This week Jacqueline and I wanted to discuss ways in which many careers use business analysis and how can you best align your business analysis role and skills with the best career path.
Episode 4 | January 19, 2016 Business Analysis Podcast: Business Analysis Role Fits in Many Careers Transcript
Jacqueline: Hello! Welcome to Technology Expresso (www.blogtalkradio/techexpressocafe). This is your host, Jacqueline Sanders-Blackman, and we welcome you to another edition of #AskAnAnalyst. Our analyst, on duty, is none other than Kupe of B2T Training. Hello Kupe.
Kupe: Hello! How are you doing?
Jacqueline: Hello. By day, I myself am a business analyst; together Kupe and I tag-team, talking about the topic of the day, and answering your questions. We look forward to you sharing your experiences and perspective. Our topic of the day is #JobSearchJanuary.
A lot of people in January do that reset. It’s New Year’s resolution time. You start evaluating where you are, where you’re going, and there are statistics that show job search is on the rise in January. We’re going to talk about Analyst related careers including:
- All Variations of Analyst (data, process, system, financial, industry)
- Hybrids like PM/BA or PM/Tester
- Scrum Master Hybrid BAs
- Management Roles
- Advisor/Consulting Roles
- Product Management
- Executive Advisory, Strategic Roles and ultimately Executive Roles
- Business Architect, Solution Architect
- And more…
Why don’t you start us into that segment: the career options for business analysis and analysis in general is rather convoluted and sometimes confusing.
Kupe: Absolutely. I just want to say that I hope February doesn’t get the hashtag “ForgetAboutItFebruary” and everybody results back to how they were and forget about improving or deciding where they’re going to make their next move. Keep that going. I love that “JobSearchJanuary.”
Right before I got on the call today, I heard that a blog was going to be released by BA Times today. It was based on an article I read via Business Insider, How Facebook’s Design Team Organizes its Critique Meeting. They do it in a way that nobody gets offended and everybody has clear goals. I loved the way they talked about that. When you get deeper into what they did, they were using two critical disciplines. One was improv. They talked about using improv and how to have positive conversations. The talk stemmed around applying improv skills to business, the way to be a better collaborator, and the way to be positive while critiquing someone.
The other discipline was business analysis. One of the things that they talked about, the first step in their process was to make sure everybody understands and agrees to the problem that the design is trying to address, the problem that needs critique. They said that if teams don’t have a shared understanding of the problems or the goal that is trying to be achieved, then their chances of success are going to be limited. Then, if nobody’s on the same page, how can you critique the design? When I read it, I’m like, “That screams business analysis.” That’s exactly what we all talk about is the key thing to do in business analysis, and that is to make sure there’s a shared understanding of the goal so that then you can develop solutions. Not once in this article, and I don’t think Tanner Christensen, would have ever said, “I do business analysis,” but it’s happening everywhere everyday.
Jacqueline: Absolutely. Our topic today, for some, is going to awaken in them that “you have that analytical skill set and that it’s applicable and you need it to do every job role as well as that they are a transferable skill set.” On our previous call, we had a gentleman call in, and he is doing more system analysis. He might even be doing networking. But at the end of the day, part of his job is assessing the situation, troubleshooting it, trying to find solutions, making sure he has all of the information around the problem, and getting to the root cause. Now that he’s looking for a place to transition to, business analysis has peaked his interest, and he called in to our show.
Kupe: Another colleague and I just got off a call last night with another client that recognized this. They took some BA classes, and they realized that these skills might be needed by the folks that are site leads, or people that manage their college campuses. They have projects that are going on whether it’s infrastructure, wiring, or telecommunication-related, and they’re bringing us in to help those folks. They’re not bringing us in as business analysts that people think of, as working on software application projects. These are other initiatives wherein you still need to do analysis-related work. You need to know what stakeholders are engaged, who’s going to be impacted, how to break down the overall goal, and how to get the right people involved to actually implement the solution.
Jacqueline: I agree, and that’s why I think that again, this whole segment we’re doing on #AskAnAnalyst helps people to be aware of that. We’ve been directing entrepreneurs from our other show to this show because it goes back to if you’re trying to dissect a problem, identify a problem, find a solution, set expectations with your client or customer, help meet a need, bring business value — all of those skills don’t just apply to IT. This isn’t just a show about IT, and I dare say that a lot of classes we teach around business analysis at B2T have important skill sets that help you hone this area. Everyone is doing analysis in some form or fashion. It’s a discipline, an area with certifications, and a body of knowledge that you could leverage to help you do it even better however you apply it.
Business Analyst and Product Management
Jacqueline: We may have some people out there that are in that space of either thinking about transitioning into business analysis and wanting to talk through how to map what they currently do through business analysis or how to break into it whether it’s in IT or other areas. We also want to speak to those who are already in business analysis and who may have been in there for a while.
We have some callers on the show today who have been doing business analysis and can share firsthand how their career has involved and what opportunities has business analysis lent itself to. First caller, Hello Arlesa! How are you today?
Arlesa: Hi everyone. I’m sorry I have a cold, but I’m doing great. Thank you to Kupe and to Jacqueline for setting up this call. You all always seem to pick the best subjects that apply to us. You’re always in season.
Really quick, what I wanted to talk about was the fact that I’ve been in this role for a while, and I kind of went on a hiatus, so I’ve been doing a ScrumMaster, requirements manager type of role. What is taking place, now, with my employer is they have an actual blueprint in place for people like myself who want to transition into a product manager role. There are a lot of skills, lateral skills, in the business analyst role that I see transferring over into the product manager skill set. They have an actual technology development training plan set up for us to take on that role. A lot of the skills we already have, from a training perspective like business analysis and requirements foundation and verification, those transfer over very nicely. There are more skill sets, for instance, the ones on the leadership side, that they want us to make sure we hone in on. There’s a litany of that. If there are specific questions about what those are, then we can talk about that, but for the most part, what I have found out personally is that my skill set is transferring over nicely into that product manager role. They call it “transformation 2020,” and you’ve probably heard that because it’s becoming an industry term for many different corporations.
Kupe: Yeah. Arlesa, maybe you could share a couple of those skills other than the BA skills that you have, like the ones around leadership. What specifically are they looking for, and personally, knowing more about the job, what areas do you think you need to grow in?
Arlesa: Right. Very good question. Some of the skills they want to make sure we take on come from courses like business case development, which kind of surprised me. That was one of them, and I found that to be a very rewarding course that they made available to us. They have this portal set up where you go out to major universities and take certain courses.
Some of the other classes that we are taking and skills they want to make sure we bring to the table are competitive marketing strategies and selecting and implementing strategies. That definitely would require a great bit of analysis, learning, and knowledge around strategic decision making. They’re looking for the business analysts to assist them in making strategic decisions. We also take marketing essentials like product and pricing, vision-driven leadership, and strategic thinking. It’s all about the strategic thinker, now, and it’s about leading and creating your shared vision. They really want you to step more up on your ability to persuade and have people think more from a combined and shared vision and perspective. They have us going through a lot of business exercises, in addition to all of the agile courses they want us to take — IP basics, technology, and things like that, depending on which market you’re working in. Really strong leadership skills are needed, in addition to us being strategic thinkers based on our analysis and recommendations.
Kupe: That’s awesome. That might be a pain-point for a lot of people that are in the BA space, and this goes back to that idea that business analysis is happening in other areas. I would argue that being a strategic thinker, helping to get that shared mission, vision, and goal, maybe not the marketing and pricing as much, but the competitive analysis, running focus groups: these are all things that I believe a good BA should be doing, but they’re put into positions where they don’t get their seat at the table. What you’ve done is you got your seat at the table, which is awesome, but you’re not called a business analyst.
That’s the whole point of this segment, and I’m glad you called in, because you’re a living, breathing example of how if you have good BA skills, you can get into these positions. However, don’t think that the world ends when you become a senior BA. To me, that’s the beginning. At that point, you can really step out and do some cool stuff.
Jacqueline: One thing I want to jump in and say, too, Kupe, the next step was enterprise analysis, and not a lot of organizations have something called an enterprise analyst. We often, or I often, talk about being a tactical BA vs. a strategic BA, and a lot of people come in at that requirements, feature function level, but they don’t see that pathway to get to the next level where it’s strategic. Then, you hear the terms advisor and internal consultant. Arlesa is making that transition into the strategic area, and I heard marketing in there, leadership, the power of persuasion, understanding how the whole marketing/sells cycle works, industry segments, and that type of thing. Things we also associate with enterprise analysis. What do you think?
Kupe: Yeah. It goes back to the issue and the whole discussion around titles vs. the actual work. The market has realized that the title product manager has been around for a while. There are all these other buckets that have been around for a while, so does an organization really need an enterprise analysis group? Well, they have a product group, and those are the people that should be doing that type of work. There are director-level people that are doing that type of work. Does it add value to create new groups and titles, or is it best to just find the right people that are doing the work? I believe that, Arlesa, where you are, they’ve recognized the value of your analysis skills and are putting you into this role, which is great. The more upper management and executives recognize the value of business analysis and doing good business analysis, that’s the key, and if you can prove you’re doing that, doors are going to open up for you.
Jacqueline: Absolutely. Thank you Arlesa, and I hope you feel better. Thank you for calling in. Arlesa has always had the leadership qualities and has always been a person to look up to. This is just another example. Arlesa, I mentioned to Kupe that we knew each other before they were calling us “business analysts.”
Arlesa: Oh yeah. We were some of the original STEM girls.
Jacqueline: I think we have to stake our claim, recognize our skill sets and what we bring to the table, and take it to the next level of strategic thinking. Sometimes we volunteer to take it to the strategic level whether the organization is ready or not, but nonetheless, there are those that have the opportunity to do that at this time. That’s one of things for our audience and listeners in business analysis. Sometimes you do need that coaching and the input on how to find those next opportunities, because it’s not necessarily going to say “business analyst” or “senior business analyst.” There may be a variation, as Arlesa has successfully done, with making that crossover into the product management arena. Any final words for us, Arlesa, and then we’ll let you get back and take care of yourself.
Arlesa: No final words here, but just wish me luck as I continue to respond to this blueprint.
Project Management/Solution Architects Roles
Jacqueline: Best of luck to you. Another key takeaway, and Arlesa subscribes to this clearly, is to engage in a continuous learning and development for your career. She talked about the latest jargon and that type of thing, and she has always stayed on top of her learning and personal development. She has always understood where the market was going and the evolutions it was taking. That has also been so important in the business analysis arena. The other thing I want to mention, Kupe, and also have you elaborate on is that you can take business analysis in different directions, and people often misunderstand. You get to a certain level, maybe a senior business analysts role, and they think that the only place to go is project management. What are your thoughts? Do you still hear people saying that?
Kupe: I’m hearing it less and less, but it’s still out there. I’ll just, with the caveat, say that if that’s the role and type of skills you want to do day in and day out, then it’s great, but it’s not everything. Early in my career, the path up the ladder was analysts to PM, and I climbed up the ladder and got to be a PM. I found out that “this is not what excites me,” and I transitioned back into a BA role. I remember this conversation to this day: a director said to me, “I hear you’re transitioning back into a BA role, so you can’t handle the PM stuff?” I was like, “Oh, man. You don’t even get it.” To me, that was a sign that you don’t even understand what a good analyst is. I won’t go into that conversation, but the fact is that yes, I’m still hearing that and seeing that.
I wrote a post on LinkedIn a few months ago. It was a LinkedIn for an IIBA group. For some reason, I got on this kick to search for how many jobs are asking for the CBAP Certification and requiring that for the BA role, and when you get into Monster and see how Monster is defining the business analyst role, it says that BAs are a great stepping stone to the project management role. I did some research and found that the way Monster creates the definitions for those roles is that it pulls some algorithm from all the different job descriptions that are out on Monster for business analysis. That tells me that if I’m doing good analysis, there’s enough jobs out there…to me that’s saying it’s a good stepping stone to project management because Monster picked it up in this algorithm and posted it in the description.
It’s still happening out there, and my view is that that can’t be further from the truth. I think there’s a multitude of areas that you can get to. Arlesa is talking about getting into product management, and there’s also architecture. I think the challenge in today’s environment is people that are good business analysts that are in a different role, and maybe it’s just industry perception, but I don’t know if they’re just not admitting they’re BA’s at heart or if the industry is just not recognizing that their business analysis skills is what got them there. They’re not affiliating as strongly in the BA community because they’re like “I’m a business architect, now,” “I’m a solutions architect,” and “I’m a project manager.” They fall into those communities. That’s just food for thought.
Jacqueline: I remember a comment about BA’s that was disturbing. Maybe it was a couple of years ago, but I remember distinctively interviewing someone for a business analyst position. We asked them about where they saw themselves in 3-5 years, and they said, “Well, I’ll do business analyst for a little while, but I want to move into project management eventually because I don’t want to do the heavy lifting.” We weren’t sure if that was a compliment or not, but we were like, “Do you realize you’re interviewing for a BA job?” We want people who look down on the role.
I think that there is a lot of blending, and I think for people who are going into the business analyst role, it’s important to do the research. Understand the context of business analysis vs. project management. In my opinion, I have both certifications – I have PMP certification, and there was a long time when it was somewhat of a blended role; people wanted you to be able to do both, but it was clear from my skill set and my personality that they are two different things. I realized that what I really enjoyed was the business analysis side. In project management, you’re focused on schedules, budgets, and resources from that perspective.
While both are very important and key roles, I like the business analyst role where I look at the stakeholder, their needs, trying to solve a problem, trying to come up with a solution, and then seeing the solution coming into fruition through facilitating important conversations and helping to drive decisions. Really sitting down and understanding what your likes and dislikes are will, at least for me, become clear that one is very different from the other. Business analysis turned out to be more fulfilling for me. The other thing I wanted to say, too, is that when people think about business analysis as heavy lifting or being entry-level, they’re still thinking about the tactical BA where it’s more requirements, projects, creating the document, and order-taking type business analysis. That’s not necessarily the standard. I’ll let you speak to that and share your thoughts. Maybe that’s where the disconnects are about professional business analysts.
Kupe: I think the bad BA’s give business analysis a bad name. That’s probably true in a lot of professions, right? Lawyers don’t get a good rep, too, because of the tactics that certain lawyers take, and that’s what everybody thinks about lawyers. I do think that there’s a perception issue around people still being note-takers. We’ve talked about this on other segments, about people having conversations with someone. Their good at having conversations, and they’re good communicators in the sense that they listen well and they take notes. However, they don’t do any analysis; they just go and give that to the solution team and say, “Here, this is what you need.” That doesn’t add value, and I think what people do in general — I see this all of the time — people see the bad business analysts, and I won’t say bad, but the ones that aren’t as skilled in business analysis. If they aren’t doing a good job as a BA and not adding a lot of value, then people view them as business analysts. Then, they’re like, “Oh, we don’t need business analysts on the team.”
The good business analyst, for example, is someone like Jacqueline. They’re like, “If you could clone Jacqueline 3 times and put her on every project, that would be awesome.” They’re not recognized the reason that they’re good, which is because they’re using their analysis skills to the best of their ability. It’s upon us as a community to constantly be educating people that the reason why things went well is because I’m using my analysis skills, and here’s what that means. If we can elevate everybody’s analysis skills within the organization and not just people that have a title, if we could elevate them, then things are going to run smoother. We’re going to focus on the right things more often. It’s less riskier in the world of project failure if people are doing a better job in analysis.
Jacqueline: Exactly. You’re right, that the business analysis role is about educating the people in your environment, especially if they’re trying to pigeonhole you into that corner of being just the order-taker. It’s cause and effect. People will say, “We’ve got to the testing of the software, and it’s taking a lot longer to find things.” Well, there’s a reason. The time that we didn’t spend up front and not allocating enough opportunity for analysis, modeling, or thoroughly reviewing what we’ve captured is why we’re down here in the testing phase, finding ourselves floundering and jeopardizing the deadline. As a BA, especially when you get to the lessons learned, that’s your window before you jump into the next project to say, “I think that by doing more analysis or incorporating more analysis techniques and pointing out key analysis skills that are missing, then the results would be that we would see less and less chaos at the end of the project before go live.”
When they start seeing the improvement, then they can give the BA extra credit for finding a solution that plagues many projects.
Kupe: Right. I have a good example of that happening to me in a scenario with me and my wife building a new house. We moved to a new area in Atlanta 3 years ago, but 9-10 months before that, we went under a contract. The builder, and even we wanted to move fast, but the builder wanted to get through what I would deem the analysis phase really fast just so we could get to building, so they could get their money faster, and so we could move in faster. There was this rush. By me being an analyst, I slowed things down in that phase to make sure that we had everything, and we still missed a few things here and there. Nevertheless, it was like I knew, I felt this push to start building and developing, but there was one big miss that we had in the house.
It was building this outside storage unit off our garage. We flew through one of the pieces of design. We didn’t stop to ask, “How are we going to use this section of the house?” We could’ve even done user stories if we wanted and just validate against this user story?” We went so fast through it that by the time they poured the foundation, we realized, “Hey, where’s that outside storage shed we probably need?” They’re like, “That’s going to be $25,000 because we’re going to have to redo the foundation.” As you can imagine, we don’t have a storage shed, because I wasn’t paying $25,000 for it.
That’s what happened, and I think in our projects we’re dealing with, we’re trying to get through that analysis. People think they have enough information, and then what happens is more information comes to you. I think you said this to me years ago when we first started working together, that you’ll eventually find the requirements. The requirement will expose itself, but it just might expose itself when you’re in production. It’s frustrating and time-consuming, so what can you do, and how can you find that right balance to get enough stuff up front? People find the value in doing that and seeing that.
Jacqueline: Exactly. I plan to circle back to Arlesa cause I let her get off the line before we talked about another role she’s done. She has also been in the scrum master role. That’s something we haven’t talked about. I think what’s a big takeaway for our audience is that there’s a lot of options that branch off of or into business analysis.
Even for myself, it was a gold mine when I finally put a name to what it is that combined my different skill sets, backgrounds, and experiences. Having a knowledge, understanding and experience help me understand the various perspectives. So not working for the same company for 20 years was an advantage. I found that having been in different industries and different roles pertaining to software development life-cycle, all of that came together nicely when it came to business analysis. In that role, I had to talk, interact, communicate and relate to all of these people on the team. They’re my stakeholders or customers. Business analysis also provided me with the variety I need so that I don’t get bored, whether it was moving to different industries, different projects, or different types of projects. I’ve always been attracted to new start-up projects where you start something from scratch. I like going into the unknown territory and trying to define what something should or could be. That’s what business analysis did for me.
Going from Business Analysis to President
Kupe, you came into business analysis from the path of a subject matter expert, and we talked about this on a previous call. Now, you’re the president of a company. Can you talk about what business analysis did for you? Some people may have heard this story, and some may be new to it. You can even throw in the part about having improv in your background.
Kupe: Yeah. Similar to you, I came out of the accounting/finance arena and was bored with the repetition of that. I really enjoyed working with project teams and being that subject matter expert. One of the things I liked was there wasn’t any repetition. Sometimes I wished I had some repetition in my life, but there just wasn’t. I like going day-to-day and week-to-week not doing the same thing everyday. I love the excitement of finishing a project but also knowing you have something new coming, and I love the ability to reflect and look on how to improve. You get another chance at that. I love that break I get. When you think of a project, it does have some kind of an end, so you get a good, clean break before you’re off to the next thing. Even in the agile space, you have sprints. You have 2 weeks, which could be considered a break, and you have a chance to do a better job the next round. I like that aspect of it.
Going from being a project BA to coming on to B2T Training and doing a number of different things from marketing to speaking to sales to now being the president, all along the way, I was using analysis skills. BA’s at heart, if you’re doing your job well, then you’re constantly thinking, “What’s the biggest value to add,” and, “What can we do today to add value?” You’re thinking, “What should we work on as a team that can add value and get us closer to our goal that we’re looking for?” That’s what I do day in and day out, especially with my role today, and there’s a lot of things that we could be doing, especially with a small organization. We have to make critical decisions everyday about what we should spend our time on. Constantly looking and revamping what our goals are and what we’re going after allows us to make some of those decisions. I’m using analysis skills all the time.
If there’s a process we need to improve, I get up on the whiteboard and outline the process. We’re implanting systems in our company, so there are typical, project-type business analysis skills that are used. I wrote user stories the other day for our new CRM system and LMS that we’re trying to implement. No matter what you want to do, whether it’s running your own business, being a manager of a group, or managing a line of business in an organization, you’ll bring these analysis skills with you. Don’t just say, “I’m not a business analyst anymore, so I don’t have to worry about all those techniques I did for years and years.” No. You’re going to use them, but you’re just going to use them in a different context.
Jacqueline: Totally Agree. That makes me think. People, when it comes to resumes and job searches — at the beginning of the show, I called this #JobSearchJanuary — one of the things is that different recruiting organizations talk about having key words on your resume. I dare say, especially in the IT industry or even in cross-industries, that two things that I think are going to be hot key words are: analysis and critical or strategic thinking. Both of those are part of business analysis. Once you practice and perfect your business analyst skills, it’s amazing the opportunities and career options.
BA’s Make Good Trainers, Executives & Solution Architects
Jacqueline: One of the organizations that sponsor our shows, which is The Professional Diversity Network, on their website [prodivnet.com], they have something called “The Resonator.” It ranks your resume. It takes the hottest key words, and you can run your resume through it. That’s pretty cool. They’re sharing that because that’s how recruiters operate. They go on LinkedIn, and they have different tools to scan for key words. That’s how you get called or pinged, whether you’re looking for a job or not. To your point, the whole business analysis and the whole critical and strategic thinking skills transcends the title itself. We’ve been saying that, and I think this just reinforces of that.
The other thing that I wanted to talk about, because we talk about business analysis and where to go next, as you said, you can move all the way to the top to an executive position, like Kupe. Or you can start your own business because you have the skill set and tools to solve problems.
When I think about what Kupe does, as the president of B2T, your customers are your stakeholders, and you’re trying to assess their training needs. You figure out what their problems are and map those needs to the right training solution. All of that is exactly what you did as a business analysis. I even use the analogy as a trainer. I’m in there facilitating a training class, so I’m using my facilitation skills. I’m assessing the room, and I’m finding out what people want to get out of the class. You use it in so many different ways. Don’t you find that true?
Kupe: Yes. I’m meeting with B2T clients all the time. When I elicit information, I’m trying to understand what their problems are, what they’re struggling with, what their pains are, and what opportunities they want to have. You’re paraphrasing back, “Do I understand you have this right?” Just like what BA’s deal with day in and day out on their projects, people call us and say, “We need help in…” I half-joke with our client like, “I’m going to be a good BA here and I’m going to roll you back and try to understand what outcomes you’re looking for.” I’m trying to figure out, “If we do deliver these classes or give you these services, what’s life going to look like at the end?” Sometimes the customer had it right. “Yep, you nailed it. You looked at our website. You knew what your challenges were, and you picked the right thing.”
Sometimes, there are other things that come up, and I’m able to roll them back and say, “I think if this is really your outcome, then there are a couple of different angles we can take that will serve up different solutions.” That’s what good analysis is. If you’re a note-taker salesperson and someone calls up, you’re like, “You want this class? Ok, we’ll go implement that class.” You run the risk of that not being the right class, and people are unhappy and etc.
Kupe: An architect building a house, it’s the same thing. You’re eliciting information. If you’re a realtor — a side hobby of mine is real estate, so I always have real estate examples — but realtors are the same way. I’ve always wanted to have a product management and BA class for contractors because there are so many skills that home contractors can use to fix your plumbing and whatever else issues you have with your home. They have no project management and business analysis skills, and they frustrate clients to no end. I think you were talking about a situation in your home when you were having something done. They need analysis and PM skills, too. I could probably sit here and rattle off every single profession or job that’s out there and link analysis skills to.
Jacqueline: Exactly. People just need to have the awareness. I’ve talked to a lot of people, and I’ve helped them even map their existing skill set to allow them to apply for BA positions. I’m like, “Deep down, you’re an analyst.” I explain to them, and they’re like, “Oh, yeah!” I have great success stories of people who have made that transition when they recognized, understood, and appreciated that. They made the transition and formalized their skill set. They may have been doing it for years, whether or not that’s what their title is. I’ll tell you what: someone wants to talk to us. I’m going to go to the phones. Carmen is on the line. I just want to let our audience know that we’re talking with Kupe of B2T Training. Carmen, I see you. Are you there?
Dealing with Rogue (Non-Compliant) Stakeholders
Carmen: I’m here.
Jacqueline: Welcome to the show!
Carmen: Thank you. I thought I was going to sneak in under the radar. Of course I had a question, so I’m like, there goes my plan. Hi Kupe, how are you?
Kupe: I’m great. Thank you.
Carmen: I’m really enjoying listening to some of this information. I do have a question. I’m currently a BA for projects that’s going on at the ……. We’re implementing a LIMs System in a few different labs. We try to standardize the labs, but we do have 2-3 rogue labs that don’t want the same type of artifacts. Is there ever a time when relaxing your BA skills is ok?
Kupe: First, thank you. I think the question was around trying to standardize things within different labs, and there was a couple of rogue labs that wanted to see things in a different way. Is it ok to relax your approach to business analysis and switch it up? Did I get that right?
Carmen: Exactly, because I feel like in the rogue labs, I’m compromising a lot of what I’ve learned as a BA, and it’s a little uncomfortable because I’m sitting there saying, “…but you really need this.” I say that, but there’s only so much you can push. Is there ever a time, in your experience, that you felt like you compromised, and is that ok? When should you sound the alarm?
Kupe: Well, I think there’s a couple of things. When should you relax? BA’s should always be relaxed in the sense of having a number of tools to use depending on the needs of the people you’re dealing with. I’m not a big believer in doing a certain process a certain way. I believe in consistency where and if it makes sense. A lot of companies are like, “We’re going to have a consistent template,” and I’ll ask, “Why?” In other words, what are you doing? People say they want to be able to switch people back and forth to projects, and I’m like, “How often does that happen?” The answer is usually, “Not often.” It’s important to think about why you want to keep consistency.
The bigger challenge, and I think you’re hitting on this, is thinking about, “We’re missing key pieces in what you’re asking for. That could cause us issues.” Focus not as much on the deliverable but focus on why the information is caught up on that deliverable. Share with them the risk. I always looked at it partially, whether it’s good or bad, that it’s not your project. It’s theirs. I’m an experienced analyst, and I know if we miss these key pieces of data, here’s the risk we’re at. The team that might be like, “We don’t care. Thank you for sharing. Let’s move on,” at some point, you have to get a sense of how much do you push. If the risk that you thought we were going to have by not doing x, y, and z has now become an issue, then feel comfortable with raising that up in a polite way, not saying “I told you so.”
When you come around to the next project, highlight the point when they’re saying, “We don’t want to do this.” Say, “Remember when we were all frustrated at this point in the project and the root cause was we missed x, y, and z, and that’s what I’m trying to include.” Keep being persistent, and find different ways to have that conversation. I don’t think you should feel like they have to have it because that’s what you do on every other project, but focus on the value and on why you’re doing it. If you have that conversation, not around the deliverable, but what that deliverable brings to the project, then that might be a better conversation.
Carmen: Awesome. Thanks Kupe.
Kupe: You’re welcome.
Jacqueline: Great point, and that’s a challenge that a lot of people run into. Sometimes, Kupe, it feels like everybody else on the team has their idea of what the business analyst should be doing, and so you do have to juggle between the risk and educating people on why you’re using a particular artifact. Sometimes you have to change it up on them by using a different artifact, but it’s still capturing the same information. That’s why we always share a couple different ways to capture requirements in our classes. Maybe the text format isn’t working for your target audience, so use a grid or table, or it might be the diagram or model that you use instead.
Kupe: That’s right. With all that stuff, if you talk about it in terms of risk and your experience — sometimes I get a little frustrated when people talk about risk too much, but in this case, by not doing certain levels of analysis, there are risks and certain things happen. The team has to decide if they’re willing to assume that risk or not. If they do assume it, just be there to help mitigate it when it happens or to highlight in that polite way, that “on the last project we skipped this. I think we need to add this back in so that we don’t run into the same problems.” Talking about things in terms of risk is a good way.
Senior BA’s becoming Managers of BAs
Jacqueline: It is. Again, thank you Carmen for joining the show. That’s just an example from a business analyst’s perspective. It’s a challenge. Everyday is a little bit different. You’re dealing with people and personalities. Again, that lends itself to what we were talking about as far as the different options in business analysis. When we were promoting the show, I had a list of different things from business analysis, whether you get to that senior level or whether you want to pursue something in management. Kupe, we haven’t really touched on that area. From your perspective, when it comes to managing business analysts, is it any different from managing other types of teams? What are your thoughts on what it takes to manage a business analyst team?
Kupe: BA’s have all kinds of issues, so it’s a little different. There are consistent stuff: different personalities, different work ethics, and etcetera. Management is changing fairly quickly, actually, because a lot of good analysts are growing up wanting to be managers. For so long, managers came up either from the development side or the PM side, and they didn’t have that background. I don’t think this is any different from other professions, but the key is, if you’re not a manager that grew up in the BA space, what I found, and you and I had this conversation before, Jacqueline. I look at people that are in the business analysis arena, whether it’s salespeople, account managers, people at the IIBA, people at the PMI, and all these different arenas. If you didn’t grow up in the BA space, it’s going to be really hard to mentor, be there, and answer a question like Carmen just had, because you haven’t lived and breathed it. This would be the same for a lot of professions. If you haven’t lived and breathed it, then how can you really help them get through some critical areas?
The thing is, as a manager, you have to make sure you know to look at yourself and say, “What are the skills I have? How can I help mentor the BA’s on my team?” It’s your job to recognize the skills you don’t have and get mentors, whether it’s by organizing your team in a way where you have lead BA’s whose time is dedicated to mentoring the rest of the team or allowing the team to get together in a community and have a community practice where they can share, discuss, and have time given to them during the workday to improve. Sometimes, it might even be by hiring external coaches and mentors to help and move skill development along. It’s that recognition what BA battle scars you have on your back, how you can help your team, and where you need to bring in somebody else.
Jacqueline: Absolutely. You touched upon a couple of things. Business analysts need a lot of information. They like to know the context of what they’re working on, not just within their projects, but when you’re giving them a new assignment. A lot of business analysts like to learn and be up on new things. It’s a good trait based on what we do, and so you do need to nurture, grow, groom, and give them new challenges. The other thing is, I don’t think someone that hasn’t been a business analyst quite understands that even though a lot of what we do is thinking, analyzing, dissecting, and reworking something, it’s exhausting. You can get burned out.
Kupe: That brings up a good point of something earlier you talked about: giving people time to think and be analytical and not focus as much on the deliverable. Developers are like, “When can you code this? When can I see some results that we can test, look at, and validate?” With analysis, there is that thought process that goes on. Allow people to get information. The thinking process includes: getting information, synthesizing it, going back and asking more questions, filling in the gaps, and going back and throwing things up the wall. It’s not just time. There’s time to get the information and time that you need to put together that information and communicate it out.
There’s also a spot in the middle that in the industry, we say that’s where the magic happens and poof, you have your results. However, that magic takes time. It is tiring, and it does wear you out a little. Understanding that is good. At the same time, I put it back on a lot of BA’s, and I think I talked about this before, about how business analysis is not a 9-to-5 job. Some of that thinking needs to go on when you’re not in the 9-to-5 window at your job. You have to allow those thoughts and solutions time to pop into your head when you’re home on the weekend. You need ways to quickly jot down your notes so that you don’t forget, or at least that pertains to me. Make sure that you jot it down, not that you have to work every weekend, but allow those thoughts to come to your conscious and get them out on paper so that when you get back to the office on Monday or the next day, you can do something with it.
Jacqueline: Exactly. To your point, you have to have some experiences and history to answer a question like Carmen’s, because again, I feel that in a lot of situations, every scenario is somewhat unique, so you have to take all the different factors into consideration. Software Projects are not cookie-cutter answers to what we do. Under certain circumstances with the various mitigating factors, sometimes you have to give the team the lead way in doing things against what you would normally recommend. Find that opportunity, if it’s not going well, to reign them back in and to show the cause and effect of deviating. That’s all a part of that finesse, finagling, and working with different people from different personality types. Great point.
Kupe: Arlesa said earlier about how persuasion is critical in the project manager role. To me, that’s something that’s critical in the situation Carmen was talking about. How do you have the conversation? How do you persuade people that this is the route to take and why? All of the things that you learn and practice allows you to deal with different personalities. That’s part of the key: in your growth, put yourself in positions where you’re going to get yourself out of your comfort zone.
I’ll bring this up. A gentleman and I at my synagogue were looking for a new rabbi. As we were interviewing different rabbis for this position, one of the things that was clear was the ones that we didn’t move forward with was the ones where everything was clear at their current position. They never had a challenge. They were like, “Things are really good here. Everybody gets along.” I know at our synagogue, that doesn’t happen.
In life, everything is not that rosy all the time. If you don’t put yourself into situations, then you’re not going to have these experiences, like you were talking about, of having to adjust, adapt, and think about, “That didn’t work. What am I going to do tomorrow to get us back on track?” You need to be in those difficult situations, as hard as they are, because that’s how you grow. That’s how you learn, and that’s how you get better at adapting. If you have those stories, that’s how you’re going to get different roles. It will help.
Jacqueline: Exactly. When we start listing out the different skill sets of business analysts — troubleshoot, negotiate, facilitate, work with different personalities — no wonder our group gets poached all the time by these other leadership roles. We’re growing them to deal with the various nuances of business requirements, and I think IT definitely challenges you all the time because it’s a fast-paced, ever-changing, unpredictable kind of space. It’s all about problem-solving, so yeah: we’re training up some people for some great careers, which is what this whole show is about.
Kupe: That’s right.
Business Analyst Who Take on Scrum Master Roles
Jacqueline: Let me jump back to Arlesa. We’ve been referring to her several times, but she mentioned being a scrum master. Arlesa, I’m opening up your mic. Are you there?
Arlesa: I am.
Jacqueline: Thank you so much for staying on the line with us and allowing me to refer back to you. I wanted to ask you, as a business analyst, and this question came up in my class. Someone asked could a business analyst be a good scrum master? I’m just curious about when you took on that role, and what did you have that translated from what you did as a business analyst? What were some new skill sets that you had to lean on as a scrum master?
Arlesa: What happened was we were a product development team creating open source type of solutions. The team was built by a product-owner solution architect type of guy. He brought me in as a contractor; I was a senior BA with a developer’s background. He wanted a technical person that would be able to understand what was going on with the platform. What naturally happened was the scrum master and I rotated. If the scrum master was not available, then I would take over his role and lead the scrum, or the product owner or the lead developer would. We had a scrum of scrum type of team, which was a little separate and was considered the leadership team outside of the actual developer team.
What naturally happened was because as a business analyst, I was helping them manage these user stories and all of their requirements, and you know me, Jackie, we’re thinking about it from an end-to-end perspective, so we’re looking at everything from functional to non-functional. Non-functional is where this team wanted to focus a lot of their solutions and efforts. Because I knew, understood, and had written the requirements around what the product owner was trying to get done, it was easy for me to get in a scrum meeting and be able to move the scrum and also help facilitate the impediments that they were running into.
Once you’ve written the requirements and you understand what they’re trying to get done, it’s easier for you to know who your go-to person should be to help get rid of impediments inside the organization. It was just a natural fit for me to be able to move right into that role. I moved from the team to the actual department level of scrum masters, which is where I am now.
Jacqueline: Very interesting. It does sound like it became very natural for you. Something that you hit upon is a lot of times, it’s natural for us to look at and want to connect the dots to get the big picture. That is our natural inclination to want to get the roadblocks out of the way. It’s part of, as a business analyst, being a team player, which is a part of the whole agile-type dynamic. The scrum master role worked out naturally for you. Kupe, any thoughts from your perspective, as far as what you’ve seen? Have you seen any trends of business analysts moving into that role?
Kupe: Yeah. I’ve typically seen more BA’s being deeper connected to the product owner either as a proxy product owner or taking on that role if they’re given some of the decision-making authority to do that. In Arlesa’s situation, her strategic analysis and her view on things allowed her to fit into that scrum master role and really help the team get moving in the right direction, not that she was controlling the team, but be able to understand the parts and pieces that are going to help us get to our end game. It goes back to people in the analysis space. When they grow up, they venture off into many different directions. Does it make sense to go into the scrum master role? Absolutely, depending on your likes, dislikes, and how you focus on things.
Jacqueline: Exactly. Carmen, are you still with us?
Carmen: I’m still here.
Jacqueline: Carmen, you asked a great question. I want to ask you a question. Can you share with us how you got into the business analysis space?
Carmen: Actually, my background coming into the business analysis space was I was an implementation manager for a payroll company, which meant I went around to different sites and elicited information to figure out what it was that they needed their payroll company to do for them. In speaking with a fellow BA, they said, “Hey, what you do is kind of what a BA does.” I was like, “Really?” She said, “Yes. Would you be interested in looking into it?” I said, “Absolutely I would.” She got me on some online, web-based courses. Jacqueline, you could probably give more information on that. It was like a web broadcast kind of course that she was giving, and I really liked it. It was interesting, and it seemed like a challenge.
Then, I was provided with an opportunity to come into an entry-level BA position. I was sitting in a room with BA’s that had been doing it for so long and knew a lot more than I knew, so I asked a lot of questions, read a lot, took a lot of classes, and here I am 5-7 years later. I’m still doing it, and I still enjoy it.
Jacqueline: Absolutely, and leading projects. You’re definitely being humble, but you really have taken to it and have excelled at it. So much of our show today is talking about people who are looking at different job opportunities either around business analysis or looking for what their next stepping stone is. Carmen is a real life example. She said she was doing implementation, so maybe some people are doing something similar, whether it’ s , implementation, or deploying and wanting to get off the role. She’s a success story, and last week we talked to some gentlemen who wanted to transition from technical-type roles, and they were curious about the business analysis role. It can be done.
Kupe, I wanted to get your thought on this as well. Some people struggle with it, and at first glance, it looks like, “I can do that and jump over.” Some people underestimate. It is a discipline with tools, techniques, and formal training. What are your thoughts, and have you talked to people from that transition mindset that you feel were either successful or unsuccessful?
Kupe: That’s a good point. I was the co-author of the book “Business Analysis for Dummies” with Kate McGoey and Paul Mulvey, and one of the things I recognized early — the good thing about the “for Dummies” brand is they really help you break down and get rid of a lot of industry terminology that you don’t even realize you have. To your point, a lot of people are like, “I can do this analysis. I’ve been doing this for awhile,” but what they don’t get is all the terminology. Some of the things Carmen must have come up against to get the feeling that, “These people have been doing it for awhile,” is that terminology and the way they talk about the activities. It just rolls off their tongue because they’ve been doing it for awhile. When we were writing the book, we would use terms like ‘projects,’ and the editor would be like, “Can you define project?” We’re like, “What are you talking about?” What we thought was simple words or simple terms had to be better defined, and we realized that there’s a lot of things that make sense to people in the industry but don’t make sense if you haven’t been in it.
The first thing is, and I’m not doing self-promotion here, but it’s picking up books like “Business Analysis for Dummies” or reading the BA BOP and other BA-related books out on the market to find one that fits your needs so that you start to get comfortable with that terminology. That way, when you go into meetings, you’re not completely thrown off. Being a learning organization, at B2T Training, we focus a lot on learning in general, and there is a piece of learning that you need. You have to know what you don’t know and get that foundational knowledge so that when you get onto the job and you’re in a situation, you know what’s available to you. Too often people get put on a job and they’re told, “This is how we do it at this organization,” and they start doing that way without knowing any other way to switch it up. By understanding that you have this broad knowledge of things that you can use will make you better, because then you can drill deeper if there’s a need for it, but if you don’t even know it exists as an option, then you can struggle.
If all you know is a handsaw, then no matter what you’re trying to cut, you’re going to try to use this handsaw. Then, you’re like, “Oh, they have these power saws I can use? I didn’t realize. They’re a lot more efficient, so of course I’m going to use that.” If you’re working with a carpenter that forever reason, all they use is handsaws, then you never know that there are other tools out there that you can use, and you might never be exposed to it.
Jacqueline: Exactly. I want to thank Kupe, Carmen, Arlesa, and Jovan, all who have been a part of today’s show, especially Kupe, our recurring guest. Kupe, I know you’re a busy man, and for you to spend 90 minutes with us, we appreciate you.
Kupe: I love it.
Jacqueline: We love those who call in, too. If you’re shy, next time, talk to us. We don’t bite. We’re always willing to share information. Both Arlesa and Carmen shared their experiences and added to the show. There are a lot of different opportunities, and that’s what we want everybody to takeaway from today’s show. Business analysis is a great on-ramp, a great stepping stone, and it can open you up to a transferable skill set that you may have already started developing and just need to take to the next level.
One of those ways you can take it to the next level is by going to B2T Training.com, and again, B2T Training is our sponsor for today’s show. Thanks to Kupe, who is the president of B2T Training. If you are interested in CEU’s, Continuing Educational Credits, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll provide you with the information so that you can get credit for listening to our show and to this series.
Remember: Our next episode is going to be February 9th, Tuesday at the same time, same channel. Follow us here at Blog Talk Radio so that you can get notices and alerts of any time changes, updates, or special episodes. Again, we thank you for listening. If you are looking for your next opportunity, I want to direct you to prodivnet.com. That’s Professional Diversity Network. Earlier we talked about their “Resonator” application that helps score your resume based on key words.
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 5 | February 9, 2016: Overcoming Business Analysis Project Failures
- Episode 6 | February 23, 2016: Good Business Analyst vs. Bad Business Analyst
- 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