business analyst careerUsually around this time of year I write a post on my predictions for business analysis professionals in the upcoming year, but Jacqueline and I decided this would be a fun topic for our first #AskAnAnalyst podcast episode of 2017. While discussing our predictions for our podcast prep, we got on the subject of, “What can we do to improve this year?” Within a few minutes, we had come up with quite a list of easy ways to improve as a business analysis professional.

I think it is important for all of us to find ways to improve each year. And it is easier if you break it down and not try to tackle it all at once. So, for all my readers out there, we came up with a 12-month plan. You may decide to do it faster, you may decide to pick a few items, or you may decide to only tackle one. Either way, I hope you will join us in the challenge to become a better business analysis professional in 2017! At the end of this post, I’ve also included a downloadable version of this checklist for you to track your progress. (Don’t worry if you don’t get started in January, this version of the checklist is flexible and allows you to write in your starting month.)

Note: I am in the business of business analysis, so some of these monthly challenges are specific to that topic. However, I tried to make them general enough that you can apply this list to any profession.

Expand Your Professional Network

If you have ever heard me speak or read anything I’ve written, you probably know that I am big on networking – huge, in fact. The truth is though that I think there is nothing more important than establishing a good community of people inside and outside your organization to support your efforts. Having a good working relationship with our co-workers is vital. I’d be willing to bet there are some people in your organization that you wouldn’t want to help – as a business analysis professional, you need to be someone who people enjoy and don’t mind taking time to support and collaborate with.

A great way to meet other professionals outside your company is through professional organizations. Being a member and attending meetings means being with others who have a passion for the profession. As a business analyst, our professional organization is the IIBA. Industry conferences are another great way to network and gain knowledge in a concentrated environment.

To Dos:

  • Invite a co-worker, stakeholder, or team member to lunch or to get coffee – just get to know them. The better the relationship you have, the more likely they are to help you out when you need it.
  • Get involved in your local professional organization chapter:
    • If you aren’t a member of your local organization, RSVP to their next meeting (here is a list of established IIBA Chapters).
    • If you are already a member, volunteer for a leadership position.
    • If you don’t have a chapter in your area, get one started. There is even a Start-Up Toolkit available for IIBA chapters!
  • Make plans to attend a conference or development day. Building Business Capabilities is our industry’s largest conference and is held in November, but there are also other regional conferences hosted by Business Analyst World and local IIBA Development Days that offer a great opportunity closer to home throughout the year.

Connect Socially

This is more of an extension of the expanding your professional network above than a new objective, but it is one that requires a different focus. And you can connect from the comfort of your desk or wherever you are with a connected device. Many of you might already be using social networks to connect with your friends and family, but are you using them to connect professionally? If not, you are missing out on a massive network of opportunity. Social networks provide a quick easy way to connect with and engage in your professional community. They also give you a way to give back to the community, learn about new techniques, and stay fresh on current topics and trends in the industry.

Another thing I see a lot is social media skimmers – those who are online but don’t engage. I commend you for these efforts, but I promise…the more you give, the more you will receive. Put yourself out there.

Some of the networks that I use most are:

  • Twitter: be sure to use and search for #baot #iiba #agile #pmot #ba
  • LinkedIn: there are a ton of groups that are specific for BAs to ask questions, get feedback and share their knowledge. Some of my favorites are: IIBA, BA Times, Modern Analyst
  • Facebook: a lot of people tend to keep Facebook on more of a personal level, but I encourage you to ‘friend’ professional colleagues as well – it is a great way to get to know them.

To Dos:

  • Follow me and my company, B2T Training, on social media:
  • Start connecting with other like-minded people on all of those channels.
  • Comment and contribute to blog discussions (we have an awesome blog!)

Find a Mentor / Be a Mentor

When I first became a BA, I was fortunate enough to have a great mentor. Now that I have been in the industry for 20 years (wow!), mentoring other BAs is one of my favorite things to do. Regardless of how long you have been in your profession, you can be a mentor and have at least one mentor.

Check out our free white paper on Transformation Through Mentoring Partnerships for more on using mentoring to move your career forward.

To Dos:

  • Think about your goals for the year and where you need support. Then seek out a mentor. I know many IIBA chapters are starting mentorship programs…ask your local chapter.
  • Guess what? Someone is seeking out a mentor. Open your doors to be a mentor.

Work on Your T-Shape

Jacqueline recently wrote a blog post, From a Dysfunctional to Cross-Functional Agile Team, that highlights the importance of a T-shaped skill set. Take some time this month to determine what your horizontal and vertical lines looks like. Is the placement of your skills where you want it to be and in line with your team goals? Are there areas in which you need broader or deeper experience? If you found a mentor, they can help you.

To Dos:

  • Draw your T – not only can this help you identify gaps in your skill set, but it can also be a tool for getting a new job. Imagine how impressed your interviewer will be if you were to layout your strengths in this format!
  • Identify your skill gaps.
  • Figure out ways to fill those gaps. Books, training, mentors, and doing the work with an experienced team member are just a few.

Step Out of Your Comfort Zone

Sounds scary, right? It doesn’t have to be! If you really want to grow, you are going to have to put yourself out there to learn new skills, techniques and maybe even a new area of expertise. By broadening yourself and being open to new opportunity, you can only make yourself more valuable as an employee and team member.

Early in my career I felt I needed to stretch myself and test my skills in a new business area. After multiple failed attempts at getting placed on a project team that was in a business area I did not know and solution I was unaware of, I did not give up. I finally got an invite to a team meeting. This was with strict instructions to just listen and keep my mouth shut. I listened for about 56 minutes of the 60-minute meeting…then I could not hold back any longer. The team really needed help to identify clear outcomes for the project. With little idea how I was going to help, I threw my name out to lead the effort. Who knows where I would have ended up today if I hadn’t taken the initiative, put my neck out on the line, and taken a big chance.

To Dos:

  • Try some new skills in your volunteering initiatives. You are a volunteer…if you make a mistake, are they going to fire you?!!!
  • Ask your manager what else you can be involved with; be willing to work overtime to learn new things.
  • Take initiative to get involved, shadow another team member, or ask to be put on a high-profile project.

Ask For / Provide Feedback

Speaking of getting out of our comfort zone…our instructor, Heather, just gave a great presentation at the BBC on feedback and its importance. At first glance you may think giving and receiving feedback is easy. I lump giving great feedback into the category of common sense, just not common practice. Since this post is about your growth, first focus on receiving the feedback.

I  have a quick video I’d love you to take a look at on feedback and the 4 Steps For Getting and Using Feedback. Remember, feedback doesn’t always have to be bad. But you’ll never know what you are doing well and what you can improve on if you don’t ask.

Heather actually joined me on my #AskAnAnalyst podcast a couple of weeks ago to share her presentation with our audience. Have a listen.

To Dos:

  • Ask a co-worker for some feedback. Start with people you trust and feel comfortable with. It will make this easier.
  • Ask your manager for feedback – this might take some guts! However, their feedback will not only give you ways to improve, but asking also shows initiative.
  • Have the right mindset. Always have the attitude that the people you ask for feedback have your best interest at heart. They are not out to tear you down.

Read a BOK

A BOK or “body of knowledge” is a complete collection of concepts, terms and activities relevant to a profession. A body of knowledge is defined by an affiliated professional association and is a collection of information that covers the set of tasks, knowledge areas, and techniques required to fulfill the responsibilities of the applicable role. A BOK helps to endorse consistency in a profession and understand why you might use techniques in certain situations.

This might take you more than a month and may be more of a ‘summer’ goal, but get started. Since we are in the analysis space, I recommend the BABOK (for business analysis), PMBOK (for project management), BIZBOK (for business architecture) or the SWEBOK (for software engineering)…just to name a few.

To Dos:

  • Buy the BOK of your choice. If you are a member of the respective organization, they are usually free.
  • Set up a reasonable timeline to complete it.
  • Talk to other colleagues about how you could implement some of the ideas covered.

Take Time for Yourself

Hopefully this isn’t the month for your fiscal year-end (if so, switch with another month). For me, August tends to be a slower month than most since everyone is squeezing in their last trip of the summer. I know that when my family life is good, my work life is good and vice versa. It is an important balance to keep that a lot of people forget about. There is a great book called The Present. It could help with this kind of stuff. Try extra hard this month to leave your work at work. And don’t forget to give me the credit when your significant other thanks you.

Did you hear that France just passed a “right to disconnect” law? In short, the new law allows workers to turn off their email after work hours! Interesting approach.

To Dos:

  • Pick at least one day of the week to leave on time.
  • Read a non-fiction book (or The Present).
  • When you are with your friends and family, be with your friends and family.

Talk the Business Analysis Professional Talk

Now that you are knee-deep (or finished) with your BOK assignment from July, go back and take another look at the glossary. Be sure to take some extra time to understand these terms and be able to use them in context.

Knowing the language of your profession is essential. As a business analyst, does elicitation, scoping, strategy analysis, validation, verification, SMART objectives, stakeholder analysis, traceability, and wire frame mean anything to you? If not, start doing your research. What about SDLC, RACI, ROI, UML, BPMN, COTS, ERD, DFD, CRUD, UI, or UAT? I’d be concerned if you went to a job interview and did not know what someone meant by data models, data warehouses, workflow diagram, process model, a prototype, use case, agile, waterfall, iterative, or business rules.

To Dos:

  • Print out the glossary section of your BOK…anything you don’t know or understand, re-read the BABOK, use our Business Analysis Glossary and/or Google to find out more. Don’t forget to keep this print-out handy to use as a reference guide.
  • Get familiar with another team members’ professional glossary. By knowing and understanding their language, you will greatly reduce the chance of misunderstanding or misinterpreting.

Improve Your Communication

A while back I became certified to provide DiSC Assessments. DiSC is a behavior style assessment used to help people understand their own style as well as those of the people they work with. Using this method to do a quick analysis of your stakeholders, co-workers, and family for that matter can save you a lot of headache. While there is a lengthier assessment that can give you deep insights into yourself and others, here is a quick lesson that you can apply on the fly.

Individuals usually exhibit behaviors of one or more of these styles. Each style has tendencies and therefore preferred ways of communication. To quickly get a sense of one’s styles you ask two questions regarding the person you are trying to read:

  1. Are they fast-paced & outspoken or cautious & reflective?
  2. Are they questioning & skeptical or accepting & warm?

Based on the answer to the questions, the person will fall into one of four behavior styles.

Questioning & Skeptical Accepting & Warm
Fast-Paced & Outspoken Dominance Influence
Cautious & Reflective Conscientious Steadiness

Depending on which behavior style you determine, there are associated tendencies and recommendations on how to communicate.

Dominance

  • Tendencies: decisive, independent, results-oriented, straightforward
  • How to Communicate: be direct and brief, get to the point, provide options and reduce the emotional message
  • Think: Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi, and Jack Welch

Influence

  • Tendencies: enthusiastic, talkative, spontaneous, demonstrative
  • How to Communicate: be friendly, allow time for social contact, guide conversation, and set clear expectations
  • Think: Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, and Jay Leno

Conscientious

  • Tendencies: orderly, persistent, detailed, serious
  • How to Communicate: be patient to build trust, involve in planning, be sensitive to feelings, and give reasons
  • Think: Warren Buffet, Robert Redford, and Laura Bush

Steadiness

  • Tendencies: warm/friendly, supportive, cooperative, agreeable
  • How to Communicate: use data and facts, focus on quality, provide an agenda, and provide the why and the how
  • Think: Alan Greenspan, Colin Powell, and Condalisa Rice

To Dos:

  • Diagnose yourself and determine how you want to be treated. Be sure to communication this with others.
  • Before you go into a meeting, assess each participant and be sure that you are aware of their communication style. If you know how to address the participants, you will get more out of the meeting.
  • If you want to take a deeper dive, check with your HR department and see if they offer something like this. If not, I am always here to help!

Implement a New Tool

Business analysis is truly a skill set that can be done independent of any tool. The best BAs can even get by on just Microsoft products. The ‘tool’ world has officially exploded! There are document repositories, collaboration tools, rules modelers, requirement management tools, process management, workflow automation, use case management, prototyping tools, and many, many more. No matter what you need help with, there is a tool out there that can do it…and can save you vast amounts of time in the process.

To Dos:

  • Check out some of the tools we like.
  • Talk to your co-workers or new-found friends on social media about what they use and why.
  • Many tool vendors offer free versions or at least free trials. Try one out and don’t be afraid to play. What’s the worst thing that can happen?!

Capitalize on What You’ve Learned and Achieved

If you’ve done everything on this list, you’ve improved a lot this year. Don’t let it go unnoticed. Make sure your employer knows what you have done to improve yourself. If you have not become a mentor yet, find someone who was in your shoes and help them get on a path to improvement.

To Dos:

  • Update your resume.
  • Create a job portfolio (hardcopy or virtual).
  • Perform a little social profile maintenance:
    • Update your LinkedIn profile
    • Get colleagues to endorse your skills
    • See if anyone will write you a recommendation

Whew…that’s a lot of stuff.  Well, there is more! There are a few things that I suggest you never stop doing to improve:

  1. Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to act like a 4-year-old…constantly ask questions. Once you think you know it all, you fail.
  2. Absorb all that you can. Be a lifelong learner. Read blogs, read books, attend webinars – anything you can get your hands on. For the past 2 years, I’ve put together a summer reading list of books to help you as a BA. This might be a good place to get started: Summer 2015 and Summer 2016.
  3. Be agile. In today’s world, things are constantly changing. Don’t forget to be flexible in your approach and to be open to change. If you choose to stand still, you will get left behind.

One last side note, you might think it is a little weird that we did not mention anything about certifications. We are not saying don’t get certified. I think it is most important to first ask yourself why are you getting the certification. Are you thinking a certification will give you credibility and help you get a job? Maybe, if the company you are looking to work for values that in job candidates. One big reason we don’t have a month for certification is we want you to focus on improving as a business analysis professional (or whatever your profession is). In the long run, you can be a better business analysis professional by doing the things we listed, rather than studying for a test. And…at a minimum, if you do the things on this list you will be better prepared to sit for the test. So, if there were 13 or 14 months in a year, certification may make the list. Until that happens, we decided to leave it off.

Download an editable version of this checklist to track your progress!

All the best,

Kupe

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