Tag: Learning

21st Century BA: How to Become a Business Technologist

In the 21st century, all businesses are technology companies. To survive in the global economy, indeed to thrive, world-class, agile and flexible technology is a necessity.

Without it, organizations cannot cope with the ever-changing competitive environment. Competition is fierce, and an organization’s competitive advantage is always at risk. In addition, the business environment is stunningly complex. Innovation is a precondition to survival. Technology advances are coming fast and furiously. Organizations are struggling to find the talent needed to drive changes to the business and the technology to achieve and sustain competitive advantage.

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WE NEED TO CHANGE OUR PERSPECTIVE

The business analysis discipline needs to elevate its thinking, discarding the notion that requirements management is the most important task at hand. That is a very narrow, and frankly doomed view of the scope of business analysis. As enterprise BAs, striving to fill the role of Business Technologists, we are adopting a core enterprise perspective that is driven by the need for business/technology investments to create optimal business benefits in terms of value to customers and wealth to the bottom line.

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WE NEED A HOLISTIC VIEW OF THE BUSINESS AND THE TECHNOLOGY

The effective Enterprise BA/Business Technologist thinks big. Thinks strategically. Thinks holistically. Thinks about the customer. Understands that the business and technology components of the organization are part of an ecosystem that is always changing and adapting to variations in the competitive environment and transformations in technology, resulting in requisite changes to business processes, technology, products, and services. While there is no technology that is the silver bullet, we continue to seek out technical products and technical managers to solve all of our problems.

There is no single silver bullet. It’s about being able to identify technologies, understand their implications, combine them in an effective way, and make intelligent decisions in employing them, creating a set of operational processes and organizational structures to surround them, which is a much harder thing than simply investing in one technology versus another.

… We need technologists who understand more in the way of the economic analysis and business strategy. I would also suggest we need technologists who are more integrative problem solvers, which is to say we need technologists who can solve problems across multiple technology domains, and across business and technology domains.
James Kaplan, Principal at McKinsey&Companyi
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WE NEED TO GROW UP FAST

An IBM CEO study as long ago as 2010 identified complexity as the biggest challenge, and creativity as the most important skill that is needed to understand and manage complexityii. They went on to say, they have not groomed creative leaders from within, and they can’t find the talent they need through traditional staffing activities. Conventional project roles are changing. The EBA focus is now on strategy, innovation, and value vs. requirements management. The PM focus is now on complexity management vs. project management. However, companies can’t find these types of BAs/PMs – critical thinkers with the ability to:

  • Adapt, invent, and re-invent
  • Collaborate, create, and innovate
  • Leverage complexity to compete.

The business analysis discipline, and therefore the effective business technologist, needs to quickly attain breakthrough skills and competencies – en masse. The need is urgent. Realizing that there is so much innovation in technology today, no organization can know all about the different technology domains that are emerging. Therefore, creativity, problem solving and integration skills become much more important that any specific knowledge about a technical domain such as cyber cybersecurity, cloud computing, or big data. To fill the void, organizations that rely heavily on technology such as banks, insurance companies, and healthcare companies are starting to recruit from within and from outside in the high-tech industry. They are seeking out individuals with a broad set of skills, individuals who have the ability to span business and technology domains, who have experience in integrative problem solving.

Staffing and career development operatives are responding to the need. Companies are seeking out internal and external managers and high performers who are willing to move between different parts of an IT organization as they progress. Some business managers are also moving from the business into selected roles in technology organizations in order to infuse more business acumen into the IT management staff. We need innovation in the world of training for business and IT professionals. Instead of focusing on technical disciplines, Kaplan urges us to foster what he calls first-principles technology problem solving or cross-domain integrative-technology problem solvingiii.

ELEVATE YOUR PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT APPROACH

For the individual BA who is looking to elevate their career and status in their organizations, it’s time to modernize your career development approach. Get your hands around a new attitude about your professional development. Build strategy-focused, value-based thinking into your advancement plans.

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SEEK OUT NEW ROLES

21st Century EBAs/BTs are bold and courageous. They search for new roles and new challenges to broaden and deepen their experience, knowledge, and expertise. They put themselves in positions with high visibility where the action is. They thrive when working collaboratively with other experts in uncertainty and ambiguity. People in the business and in IT seek them out, asking for them to be on their teams.

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LEAD THROUGH CONNECTIONS

The 21st Century is all about connections. In the global world of business complexity, it takes a high functioning team of experts to negotiate the business and technical complexities. So, perhaps your most critical capability is to bring together a group of experts (first get the right people in the room!), and then create an environment where it is safe to experiment, suggest off-the-wall ideas, challenge and build on each other’s ideas; then rapidly test ideas to determine viabilityiv.

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WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN TO THOSE AT THE TOP OF THE BA FOOD CHAIN?

There are many things you can do to accelerate your transition to an enterprise, strategically focused business technologist. Review the suggestions in this article. Get yourself out there. Promote yourself and your project successes.

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The next few articles will explore other roles for the enterprise BA, as well as business and technical domains that are undergoing significant transformations.

i Becoming a Better Business Technologist, May 2016. McKinsey and Company. Online at http://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/business-technology/our-insights/becoming-a-better-business-technologist.
ii Capitalizing on Complexity, Insights from the 2010 IBM Global CEO Study. Online at: http://www-935.ibm.com/services/us/ceo/ceostudy2010/multimedia.html
iii Becoming a Better Business Technologist, May 2016. McKinsey and Company. Online at http://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/business-technology/our-insights/becoming-a-better-business-technologist.
iv Leading Through Connections, Insights from the 2012 IBM Global CEO Study (www.ibm.com/services/us/en/c-suite/ceostudy2012/‎

Why How You Interact with Others is the New Black

I recently spoke at the Philadelphia IIBA Development Day. I was on a panel with Jodie Kane and Paul DePalma, and it was moderated by Ken Fulmer.

The organizers of the development day asked the attendees which BABOK knowledge areas they wanted us to discuss. Based on the areas chosen we each gave our key tip for that knowledge area and answered questions from the audience. One topic area was around elicitation. When it was my turn to give my tip, I decided to use an exercise I do when I facilitate my DISC® Assessment workshops. DiSC® is a behavioral assessment and helps individuals understand their behavioral style and that of others. This insight leads to better understanding and appreciating differences of others. This leads to more effective communication, which leads to higher productivity.

When you are eliciting, you are interacting or communicating with others. To do this effectively, you must understand how others want to that interaction to go. The Golden Rule states “do unto others as you want done unto you”. The rule for interactions or communication is “communicate with others as they want to be communicated with”. Use their preferred communication style, not yours. You can know every elicitation technique in the book. That’s not good enough. In addition, you also need to know how the people you are communicating with want to interact. Ideally, your company has gone through a DISC® workshop or one like it, and you know everyone’s preferred style. If not you need a way to quickly read people. At the development day with almost 100 people in the room I did a quick exercise to help the group learn how to read and get close to understanding other’s profiles. Here is how it goes. You ask two questions regarding the person you are trying to read. 1) Are they fast-paced & outspoken or cautious & reflective? 2) Are they questioning & skeptical or Accepting & warm? Based on the answer to the questions the person will fall into one of four behavior styles.

  Questioning & SKeptical Accepting & Warm
Fast-Paced & Outspoken Dominance Influence
Cautious & Reflective Concientious Steadiness

Here is a quick overview of the behavior tendencies of each style.

Dominance
Decisive
Independent
Results-Oriented
Straightforward
Influence
Enthusiastic
Talkative
Spontaneous
Demonstrative
Concientious
Orderly
Persistent
Detailed
Serious
Steadiness
Warm/Friendly
Supportive
Cooperative
Agreeable

Now that you know their tendencies you can start to think of ways to interact with them. Here are a few tips for interacting with each style:

  1. Dominance – Make efficient use of time, focus on the topic at hand, and expect candor
  2. Influence – Be open to collaboration and recognize their energy and enthusiasm
  3. Steadiness – Show warmth and concern for their feelings, take an easy-going approach, and work collaboratively
  4. Conscientious – Talk to them about the objective, avoid pressuring them to make a decision, expect skepticism

If you know your stakeholder’s behavior style, you can better prepare for interactions with them. For example. D’s like to focus on the topic. So tangents are not a good thing. S’s and I’s love collaboration. A workshop where they can interact and work with others is perfect for them. C’s lean towards being skeptics, so you can think ahead of time, what may they question.

The next time you are you prepping for an elicitation session first think of the behavior style of each participant. 

All the best,

Kupe

Is a Multi-tiered BA Certification Program the Way to Go?

For anyone waiting for the unveiling of the new certification program from International Institute of Business Analysis™ (IIBA®), I have been wondering whether such changes will be helpful for organizations and the practitioner community as a whole.

The one thing I have learned over the years from the community was that the certification process, including how one applies and qualifies for these exams needs to be more straightforward and avoid complexity at all levels. Having been proposed for some time now, we still don’t know enough about the changes being made to the program to form an opinion – or do we?

Here are a few factors I have been thinking about with regards to these changes. I would love to hear what you have been pondering. In this post, I am simply putting the questions out to the community for consideration. I form no opinion, but as a current Certified Business Analysis ProfessionalTM (CBAP®) I am really interested in knowing what other certification holders are thinking.

Related Article: Top 5 Reasons Organizations Should Support Certifications

1. Level 1 – Today knowledge based certificates in business analysis are plentiful as a large number of training providers already offer BA certificates. Will this new Tier 1 certification be a differentiator in the industry? Several years ago IIBA spoke with EEPs about providing a jointly branded BA certificate, and for many really good reasons Endorsed Education Providers (EEPs) did not want IIBA crossing the line into the training space. Has enough changed here? Do employers and practitioners believe Level 1 recognition from IIBA which assesses general BA knowledge (no experience) is more significant than a certificate from an EEP whose sole focus is on training?

2. Level 2 – The market for the Certification of Competency in Business AnalysisTM (CCBA®) has never really taken off, as of today after 5 years, there are only 850 CCBA holders. Are the proposed changes to scenario-based exam questions significant enough here to help IIBA grow this certification or are there other issues with this certification that if addressed would help the viability of the CCBA®?

3. Level 3 – The CBAP® used to be the gold standard, and those of us who acquired the CBAP® felt like we were demonstrating our senior level experience to employers. After all, the CBAP® has always been an experienced based exam. In the early years, many of us struggled to find employers who found the certification as a differentiator or who deemed it mandatory for employment. Over the years some awareness has taken place; although still not as widespread as the PMP.

CBAP® recipients felt the certification demonstrated their commitment to the profession and identified themselves as senior practitioners. With the proposed changes, CBAPs will no longer be the top tier. Are CBAPs ok with this? Do CBAPs feel an urge to run out and spend more time and money to get back on the top tier of the ladder? Anyone feeling like their credential is less attractive or valuable to you, to your employers or to the BA community? On the other hand, are the CBAPs excited about pursuing this next higher level certification?

4. Level 4 – Lastly, the new level geared to thought leaders. It has always been the case that thought leaders are recognized in the community by their contributions. Their credibility is achieved through the engagements they are completing within organizations, with the research they are performing, the articles, books, and other products and services they provide the community at large. If you look today, many very influential, experienced, top-notch thought leaders do not have a credential nor do they need it because they are already well-known in the industry for the work they are doing for all us. I am very curious to hear from the community whether our thought leaders require a certification to be recognized or acknowledged as a thought leader? If organizations are looking for thought leaders to be validated through such a process, is such a model scalable since level 4 will require an assessment?

Lastly, I want to ask about the idea of moving to a competency-based framework for certification. Back in the day when Angela Wick and her team developed the Competency Model, it was and still is an amazing product. The team spent countless hours building a framework to help articulate what skills and competencies define a novice business analyst from an expert business analyst, but it was a tool that must be applied along with a lot of other factors to be able to tell an accurate story of competency.

For example, if you are a business analyst in an organization and are not working on large, complex, transformational projects you may never leverage a lot of the skills in the upper categories of the competency framework. For your organization, for the role you have been hired into, does that make you less competent? What about the business analysts in financial institutions responsible for bringing their clients online with a standardized financial service, where each client is a new project, but the projects have little variation to them? These business analysts become very proficient working in their organization as a business analyst/implementation analyst without needing to leverage many of the top tier skills in the framework. Does this mean they are less valuable or less competent to their organization because their projects are consistent in type and size?

In my opinion, the role of the business analyst is defined by the organization based on a multitude of factors that really can’t be standardized across industries because there are an infinite number of factors that apply. To make an assessment of competency, consultants have to work with the organization to conduct interviews, look at templates, watch processes and practices first hand, and understand the project environment to assess competency within context. Knowing this ‘as-is’ state is very critical before conducting a gap-analysis to assess what competencies are missing. I have performed competency assessments for years in this fashion. My question here for the community is could a 3rd party working outside the walls of your organization assess competency without having this ‘as-is’ picture? Is this approach old school and is this 4 tier approach answering some newer needs organizations have today about the competency of their BA resources?

Lastly, I myself am interested in understanding the research completed to support a 4 tier certification. Typically I have seen a role delineation study conducted to provide the insight to align and structure a product like certification. I am not proposing it has not been done, but simply asking whether anyone knows. Since I don’t know, I am really interested in raising some dialogue in the community to hear your likes/dislikes to the pending 4 tier structure.

Please share your thoughts and provide different perspectives.

Failing for Success

Failing never feels good because, well, it feels like failure. Nobody wants to fail. We are driven to be number 1, top dog and the big winner. Nobody has ever said, “Wow! That’s awesome! You failed!” The black and white checkered flag falls, and the winner is ordained. The fear of failure is so strong and painful that it’s amazing how far we will go to avoid it. Fleeing, running, hiding, or avoiding it all together.

We put ourselves into a make-believe world where no mistakes can be made, and we overwork ourselves to the point of exhaustion all in the name of ‘not failing.’ We keep ourselves deluded in the belief that failure isn’t an option, and we are at a loss on how to handle failure.

Being fearful of failure, we create elaborate plans to avoid it but it happens anyway. Systems, processes and people just don’t operate with 100% accuracy. If everything ran perfectly every time, we certainly wouldn’t need a helpdesk or second level support.

But failure isn’t as evil as we make it out to be. How did you learn to walk? You certainly just didn’t jump to your feet and start running a marathon. It took lots of trial and error to learn how to put one foot in front of the other to propel yourself forward. Even crawling took some trial and error! After we get on our feet, we forget that in order to get there, we fell, toppled, and wobbled our way to success. There wasn’t a surefire way to learn to walk. We had to fail in order to learn.

Related Article: Avoid These Phrases – Or Your Project Will Fail

Experimental learning has taught us that failure is the best way to learn. Remember back to the days you first started to learn something new like riding a bike. You didn’t do it perfectly the first time and probably fell a few times. Someone was there to pick you up off the ground and put you back on the bike. You learned by failure – that leaning too far one way or another will cause you to fall off the bike.

The last thing I learned was my home thermostat. It connects to the internet and allows me to control the temperature and fan from anywhere. After successfully setting up the thermostat, I started to play around with it. I failed multiple times trying to figure out some of the features. At one point I simply wiped it clean and started over. In learning how to fix the things, I also figured out some cool new ways I could save energy and use it better. I experimented, failed, and learned.

An interesting experiment was performed by Ryan Babineaux and John Krumboltz a few years ago for the book “Fail Fast, Fail Often”. This experiment was simple. A group of students was divided into 2 groups. The first group was told, “You have 90 days to create was many clay pots as you can.” This first group or “Volume Group” was told to focus on volume and forget about quality. The other group was told, “You need to make one perfect clay pot.” The second group was the “Quality Group” and was focused entirely on quality and avoided any kind of volume. Both teams were told they were in a contest to see who could make the best looking and functional clay pot.

You would expect that the group focused entirely on the quality of clay pot would have the most well-designed pot because they were entirely focused on the design. Since the volume group was focused so heavily on just making pot after pot, odds are none of their pots would be that well designed.

At the end of the 90 days, both teams put all their pots out for judgment by a panel of clay pot artists and experts. I’m don’t know who these people are, but I will say they have one incredible niche job for judging just clay pottery. Can you even make money at that?

The surprising result was that the volume team that just made as many clay pots as they could won the competition. How is that even possible? Why did volume win out over quality?

The quality team has so focused on quality and creating the perfect design that they didn’t take any time to experiment or play with the clay. The volume team, on the other hand, interacted with the clay constantly. The first few clay pots produced by the volume team were damn ugly, but they continued to play and experiment. The volume team while trying to achieve a greater volume of clay pots actually learned more about creating clay pots and were more comfortable with the clay. So even though the volume team had a lot of failures, they succeeded and won.

Failure can make you stronger and more agile if you choose to learn from it. “That didn’t work – let’s try something different” attitude. This is the whole concept around failing fast. The faster you fail, the more you learn from that failure. Don’t fail just once, fail multiple times.

Failing safe is about creating an environment where experimentation and learning do not cause injury to yourself or your organization. Like in the experiment, an environment needs to be created in which experimentation can occur with wild abandon safely. No one was harmed in the making of clay pottery.

In the technology world, we use the term “prototyping”. Many prototyping situations in technology are severely limited. The environment is too confined or restrained for experimentation, and often very few failures occur to learn from. A better safe environment in on that this not restricted and open for experimentation.

Playing and changing everything in a production environment where your customer experiences your experiments has a tendency to make your customers unhappy. Build an environment where you can play without consequence. You may have to start over from scratch and rebuild the environment after a wild night of experimentation. Plan on creating a way to rebuild your safe environment quickly so that experimentation isn’t slowed down.

Create other safe and soft landing environments where you can bounce your ideas of others. Maybe your environment isn’t about a physical space or system but a room filled with flip charts and whiteboards.

Pulling together a group of colleagues to idea share, collaborate and innovate creates a safe environment as long as ground rules and expectations are set ahead of time. Set the expectations that experimenting and innovating is the goal. The more ideas, the better. We are not driving for perfection. It’s like a brainstorming meeting on steroids. Encourage crazy ideas and actually try it out. There are no judgments and the wildest crazy ideas are always welcomed.

Another tactic is to experiment with screen or report design by having multiple variations mocked up. The key is not just to focus on one mockup but to have many mockups. This allows the group to “riff” off each other by taking elements of different mockups and combining them together in new exciting ways.

One of my favorite tactics is user experience development and testing space. User experience folks will tell you it’s a preferred tactic to have users just play with your interface (screen or report) and watch how they use it. Gather a group and invite them to play or experiment with a design. The designers in the room are silently watching actual users interact with their design. The designers learn from watching the group play and experiment with the design. Designers then change the interface based on their observations. Rinse and repeat. One session is usually not enough. They key here is not to tell the user how to use the interface but to let them play and experiment freely in a safe environment.

A badass professional can open themselves up to new experiences so they can learn. They understand that failure can happen and work to create safe environments in which to play and experiment. Our culture needs to change the way we see failure. We must start seeing failure as an opportunity to innovate and not as something bad.

To succeed without learning is a failure. There are many instances in my life where I have executed a task perfectly the first time only to fail the second time miserably. Beginners luck can be a curse because you miss the opportunity to learn from failure. Only through failing do we truly learn.

A badass professional is reflective in their failure but not to the point of obsession. Look back and determine if there was a lesson to be learned. What went well? What didn’t go so well? What still baffles me? What if I did something different instead? Then get up off the warm fuzzy safe pillow in your safe environment and try it again. Remember you didn’t learn to walk without falling first.

Take the example of switching jobs. You prepare that killer resume and get in the door for an interview. You did your homework on the company and prepared yourself for the usual interview questions. It seems like everything went well but you didn’t get the job. Learning from failure requires being reflective or thinking about it. This shouldn’t be an all-day marathon conversation going around in your head. Jot down a few things you thought you could do better. Follow-up and get some feedback from the interviewer if you can or a colleague on interviewing better. You failed to get the job, but you succeeded in learning how to do it better next time.

Let’s build a strategy together on how to help your organization fail in a safely and fail faster so they can learn and drive innovative new solutions and approaches.

5 Things the Legendary Musician and Artist Prince Can Teach Us

When I sat down in a Canadian hotel room to write this article for BATimes, I had a completely different topic in mind—a rant about the length of TSA pre-check lines and how bad processes make life miserable for users. But as I was writing, I became more and more distracted by the news of Prince’s death. Social media started blowing up with Prince memories, pictures of buildings and monuments bathed in purple lights, and videos of spontaneous tribute parties in front of Prince’s Paisley Park headquarters and First Ave, one of Prince’s favorite clubs in Minneapolis.

As a legendary musician and artist, Prince influenced my life in many ways.

Minneapolis is my hometown, and it’s where Prince grew up and lived most of his life. When I was a kid, purple was my favorite color. Raspberry Beret was like a theme song for recess in elementary school—I sang it non-stop with friends on the playground. Purple Rain was one of the first movies I saw in a theater, and I grew up wondering what 1999 would be like.

Related Article: Diving Into the Unofficial Roles and Responsibilities of the Business Analyst

It may seem like a stretch to use Prince’s approach to music and life as a metaphor for business analysis, but creative genius is universal and can inform our approach to all areas of life, including project work.

So, in tribute to Prince, here are five things BAs (and all people?) can learn from Prince’s legacy.

1) Be unique in expressing your talent, blaze a trail!

Prince blazed a trail of creativity and innovation. He released 39 albums in his 37-year career and is rumored to have several hundred additional songs in his Paisley Park vault. At the same time, he lived in Minnesota, not California. He didn’t swear. He wore heels. He was often seen riding a bicycle through his neighborhood and enjoyed ping-pong.

What would the BA equivalent of this career path look like? How could BAs use their analytical, creative, empathetic, and relationship-oriented talents to generate volumes of innovative work in an authentic way?

We have this awesome role we provide to organizations that can be uniquely executed and performed in our own individual style and personality with success! Embrace it, go with it! Know your mission as a BA and live it!

2) Unleash creativity.

Prince was a master of unleashing creativity in himself and others. He was passionate about collaborating with others to discover new sounds and create new music.

As BAs, we are called to model creativity in our approach and to inspire others to be creative as well. Creativity takes many forms in our work including:

  • Building strong relationships with stakeholders.
  • Identifying and applying the right technique to elicit effective requirements.
  • Utilizing techniques that create a collaborative culture that encourages good dialogue from all perspectives.
  • Using advanced facilitation skills to help others find innovative solutions to problems.
  • Mastering analysis techniques that help others make good decisions.

3) Create for everyone!

Just as Prince’s music resonated with multiple types of audiences, so should our requirements. Our work as BAs requires us to create and facilitate for multiple audiences and diverse stakeholders. We are masters of catering to multiple audiences:

  • introverts and extroverts
  • technical and non-technical
  • leaders and subject matter experts

4) Surrender to your art.

The sheer volume and variety of work Prince produced indicates an all-consuming passion and commitment to his craft.

What would our BA work look like if we approached it as an art? What would it mean to surrender to our art as BAs? Perhaps we would:

  • Be more confident in our role and mission.
  • Advocate for the strategic importance of our role.
  • Define a unique approach for each project/situation rather than complying with cultural norms or taking direction that might not benefit the organization or the end customers.
  • We would hone our craft by finding mentors and collaborating with peers to learn new skills and techniques.

5) Experiment.

Remember the vault with hundreds of unreleased songs? Prince never stopped experimenting. Prince hosted surprise concerts all the time. He would just jam and experiment, inviting others to participate and react.

Experimenting with technique is critical to mastering our BA craft as well. We experiment to learn. We try new things to see how they feel and to see how our stakeholders react. We apply new techniques to deliver and drive value to our organization and its customers. We try new things even though we might fail and we learn and adapt when our experiments don’t yield expected results.

Prince inspires by being himself and bringing so many together. How has Prince inspired you? Please leave your comments below.