That’s us! We were lucky enough to be selected to speak at this year’s BBC Conference and just HAD to document the moment with, what else, a selfie!
Let’s take a step back though and take a look at how this presentation came together:
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away there were two Business Analysts that wondered how they could be more than average. They wondered what habits they needed to become highly effective and how they could help others become highly effective. They thought and they planned. They collaborated and communicated across their time zones, cultures and countries. They identified the real problems dividing the highly effective BAs from the others. They identified those most important habits to include and prioritized which would be shared. They created GAFFs to describe not-SMART requirements. They continued to do better today what they did well yesterday and a rock star presentation on 7 Habits of Highly Effective Business Analysts was born.
The 7 habits are what make the difference between an entry-level, junior and mid-level BA to being a highly effective problem solving machine. So why do these habits make a difference? What is it about these habits that accelerate BAs to a highly effective level? Read on to find out!
Benjamin Franklin is attributed for saying that “Failing to Plan, is Planning to Fail” and it is definitely the case in business analysis. In order to be efficient in eliciting requirements, the Business Analyst needs to be prepared and needs to have planned their efforts.
One thing is first, use the phrase “eliciting requirements” rather than “gathering requirements” because the art of elicitation is more involved than simply gathering them. Requirements must be drawn out and exposed, they must be worked and triaged until they’re understood and agreed upon. They are never simply collected; in fact requirements are rarely ever simple.
Planning for requirements elicitation necessitates answering the five fundamental questions: who, what, when, where, why, and how. The first question we need to answer when we’re planning is the why and identify what problem needs to be solved. But, let’s park that question for the moment since defining the problem is our next habit.
Once we’ve determined what the issue is that we’re trying to solve, we need to understand the stakeholders involved. Who has interests in solving the issue, and who will be affected by the solution? Using an IGOE chart can help ensure that you’re covering all of your stakeholder groups, including internal and external stakeholders. This chart focuses planning to cover the breadth of the project.
Click the image above for a larger view.
There is an art to planning. Too much and you experience analysis paralysis, but not enough and you’re not prepared. Experience will get you through this as you learn what the right level of planning is for your business analysis tasks. Continually refine your planning efforts until you’re comfortable with your approach and then refine it some more so that you become an expert at it!
Planning is also a great communication tool within your project team. If you don’t plan, you’ll have no ammunition for when the Project Manager slots your requirements elicitation into the schedule. Too many times BAs are tasked with eliciting requirements based around someone else’s schedule. Having a plan at my fingertips gives me a chance to influence the schedule and allows me to succeed. I don’t want to fail to plan, because I have no intention of planning to fail.
2. Define the Real Problem
Only by defining the real problem can you truly solve it. Focusing on identifying what the real problem is a key to success in analysis. Using a technique to frame the problem creates clarity to finding the right solution. Try breaking the problem statement down into these four parts:
- The problem of
- Affects stakeholders
- The impact of which is
- A successful solution would be
This format for the problem statement makes the problem become clearer.
This habit puts the focus on understanding what is wrong to ensure you solve the right problem. Once you have the right problem, you can focus analysis to create SMART requirements to design the right solution.
3. Requirements must be SMART
SMART requirements are fundamental to success. It’s the first thing one learns about requirements, that they must be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Testable yet so many people don’t actually define their requirements to be SMART.
Sometimes to better understand what something is, we need to understand what it isn’t. If you look at the exact opposite of SMART, you come up with Guessed, Ambiguous, Far Fetched, Fanciful, which results in a snowball’s chance in hell for success. The acronym for non-SMART requirements turns out to be GAFFs, which of course is another word for a mistake. It’s no stretch to understand that a non-SMART requirement is a mistake that allows you a snowball’s chance in hell for success.
You may understand what “friendly” or “letters” mean but requirements are a communication tool and if you’re using GAFFs instead of SMART requirements, you’re not communicating effectively enough to ensure success.
4. Deliver Value
The habits of planning, finding the real problem, and defining SMART requirements must all support the habit of delivering value. Value is something useful or important to our business partners. We should do the right things, rather than just doing things right.
As we practice these habits, we gain perspective on the things that are the most valuable to our stakeholders, these are the right things! Understanding the real problem allows us to focus on the value of all the features explored in requirements elicitation. Will an update to a user interface be the most valuable if the problem is data integrity in reporting? If the feature is to update the user interface to ensure accurate data capture then yes, that feature could be the most valuable. If the update is to improve user experience and save time in data entry then no, that feature may not provide the most value for that problem.
The ability to understanding the most valuable features is an important business analysis skill. We do this by listening; listening is key to delivering value. Listen and analyze to find:
- What is it that customers are asking for?
- What is causing us to lose business or not attract new business?
- What will differentiate our company from competitors?
Tip: Using the SWOT analysis technique is a simple way to understand what the opportunities are for your stakeholders.
If you’re involved with a project that is not focused on delivering value, as a business analyst, you have a responsibility to challenge why we are pursuing that investment. That challenge is practicing the habit of delivering value. Closely related to delivering value is to the next habit, prioritization.
Your new motto: “I can do anything for my stakeholders, but I can’t do everything.” Because businesses do not have unlimited time, money and resources, the habit of prioritization is essential.
To illustrate, picture a clear jar representing project scope. The jar can be filled with big rocks, pebbles, sand, and water, representing parts of the project:
- Big rocks are the mandatory deliverables representing must have requirements that create the most value for the business. They must be done for the project to be successful.
- Pebbles and sand are the should have requirements, the less important details. These things are what could be really good to include in the project. These could be process improvements to save data entry time or changes to reports to consolidate reporting.
- Water is the could have/nice to have pieces of a project. Improvements in the user interface to find information more quickly, color coordinated requirement documents, Visio lines lining up perfectly in all diagrams.
If I focus on filling the jar with water and then add pebbles and sand there is no room for the big rocks. If I fill the jar with the big rocks first then the pebbles and sand there is room for the water to fill the jar. In our analysis work, we have to focus on the most important things first and do those first.
How do you identify the big rocks? Those are the business priorities. Prioritization exercises such as the MoSCoW technique, which require businesses to identify the Must have, Should have, Could have, and Won’t have items from a list of requirements. Once these are identified, the business analyst knows how to define the big rocks that need to be focused on first. It’s important to remember that the business analyst guides the process to identify the priorities and the business owns the priorities. For additional suggestions on Prioritizing Requirements download our Quick Tip: How to Successfully Prioritize Requirements.
6. Communicate and Collaborate
Teams don’t always play nicely together. It isn’t project managers vs business analysts or business analysts vs developers or technical business analysts vs project business analysts. We are a team, not a battle between us/them. If we spend most of our time pointing fingers or playing the blame game, there’s little time left to provide value for our stakeholders. When we withhold information and don’t communicate, we are destructive to our teams. Choosing to keep information secret in an effort to retain power is a mistake. We’re only as sick as our secrets and arguing isn’t a cure.
As BAs we are in a perfect position to lead the team in open and collaborative communication. As we share information openly and consistently we make it safe for others to share. When we admit that we don’t have an answer, but will work with the team to find an answer, that vulnerability creates trust. Secrets make for sick teams. Share equally and openly with your team to be highly effective.
7. Do Better Tomorrow What You Did Well Today
The elusive 7th habit relates to continuous improvement, which will help you throughout your career. That’s how you transition from a Junior Business Analyst to Senior. You’re not making the same mistakes, and you’re doing things better than you did in the past. Don’t let that improvement stagnate; make sure that you’re always looking for new methods, new tools and new approaches to become better.
You will continue to make mistakes along your journey; just try not to make the same mistakes and make sure that you learn from them. Hone your skills; keep your toolbox full of new tools, approaches, and tricks. Make sure that you do better tomorrow what you did well today.
We want to hear of your successes. We want to celebrate with you as you improve along your journey. We want to know how following these seven habits has transformed you into a highly effective problem solving machine! Feel free to share your success with us!!
Thank you from two highly effective BAs,
Heather & Jared
Also published on Medium.