This week’s inspiration came from an article that I recently read, Six Secrets of a Top Notch Business Analyst. The last sentence read “Finding a Top Notch Business Analyst is mostly trial and error.” Reading this, I immediately wanted to bring my opinion to the #AskAnAnalyst table. Kupe and I agreed to first share our definition of a good Business Analyst, and in doing so we also want to point out what makes a bad Business Analyst.
Episode 6: February 23, 2016 Business Analysis Podcast Transcript
Jacqueline: Hello. This is Jacqueline Sanders-Blackman of Technology Expresso. Welcome to another edition of #AskAnAnalyst. I get to look Kupe in the eye.
Kupe: I know, it’s awesome.
Jacqueline: Absolutely. He is here in person in the Technology Expresso studio, and I also want to acknowledge Mrs. Tasha Hurley who has been with us on other calls, she is on the phone today as well. Hello Tasha.
Tasha: Hello! Glad to be here.
Jacqueline: Glad to have you. To our audience, hopefully you’ve been joining us throughout our series of conversations of #AskAnAnalyst. We’ve been defining what a business analyst is, what causes projects to fail, and what the BA’s role in that is. Now, we’re to talk about good and bad BA’s. When we talk about good and bad BA’s what comes to mind for you?
Kupe: I think the first thing that always hits me is that you can’t be a specialist in just one thing. Recently, I got into a discussion with some folks on modernanalyst.com. One of the writers wrote a blog, and he was saying that people came to him that were good facilitators thinking they were good analysts. He was arguing that facilitation is not being a good analyst. A good analyst is about how you break things down, decompose, roll back clients, and doing analysis-type work. I agreed but needed to add to his vision, because it’s not just somebody that’s able to break things down. There are so many other layers to a good analyst.
We were talking pre-show about how you can’t throw junior-level people into the fire. It’s hard for someone brand new to the role to be a great analyst. There are so many different facets we’re going to talk about today that explains that. You can’t be a great analyst right out the box because there are skills you need to learn and experiences you have to have to be a really great analyst.
Jacqueline: Absolutely. Tasha, agree or disagree? What would you like to add?
Tasha: Absolutely. I want to piggyback on that. It was a spot-on response. You don’t want to be discouraging to those who are new to the field, but there is maturity that comes with just going through the fire. You can learn a lot of great theoretical approaches to analysis. To Kupe’s point, you may have great expertise as a SME in an area, but that doesn’t automatically make you a great analyst. Thinking back to a couple weeks ago to the past radio show, we talked about having that wit for psychology and understanding the behavior of people, stakeholders, and your team. That comes with experience and exposure to various types of industries, projects, and efforts.
You can evolve into a great analyst, but you also have to come with the right mindset to receive information and not go in already proclaiming yourself to be the great analyst until you have cut your teeth on different types of projects and industries. You can evolve into being a great analyst over the course of time and experience. I’m definitely in line with Kupe’s response.
Jacqueline: Absolutely. I agree with both of you. My thought process, too, is that sometimes people jump the gun. They get a couple of skills around it and think that it’s cookie-cutter, and it’s not. It takes several evolutions in the learning process. You have to do continuous “personal” process improvement. That’s so important about the business analyst. I’m not finished with myself. There are hard skills and soft skills. I’m always looking to hone those, because so much the BA does is situational. That’s part of what makes our role a little bit different than everybody else’s. Kupe, what would you say to that?
Kupe: I completely agree. Both of you talked about empathy. I wrote a blog that just got posted right before the show called “The Four Chords of Great Business Analysts.” There’s a band called “The Axis of Awesome,” and they did a 6-minute video called “4 Chords” of every pop song. I was wondering why all pop songs sounded the same, and now I know why: because they all use the same 4 chords, but just in a different sequence. I was like, “Well, what are the four chords of business analysts?” One of the things I talked about was empathy. Great business analysts don’t just gather then analyze information, but they put another layer on that by finding the meaning behind what people are talking about, what they’re asking about, and what they’re challenged about.
They don’t stop until they understand all the different perspectives. It’s not like getting a requirement then implementing it. It’s understanding the different stakeholders and how people can be impacted. In the blog, I talk about looking at the totality. You can’t implement something that could then impact something else within the organization. A good analyst looks at the details but also looks wider and sees the impact. In the past, I talked about having an improv mindset. It’s important to have that mindset and to know how to keep positive conversations going. That is a good business analyst. They’re not jerks. Tasha, you talked about psychology, so what do you think?
Tasha: Most definitely. It’s being able to sense the room. In this day and age, a lot of times it’s a virtual room. It’s about seeking out pauses, sensing intonation of voice, and other factors. That improv piece is very key to that, and I agree with that line of thinking.
Jacqueline: Absolutely. It’s not that we’re trying to scare anyone away from the business analyst role, but we are trying to give them a well-rounded point of view of a business analyst. Tell me, Tasha and Kupe, if you agree or disagree with this. What I find is that in the job market, there are a lot of opportunities and job listings that say ‘business analyst,’ but it means a lot of different things to different organizations. What I get concerned for, especially for newbies, is they might get into one situation where they are limited to being an order-taker or a scribe. Then, when they try to market themselves as a business analyst, what happens is they’re frustrated, they’re not finding that right match, and they’re not going where they want to go.
I find some people who realize that they are being limited to the order-taking role, and they start to think that’s all there is to business analysis. We talked about this a little bit before the show came on, that different organizations define business analysis. There is such a huge range, and what happens is you find people that are mismatched either with where they want to be, what they’re capable of, or based on their current capabilities and what the organization is either expecting or has defined. There’s a mismatch. What do you think?
Kupe: When I think of a good business analyst, I don’t think of them in terms of the techniques that they use. I think of them in terms of how they adapt to different situations. One of the keys a good analyst has to always be learning is they have to have a yearning for learning. You talked about adapting their processes, but they also have to learn new techniques to get better. What causes a lot of pain in the BA space has to do with the various misconceptions of what a good BA is vs. a not-so-good BA and just the different levels of BA’s. There is so much in between, and it’s hard for some organizations because they’re looking for the same person all the time. That’s a misconception.
Jacqueline: Exactly. That brings me back to some stories. One time we were looking to hire some business analysts, and there was a big disconnect even with what the recruiters were sending us. Sometimes the recruiters don’t even have a clear understanding of what a business analyst is. I’ve seen them do a great job with a project manager or a developer or tester, but we have such a range of people when we send out a call for a business analyst. What we got back was a lot of mismatches. Tasha, I’m sure you can draw on some instances where there was just a big disconnect. Any thoughts you want to share with us?
Tasha: I heard a couple of things to piggyback off of before I go into this particular discussion about recruiters and things of that nature. It’s definitely important to be a lover of learning. To make it very clear and to reinforce what was said earlier: even being some of the war generals that we are, you hear us always saying, “I was reading this…looking at this…” We’re always seeking knowledge, and that’s key, because what tends to happen, and I’m wrapping it to your question, Jacqueline, is we have a tendency, when a job becomes available for a BA, to include a bunch of flashy keywords in our resumes and credentials. The keywords are great to have, but our jobs are so situational that the keywords don’t always tell the story. When you hear words like ‘agile,’ you may have been on a project, but you may not have actually collected, enlisted, or elaborated the specific requirements from a customer service perspective vs. being in another industry or another type of project. It can be quite different.
What I’ve seen and what we’ve seen together, Jacqueline, is that we get a lot of candidates that have had exposure, but once you start engaging in dialogue and putting forth pragmatic examples, you can quickly tell if that individual has had seasoned experience for the level that you need for your project. That has been a lot of what I’ve seen as far as looking at and selecting candidates. It’s unfortunate at times, and I don’t know if it happens when you’re trying to fill slots very quickly and adhere to your contract from a recruitment perspective. When you’re trying to fill an analyst slot, it becomes somewhat of a challenge at times when the pre-screening process is not quite on the same playing field.
Again, that’s not to discourage new analysts, because there are junior opportunities. There are intermediate opportunities out there. We have to interview our recruiters to really make sure they understand what we’re looking for and to make sure that our requirements are at the right level of experience.
Kupe: You hit on a couple of things. One is about the junior-level. I want to go back to the recruiters and finding good analysts. I think that the first level is those keywords. There’s an entry point. Depending on what the job requisition is and what level of analyst is needed, there are different techniques that organizations use. The first thing to ask is “Does this person have any experience?” It’s working closely to determine the next level down and to ask questions about how they approach situations. If they were in a situation with conflicting requirements, what did they do? If you didn’t know a certain piece of domain, how did you get up-to-speed? Look for those factors that we all agree make good analysts.
On the junior-side, I wouldn’t say there aren’t any good junior analysts, because my viewpoint in this conversation is looking at who’s the best of the best. Then, what are the qualities that they have? Some of the qualities of people just breaking into their career or people who are early in their career, I look for certain things to determine if they have potential. Do they have that empathetic lens? Do they always want to learn? Are they open to new ideas and to trying different things? Do they value networking? They might not have a huge network, but great analysts build up in an organization and know how to quickly build up a network within the organization.
Good analysts have to be negotiators and influencers, and the way to do that is by having good relationships with a lot of people, by knowing how to play the political environment within an organization, by not stepping on toes, and by knowing who to go to. I’ve said this before on the show, that you’re not paid for what you know, but you’re paid for who you know. If you’re not in the business doing the job day in and day out, then your SMEness declines everyday. You’re paid for knowing who those people are, knowing who to go to, and knowing who has the right answers.
Jacqueline: To both of your points, you talked about junior BA’s. Tasha and I have seen some diamonds in the rough, and like you said, there’s something about that initiative, drive, and hunger. BA’s have our own special personality traits, and a lot of it revolves around our hunger for information and answers. Tasha and I have been a part of nurturing several interns and now have watched them blossom. Some of them right away came in with an eye for detail, and even if they didn’t know something, you could give them something and they would still go above and beyond. That’s important. My favorite term is saying that things aren’t cookie-cutter. If you just want a checklist — I’ve got to interview this person, schedule this meeting, write this document, draw this diagram — that’s not what it is.
If that’s your comfort zone, then the BA world is so versatile. There are so many facets to it. Agile is making it much faster, so you have to put all of those pieces together. Something both of you hit upon is some people want you to be the business analysis that is managing the requirements; they want you to be the facilitator, that person with the super network, and they also want you to have subject matter expertise. They want you to be a project manager, too.
Kupe: Why not?
Jacqueline: I worked with a group that had to do configurations, too. Sometimes good BA’s are put into bad situations. I’ll throw that to you, Kupe, and then get Tasha’s perspective.
Kupe: That’s a great point. There are two sides to it. First and foremost, especially if you’re in the project realm, you need to be dedicated to your project team. You have to be excited about being on a project. At the same time, you need to be an honest and trustworthy person by doing the things you say you’re going to do. If you get into that bad situation like you’re talking about, Jacqueline, then you need to be honest with the people around you about what you can do and to the level of quality that you can do it. At the same time, you can’t say, “No, sorry. I can’t do that. My title is business analyst, and nowhere does it say I do testing.”
You can’t say no, but at the same time, you need to be honest with yourself, your skills, and your team. BA’s do get into bad positions. It also promotes the view of what a business analyst is or what analysis is. If someone said, “I just had Jacqueline on my team, and she did all the testing,” then that’s what a business analyst must be, and that’s not the case. To your point, part of putting people into bad situations goes back to the confusion of the role and how it’s implemented in many places. I feel that people have to take the title out of it and just focus. When teams get together, they have to recognize that they need someone to do good analysis. They have to ask the question, “Do we have that capability? If not, we have to learn more about it and get better in that space.”
Jacqueline: Absolutely Tasha, what are your thoughts about people wanting BA’s to be all things to all people?
Tasha: Ditto. Yes, we do find ourselves in that situation quite a bit. To Kupe’s point, you have to be up front in a politically correct way on what you can rightfully contribute. You don’t throw your hand up in the air and go, “That’s not my job.” That’s not the way you want to blurt that out, because you want to be seen as a collaborator. Part of analysis is analyzing where you can contribute and being honest about it. However, to that point, a lot of great analysts are developed out of bad situations. It is what it is. We all love to say we have the absolute perfect project with sunny days and all the stars align, but that’s just not reality. I’m not saying that the worst off the project is, the more fantastic of an analyst you’re going to be, either, because we definitely don’t want you to be discouraged.
I think it’s very important and is something to keep in mind that when you get into a challenging situation, make sure you have a good mentor. It maybe another senior analyst or it may be your project manager, but make sure you find someone who’s a good resource that you can bounce ideas off of without sacrificing the timeliness of your work or impeding upon your daily activities. It may have to be a coffee chat or replaying back some of these internet-encountered radio shows and just seeking those words of encouragement. These radio shows are out here and archived for your reference. They can be mentors that may not be interactive in real-time, but it’s very important when you can hookup with someone who has been there, done that, and has that glass half-full perspective of the world.
All of my life I did not wake up excited to tackle a tough project; that comes with time and once you’ve been through it. You need to have that positive reinforcement. To Kupe’s point, you have to know and embrace the fact that you’re going to be on a project. If you like doing that type of work, if you like working on a team, if you’re open to those dynamics that there are going to be great some days and challenging other days, then know that you’re going to get through it. Once you make it on the other side, when more challenging projects come along, you start getting more comfortable with them as you master your role. You start to realize, “It’s not going to be cookie-cutter. It’s going to be situational. I’m learning how to evolve and to not react openly in a negative manner.” You start raising your head a little bit higher and are able to apply lessons learned.
If you do get a task like a testing task, always think in these terms: how is it going to make me better; what are we learning during this process; what may have been missed that I can do on my next project? When you think of bad projects, look at them as opportunities to do something differently the next time. Whenever we would say, “These are our challenges,” Jacqueline would say, “No, these are opportunities to do something differently,” so her words are stuck with me. That’s my perspective on it.
Kupe: I want to reiterate some things you said. This might be kind of a copout, because it’s not about being a good analyst but just being a good person you want on your team. This goes back to the recruiters and making sure they’re looking for this. As Jacqueline talked about earlier, it’s all situational. Because it’s always situational — not project-to-project, but day-to-day — the heart of what we do is deal with people all the time. People have different attitudes and different approaches they might take meeting-to-meeting. You can be in two meetings with them in a day and they’re almost two different people depending on what happened in between.
If you find somebody that has the attitude that they’re learning no matter what the situation is, then that’s good. When you’re looking for good people, you want to look for those that own their mistakes and that aren’t finger-pointing, the ones that ask, “What could I have done differently in that situation?” Like you said, Tasha, as you get yourself in these situations and learn from them, then the next time a similar situation comes up, it’s not a shock to you. You’re mentally thinking how to get through it, and you’re totally calm about it.
An example is we just did two video shoots before this show. Jacqueline wanted me to put a blurb on Periscope about our show and what we were doing, and I had to do two of them. The first one was ok, and the second one was a lot better. It’s because of experience. After the first time I tried it, I learned things from it, and I’m like, “I won’t say it that way, I’ll say it this way.” The more you do something, the better you get. I’m sorry, but everything goes back to improv with me because people ask me, “How are you quick on your feet?” It’s about preparation, trying, and doing it over and over. Then, when you fall into that situation, it comes out because you’ve done it over and over already. That’s with anything: when hitting a baseball, dancing, or anything. You have to practice, and you can’t just get thrown into a situation and expect everybody to be perfect.
Jacqueline: Exactly. Even for this show, we have to troubleshoot and keep everything in motion; that’s a business analyst. You have to think on your feet, and you have to go with the flow. Tasha, you’re the master at this: don’t let them see you sweat. It’s about being cool under pressure in order to keep everybody else calm. Another thing people say is that business analysts have to be thick-skinned. All of these skills come over time. Tasha, what you said, I never heard it exactly stated like that, before. You said that sometimes the trial under fire, the pressure, and the bad projects or the assignments that aren’t going the way you want them to is what makes you a good BA.
I’ve had my fair share of challenging projects. In my class, I give examples of why you should do it this way and what might happen if you do it that way. I have a whole encyclopedia of those examples, but at the times I was going through them, I was thinking, “Get me out of this…how did I get into this…who did I make mad?” Now, Tasha, thankfully we can talk, laugh, and joke about it. That’s what made part of who we are today as business analysts.
Kupe: I could tell a bad BA story related to me earlier in my career. I thought I was the bomb, the cool analyst. I got picked to do this really cool organizational transformation project. One of the things I and two other people decided — well, I proposed a change. There was an employee change. I looked at all the data — I was such a good analyst. I came up with options. I thought it was a small change, and I wanted to present it to the executives. It was moving one employee from one business unit to another. Well, the people that commissioned us to do that was the business unit I was suggesting picking this employee from. That proposal almost got me fired. Managers got called in. “Why would Kupe say this? This is our employee.”
Back to that empathetic lens, I didn’t have it at that point. I was young, I analyzed, and I thought this was the right thing to do. I bet you if everybody stood back and looked at all the data and took emotions out of it, they’d probably say the same thing, but that’s not reality. Emotions are reality, and that’s why I talk about empathy a lot. You can’t just be a good analyst by looking at the data and coming up with ideas without also layering in that empathy. I didn’t get fired, and I was able to learn from it and move on. When I was in the position, I was kind of scared. At first I didn’t realize why so many people were mad at me. What did I do? Even to this day I can sit back and say that I had the right call, but it’s not just about having the right information. There are other pieces.
Jacqueline: That’s a big lesson, and you made me flashback to a couple different scenarios. Sometimes you get it in your head, “I’m right,” but everybody else isn’t with you. I had some real good coaches, and sometimes they ran interference to keep me, because I was ready to storm in and say, “I know I’m right.” That wasn’t the most important thing.
That might be a characteristic of youth, because I just coached a young lady, too, who always wanted to be right. I could see how her coworkers were working, and I said, “Is it worth turning off some people that you have to be on a team with?” That’s what people have to realize. As a good BA, you do have to make decisions and help the group, but you also have to know how to put a filter on yourself. You have to be careful when and when not to use it.
Kupe: Right. Another example: on one side you could say that a good analyst is somebody that makes sure there’s a shared understanding of the problem before they go into solutioning. We talk about this a lot: making sure there’s a shared understanding of the problem. To me, a good analyst also recognizes when the team is stuck and understands that sometimes to get to a shared understanding, the team has to stop talking and try solutions to see if that makes sense. It’s having that sixth sense, and I talked about this in the last show: the sixth sense and being able to read the crowd and understand things. You don’t do analysis for the sake of analysis. You’re looking for an outcome. You’re looking for people to actually use the solution. Just because you do the analysis and propose a solution, you’re not going to get buy-in from everybody that is going to make it happen and make it usable and implementable. In that case, you didn’t do a good job. That’s a bad analyst, in my opinion.
Jacqueline: Absolutely. Tasha, I know you have to go off and do what good analysts do: create solutions, and facilitate some decisions. Why don’t you give us your final thoughts on the topic?
Tasha: Getting to a point that was mentioned: at the end of the day, you have to not just want to be right; you have to want to get to right. Sometimes, it’s not going to be your way. Sometimes you have to be crafty, play chess, and have some forward thinking. If you know you have to get to a certain place, be a relationship builder and have conversations about the analyst being a change-agent. A lot of times, implementing change means getting people on board with you, building relationships, and figuring out why that person may be blocking progress. You have to get to right. You have to learn to embrace getting to right. You have to learn to embrace the challenges and opportunities to do things differently. You have to be open to receiving some feedback and be thankful for empathy.
You and Kupe both mentioned situations, and in my past life, I was just right, I knew it, and I had the facts. There was empathy that was given to us in those situations, like, “Hey, these guys are learning.” In my head, I try to shun away thinking, “That’s a bad analyst,” but there’s just the right timings for the right opportunities. There’s the evolution and being open to learning by evangelizing what the BA role truly is, analysis. However, it also encompasses all of the soft skills that were talking about, all of the improv pieces that we’re talking about, being a psychoanalyst, and understanding human behavior and the dynamics of teams, efforts, and projects: that makes you a good analyst. You have to be open to understanding situational opportunities.
Your project and effort isn’t going to look the same everyday. That’s a good thing, and you have to be positive by thinking, “Today is going to be different, and I’m going to embrace that. I’m going to learn through each experience that it’s not so bad.” It may feel bad going through whatever the bad project or task is, but when you come out on the other side, the next time you see that situation, you should recognize it and reflect back on what you could do differently. Also, it’s important to find a good mentor or a good mentoring tool, whether it’s blogs, webinars, listening to radio shows like this, a senior BA, or someone in IT that you can talk to. Make the investment to strengthen those relationships, because you’ll really see yourself flourish as an analyst. This isn’t just a silver bullet; it’s going to come with time and with some hard knots. That’s just a part of it. In the future, you’ll look back on it and be able to laugh, like we are.
It was not funny going through some of those projects in our past lives. At the time, it consumed our world, our lives; we were getting out of meetings, still fuming on our way home, talking each other out of wanting to jump off a bridge and that kind of stuff. When I look back on it, it has made us who we are today. I know this is going to sound trite and a little corny, but I can’t say that I would change any of it — to have the insight and the wisdom that I have today, knowing that I still have so much more to learn, but I can look at the learning opportunities as opportunities instead of challenges.
Jacqueline: Absolutely. I want to let our audience know: that was Tasha Hurley, uber super BA, BA extraordinaire… She is the blueprint of the best of the best, and she has been a great mentor to many people, which is a sign of a great BA. Not only do you figure it out for yourself, but you’re open to coaching and training so others can succeed as well. A lot of young BA’s have credit to give to Tasha for where they are. Tasha, thank you for joining us, and thank you for your insight.
Tasha: Thank you for having me, and I look forward to the next call!
Kupe: I want to continue the conversation. Tasha said something about being right, and what I love about the show and how our conversations started, Jacqueline, is that by us just talking, our viewpoints started evolving over time within the conversation. Mine just evolved here. The things I’ve been talking about was characteristic of good BA’s, but in the end, it’s knowing that it’s not about you or anyone else on the team, but it’s about doing the right thing for the organization. If you’re on that path, that’s good.
Good BA’s will adapt their techniques based on what’s happening around them. Bad BA’s say, “No, I’m the senior BA. I’ve been doing this for 20 years. Just let me do it.” That’s not the right approach. Even though they might be right, they might be seasoned BA’s, but if everybody else hasn’t bought into it, it doesn’t matter. It’s doing the right thing for the group at the right time. We should create an article based on that.
Jacqueline: It’s almost like right is relative. You said a BA has to be adaptable, and we talk about the agile BA. I’ve seen BA’s fall to the wayside because some thought waterfall was never going away. They were going to stand by it. Interestingly enough, the difference between a good and a bad BA is a good BA is open minded and understands the evolutionary process of business analysis, of business, and of technology. We have to be on our toes.
I see students come into my training classes, and we have four days full of information. I can almost see a switch where at first they’re thinking, “I don’t do that,” and I tell them, “There are certain opportunities that you have to be open to.” Someone once said that you have to be coachable/trainable. You have to open yourself up. By instructing the class, I saw and heard things that I’ve never experienced. I get to collect information everywhere I go. I’m making a confession that people don’t know: B2T became my therapy because I was running into situations at work, but I knew I could go to B2T. When I was doing my training, I would share some of these war stories.
Even though when we were in the midst of the project we couldn’t fix them because we were in the heat of the moment, I could share those lessons learned with other people. That’s what we do as instructors. The students also share their stories. That’s why we as business analysts have such a strong community. (Follow #baot – Business Analyst on Twitter, @Kupe, and @RequirementsPro) B2T has created that platform that you don’t just come to training once, but we’re here to help you through whatever. You keep coming back to us; you’re now part of the family. Whether at B2T or your work, I always encourage things like centers of excellence. You have to keep each other’s energy up. It can drain you, because you do have to be on your toes.
Kupe: Yeah. I used to think that developers had it bad, like, “I love business analysis because we don’t have to learn all these new languages, we don’t have to keep up with new technology, and Et Cetera,” but actually, over the last few years, if you’re in the BA space and are not keeping up daily, reading blogs, on Twitter — I promote Twitter. When you talk about a center of excellence, you have the world as a center of excellence. If you just join Twitter and use hashtags like #BAOT or the ones we’re using for this show, people are tweeting and talking about analysis-related stuff all the time.
They’re sharing articles that are going to help you in some form or fashion. Even if they may not help you today, you can let it sink into your subconscious so that when you need it, it will pop out when you get into a situation. Those are the types of people that if they’re not already great, they’re on their way to being great. I love your comment about being coachable. You have to be coachable, because it’s not like you go to a training class, you learn, and then you’re done for the rest of your life. That’s not reality.
Jacqueline: Exactly. Because we as business analysts have that natural curiosity, we like asking questions, and we want to know how things work, by that natural inclination, you want to continue to learn; you want to continue to hone skills. I found that when I work with a group of BA’s, you have to keep them fed. We talk about good vs. bad BA’s, but what can managers and organizations do to set up a healthy environment for BA’s?
The other thing is you might have a good BA, but you’re using them as a scribe. I’ve seen and I’ve been in a situation where I walked into a room and people are like, “The notetaker is here.” That’s the way I felt, and I try to share that I have a lot more to offer. Sometimes, organizations don’t realize that they’re not properly acknowledging and nurturing the full business analyst. What are your thoughts on that?
Kupe: I’ll speak frankly, it’s going to be hard if those managers don’t understand what good business analysis is. If they don’t, they’re wasting talent and money. If you truly want someone to be the scribe, then you don’t have to pay them what you’re paying them. You could find someone a lot cheaper and younger who can do the work. Management has to have an understanding of what good analysis is. That’s the first step. However, if they have that understanding of what analysis is, it doesn’t mean that you as an analyst will get all the gigs.
You have to be persistent and continue to show what you did and what happened as a result. Don’t be cocky about it, but in whatever ways work for you, show that, “We did this as a team, and look what the results were.” This was a non-IT project, but on a committee I was on at another organization, I didn’t say I was doing business analysis, but I did some business analysis work to get the voice of our customer. It was successful. I didn’t ask for permission to do it. I just started doing it, and we started to see the results from it. Just start doing something. Nobody’s necessarily stopping you from doing things on your own that can get you information. You could do it not necessarily for the organization but for your own analysis, and then people wonder, “How did you get that answer?” Then, you can start talking. I do think organizations can set up mentoring programs.
In the last couple of weeks, I’ve had different conversations with clients and friends in the BA space about mentoring. Tasha kept saying get a mentor. Managers giving other skilled people that want to be mentors the time to do mentorship and giving the mentee the platform to find a mentor is huge. Like you said, it was therapy for you to go to training. Well, it’s therapy for a mentor: to be able to help somebody and watch them blossom from your help. That’s an awesome feeling. It’s also going to give confidence to the people that need the support. Then, the mentees can do amazing things.
Jacqueline: Absolutely. You said that part of the role of a business analyst — and I think this will always be a part of it — is to help the other world come to understand what it is we do and what we have to offer. Even with the students in class, I say, “Now that you have it, you have to go out there and bring other people up-to-speed.” We have to be evangelists. If you’re seen as a notetaker, that doesn’t take too much time, so you have time to do some testing and maybe even a little programming on the side. You have so much free time because you’re not seen as a facilitator of the meeting. That should be time, like you said, to stop, think, and do it.
Sometimes I have to educate them, that if I’m over here doing testing or doing project management, this is what I’m not doing that has an impact on the requirements. I leave it up to them, but I point out the risks. I give them the facts so they can make decisions, but I want to make sure they’re aware what’s at risk, which might be that we haven’t gotten into the business rules or we haven’t reconciled this particular assumption. I use that language, and on multiple times people have said that after the training class I teach, they have a new vocabulary to help talk to people. Training in and of itself allows me to communicate to other people what I do.
Kupe: To jump on your comments about highlighting the risks about doing something vs. not doing something, that’s something you have to talk about. You hear a lot of people say that they have to do work-flow diagrams or write user stories, and my comment is, “No, you don’t.” As a business analyst, sometimes all you have to do is have a conversation in order to move on. What you have to do is talk about the outcomes. As an example, we’re still implementing some new systems for B2T Training, and at one point, I felt like we were potentially missing some goals and some major features in one or more of these systems that we were implementing.
I didn’t say what we needed to be doing, but I asked, “Is everybody comfortable that we have all these parts and pieces?” That’s the goal. It’s not doing a user story or a work-flow diagram. Talk in terms of, “What are we going to get out of doing this analysis, and what are trying to achieve?” Most people can buy into that. Then, you can run off and do it in whatever format works for the team. It’s talking about the goal you’re trying to achieve and how you achieve that rather than just doing techniques.
Jacqueline: Absolutely. That’s also something people are disconnected with. They do it, but they don’t know why they’re doing it. What’s the value? Is that the only way? I say it again: you have to assess the situation. Sometimes, there isn’t time enough to be completely formal. Sometimes you have to be informal. I like the one line: if you don’t learn to use user stories, someone might not ask you to be on an agile project. It’s concise and to the point. We just did the webinar about if you think what’s on that index card is all to the story, then you’re not going to stay on that agile project. There are two sides to it.
Kupe: Yeah. How do you get on the team, then how do you stay on the team.
Jacqueline: You have to know that. Some people’s vision of a bad business analyst is that business analysts are bottle heads. That goes back to having to educate people. Explain to them what you have to do and why you have to do it. Be open. I was of that era where there was a lot of documentation, and BA’s were running around saying, “No one reads my documentation.” I’m like, “If someone isn’t reading my documentation, then I put a lot of time into this for no reason.” I would go ask them and find out if they wanted or needed something more concise like tables or bullet points. In that case, it was a win-win. Complaining isn’t going to do the team any good. It goes back to understanding and doing what it takes for the team.
Kupe: Yeah. It’s not doing process for process’ sake. If you’re the best analyst in the world, if there is such a thing, you’re not just doing something because you know that that’s the right thing to do. The people you’re working with are consumers of the information that you have; they’re a part of your team, and they all have to make decisions on the project. You need to work with them to understand what information they need to do their job better and to make better decisions. What are you giving them for them to make good decisions?
You can give suggestions of ways to serve that up, but to your point, if they’re not reading it, looking at it, and utilizing it, then why are you doing it? I talked about owning a problem. Well, that is your problem as the analyst, and it’s your job to figure out the best way to work with the rest of your team.
Jacqueline: Absolutely. We’ve been talking about good BA’s vs. bad BA’s and even just bad situations. We’ve been circling around different topics, and sometimes what we consider as bad BA’s only exhibit certain characteristics. If you are open-minded, adaptable, continuously learning, and reading situations and audiences, then you would make a good BA. We’ve had several of our followers talk to us on previous episodes. Some come from the technical field, and some come from the business field. They’re trying to go through that transition, and one thing I would say is even during your transition, find opportunities and continue to follow #BAOT, Business Analysts on Twitter. That’s a great community.
Follow blogs, and continue to follow our show at #AskAnAnalyst. Go to B2T Training’s website for blogs, and free webinars. Be a sponge. For people looking for opportunities as a business analyst, ask questions. We talked about finding the right situation and the right match for them. There are organizations looking for both technical business analysts and those who are more subject matter down the middle, whether you’re technical or business, you have to learn those tools and techniques. One thing about business analysis: you have to have a big toolkit that you keep adding to.
Kupe: That’s part of an entry point. You might not need to know every single one. Depending on the role you’re looking for, the challenge is different. I had a conversation with a woman last week. She got to a certain point in her career where she was making x amount of dollars. She didn’t want to be a junior analyst because the pay level was lower than what she was currently making. It is challenging for people who get so far in their career.
At one point we all fall into that bucket, where your options start to change. Those are the times when you want to look internally at whether you like the organization you’re working at to decide if you want to make that switch. You should have a lot of domain experience and organizational experience, and those are pieces of being a good BA, too. Utilize that as much as possible.
Jacqueline: Tasha who was on with us earlier, one time we were having a conversation, and we were looking at the different level of BA’s that were coming through and that we were working with. We came to the conclusion that we both originally came from a consulting background. Even when we get permanent positions in organizations, we still have this consultant mentality. When you’re a consultant, you have to be on pins and needles because every day is like an audition. You have to come with your A-game and your energy in order to show your value to our customer. We brought that kind of mindset to every job that we have ever had. When we couldn’t bring that level of energy, we just knew it was time.
That has served us really well, and that’s one thing we didn’t talk about: having that right energy and finding what you are passionate about. I’ve moved from different energies, but what excited me is learning and finding out. That’s where I was able to take transferrable skill sets and move to different industries. Some people can take it within a company from project to project, which gives you enough flavor and keeps you excited. I think that’s the needs aspect of it.
Kupe: Yeah. Either you or Tasha mentioned this. If you’re a creature of habit, it might not be for you. It’s interesting because I’m somewhat a creature of habit. I like my routine: when I drink my coffee, how much coffee I’m making — I make six cups of coffee a day whether I drink them or not. I wake up and I fill the coffeepot to six every day. I’m this creature of habit in a few ways, but in the BA space, if you want a job that you’re doing the same thing over and over, this isn’t the space.
To your point about being a consultant, I mentioned on an earlier show that people that have an entrepreneurial spirit and are entrepreneurs are always thinking, “Is this going to add value to the business/company/brand?” There’s not enough time to do everything. Someone that is a good analyst is thinking in those terms. Earlier I talked about not doing a process for process’ sake. By us doing this, what is it going to help with? You have to have that mindset. A lot of these things we’re talking about go back to good people in general. Earlier, in my head I was thinking, “What exactly is a bad analyst?”
A bad analyst is probably also a bad PM or a bad developer, just a jerk in general. It’s the same thing with good business analysts. They have to have these characteristics. We said it before, that like any other profession, there are things you have to know about, and there are techniques that are commonly used. That is just the beginning; it’s only the start.
Jacqueline: That’s so true. We’re kind of letting people off the hook — there is no bad business analyst.
Kupe: There are levels of good getting better and always improving.
Jacqueline: Exactly. Organizations like B2T and being in a professional network group help you keep growing. Sometimes you just get in a rut, so come back, get connected, and find that excitement. As you can see, we’re passionate about it, you heard Tasha talking, and some others called in. There’s lots to love about business analysis. It’s a creative role, an area where you get to work with the people. One thing that really attracted me to it was that I got to understand what people’s pain points were and helping them in their position. I love going that full cycle and being that person connecting the dots between the developers, the testers, and the business. Maybe just call me a busy body.
Because I have a very diverse background in IT and I’ve played several roles, all of that has worked to my advantage. You might find a nice home in business analysis because you can draw upon that. It’s a great place. I know a lot of people who listen to our show who are kicking the tires and are interested in making that transition. Don’t let anybody scare you. If anything, back that into your approach and your strategy for your professional development and being a lifelong learner. Take those soft skills, increase your toolkit, and understand the analysis of people.
Kupe: Being part of a good analyst, too, plays into not just doing good analysis. I actually joked a while ago that I thought we should get the IIBA to change their name from “International Institute of Business Analysis” to “International Institute of Business Advisors.” Early in my career when stakeholders would talk about the solution, I would say, “But, we’re not talking about the solution, yet. We need to understand the situation and the gaps, first.” You’re reducing your value if you just provide analysis.
The analogy I use is a financial analyst and a financial advisor. Do you want someone that comes to you and say, “I looked at your finances, and it looks like you’re going to retire at 95. Good luck. I wish you the best,” then walks away, or do you want someone that does that analysis and also advises you, saying, “Knowing the situation, here are three good options. I recommend this one for xyz.”
Analysts can’t just analyze. It’s not just about analyzing a situation. It’s also about providing solutions so organizations can move forward. I still hear people struggling with how far the analyst should go and the developer’s role vs. the analyst’s role. The analysts don’t have that development background, but they should be there validating and being a part of that conversation.
Jacqueline: Absolutely. I think we wound ‘the wonderful world of business analysis’ all down.
Kupe: Everything should be clear, now.
Kupe: The show’s over. Now it’s on to the Next Topic.
Jacqueline: To our audience and our archive listeners who hear this after the live show: send us an email; let us know what you think of the topic, and let us know what other topics you would like us to talk about in relation to business analysis, project improvement, and thinking skills and techniques. Something else that’s near and dear to us, too, is dissecting how analysis is a part of everyone’s job. We talk to a lot of people who are looking for a BA job, but in today’s job market, they’re looking for everyone to have critical thinking-type skills. We’ll talk about that and about how it plays into everyone’s roles. We’re winding down on time. Any closing comments on our topic?
Kupe: There are no bad BA’s; there are just difficult people that are challenging to work with. However, there is a bad understanding of the BA role and how people get used. There are bad organizational structures that don’t take advantage of different people’s strengths. We talked about mentoring earlier and about seniors mentoring juniors. More than they should, organizations look for top-level people that can just jump in rather than creating a structure where they can have people that are growing in the profession under people that have been in it for a while. I see more and more of that happening, which is great, but I still think we need to head that way.
There are these characteristics, whether you’ve been doing it forever or not: having that empathetic lens, always wanting to learn, politely challenging, keeping things positive, understanding the power of networking. If you’re doing those things, then no matter where you are in your career whether it’s just jumping in to a few years in to doing it 20+ years, you’re going to be successful.
Jacqueline: Absolutely. Also, go out and mentor someone.
Kupe: Yeah. Find a mentee.
Jacqueline: Well, thank you to all of our listeners. Thank you B2T Training for hosting and being a part of Technology Expresso on this series of #AskAnAnalyst. Thank you to Tasha Hurley for joining us. I also want to give shout-outs to Jovan Grant, our sound engineer, our B2T family: Kaley, Shane, Nelson, Mary, Dennis, Tina, and all of those back in the office that make B2T what it is.
If you have a question or comment, call 855-484-6837, leave a message and we’ll read it on our next episode. Also, please visit our Tech Expresso Cafe page on iTunes for this and other series!
Please enjoy our other episodes:
- Episode 1 | December 8, 2015: Podcast launch and general overview of business analysis today
- Episode 2 | December 22, 2015: 2015 in Review and Set Your Expectations for 2016
- Episode 3 | January 5, 2016: Your Business Analyst Career Path
- Episode 4 | January 19, 2016: Business Analysis Role Fits in Many Careers
- Episode 5 | February 9, 2016: Overcoming Business Analysis Project Failures
- Episode 7 | March 8, 2016: Business Analyst FAQs
- Episode 8 | March 29, 2016: More Business Analysis FAQs
- Episode 9 | April 12, 2016: A Business Analyst Attitude for Success
- Episode 10 | April 29, 2016: Consider Your Business Analysis Thinking Approach
- Episode 11 | May 10, 2016: DiSC Assessment and the Project Team
- Episode 12 | May 24, 2016: Negotiation Approaches
- Episode 13 | June 7, 2016: Strategy Analysis and Strategic Thinking
- Episode 14 | July 5, 2016: Business Analysis Insight
- Episode 15 | July 19, 2016: The Remote Business Analyst
- Episode 16 | August 2, 2016: A Modern Agile Conversation
- Episode 17 | September 13, 2016: Business Analysis Basics
- Episode 18 | October 4, 2016: More Business Analysis Basics
- Episode 19 | November 3, 2016: Live from #BBCCon
- Episode 20 | November 15, 2016: Effectively Give and Receive Feedback
- Episode 21 | December 8, 2016: 1 Year Anniversary & 2016 Year in Review
- Episode 22 | January 10, 2017: Business Analysis in 2017
- Episode 23 | Janary 24, 2017: Is agile a methodology?
- Episode 24 | Janary 27, 2017: An Agile Mindset
- Episode 25 | February 7, 2017: State of Agile
- Episode 26 | February 28, 2017: Are BAs Becoming Obsolete?
- Episode 27 | March 23, 2017: Remote Agile Team Success