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Tag: Skills

Connecting the Dots: The Crucial Role of Synthesis

A few years ago, I was working in a fast-paced environment where we very quickly needed to achieve a shared understanding of a particular problem that existed, and then elicit and analyze requirements for improving things.

 

I’d spent a couple of days speaking to some of the key people, largely in back-to-back meetings, and I was working really late in the office, energized by the conversations I’d been having. I’d managed to find an empty meeting room where I could spread my notes over a large table to think things through. Over the past couple of days I’d had countless conversations, been given documents to read, been shown IT systems, processes and more… It was a lot to take in! Plus of course not everyone necessarily agreed on the nature of the problem, or even what a desirable solution would look like. So my thoughts went to “what next… how do I arrange and make sense of all of this ‘stuff’?”

Luckily, the meeting room had a whiteboard. I instinctively started drawing the ‘problem’ that had been described to me. I drew people, IT systems, data and information flow, customer interactions, bottlenecks, problems.  It was a messy drawing that wasn’t intended for anyone but me.  If you’re familiar with the idea of a rich picture, it was very much like that. Crucially, it helped me make connections between pieces of information that different stakeholders had told me. This act of synthesis—bringing things together—helped gain a more holistic picture of what was going on.

I was midway through pondering whether two concepts were related to each other, when a very senior stakeholder walked through the door. He asked what I was drawing, and I talked him through my messy diagram. He started instinctively adding things to it, not only adding his perspective to the mix but also highlighting things I’d missed (or misunderstood). Even though this happened years ago, I can still remember parts of the diagram now….

 

Analysis Needs Synthesis

Of course, that drawing on a whiteboard was really just an interim work product. It wasn’t a deliverable, and although I recorded it by taking a photo, it wasn’t ever intended to form part of any user stories or requirements documentation. It was really just an exploration of the problem domain and the connections within it. It helped me to get my own head around the situation, so that I could ask better questions and know which areas to examine further. It also helped me to understand which areas and perspectives I was missing.

This highlights the importance of synthesis as well as analysis. Synthesis is described by the Merriam-Webster online dictionary as:

“…the composition or combination of parts or elements so as to form a whole…”

 

There are of course other definitions too, but this sentence is particularly useful for us as BAs. It’s very easy to think that our job is elicitation and analysis, capturing different viewpoints and pieces of information about a situation.  Yet without synthesis, those different pieces of information are of limited use! There will likely be contradiction, conflict, different views and more.  We all instinctively know this, but it is worth highlighting how important synthesis is in what we do.

 

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Synthesis Techniques

Ironically, many of the techniques that we use on a day-to-day basis have synthesis, as well as analysis, built at their core.  I have already mentioned a rich picture, but many other techniques (when used with synthesis in mind) can help in bringing together different pieces of information and viewpoints.  Here are just a few examples:

  • Concept model and glossary: Bringing together (and reconciling) different terms, and the connections between terms
  • Process model: Creating a view on how the work should take place, taking into account a number of stakeholder’s viewpoints
  • Prototype: Bringing together and testing assumptions made, or a set of requirements assembled from varying stakeholders,.
  • Multiple Cause Diagram: After conducting ‘5 whys’ with different stakeholders, creating a combined diagram and presenting it back and saying “what else?” and “what’s wrong here?”
  • Workshops: Bringing people together to synthesis and discuss their views
  • … and many more besides

 

The Importance and Relevance

To do our jobs well as BAs, we need to consider synthesis as well as analysis, and this means making time for it. In my opening example, I mentioned I was working late in the office, drawing on a whiteboard. I was working late that night mainly because I was energized and excited about the project but also because time was so short and I’d focussed on planning the elicitation but less so the synthesis of the information I’d gleaned.

When you’ve conducted a whole number of interviews, read documents, seen processes and systems as they are operated, there are so many sources of information. It’s easy to just jump on to the next elicitation activity, or jump straight to writing a problem statement (or user story) or whatever. Yet, doing so robs us of the opportunity to see the bigger picture.

Building in time for synthesis—the sort that allows us to see connections—will help ensure we don’t implement a change in one area that inadvertently makes things much worse elsewhere. Of course, time is always tight… but if we don’t make time for synthesis, we might end up having to make time for rework. And that’s definitely best avoided!

 

What’s Next: The Future of Business Analysis in the Age of Artificial Intelligence (AI)

In today’s rapidly evolving business landscape, professionals across industries are witnessing the transformative power of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Business analyst profession is not untouched and is on the brink of a significant shift in its roles and responsibilities. As AI technologies continue to advance, they are poised to play a pivotal role in shaping the future of business analysis. In this blog, we’ll deep dive into how AI is set to impact the future of business analyst professionals.

 

The Rise of AI in Business Analysis

 

1. Data-Driven Insights

Business analysts have always been tasked with extracting valuable insights from data to support decision-making. AI, with its machine learning algorithms and predictive analytics, empowers analysts to delve deeper into data. They can now unearth hidden patterns, make more accurate forecasts, and identify trends that might have remained concealed with traditional business analysis methods.

 

2. Enhanced Efficiency

AI-driven automation tools can handle repetitive tasks, such as data collection and cleansing, leaving analysts with more time for critical thinking and strategic analysis. This increased efficiency allows business analysts to focus on high-impact activities, making them indispensable assets to their organizations.

 

 

 

 

  1. Real-time Analytics

AI enables real-time data analysis, providing business analysts with most relevant and current insights. This instant access to reliable and accurate information empowers business analysts to respond swiftly to market changes and emerging trends, enabling more predictable and agile decision-making which is critical for reaching organization’s strategic goals.

 

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  1. The Evolving Role of Business Analysts

As AI becomes more integrated into business operations, the role of business analysts is evolving in several significant ways:

 

  • From Data Analysts to Data Strategists

With AI handling routine data analysis, business analysts are transitioning from mere data collectors to data strategists. They are expected to interpret AI-generated insights and translate them into actionable business strategies.

  • Ethical Considerations and challenges

AI raises ethical concerns, such as bias in algorithms and data privacy issues. The role of Business analyst is to navigate through these ethical challenges and ensure that AI systems are used responsibly and the data they collect and analyze is both accurate and unbiased.

  • Cross-functional Collaboration with different partners

Business analysts are increasingly expected to collaborate with data scientists and AI engineers to develop and implement AI-powered solutions. Effective communication and collaboration between these roles are vital for successful AI integration and forms core of various digitization initiatives.

  • Continuous Learning is the key to success

The rapid evolution of AI requires business analysts to engage in continuous learning and skill development. Staying updated on AI technologies and methodologies is crucial to remain relevant in their roles.

  • The Impact on Job Market

Even though the initial buzzword of AI lead to job insecurities but future seems to be bright. While AI is automating some aspects of business analysis, it is also creating new opportunities. The demand for business analysts who can harness AI and effectively interpret its insights is on the rise. Companies are actively seeking professionals with AI skills to drive innovation and competitive advantage.

 

Conclusion

Industry’s future hinges on how well business analysts use Artificial Intelligence (AI). Business analysts will find themselves at the vanguard of data-driven decision-making as AI technology develops and advances. They will play more strategic and team-oriented roles with an emphasis on utilizing AI to boost corporate success. Business analysts are expected to embrace AI and see it as a potent tool if they want to succeed in this dynamic and fast paced environment. They should invest in their AI-related skills, navigate through ethical challenges, and adjust to the shifting needs of the labor market. By doing so, they will be able to take advantage of the opportunities that Artificial Intelligence presents and remain valuable resources for their organizations in years to come.

Maximizing Business Analysis with ITIL: A Strategic Integration for Success

In the dynamic landscape of modern business, the role of a Business Analyst (BA) stands as a linchpin between technological advancements and strategic objectives. Within this realm, the integration of ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) principles has emerged as a pivotal force, reshaping the way BAs navigate and optimize business processes.

 

Understanding ITIL:

At its core, ITIL represents a comprehensive framework that encapsulates a set of best practices for IT service management. ITIL has evolved into a globally recognized framework, offering guidance on aligning IT services with the needs of the business. It comprises a collection of detailed practices, emphasizing service lifecycle management, continual improvement, and customer-centricity.

 

Enhancing Business Analysis with ITIL:

For Business Analysts, the incorporation of ITIL principles serves as a catalyst for profound change, fostering a more strategic and holistic approach to their responsibilities. Let’s explore how ITIL augments the role of a BA:

  1. Structured Process Analysis: ITIL provides a structured framework for analyzing, designing, and improving processes. BAs leverage this methodology to gain a comprehensive understanding of IT service lifecycles, enabling them to streamline operations and enhance efficiency.
  2. Facilitating Effective Communication: With a standardized language and terminology, ITIL bridges the communication gap between IT teams and business stakeholders. BAs proficient in ITIL can effectively convey complex technical concepts in a language that resonates with organizational objectives.
  3. Informed Decision-Making: By embracing ITIL methodologies, BAs gain insights into service strategy, design, transition, and operation. This knowledge equips them to make informed decisions that align IT services with overarching business goals.
  4. Continuous Improvement Culture: The core principle of continual service improvement in ITIL aligns seamlessly with the BA’s pursuit of optimizing business processes. BAs facilitate a culture of ongoing enhancement and adaptation, ensuring that IT services evolve in tandem with organizational needs.
  5. Risk Mitigation and Adaptability with: ITIL equips BAs with the tools to anticipate and mitigate risks effectively. This proactive approach minimizes disruptions, ensuring business continuity in the face of technological or operational challenges.

 

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Real-world Impact and Success Stories:

Numerous success stories attest to the transformative impact of integrating ITIL into the scope of Business Analysis. Organizations have witnessed improved service delivery, increased operational efficiency, and a more strategic alignment between IT initiatives and business objectives. BAs proficient in ITIL frameworks have played a pivotal role in orchestrating these successes, driving innovation, and fostering a collaborative environment that embraces change.

 

Challenges and Adoption:

While the benefits of ITIL integration are substantial, challenges in implementation persist. Resistance to change, organizational inertia, and the complexity of aligning ITIL methodologies with existing processes often pose hurdles. BAs navigating this landscape must demonstrate strong leadership, communication skills, and a keen understanding of organizational dynamics to facilitate successful integration.

 

Continuous Learning and Evolution:

In the ever-evolving realm of technology and business, the journey of a BA integrating ITIL principles is an ongoing process. Continuous learning, staying abreast of updated ITIL practices, and adapting to changing business landscapes are essential for sustainable success.

 

Conclusion:

ITIL isn’t merely a set of guidelines for IT management; it’s a strategic enabler for Business Analysts. Its integration empowers BAs to be strategic partners, driving organizational success by aligning IT initiatives with business objectives, fostering innovation, and enabling a culture of continual improvement. Embracing ITIL principles expands the horizons of Business Analysis, transforming it into a proactive and value-driven function crucial for the modern enterprise.

The synergy between ITIL and Business Analysis isn’t just a trend; it’s a strategic imperative for organizations seeking to thrive in an increasingly digital and competitive landscape.

Best of BATimes: Nine Key Skills That Every Good Business Analyst Needs

Being a successful Business Analyst means you have to have a variety of different skills and be adaptable to a changing environment. Every Business Analyst will bring their unique blend of skills and experience to the role, of course, but I’ve highlighted below what I think are the most common skills that a good BA will need. Feel free to add in the comments any other skills that you have found helpful in your BA career.

 

1. Understand your objectives.

Being able to interpret direction is important. If you don’t fully understand what and, more importantly, why you are being asked to do something, there is a risk that you won’t deliver what’s required. Don’t be worried about asking for further information if your brief isn’t clear.

2. Good verbal communication skills.

It is essential that you are a good communicator, regardless of the method of communication. You must be able to make your point clearly and unambiguously. It is also important that you know how to ask insightful questions to retrieve the information you need from stakeholders. For example, if your stakeholder isn’t a technical specialist you may need to ask your questions in plain English – avoiding jargon and acronyms. Being able to communicate information at the appropriate level is vital – some stakeholders will need more detailed information than others.

3. The ability to run stakeholder meetings.

Although using email provides a useful audit trail, sometimes it is not enough to communicate with stakeholders via email. Don’t underestimate the value of face to face meetings to discuss problems in more detail and clear up any queries. Often you will discover more about your project from a face to face meeting where people tend to be more open about discussing situations. You can always follow up a meeting with written confirmation if an audit trail is required.

4. Be a good listener.

Listening skills are key to being a successful BA. You must be able to listen and absorb information. This will allow you to analyse thoroughly the information gathered to specify requirements. It’s important that you don’t just listen to what’s being said, but are able to understand the context of what’s being said – the motivation behind it, the circumstances behind what’s being said, and even what’s not being said. Voice tone and body language can help you understand the message behind the words.

 

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5. Hone your presentation skills.

It is likely that at some point in your career as a BA you will need to facilitate a workshop, or present a piece of work to a stakeholder or project team. Consider the content of your presentation and make sure it matches the objectives of the meeting – there is no point in presenting information about implementation methods if the meeting is being held to discuss requirements gathering. These presentations are not only for you to present information. They can also work as an excellent way to extract more information or clarity from stakeholders if you are unclear on something or are looking for more detail on a particular area of the project.

6. Be excellent at time management.

A BA must have excellent time management skills to ensure that work is completed on time and the project does not fall behind schedule. Multi-tasking is an important skill, but you must also be able to prioritize activities – understanding which are more critical than others – and concentrate on them. Remember that you need to manage your own time and activities, but you may also need to manage other people’s time if you are dependent on them for information. Make sure that they know when you need them to deliver.

7. Documentation and writing skills.

Requirements documents, reports, specifications, plans and analysis. As a BA you will be required to deliver a range of different types of documents. You will need to ensure that your documents are written in a clear and concise manner, and at a level that is appropriate for your stakeholders. Avoid nuances specific to a particular workstream as they may not be understood by all stakeholders. As an inexperienced/beginner BA, it is unlikely that you will have experience writing requirements documentation, however, strong writing skills are an excellent starting point. Experience will lead to clear and concise requirements documentation.

8. Stakeholder management.

It is essential that you know how to manage all of you stakeholders and know how much power and influence they have on your project. Stakeholders can be your strongest supporters or your biggest critics. An experienced BA will be able to analyse how much management each stakeholder needs and how they should be individually managed. Do they need face to face meetings and detailed information or are they content with high-level reports? Are they supportive of your project? Knowing the answers to these key questions will help you to manage your stakeholders and the wider project. Can you influence them directly or do you need to influence someone who can influence them.

9. Develop your modelling skills.

As the saying goes a picture paints a thousand words. Techniques such as process modelling are effective tools to convey large amounts of information without relying on text. A visual representation allows you to get an overview of the problem or project so that you can see what works well and where the gaps lie. A typical process model will have several different levels of detail to allow a BA to engage with stakeholders in a language that they understand.

 

Published on: 2015/09/07

Secure or Sorry: From Gym Lockers to Cybersecurity

I’m a member of a local gym, and a few weeks ago I noticed that they were maintaining the lockers in the changing rooms. The lockers are pretty standard metal boxes, and members bring their own padlocks for added security.

I’d noticed for months that the latch mechanisms had been getting very loose, so I was glad to see maintenance happening. The staff member doing the maintenance was chatting to another member, and I overheard him say that there had been a whole series of thefts the previous week. Accordingly, they were ramping up security, including turning on the keycode lock on the changing rooms (members each have a PIN code which can be used to access the facilities, but was usually switched off during the day).

I suddenly felt a real perception of risk, to the point that I decided not to leave my house keys in the locker, but take them with me onto the gym floor. I’m now even more cautious when closing my padlock, to make sure it’s properly secure.

 

The Horse Had Left The Stable

While all of those personal security measures are useful, the gym (and I) were only prompted to review our security posture after an incident had occurred. The thieves had probably long gone, and had moved onto a different gym. Perhaps they even tour the country, buying day passes, finding the gyms with weak security. Who knows.  Not only this, but the gym had increased its security, so my possessions were probably the safest they’d ever been. Yet I felt the most uncomfortable I ever had.

Ironically, the time I was most at risk (the previous week, when security was lapse and thieves were at the gym) I was blissfully unaware, the risk wasn’t particularly on my radar. I may have been happily running on a treadmill at the very moment a thief was breaking into a locker and stealing someone’s property.

This pattern of the gym increasing security after an incident occurred might be seen as a classic case of ‘closing the stable door after the horse had bolted’.  However, it’s not that simple—reacting to a security threat after an incident occurred is still valuable, as it will prevent a similar thing from happening again.  I suppose it is more akin to closing the door after one of your three horses has bolted. Not as good as closing the door earlier, but better than continuing to leave it open…

 

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Predictable With 20/20 Hindsight

The thing which struck me about the locker thefts is that it was completely predictable with hindsight. The latch mechanisms on some lockers were so loose it’s easy to see how they could be overcome. Not only this, a culture of trustworthiness (which is lovely) had emerged. People would leave their expensive coats out, and some people wouldn’t even use padlocks at all.

As my father used to say “it only takes one bad apple”.  And as time goes on, it seems statistically likely that the bad apple will emerge.

 

It’s Not Just Lockers: Information & Cybersecurity

This pattern of trustworthiness and complacency doesn’t just exist in gyms, it can also be an issue within organizations.  If you haven’t had a data breach, then security of data might seem an irritating formality, or it might not feel as ‘real’ as some other more proximate risks. However, the fact is that there are hostile actors out there targeting companies just like yours and mine.

I’ll bet in most organizations there’s at least one application that is creaking at the edges, is out of support (or nearly out of support), or an application where there’s a maintenance patch needed, but that’s not seen as a priority just yet. Or an application that’s been customized so much it’s not on the official upgrade path any more.  Upgrading it or replacing it has always been seen as important but not urgent, so it’s left there, collecting more and more dust. Might there be some security vulnerabilities there? Perhaps it’s like an insecure gym locker, fine for the moment, but once a ‘bad apple’ finds it there will be chaos… and that single vulnerability might gain them wider access to all sorts of systems and information.

It’s not just about customer data either. Do you know what your organization’s key intellectual property is? Where it’s stored? Who can access it? Where it’s backed up and archived? In many organizations it’s spread out, with key information that yields competitive advantage mixed with more routine stuff, all dumped in a folder or repository of some type… Hopefully someone from ‘corporate IT’ is backing it up. Let’s hope so, eh?

 

Security Matters: Business, Process & IT

There is sometimes a perception that information and cybersecurity is an ‘IT thing’. The reality is so much wider than that. The weakest link might not be the tech, but the person operating the tech who receives a call out of the blue by someone they believe to be a colleague (but is actually a hostile actor engaging in ‘social engineering’ to gain information).

This has wide implications for business analysis. Security needs to be built into IT systems and processes from the very beginning. It’s important to think “who might be trying to gain unauthorized access to this, how would they do it, and how will we prevent it?”.  It’s important to think about the types of information and data held, its sensitivity and the impact if it were to be damaged or disclosed. This will lead to specific requirements and acceptance criteria around these aspects. It will likely lead to a BA asking challenging questions, which might include “is this the right thing to do, right now, when we have a security vulnerability over here?”

Most of all, while things might be calm now, there might be a storm waiting round the corner. It is the calm times when a little investment in the ‘important but not urgent’ will save a lot of headaches in the future. And surely that’s worthwhile?