Tag: Learning

Experience is the Best Teacher Reflect on Your Actions Taken

Welcome to the last episode of the Coach Clinton 7-Steps to Accomplishment Methodology –finally!

Those of you who have been with me throughout this journey deserve my heartiest congratulations because now you are equipped with the knowledge to achieve anything you want in life. The only limit is your ambitions otherwise nothing is beyond your reach – provided that you follow the entire process just like I described.

Before we fit in the last piece of the achievement jigsaw puzzle, let us list down the first 6 steps:

Step 1 – Appraise your performance
Step 2 – Ascertain your goals and priorities
Step 3 – Approach your goal achievement plan
Step 4 – Avert negativity with your motivation affirmation
Step 5 – Actualize your goals by getting into action
Step 6 – Attain your goals and reward yourself

Now we start with the last step…

Step 7 – Analyze Results

This last step is one of the most important step of the 7-step methodology. After going through great pains and achieving your goals, you need to sit down and analyze the entire process. If you don’t do that, you will have to reinvent the wheel every time you start working on the next goal.

This step helps you learn from your mistakes and helps you identify your strong points so that you can avoid the mistakes and focus on the strengths. Result? Swifter achievement of your goals with lesser mistakes – thus achieving Elevation Exceleration!

This step, as known as Analyze Results, is all about extracting the value of learning from the actions that you have taken while striving toward your goals. It is of utmost importance to learn from past actions. Have you heard the phrase ‘hindsight is 20/20’? It makes perfect sense because once an event has occurred, it becomes very easy to analyze it and see what went wrong with it whereas it is almost impossible to predict something that may happen in the future. Even the best project managers struggle to predict and manage risk. So, it seems a wise thing to use your 20/20 hindsight and assess your actions. This simple action can significantly increase your chances of success in the future.

Whether your venture has been a complete success, a moderate success, a disappointing failure, or anything in between, you must sit down and analyze all your actions using your hindsight. Whether you succeed or not, this analysis will give you valuable insights and help you win next time. If you think you have been successful, evaluating the entire effort will help you see which of your actions were right that led you to this success. In future, you can replicate your success by using the same strategies and actions.

The significance of analyzing your mistakes can be understood by a John Powell’s quote: “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” Although he is a film composer, I find his take on mistakes quite extraordinary. According to John’s definition, a mistake is only the one which we fail to analyze and pick up our lesson from. In essence, mistakes are great learning opportunities, in disguise.

I seriously hope that now you realize that analyzing your mistakes is a mandatory step of the self-improvement process. To do this effectively, I’m giving you a few practical tips from my years of experience coaching others:

Analyze every time

Like I said earlier, whether it is a breakthrough success or an utter failure, there is no exemption from the hindsight analysis part. There is no room for any excuse that can allow you to skip this extremely important step.

Record your mistakes in detail

Make it a point to go through all the events in greater detail and see which actions were correct and which ones need to be marked for review. Pay attention to the actions and decisions that could have been altered to get better results. The key here is to go in sufficient detail and not to let any detail slip through the cracks.

Accept mistakes

Since this activity is for your own improvement, you should not be afraid of openly accepting your mistakes. Providing yourself with false comfort at this stage will definitely lead you to pay much higher cost of making further mistakes in the future. The best thing is to accept your mistakes with an open mind.

Reasons vs excuses

As a human being, we unconsciously fix the blame of our mistakes on external factors and save ourselves from guilt. It is important to be a little more objective with yourself and not to confuse between genuinely justified reasons for a failure and baseless excuses just to let yourself loose. A better option is to blame yourself for every mistake and then try to take off the blame by using factual justifications only.

Seek help

It is time to acknowledge the fact that nobody is a master of everything. We have made mistakes but there is no shame in seeking the help of someone who is better at doing something – someone who is a specialist of that particular area. Do your due diligence to find the best source of help and ask for help without feeling the unnecessary guilt of not knowing something.

Ask yourself the right questions

Asking yourself the right questions is a great way to get educational value from your mistakes. These questions should be able to capture the exact mistakes and turn them into valuable lessons for the future. Here are a few questions to get you started:

  • Did this turn out the way I visualized?
  • What didn’t go so well?
  • What mistake(s) did I make?
  • What was the outcome of my mistake?
  • What type of additional planning do I think could have helped me?
  • What exactly can I learn from this?
  • What can I do in the future to avoid this type of result again?
  • Which skills or resources will I need to handle this type of situations more effectively?
  • What changes can I make in my approach to improve future results?

By following these points, I’m sure you can convert your mistakes into great opportunities. After following this methodology for a few times to achieve different goals, you will see yourself getting better at this and you will even look forward to embarking on your next endeavor.

To conclude this series of discussions, I would urge you again to stop procrastinating and start chasing your dreams and ambitions using the Coach Clinton 7-Steps to Accomplishment Methodology. As the results will start to pour in, I’m sure you will thank yourself for taking this initiative.

Best of luck!

How to Learn New Techniques

Introduction: The fourth thing I wish I knew when I was starting out as a business analyst was how to learn new techniques in a way that I can be most effective.

With the vast amount of techniques out there, it’s possible to become a professional student and spend all your time learning about new techniques, becoming an expert in every one. That’s not necessarily what I’m suggesting here. Rather, I think it’s important to be aware of the variety of techniques available, when to use them and how to quickly get up to speed on them when you need to. Here’s how I go about doing just that.

Keep an Eye Out for New Techniques

There are 2 categories of new techniques for business analysts:

  1. Techniques that are new to you, but are practiced by other members of your team.
  2. New analysis techniques that make you more effective.

It’s easy to decide when to do the first type of techniques – usually someone on your team has hit a bottleneck and needs some help to keep things moving. If you have some time available, or the work you’re currently doing is not as time critical, you can be a good team member and help. Hopefully, learning that new technique will also help you be better at business analysis. That was the situation I was in when working on a data warehouse project as a project manager/business analyst and found myself reverse engineering COBOL code to elicit business rules, modeling data, and developing SQL stored procedures. I primarily did those activities because they needed to get done, but they had the added benefit of adding skills to my toolkit I use to this day.

Deciding when to pick up new analysis techniques can be a trickier. You need to balance seeking continuous improvement with not falling into the shiny object syndrome where you think a new technique you hear about is the answer to all of your problems. I know this happens because I’ve fallen into that trap more often than I care to admit. What I have found works best is to find some people I trust and respect and listen to what they are talking about. This works best when you follow people that you know are practitioners because when they share their stories you know they are sharing things they have done. I compiled a list of Product Ownership Blogs and Newsletters on my blog that I follow to find out about new techniques. That list is primarily product management and UX focused because those types of techniques are very helpful for business analysts.

When you come across a new technique make sure you understand what outcome the technique produces, and when it is most applicable. If you explicitly look for this information, you may avoid falling victim to the shiny object syndrome. The other thing I suggest you do is keep a perspective of Just-In-Time instead of Just-In-Case learning.

Just-In-Time learning means you find out what the technique is, know when it’s appropriate to use, and where to find out more information. Organizations like the IIBA (in the BABOK Techniques section) and the Agile Alliance (in the Agile Glossary) provide descriptions of techniques at a level appropriate to understand what techniques are and when they are useful.

Just-In-Case learning means you go on a binge of downloading resources, buying books, and attending classes about a technique even though you aren’t sure when or if you will use it. When you do this, one of two things happen. You learn all this great info about this new technique, then don’t find an opportunity to use it and promptly forget everything. The other alternative is you learn all you can about the new technique and then you walk around with a proverbial hammer in your hand and everything looks like a nail. You applying the technique to solve every problem you come across even when it’s not a good fit. Don’t do that.

Search for Resources About How to Do It

Once you find an appropriate use for a technique, it’s time to do a deep dive into that technique. If you’re learning a technique to help other team members, ask those team members what resources they suggest.

You can also do a targeted internet search where you ask about the technique in a specific context, such as: “Story mapping for health insurance business intelligence”. If you don’t find any useful resources with those specific searches, you can always broaden your search. Pick the results that describe actual experiences rather that the resources that only explain the theory of the technique.

Wikipedia is a good place to start with information about the technique, but use it primarily to find out who initially created it or has expanded the use of the technique then look up resources from those creators. The Agile Alliance Agile Glossary that I mentioned is also a good place to find links to other resources both on the Agile Alliance site and off that provide more information about some techniques.

Targeted questions on LinkedIn groups can also be helpful. Just be prepared to separate the people who have used the technique from those who have read just read about it. Pay attention to people whose answers are like “when we tried this out I found” or “I usually like to do this…” over those who respond with prescription such as: “the daily standup must always be 15 minutes or less and managers must not speak.” When you find some people with actual experience using the technique reach out to them and pick their brains. Your own experience is the best teacher; other’s experience is almost as good.

Establish a Safety Net

This step is most appropriate when you learn a technique new to you but familiar to others in the team. Find someone on the team who is an expert in that technique that you can either pair with when you are doing the technique or run things by before you finish them. Since you are probably doing a task to help someone who is too busy, you’ll have to find a way to get this support that makes the best use of the other person’s time.

When I was doing the SQL development for the Data Warehouse project, my safety net was Mike, a skilled SQL developer in our area. He had limited availability for the project, so I did the development work and testing in a test environment, and then went over it with him. It was important for me to find out not only where I had written bad code, but also why it was bad code. Finding that out helped me to understand more general principles around writing SQL code that I still remember to this day. The same idea applies for any technique you learn.

One approach that teams use to allow members of the team to learn techniques and to provide safety net is called Staff Liquidity. It’s the idea where each member of the team assesses their abilities for a variety of techniques then when the team is deciding who is going to work on what, the people who are less familiar with an activity volunteer for items dealing with that activity first. That leaves more experienced people free so that they are available to coach and mentor. The idea behind this is twofold. 1) the knowledge about key activities spreads throughout the team. 2) The more experienced members are available to jump in when an urgent issue comes up without having an undue impact on the work of the overall team.

Just Do It

You can read about a technique and talk to others about how they’ve done it, but you really learn by doing it. You’ll learn it even better if you make recoverable mistakes when trying the technique out. If there is a new technique that you think may be helpful, make sure it’s appropriate in your situation and try it out. Start with the expectation that you may make some mistakes and be prepared to learn from those mistakes and figure out how you may do it differently in the future.

Limit the amount of time you try a technique the first time. You don’t want to spend a lot of time doing something without any feedback. Try something in a limited fashion and then get feedback on how the technique went, consider that feedback and think about how it will impact what you do the next time.

When I was doing the SQL development, I would write a procedure or two, then I would run those procedures in test and check them with Mike to make sure I was heading down the right path. If I made a mistake at this point it was recoverable because I was in a test environment.

These days I get the opportunity to expand my website building skills when I make changes to the Agile Alliance website. I pick an isolated instance of the new technique I’m trying, do it, then have some other members of the team look at the page to get feedback.

If you are taking a course on the technique, make sure the course includes an opportunity to try out the technique, if not in your own context at least on an example that is somewhat related.

Teach it to someone else

If you’ve used the technique and found it worked for you, and you think you are going to continue to use it, the best way to increase your knowledge and understanding is to teach it to someone else. Richard Feynman, a Nobel Prize winning physicist known for his ability to explain complicated topics to people came up with the Feynman technique which is a great formula for learning anything:

  1. Choose a concept
  2. Teach it to a Toddler
  3. Identify Gaps and Go Back to The Source Material
  4. Review and Simplify

Use the Feynman technique to describe the technique you have learned and tried out to help other people learn it as well, at the same time making sure you really understand it.

How Do You Learn New Techniques?

Those are a few of the ways I go about learning techniques. I’d love to hear what you have found works. Leave your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

Projects Tend to be Described in Terms of Solutions

In my last article 5 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Started As A Business Analyst I said I wished that I knew that projects are often described in terms of solutions.

I actually realized this fairly quickly, but it didn’t occur to me to do something about it until a couple of years into my business analyst career.

I thought I was set when I started on a new project and was given a solution that just needed the specifics filled in. It was only after working on a few projects that I began to realize things were not as clear cut as they sometimes seem. I didn’t realize that people have a tendency to hang on to the first solution they think of when they face a problem and fail to question whether that first solution is the best one. As a result, when sponsors are asked to describe a project they inevitably describe that first solution they came up with.

One of your primary responsibilities as a business analyst is to dig into that solution and discover the underlying need. I’ve found a simple approach to accomplish this is to guide a conversation with the sponsor of the project and the team working on it around a problem statement.

Explicitly Discuss the Problem

I was working with a team in the middle of a commission system revision project. There were 11 people involved, including the sponsor, a couple of subject matter experts, and the majority of the delivery team. I wanted to get a better understanding of what the project was all about, and I wanted to find out if the team had a shared understanding of why they were doing the project.

I asked everyone to grab four index cards and a marker.

On the first card, I asked each person to finish this phrase: The problem of… [Describe the problem]

On the second card, I asked each person to finish this phrase: affects… [Who are the stakeholders affected by the problem]

On the third card, I asked each person to finish this phrase: the impact of which is… [What is the impact of the problem]

On the fourth card, I asked each person to finish this phrase: A successful solution would… [List the key characteristics that the solution, however implemented must have to be successful]

One set of cards looked like this:

The problem of: completing the monthly commission process in a timely manner affects: agents, commissions staff

The impact of which is: there is a delay for agents to get paid, commissions staff are constantly harassed by agents right at the time when they are the busiest (running the commissions process)

A successful solution would: speed up the commission process, decrease the number of times agents bother commissions staff

The team member actually states a problem, but then identifies multiple stakeholders who are affected, multiple impacts, and multiple characteristics of a good solution. That’s ok because you are primarily trying to generate information at this point.

Once everyone wrote their cards, I asked each team member to read their statement in order and place their cards on four parts of a table, each part corresponding to a section of the problem statement. If you are using sticky notes, you can have people put the sticky notes on four separate sheets of paper hanging on a wall.

When I had the group build their individual problem statements we ended up with 11 different perceptions of what the project was about, ranging from making some changes to the commission system to make it easier to maintain, to completely overhauling how the organization paid its agents. Needless to say, the team was a bit surprised about the differences in perspectives considering that the project had been underway for a few months. Everyone just assumed that they were “all on the same page” regarding what the project was all about until they did this exercise.

We had already gained value from the exercise because it exposed the disconnect between the group on the real need the project was trying to satisfy. We still needed to take the disparate items and condense them together into a single, consistent, agreed upon statement. I had the group start at the “The problem of” set of cards and agree upon a specific problem. Once the team came to an agreement on the problem, and only then, I had them move to the next the set of cards and repeat the process.

The end result was a consistent statement they all agreed to and could use as a guide to refer to when they were trying to remember, or fill someone else in on, what the project was all about. I didn’t keep track of what the actual statement was – the most important outcome of the exercise was the shared understanding between the team members.

That said, the output from the exercise was useful. The stakeholders identified in the “affects” group provided a hint at whose needs you want to satisfy. The “Impact of” identifies specific things you can look to eliminate, and the “characteristics of a successful solution” hint at potential acceptance criteria.

By working through each of the different portions of the problem statement, we were able to converge to a shared understanding of the purpose of the project. Later, the team members were able to use this as one way of deciding what they should and shouldn’t focus on.

Things to Consider

I did this exercise after the team had already started the project because that’s when I started working with them. Ideally, you’d like to have this conversation when the team is finding out about a new project. I’ve started a project with this conversation several times and found the teams are much better aligned with what they are trying to accomplish from the beginning.

The discussions that occur when formulating a consistent problem statement can also help the team focus. When your team crafts individual problem statements and then looks at all the pieces together, you identify several different problems, stakeholders, impacts, and characteristics of a successful solution. The discussions that occur in the effort to go from many problem statements to one raises issues, risks, and assumptions that everyone on the team may not have been aware of. Talking through those issues, risks, and assumptions helps your team build a shared understanding of the problem to solve and things to consider when picking the appropriate solution.

That’s just one approach I’ve used to extract a problem from a solution. I’m curious to hear what techniques you’ve found useful when you are in the same situation. Please share them in the comments.

Strategy Spotlight: Be Teaming with Success: Using Assessments and Profiling to Understand Yourself and Others

I have received a number of emails regarding a statement I made in one of my previous blogs.

In that particular post, I mentioned the importance of understanding yourself and others through profiling. The exact quote, “you should profile yourself and the people around you” (See article Master These 7 Skills to Become an Excellent Interviewer). So let me explain the importance of profiling and give you some options.

Related Article: Master These 7 Skills to Become an Excellent Interviewer

A project manager and/or business analyst is a leader who must engage people in order to get stuff done. This reality exists whether through identifying business problems or opportunities, evaluating solution alternatives, or planning and implementing projects. Nothing happens unless you can engage people appropriately. Profiling helps.

Three Profiling Rules and Profile Types to Endure

There are a few rules about profiling that you need to internalize. First, it is not about you so leave your ego at the door. Second, it is all about the other person’s communication needs. Third, you need to adapt to the communication needs of the other person.

Generally, there are three kinds of profiles to consider; intelligence quotient (IQ), emotional quotient (EQ) and culture quotient (CQ). EQ has to do with emotional intelligence and is now considered more important than IQ in achieving success in our lives (business, career, and life). Success is dependent on our ability to read people and act appropriately.

Four Attributes of Emotional Quotients (EQ)

Self-Awareness: You are aware of your thoughts and emotions and the impact they have on your behavior. What you think is what you feel, what you feel is how you act and how you act is the results you get (think, feel, act, results).

Self-Management: Can be defined as your ability to manage your feelings and behaviors. It includes your ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

Social Awareness: This is where you engage in understanding other people. In essence your ability to read the situation around you, pick up on social cues and adjust accordingly. It is all about people and group dynamics.

Relationship Management: Emphasis is placed on your ability to develop and maintain good relationships. This could be short-term (for projects), to influence and motivate others, to interact for the purpose of understanding a problem, to manage conflicts, etc. I like to think of this as your ability to get on and get along in life.

Six Tools of the Assessment Trade (there are more)

There are many tools that can be used to develop your understanding of yourself and others. I believe that throughout your career it is important to use several tools in order to develop a self-profile that goes beyond just the standard EQ assessment. It’s important to look at your career and work fit, your career anchors, and of course the standard emotional intelligence profiling options. Here is a list of options to help you build your ability to understand yourself and others so you can improve your professional effectiveness.

DISC Profile: This is a behavioral model that examines individual behaviors in their environment, their styles, and behavioral preferences. Four areas looked at include; Dominance (control, power, and assertiveness), Influence (social situations and communication), Steadiness (patience, persistence, and thoughtfulness), and Conscientiousness (structure and organization). This is a powerful tool for profiling, building teams and relationships.

Self-Management Pro: This one is used to predict management and leadership potential so that organizations can develop their professionals. The tool has been proven effective in predicting performance and retention. I like the way it looks at your profile and style in terms of process and structure, learning, orientation, self-direction and lifestyle management.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI): A personality inventory that measures people in four key areas; how you relate to others (either by extraversion or introversion), how a person takes in information (sensing or intuition), how a person makes decisions (thinking or feeling) and how a person orders their life (judging or perceiving).

Career Anchors: We are all anchored in something. This tool will help you understand your career anchors and other people’s career anchors. Everyone is not anchored in the same things. You and the person you are working with will fall into one of eight categories (autonomy/independence, security/stability, technical/functional, general management, entrepreneurial creativity, service, pure challenge, and lifestyle). Knowing a person’s career anchors tells you a lot about their natural motivation.

Career Fitters: My new favorite profile as I filled this one a few weeks ago and I was surprised how accurate it was. This profile looks at your personality in the workplace and then provides you insight into career options based on your work personality style. It is great for working with teams and individuals to understand fit or even working with other people and their fit to what they are doing. Send me an email if you would like a link.

Coaching Skills Inventory: The coaching skills inventory generates an overall coaching-effectiveness profile. It teaches you how you do in meetings from the opening, communicating, gaining agreement and closing. Don’t let the title fool you as it is not just about coaching. It can be used to improve your meeting performance. Something I found incredibly valuable in identifying my weaknesses and then developing my meeting skills. This is a huge bonus.

Final Thoughts:

The importance of understanding yourself and others continues to grow. I think it has become imperative that the professional step up and take the time to learn how to profile and adapt in order to increase their success. A combination of emotional quotients and career profiling provides valuable insight into the world around you. These profiles are becoming increasingly relevant to organizations and people development, and the ability to solve business problems because they provide a way to understand and assess behaviors, styles, beliefs, values, attitudes and interpersonal skills. All of which impact your ability to do your job.

Over the course of my career I have done a lot of interviews, small group meetings and workshops where understanding the people around me was critical to the initiative success. Sometimes we would profile on-the-fly and other times we would do formal profiling using a combination of tools, one-on-one debriefs and Group to Business Impact Sessions. Something I still do for clients today.

What if the Project Client Won’t Move Forward?

Business analysts – tell me this – have you ever worked with those project clients that you can’t seem to get out of the starting gate?

You seem to be in a perpetual starting mode, but the real project never seems to happen? Have you ever had projects that seemed to take forever to start and maybe never started?

As an independent consultant, I’ve had many clients seem like they were ready to go yesterday on projects…only to find myself six months later still discussing how we might get started. It’s frustrating; it takes time away from other projects we are managing or involved in and caters to clients who may really only be fishing for information from experts with little to no intent of ever starting a project.

Related Article: 5 Reasons You Need a Business Analyst Before Project Kickoff

How do we recognize these situations so we can somehow avoid them the next time they start to show these same signs? Or better yet, how do we help push them along into real projects? Let’s consider some possible concerns.

How can we more easily and quickly recognize these situations as they start to happen?

My quick answer is you don’t recognize it until it’s too late. And by too late I mean until you’ve spent some considerable email and phone time – and for larger, potential projects maybe even face to face time involving expensive travel. Yes, you may blow through a considerable amount of time and money and never get anything out of it. That’s the nature of project negotiation – it happens all the time. But avoiding it is almost impossible.

You don’t want to chase those project opportunities that are clearly outside of your scope of expertise. Your likelihood of success is low anyway. But if it looks like a good match then the ambitious business analyst is going to put their head down and push forward as hard as they can and try to get a project going out of what they have so far. And continuous client promises of a decision by the end of next week, or an agreement after one more discovery call, leaves a deal too close to pass up after you’ve already put weeks or months into trying to finalize the deal.

Suddenly, you look back and six months have passed. If you truly reach that six-month milestone, it’s probably time for the business analyst and project manager just to give up. You can’t turn a potential project customer into something they are not.

You know the saying; “If you love something, let it go…if it was meant to be it will come back to you.”

Is there a way to avoid these types of situations?

Probably not. But it may be that we could ask better questions up front. We never want to sound too pushy, of course. But it’s fair to ask if there is budget approved for this project, if the project is backed by senior management, or if there are high-level requirements mapped out already.

Have they gathered end users and questioned them on the potential project? The bottom line is this; have they really thought this through in terms of need and finances before they came to you or did they come to you fishing for some ideas?

If you ask the right questions, you can find out if they’ve really thought this through, if it’s a project with money and thought behind it or if it’s just in it’s just a concept in its infancy. You may even find out if they have decided if you’re the fit if it does become a project. You might just be one of fifty that was selected to be pinged with an email or phone call to get some information that might help them along in their decision process.

Be careful, however. If you give them a lot of good information, you may become the single source of providing them with planning info that they have no intention of paying for in the long run. I’ve been there. I think I’m in one of those situations right now, but I haven’t quite figured out if that is the case or not…so I’m hanging on.

Can we more easily turn them into real projects?

The quick answer is that you won’t be able to, or that you’ll fail more often than you’ll succeed. You can’t force something that was never really meant to happen. However, if you feel you are close and that the chemistry is fairly good, then the thing that may push it over the line into real project territory is one of two things; 1) drop the proposed price or 2) the addition some interesting service or add-on product. Giving them back some of their proposed dollars or giving something of yourself or offering for free can turn some of those “explorations” that never end into a real project.

Summary / call for input

We think we are in control, but we aren’t. We are the experts and possibly the business analyst is the most expert resource of all on each project. Still, these situations happen and can be so extremely frustrating. Just when we think we are about to get a new project in place and ready to move forward, the customer may throw a new wrench into the process or need more time or need more funding. You can’t force a “yes.” You can maybe negotiate a “yes” by giving more away for free, but at the business analyst and depending on your organization, you may not be able to negotiate too much or make that call. Again, it can be incredibly frustrating. If you are in a position to do some negotiating, then consult with the project manager and team and weigh the options. But be sure to think about the long term, too, not just the short term. And then decide – keep going or give up? That’s about the only amount of control you can have.

How about our readers? Have you been in a position with a project client that seems to be in a holding pattern indefinitely? What did you do to push it toward being a real, viable project? Were you successful?