideally your mentor is someone at your company, but a former colleague or even a professor can make a great mentor too. With a mentor, you’ll form an ongoing bond that will evolve as your career goals change.

 

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Get A Career Coach

While mentors are typically fellow Business Analysts, career coaches are professionals who operate from a higher level as they help you seek out new opportunities. They may not be Business Analysts themselves, like a mentor would be, but they have plentiful resources for networking, optimizing your soft skills, and helping with resumes and cover letters.

Career coaches often focus on a local region where they have expertise on the job market. They meet with their clients for sessions lasting up to a couple of hours for a flat fee. Virtual and nationwide services are also available through organizations like TheMuse. If you plan on meeting with a career coach, make sure you have an idea of what you want to accomplish during your session and have documents like your resume and work history handy.

Take Classes

Your experience as a Business Analyst doesn’t have to come solely from formal education or on-the-job projects. Taking classes allows you to improve existing skills or add new skills to your resume through cheap and accessible means.

Business Analyst networking groups, like the IIBA, hold specialized workshops to help you hone your skills and learn from other Business Analysts. If you prefer self-directed learning, there are free online resources with high-quality trainings for Business Analysts, like LinkedIn Learning, where you can earn certificates to display on your profile. Coursera also has a free curriculum that specializes in business analytics with courses designed by The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. These courses are great if you have a specialty field in mind where you may be lacking competencies.

Volunteer For Challenging Projects

If you feel stagnated in your current role, be on the lookout for opportunities to challenge yourself. Offer your input in projects that may be out of your usual comfort zone so that you can learn with skilled colleagues or step forward to tackle an issue you found in day-to-day processes. No matter the project, be sure to ask for help when you need it—that’s one of the best ways to grasp new concepts and skills. By taking on challenging projects, you’ll not only gain experience, but you’ll also establish yourself as someone who takes initiative.

Invest In Soft Skills

While it makes sense to devote your time to expanding your technical skills, don’t let soft skills fall by the wayside. Soft skills are qualities and interpersonal skills that are less “trainable” than hard skills, but translate to every role in every industry. Soft skills include conflict resolution, negotiation, communication skills and more. Usman Haq details important soft skills for Business Analysts in his article in BATimes. These skills are acquired and practiced daily, so be mindful of opportunities to hone them. LinkedIn Learning also has courses on soft skills so you can study at your leisure.

Are You Ready To Take Your Career To The Next Level?

Being a business analyst entails wearing a lot of hats. Conquer your career path by understanding your long term career goals, find a mentor and a career coach to help you reach those goals, take classes for both hard and soft skills and don’t be afraid to raise your hand for big projects.  As you take these small steps, your future in Business Analytics will unfold.

Making the Most of BA Training

One topic that is relevant for us as BAs wherever we are in our career is the topic of professional development.

Professional development is relevant for those joining the profession, who need to get to grips with the core skills, as well as those who are experienced who need to refresh their knowledge or keep up to speed with new techniques or developments. Business analysis is an evolving field, and staying up to date is absolutely crucial. Continuing professional development takes a number of forms, both formal and informal, can include anything from reading blogs and articles (on sites such as BATimes.com), attending IIBA chapter events, participating in webinars, mentoring, running or attending ‘lunch and learn’ sessions and of course attending a specific BA training course.

At this point, those of us that have been around for a while will probably be rolling our eyes. I’m sure we’ve all attended or have been sent on the occasional training course that hasn’t been effective. It’s very easy to attend a training session that is logically designed, fun to participate in, but that makes absolutely no difference to our day-to-day practice. You might have even been on courses where the only highlight was the coffee and doughnuts.

It absolutely doesn’t have to be this way! Training, alongside other professional development activities, can be useful and effective, if we plan effectively. Here are some points worth considering.


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  1. Use BA techniques to establish the need: We have a whole range of BA techniques that can help us establish needs and requirements in an organizational setting. These same ideas can be used for an individual or team too. We can turn our analysis on ourselves and carry out a SWOT analysis, understand key skills gaps, and then translate these into requirements. If we notice a particular skills gap in our team we can then research, assess and decide amongst multiple options for plugging that gap.
  2. Training isn’t the only solution: As discussed above, training is by no means the only ‘solution’ to a skills gap. It’s easy to overlook the wide range of resources at our disposal, and often there’s a wealth of experience that exists within organizations. If you are lucky enough to be part of a Community of Practice, it may be that you can use Community of Practice meetings to exchange knowledge and build skills in a safe environment. Training is absolutely useful, but it is most useful when blended with other techniques that support it.
  3. Own the plan: As BAs we need to own our own professional development. Even if you are lucky enough to work for a company that will send you on training, it is still worth having your own (personal) development plan, based on your own goals. Of course, like all plans, it should be malleable and fluid—but it shows the broad direction of travel at any point in time, and this can help figure out immediate next steps.
  4. Choose the provider carefully: If you are booking external training, be selective with the provider you choose. Ask questions like “will the trainer be an experienced BA?”, “When was the last time they worked on a project assignment?”. If you are running the course on-site for your team you might want to ask “Can you customize this course so that it is relevant for our context?”. Ask around your colleagues and network to find out which training providers they would recommend.
  5. Training starts before the day itself: Training is likely to be even more effective if we are able to come prepared with ideas, questions and ‘real life’ dilemmas and situations to discuss. Keeping why we’re attending the training in mind, and assembling these ideas in advance can be very helpful.
  6. Commit to action: During the training, after each technique or concept is covered, it is worth consciously considering aspects such as:
    • In what situations can I use this?
    • When is my next opportunity to use/practice this technique?
    • What are my next steps?
      Using a brand new technique in a radically different way for the first time is sometimes tricky, so you might choose to use it in a team meeting, or some other ‘safe environment’ first. More routine techniques can be picked up straight away.
  7. Ask ‘when will I revisit or re-read my notes’?: Learning can be great fun, and revisiting old training material can help us to refresh, reflect and jog our memories.

Training can be a useful professional development tool when chosen carefully and executed well. Questions such as the ones above can help us in choosing the right course and getting the most from it. I hope that you have found this useful, please do get in touch with any other tips that you have—I’d love to hear them!

5 Project communication mistakes.

Business analysts can get so lost in the details of the projects that we forget to tell the people who are most affected.

Or, we try to tell them but they don’t quite understand. Or we just talk to senior stakeholders and ignore the rest. 

Here are five ways communications can go wrong.

1. Treating communications like a luxury

The change manager – or dedicated communications officer on big programmes – is often the first to be cut, if indeed the investment has been made in hiring one to start with. The logic here is that running a good communications operation is secondary to delivery activities and, in one memorable case, I’ve heard clients refer to such roles as ‘walking headcount’, meaning their days are numbered.
However, as many teams quickly find out, there is very little on a project that does not fall within a communications officer’s remit: obvious work such as keeping end users informed of a project’s progress and probable impact but also vital but more subtle work like managing different types of stakeholder, creating alignment in messaging, getting buy-in and support. Without this, most BAs managers quickly find themselves sinking and having to dedicate much of their time to this work – taking it away from ‘delivery’. 

2. Failing to manage tricky customers effectively

As every contractor, consultant or internal BA knows, stakeholders can be a difficult crowd. Personalities vary, irrespective of seniority: one likes detail and weekly updates, one just wants the headlines and a quarterly steer co; another refuses to read emails but claims to have not been informed; others vie for political advantage over their colleagues at the expense of all other agendas.
Ineffective strategies for dealing with these situations include ignoring difference, trying to pander to everyone or taking the situation personally rather than seeing it as a communications challenge. Through this lens, all inter-personal friction can be mitigated and every stakeholder can be managed; indeed, the only failure is to give up and stop trying new approaches.


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3. Creating an information vacuum, allowing gossip 

Many projects become their own worlds, often seeing the multitudes of stakeholders who will ultimately be affected by the project’s outcome as an afterthought. Well, people talk and a lack of information will be addressed through gossip. Before you know it, stakeholders will believe your project has nefarious goals or – perhaps worse – that you are going to make all of the organisation’s problems go away.
Clear communications are the only way to manage this, ideally presented by a client stakeholder with good rapport with the affected groups. 

4. Being boring

We go to work and – for whatever reason – we think everyone else suddenly wants to be bored out of their minds. So we fill our emails with tired jargon or we inflict long PowerPoint presentations on our colleagues or we feign enthusiasm in the hope our project team will feel motivated. But, our brains in the office are the same as they are outside the office: same attention span, same interests, same intelligence. Not using this fact and communicating in a similar way to how we are accustomed outside the office is a mistake that is sure to see your message being lost or ignored.
Business analysts are particularly culpable. Sometimes, we manage to be both dull and over-bearing to our stakeholders – or try to inject ‘fun’ that numbs the mind of on-lookers. The best approach here tends to be to deliver simple messages, ideally with no more than one or two slides in support. With so many free third party tools available, many of us could also consider playing with well-formatted html emails, infographics, video presentations; but it is rare such media replace the strength of a solid and impactful presentation. 

5. Being slow

Many projects that do have a dedicated change officer responsible for communications spend a long time devising a strategy, defining which communications go to which people at which times. This is useful in principle but often they are encumbered by having to get approval for the plan – or individual communications – from unavailable stakeholders or of over-ambitious and costly strategies that end up either never being implemented or rushed at the last minute. Communications are, by their nature, newsworthy – and news must be delivered while it is still new.
Business analysts on projects of all sizes need fixes for these issues to allow them to focus more on the day-to-day running of their projects. If you want to explore ways to address these issues and manage your communications allowing more time for higher-value project activities, please feel free to reach out to the writer of this article.