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Inspiration, Enthusiasm, and Triumph – The Journey to Becoming a Certified Business Analyst

They say a journey starts with a single step forward, but the reasons behind taking that first step can lead you down paths you never thought you would be able to walk upon.

This is the story of my journey into becoming a certified Business Analyst.

This whole journey didn’t start out with great fanfare. The reason behind why I chose to pursue the IIBA Certified Business Analysis Professional CBAP® certification was not actually a lofty one. It did not stem from a need to align myself with, at that time, the rapidly growing global network of professionals dedicated to raising the awareness of Business Analysis value through Business Analysis standardization and professional designation. Nor did it stem from a desire to authenticate my many years of Business Analysis and be recognized by the established Business Analysis standards association. The only reason I had initially for obtaining my certification was that I thought was doing a good friend a favor. But, by the time I sat for the CBAP® exam, my reasons had evolved!

It was the winter of 2008 in Minnesota when a dear and trusted fellow BA stuck his head into my cubicle at work and announced, “Hi, I am applying to sit for IIBA’s brand new CBAP® certification exam in June, and YOU are going to do it with me! We can study together!” Well, I thought to myself, it is winter here in Minnesota, after all, and there will not be much to do over the next 2-3 months.

“Okay,” I responded to my friend, “Let’s do it!”

So, my friend and I started our preparation for the CBAP® exam.

In 2008, the IIBA was all of 4 years old, but it had literally exploded from a start-up 37-member work group into an established association of over 5,000 members worldwide. There was a published Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK Guide®), an implemented certification program and IIBA chapters were being established all over the world. In those four short years, there had arisen a groundswell of Business Analyst and industry support for the IIBA and everything that it stood for. This phenomenon was evidence of the high dedication and well-placed vision of the initial 37 members and of all those who joined their ranks in the next few years.

Our first step in preparing for our certification was to apply to sit for the exam. Sitting for the CBAP exam requires that applicants meet a specified number hours of BA work experience, with a minimum number of hours spread across a minimum number of the BABOK’s Knowledge Areas (KA). Being the dedicated BAs we were, we used a requirements management approach to filling out the exam application.

First, we broke down our resume’s work history into Business Analysis related tasks within projects, listing each project’s start and end dates. Using this chronology, we built two grids. One grid, cross-referenced our Business Analysis work history to each of the BABOK’s Knowledge Areas (KA,) where it applied, and the second grid calculated, by project, the net number of work hours spent on each BA task within each project.

These two grids made it very easy to calculate the total number of BA work hours and BA work hours by BABOK KA for the exam application. One huge advantage to building these two grids was that we had to survey each BABOK KA deeply enough to understand what each KA was about and understand where our work experience applied. Building these grids to fill out the exam application provided us with the perfect overview of the BABOK.

Once our applications for the exam were completed and submitted, we turned our attention to studying. The first thing we did was to set a realistic, but solid goal of 3 months to prepare for the exam. We quickly figured out that we could not memorize the entire BABOK in 3 month’s time, to the depth it would take to pass the exam. So, we needed a targeted approach to guide us through consuming all of the knowledge in the BABOK.

Today BAs are very fortunate to have so many and valuable resources available to them. There are certification prep classes offered by many training organizations, multiple study guides, practice exams available both online and through training organizations, and study groups hosted by local IIBA chapters. There are also virtual study groups, online blogs, online flashcards, etc. Searches online for ‘how to study for the CBAP’ bring up a plethora blog posts for your review. These blog posts are certified BAs mentoring fellow BAs and are a very valuable source of information for anyone wanting to sit for the exam.

In 2008, there were good resources available to assist with studying, albeit not as many as available today. After surveying all the available resources, we chose our strategy. We signed up immediately for a prep class through one of the training organizations. And we purchased practice exams and prep question flashcards from two different training organizations.

The prep class we took provided the perfect guide for consuming the vast amount of information in the BABOK and enabled us to pass the exam. The class took us through the tasks and activities within each BABOK KA and taught us the inputs (most important) and outputs of each activity. The class also took us through all the different types of modeling: usage, process, flow, data, and behavior models and showed us when to apply each one during Business Analysis. Lastly, the class pointed out important terms and definitions to memorize and gave us mnemonics to help memorize lists of Inputs/Tools/Techniques/Outputs (ITTO).

My friend and I formed our own 2-member study group, tossing practice test and flash card questions at each other throughout our workdays as often as possible, over our 3 months of study. The practice exams and the flashcards were also invaluable in helping us prepare for the wording of the questions on the exam. The exam questions go through multiple reviews before becoming exam questions, and they are designed to test subtle understanding. The questions are written to ensure that a BA can distinguish between what is correct and what is almost correct in a given situation. It takes practice to learn how to read and understand these types of questions correctly and to answer them accurately. The practice tests and flashcards taught us this critical skill.

Prior to 2008, I had not been highly involved with the local IIBA chapter. I periodically went to monthly chapter meetings and occasionally read their newsletter. I had been a Business Analyst for over 25 years and loved the work. But, my experience was that there was widely varied understanding of what the discipline of Business Analysis involved. The importance of Business Analysis was not consistently valued, and the role of a BA was often not as empowered on a project as it needed to be.

Shortly after delving into studying for the CBAP® exam, I discovered how much momentum and dedication was behind the IIBA organization and the solid value that IIBA was bringing to the Business Analysis discipline through standardization and credentialing. My reason for pursuing my CBAP® matured from merely doing a friend a favor into a sense of total pride for my profession and excitement over becoming part of this movement and obtaining my CBAP®. Today, I get excited over the growing list of certified names on IIBA’s Website and that IIBA now offers 4 established levels of certification in Business Analysis.

The journey can be rough, but very rewarding. In the end, Business Analysis certification was the most rewarding part of my career.

Letter from the Editor Ides of March and the Certification Quest

The Ides of March are coming. Officially marked on the Roman calendar as March 15th as the date Julius Caesar was assassinated in Rome and which put a rather definite end to his career.

If Emperor certification existed in ancient Rome, it might have saved him from that fatal sponsor meeting. The Emperor Book of Knowledge must have an entire chapter dedicated on how not to be stabbed in the Senate. Talk about sponsor management!

Certification is a relatively new thing in our existence. For many centuries the Master, Journeyman and Apprentice system was in use. Masters of the craft would teach Journeyman and Apprentices their craft working with each other side by side for many years. Eventually the Apprentice becomes the Journeyman and the Journeyman becomes the Master. Although we don’t use these terms today in business, you can certainly see these roles being played out. In the modern world, we take certification tests to prove our knowledge after we have an enough experience in the profession.

My certification journey started off when I was a director of project managers and I was meeting with the PMO director and CIO. In this meeting, we were talking about PMBOK 1.0 and how some of these concepts could be used within our organization to drive our projects more effectively. When the subject of certification came up, we passed on the idea. A few years later I’m in a similar meeting discussing PMBOK but in this meeting my leadership turned to me and said, “I think to make yourself more credible as a leader of Project Managers, you should get this certification”.

I was a leader of other Project Managers and good at my craft of Project Management. Being asked to prove my expertise to body of folks outside the organization was terrifying. What if I failed? Did that make me a “fake” project manager? Would my leadership and team really view me differently with a certification? It was clearly a situation where failure wasn’t an option. Failing the test in my mind would mean I failed at Project Management and that I shouldn’t be a manager. I had to ensure triumph and victory.

I spent the next 3 years studying and preparing. I did not take just one PMP Prep Course – I took several. I took Project Management training classes on all subjects. I grabbed a copy of the PMBOK and read every word over several times. I got the flashcards and simulated tests. I took that simulated test over a dozen times. Every question I got wrong went on a list. I analyzed that list and dug into the materials to find the correct answer. By the time, I was finished taking the simulated tests, I was getting only 1 or 2 questions wrong.

I gathered up my work history and all the projects I worked on over the years and spent an entire Monday putting it all together. I remember clicking the submit button on the application like it was yesterday. The next day I got the confirmation. I scheduled the exam at a local exam center in 2 weeks. After I got off the call, I started sweating. Am I ready? I mean REALLY ready to take this exam?

I build my brain dump paper of all the formulas and things that I thought I would need during the exam. Two pages of glorious detail memorized. I practiced making sure I could write it all out perfectly with in 10 minutes.

Two days before the exam, I stopped. No studying, no simulated tests, no practice – nothing. I stopped thinking about it cold turkey. I took the day off work telling everyone I was going on some personal errands – I just couldn’t get enough courage to admit I was going to take my certification test. On the day of the test I got in my car and drove to the testing site. I reviewed my brain dump paper and took a deep breath. “You just have to pass”, I kept telling myself, “70% is enough to pass. You’re not going to know it all. All you can do is your best.”

I walked in, signed in and probably got frisked for contraband but I don’t remember. I sat in front of relic of a computer, took a deep breath and was given the all clear to start. In less than 3 minutes my brain dump paper was completed. I was nervous and on hyper drive at that point. I then started the computer exam. I finished in one hour, then looked up at that clock and total panicked. Did I go too fast? Am I missing everything? I went through the test again worried I totally fouled it up. I changed a few questions which every prep class out there tells you is never a good idea but I did it anyway. Over and over I went through the questions until there was 15 minutes left. Should I spend more time?

I held the mouse pointer over the finish button for several minutes just staring at it. I just couldn’t click the button. This was the point of no return. I took a deep breath and clicked. A survey popped up. “How was your experience today?” it asked cheerfully. Now you want me to take a survey? I think in some small way I lost it. I just clicked all over the page to get rid of that survey. And then it happened. After a long pause that moment I feared and dreaded was upon me. The answer to all my efforts was on the screen.


I’m not sure but I probably floated out of that testing center. I know for certain I had a big smile on my face. It was spring and sunny out when I walked to my car. I got into my car and wore out the battery in my cell phone calling everyone I knew to tell them I passed. You couldn’t wipe that smile off my face for days.

Certification is life changing. It’s hard and requires a significant amount of time and dedication to complete. There is great reward in achieving this milestone and It has certainly helped my career many times over the years. Beware the Ides of March? Caesar didn’t make it out of his test but I certainly did.

This month’s featured articles are about certification. We hope you enjoy the great stories and journeys to get certification as told by real Project Managers and business Analysts. Don’t miss a single week’s issue!

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.