Walking into a new role can be intimidating. In my current role, there is a popular saying for newbies: “drinking from the fire hose.” This is because between mastering names, first impressions, organizational structures, processes, software, and even simple things, like where the cafeteria or meeting rooms are, can be an overwhelming process equivalent to drinking water from a fire hose. Your desire to bring immediate value to your new employer can be complicated by feeling overwhelmed. This can be especially complicated if you are new to the BA role in general. Fear not, though I have advice for a BA newbie. You are not alone and there are things you can do to make your transition smoother. Below are some insights, which helped me adapt to my first BA role:
Introduce yourself to others first
A lot of people struggle to put themselves out there to others. It is especially easy to be intimidated by those with more seniority or higher-level job titles than us. Everyone is human, though. I am constantly surprised at how age or management-level really does not dictate outgoingness or friendliness. As part of your first impression, don’t be afraid to make the first move!
One of the things that really helped me most is reaching out to the various managers and directors, who I would be interfacing with in my new role. On my first week, my boss provided me with an org chart. From there, we discussed the general purpose of each department and how my role would typically interface with each. Then, I literally had a list of people and did a drive-by of each person’s office in order to introduce myself. I would ask for a quick meeting to cover a more in-depth introduction, quick overview of their department, and how we could work together. For each meeting, I came prepared with a list of questions including, but not limited to:
- Where do you need your operation to be by the end of the year?
- What are you current pain points? What is the most concerning business objective to you?
- How do you see the BA role supporting you?
- What is your preferred style of communication?
- How has my department worked well with you in the past? Not so well?
Even if you were brought in mainly for potential, you have educational or industry experience you can lean on. The saying is, “fake it until you make it,” but that’s an oversimplification of relying on the things you can do well. In my first BA role, this included sharing specific insurance industry knowledge as well as helping my coworkers with Microsoft Excel tips and tricks I’d mastered as an Actuarial student. Trust your gut and don’t discounts insights you think you can bring to the team!
No such thing as a dumb question
BA life is all about asking questions and probing until you really feel comfortable with your understanding. You will be meeting with stakeholders, who are very experienced and comfortable with their software and process. These are the same software and processes you know very little about. Yet, you are there to help them. Don’t feel like an idiot by asking the “dumb” question(s). Also, feel free to keep with your line of questioning if you don’t totally comprehend what you are being told. In fact, I’d encourage you to dig for more. Think about the exceptions to the processes. Try to consider that they might not think through everything to tell you. A stakeholder could easily skip over something that seems obvious to them but for which you have no idea. Definitely get comfortable asking questions and work on discovering the right way to engage different stakeholders for the information you are looking for.
Preparation is key
One of my pet peeves is walking into a meeting for which some people are obviously not prepared. It can be a massive waste of time. Take time each day to understand your meetings and make sure you have reviewed goals, agendas, and completed any prep work necessary to make a contribution. Never use a meeting as just a chance to sit there and zone out. Even if your role is minimal, you can always make a good impression by offering up something nobody expected because you came more prepared.
If you ever hold a meeting, make sure you have a clear objective and agenda. Make sure you are comfortable with the topic and everyone’s role in the meeting. Then, you will be able to quickly work through what needs to get done and keep the meeting on track by calling for decisions and action from the appropriate people. Also, be early and respect everyone’s time.
Organization is also key
It can be difficult to stay up with the onslaught of project-related information you will receive as you ramp into a valuable BA resource for your team. A large part of your job is facilitating. Often, you will be asked to recall where specific requirements, decisions, or other information originated from. The last thing you want is to be desperately searching for some information. It is much easier to meet these requests quickly and build a solid professional image if your email, desktop, and documents are organized. Here are my suggestions for organization:
Keep your inbox to a minimum
I cringe when I see folks with thousands of emails in their inbox. It is just as easy to read, reply (if necessary), and keep any emails you may want at a later date filed under an email folder structure. I tend to break my folder structure by project and then functional area or project phase within that structure. Additionally, it is helpful to set-up time on Friday afternoons or travelling (in the corporate BA role) to review your emails and do some cleanup.
Microsoft OneNote is your friend
If you were to ask me my favorite BA tool, OneNote would be it. This tool allows you to set-up Notebooks (i.e. Personal, Client Projects, Internal Initiatives), Sections (i.e. Specific Projects), and Pages (i.e. Specific Meetings). Additionally, OneNote comes with capable search functionality; To-Do/Task tracking functionality, which can sync with your Microsoft Outlook; and the ability to quickly email out your notes.
Back Up Your Documents
Recently, a coworker went on a well-earned vacation. Some questions arose around the project he was working on. The PM and I combed our company’s document repository for the information to answer our question. Unfortunately, the document in question was saved to the coworker’s desktop. Don’t let this be you! Furthermore, what would happen if your computer crashes and you get the evil “blue screen of death?” It is much easier to make a practice of saving documentation on your company’s repository. I have very few documents actually saved to my machine. Everything is saved to the repository according to our agreed upon structure and versioning control. It makes finding and updating a breeze for both others and me. A little extra effort can save a lot of effort (and possibly rework) later on!
I truly hope these insights are helpful to you in your BA career. I’m curious what others do to ease their transition into a new role. Please feel free to share your thoughts!