This week, Kupe and I gathered a few questions that we’ve been asked over the past couple episodes about thinking…or lack thereof! Taking the time to stop and actually think through your business analysis thinking approach is critical. There are many different types of thinking and getting it right can greatly contribute to the success of your project and help reduce wasted time. Kupe has also recently been researching and working on a bringing Design Thinking into his routine, so this is currently one of our new favorite subjects!
Episode 10 | April 26, 2016 Business Analysis Podcast Transcript
Jacqueline: Hello This is Jacqueline Sanders Blackman here with Technology Expresso. We have afternoon version. Some of you may know that we are a little off schedule, but this is going to be a prerecorded version that we are going to rebroadcast next week. Then we will pick up on our every two week cadence. Back to a dose of Kupe and Jacqueline. Who wouldn’t want that? Right Kupe?
Kupe: Hey! It doesn’t get any better. Let’s do it.
Jacqueline: As some of you may know, this is our 10th episode. Thank you for joining and staying plugged in and for continuing to communicate with us and ask questions around…Since Kupe and I are both business analyst in the IT field and have many years of that and as well as we now do a lot of training and coaching. Kupe, the President of B2T Training helps organizations find solutions that help their business analyst become trained and develop their skill sets. We get a lot of questions. So we have gathered those questions and we are still taking questions. You can either email us or tweet with us. We are going to be online. Javon is in the background working twitter so she’ll be posting what we are talking about today. You can also respond back to her @TechExpress247 actively throughout the next 90 minutes. She will out your question in the queue as well. It all meant to answer frequently asked questions as well as questions that pop into your mind as we are talking today. What we have done over the 10 episodes, each of them kind of have a stand alone topic. Today we have circled ourselves around one the important aspects of what Business Analyst do. It has to do with thinking, not just doing. I am going to ask Kupe…when we talked about today’s topic for the episode, thinking and not just doing, what came to your mind?
Kupe: I think what comes to mind is the challenge in the BA space in general. I think it’s kind of a misperception of what Business Analyst is and that it gets focused around deliverables and certain techniques that are out there. Sort of a means to an end but they’re not the end. The end is being able to take the information that goes into these different techniques and think about what the real problem is or what are we trying to go after or what’s the best approach. People forget, for a number of reasons, that Business Analyst is really about analyst. Doing that. An analyst is thinking, not just constantly writing stuff down and formatting and putting it in templates and putting it in techniques. It is actually the thought process that goes into this so you can use these different things to do a better job at thinking.
You and I, Jacqueline, have done that presentation around organized thinking or organizing your thinking processes. It brings me back to that. One of the slide we show of Abraham Lincoln and there is a quote that says “don’t believe everything you read on the internet just because there is a picture with a quote next to it. Signed Abraham Lincoln.” Well people may look at that and say “Oh yeah that’s a good quote by Abraham Lincoln” and not think “wait timeout. The internet was not around when Abraham Lincoln was alive”. It’s not good to just read stuff, look at stuff, you have to actually think and use thought processes to discern what you are seeing and what you’re hearing.
Jacqueline: Great point. We get so busy with our day job and we’re moving so fast. Sometimes people have that image and perception that if we are really really busy and move really fast…or if I see people running around like crazy, we must be making progress. We must be doing the right thing. The one thing is, you’re just in this automated mode. I’ve been in environments where, when you step in the door, it felt like you were going into combat. You were running, and responding and then you were checking emails and you’re reacting to that. So many things got on auto pilot. You really have to say, “How many times out of that day did you get to sit back, take a deep breath, and think?”. It sounds so obvious but it’s worth people taking a pause. People taking a pause whether they’re listening to our show on their lunch hour or whenever they have the time to listen to our podcast to actually listen and stop and say “how much time out of my day is spent thinking or is it just full speed ahead?”. One of my favorite terms. Even with the B2T Training material, we carved out a class around planning and again that sounds like people should be doing that but again people were just jumping into doing the work. Doing things that look like Business Analyst work but they weren’t even really planning it out. That speaks to “Are you actually thinking through before you’re taking any action?” It’s just not as obvious as it sounds.
Kupe: Right. That’s exactly what it is about. It’s about thinking through the approach that you’re going to take and what’s the best plan of attack to do this. Just stop, it could be for 5 mins. I think that’s part of the misnomer is that it takes a long time and that it’s a waste of time. It doesn’t have to be either of those things and hopefully the questions that came out about this will address that in the show.
BUSINESS ANALYSIS THINKING QUESTION 1
Jacqueline: Absolutely. So let me take you to the first question that was submitted at the end of the last show. What can you do if your SMEs or stakeholders are stuck in backwards thinking? All they know is how they’ve always done things. We kind of hear that quite a bit so what are your thoughts on that?
Kupe: I think that we’ve talked about that to some extent. I think that’s going to be true no matter where you go. There might be organizations that are better than others and don’t settle for doing things the way they’ve always done them just for the sake of doing them. But I think human nature kind of gets comfortable if you know what you’re doing everyday. As much as people say they love change, it’s always nice to do things the way you’ve always done them. I mean I am a creature of habit. I have a simple morning routine. Not that I can’t improvise, but when that gets thrown off there is a little bit of uncomfortableness for me. So it makes sense that people are liking to do things the same way but the first things is, with many changes you’re trying to make is don’t try to take the whole thing. Have you eat an elephant one bit at a time…take it one step at a time. Maybe try to change people can handle better consuming one little change but not everything. Oh yeah we can change that but don’t change 90% of the other stuff. Then you chunk out another piece and before you know it, you’ve made significant impact.
Another thing is that for a lot of things you don’t have to ask for permission. For example, there was a project I was working on that I suggested, “you know, it would be really good if we wrote out a bunch of user stories that should be included in this initiative or this part of the initiative.” The person I was working with was like, “no, we don’t do user stories. We have to do featured lists and that’s how we have to do that.” I was like, “okay that’s fine.” But what I did, I went back for myself because that was a way to make sure that we covered all the parts and pieces and we had all the features. Without having all the user goals, I was feeling uncomfortable that we weren’t going to have all the features that we needed in this first roll out. I went back by myself. I didn’t keep going back to ask for permission. I didn’t continue to not do it because someone said we don’t do user stories here. I went back wrote out all the feature stories and converted those. I made sure there was traceability to all the features we were creating to all the stories. That’s a way make change too. Then you can bring up and say “hey this is what I did to ensure we had all the features. I wrote out all these user stories and then traced them to the features.” Then they might go “Oh okay, well that makes sense. We should do that all the time.” It’s a good way of introducing these new concepts.
Jacqueline: I agree. What’s interesting about that is a lot of times our questions come from BAs and they’re saying that the business may be stuck in their thinking. Well again I turn it back as being the facilitator, you’ve got to, maybe you’re using the same old technique. What I mean is if you’re just inviting them to the same old facilitation session, it looks exactly the same it has always looked then you’re going to get them in the mindset, okay here we go again and let’s just fill out what we’ve always done. We’re just going brainstorm or something like that. You know we’re all about shaking it up a little bit. Have them come in and as they’re walking through the door, hand them makers and a sheet of paper and assigning them to groups. That in itself is saying we’re going to do something different and I’m going to put you out your comfort zone. You’re not going to sit in a chair, with your laptop and your phone multitasking. Some of that comes with the facilitator planning and being creative. Change their mindset right from the start.
Kupe: Yeah! That’s another thing that you don’t have to ask for permission. People are coming, people are planning on being there anyway. You have the chance to change things before people even realize the change is going on.
Jacqueline: Right! Right! Just kind of stirring the pot, stirring the ideal. That’s some of the different thinking types and that’s where you can do research, you can google. There are those different thinking types. You can do creative thinking and even brainstorming. I think people take brainstorming for granted that there is just one way to do. We talk about different techniques and just fun things to do. I think new ideas come from people having fun. I think you can attest to that because you’ve talked about the improv into things. A lot of that goes to get people out of their comfort zone and it’s not just about asking permission, it’s just making that happen.
Kupe: And what’s the worst that can happen, right!? Unless you’re doing something drastic, but the things we are talking about aren’t drastic…try one of these ice breakers ideas. Even if it fails or doesn’t go over well, that’s okay. You might think through it. That’s the other part of thinking how you can improve. Stopping and thinking, “well what went well.” Instead of getting completely in the rat race, going day-to-day, week-to-week, project-to-project, and keep doing the same thing you’ve been doing. Stop and think about what worked, what didn’t work, and how you can improve. Try not to be afraid of failing and making the mistake of saying I got it. I know what I did wrong. Or asking people for feedback and thinking about that feedback and how you can improve.
Jacqueline: It reminds me of breakthrough thinking. It’s one of the styles or techniques you can read about. One of breakthroughs, one of things they do is they do brainstorming and we talk about how there is a pause when you do brainstorming. You don’t stop right after the first pause, you let people reload their ideas and try to push through and come up with some more creative ideas, not just the stuff that is on the top of their head. Breakthrough thinking does the same thing but after you get that first pause, they actually rip up the first ideas and say okay those are the throw away ones. Those are off the top of your head, the easy and obvious ones. Now give me something that is creative.
I think that is kind of interesting you’re suppose to expect that shocked look on their faces when you tear up that list and say okay that was just the warm up now let’s dig a little deeper. You know that type of thing. That’s part of the thing, you know I’ve done things, you have to take people on a field trip, you know you’ve got to push them out of their comfort zone. I think that has a lot to do with people and part of it is giving people permission because they kind of think whether it’s said or not, I’ve got to stay within this box. The whole things with creative thinking is thinking as if there is no box. There is difference between constantly feeling like you have to stay in the box and then there is no box, you have to give them permission.
BUSINESS ANALYSIS THINKING QUESTION 2
Kupe: Yeah. And I think if you don’t mind me jumping to one of the other questions that we had talked about, “Is there a right or wrong way to approach how we’re thinking? We all do some of the different thinking styles naturally. Give an example when not to use a thinking style in a situation.” As I was thinking through that, it is kind of what you’re talking about here. I don’t know if it’s ever a completely wrong but there is wrong-ish thinking and what you are thinking can hinder what you are trying to accomplish. So if you’re in a session, where you are trying to create ideas out of the box or expanding the box or breakthrough ideas that you have, you can’t use analytical thinking. Analytical thinking is breaking things down at the trunk and figuring out orders, what goes first, what goes second, why should we do this over this. There is a time for analytical thinking but when you’re trying to create ideas and you’re pulling a part every idea and trying to figure out which idea will work in our environment (which I think analytical thinking can help with), that’s not the time to do analytical thinking. That’s the time for creative thinking.
People in the BA and BM space are usually the people who are leading these sessions, the people facilitating these sessions so you have to set up the environment and make it clear. This why everyone talks about having an agenda and talking about the objectives of a session and what you’re trying to get out of it, but this is a big reason why you need to set those objectives. If you don’t have those objectives set, then it will be easy for people to use that incorrect thinking approach for the situation. If you’re trying to be creative and come up with those ideas and people are leaning more towards being analytical thinkers then they might not be the best people to be in that meeting if they can’t break out of that mindset. But if you are not telling them we don’t want you to be analytical, we don’t want you to judge. We want to create new crazy ideas. There will be a time for that, for the analytical piece, but right now we want to make sure we get the wildest, craziest ideas so that we can come up with the best solution.
Jacqueline: Excellent point. I am perfectly fine with us bringing in the question as it makes sense and that one in particular when I thought about that too. I think there are different points in the process. For example, when I am doing the business requirements and I say the business is talking about what they want and that type of thing. It is kind of like the developers and designers they are just silent observers because it is like you said, you don’t want them to jump on and try to build the solution. Even shutting down some of the thought processes going on at that time. Then when we flip over and get on the functional requirements that’s the conversation, the negotiation, the collaboration. There might have to be some concessions and at the same time the designers might be able to go off script and say “you know what did you think about this?” And there might also be something else we may be able to do. There are different points and there are different phases. Really that’s what I like.
There are different styles of thinking and you should use a combination of them at different points in your project. And it goes back to our tool kits and having different tools and techniques. This is the same. You need to have different styles of thinking. I totally agree with you there. Now there is one area where I do tell people there is a time to kind of shut off, some of the creative or critical, and I think that’s kind of tied to what you said too. If you establish in your agenda and you say okay like a what if meeting, of course you’re going to use critical thinking. But sometimes you have to cut off the what if and identify and organize the ones you do have, not that some will come up along the way. You could be in the wrong meeting and trying to play what if could actually be a distraction.
Kupe: Yeah. At some point you have to actually stop. I talk about using what if, using that kind of question around coming up with business risks for initiatives. And you know you want people to go crazy and think about any wild, hairy thing that could happen but at some point you have to stop and that’s where I talk about divergent thinking and convergent thinking. Divergent thinking is where you’re just coming up with a bunch of ideas whereas convergent thinking is coming back to “okay what are we going to focus on.” So at some point you have to be creative to come up with all these what if scenarios but then you have to kinda of converge back into what do we really need to focus on. There isn’t enough time and money to focus on every potential scenario that could happen. So what are we really going to focus on and that’s where I think you start getting more into the analytical thinking, critical thinking type skills. Okay what is necessary to focus on. You can’t just be the creative thinker or your team can’t just be filled with creative thinkers or you’ll get nothing done. You’ll just have all these ideas that use sit there. You have to have a combination of these thought processes, thinking skills that make the world go round.
Jacqueline: One of the things that when you talk about the right or wrong time to use any particular technique, comes up in my class is they’ll get a project and if someone is one of those real deep thinkers and wants to do the deep dive, wants to get into the root cause – I tell them that that depends on the part of the scope. There are some projects where they’re just trying to fix the surface. I always have a visual of an iceberg, where you have the tip of the iceberg and when you do the deep dive, you’re going deeper into the iceberg. Not every project is scoped to be a deep dive. So you wouldn’t have to pull out all of these techniques where you’re really try to dive. Sometimes the business has consciously made a decision where we are just trying to address the surface here. That’s what needs to be a conversation. If you try to make everything a deep dive then it will be perceived as analysis paralysis because you’re going much further than intended. In scoping it’s kind of understanding, “is this something we are trying to address at the surface level or is this something where we are trying to do a transformation.” When I am doing a deep dive, I think of a transformation. We are pulling out the working session and we are going to have the wall with the stickies and we are really drilling down. That’s my only caveat. These aren’t meant to be used on every problem. You have to understand what is the scope, the vision, what would bring the most value and what is the expectation of the sponsor.
Kupe: I think what it comes down to it, I think people who are really good in the space play in is they understand both sides but they ask the question to validate and say okay what is this. And using your terms around is this just a tip of the iceberg thing or are we going for a transformational thing. Are we just going for a band-aid on the issue right now or is this a long-term kind of fix? In understanding that, then I would even argue if it’s the band-aid there has to be some creative thinking around what is a good, lower cost efficient way to take care of this problem and getting creative around different options. Rather than just trying to take the first thing that comes to someone’s head about the issue. But knowing how deep to go, that’s about people being smart and asking the right questions and not just assuming one way or the other. Everything is either a band-aid or a transformational project.
Jacqueline: Exactly. That sets the scoping, asking the questions, really kind of feeling out and really setting the expectations to make sure the understanding is the same on both sides not making any assumptions.
BUSINESS ANALYSIS THINKING QUESTION 3
Jacqueline: Let me take you back a question. Do you have a favorite approach or style of thinking? And since we are talking about if we do hone in on our favorite, when would you use that? When is the best scenario for you to use that? I’ll let you go first.
Kupe: Prior to two or three years ago, I didn’t really focus and think I had thinking approaches. I want to be clear, I want everyone to know I didn’t just wake up and it’s always been about thinking. This has kind of evolved for me and reading more about thinking approaches, I’ve been like oh yeah that’s me. I kind of read myself in some of them. The first one is critical thinking. The other is design thinking. Critical thinking is unfortunately for those that want it, it is not about criticizing other people or being critical of people, so if that’s what you were hoping it was, I apologize. Critical thinking is about coming up with an approach and really sticking to the facts. So back to that picture that I was explaining and that quote by Abraham Lincoln, it’s like digging deeper and being curious. It’s asking what is the real issue and leaving emotion out of it. This is critical because in business today people get fired up. There are two things I think about. They see a producT, a software application and they see all the bells and whistles and think this is going to take care of our problem. The other things is people have their own agendas, especially managers and people leading groups, and have a way of approaching things and getting excited and want to push that through.
This is where I think good business analysis comes into play…being a good critical thinker is stripping away the emotions and getting to the facts. What I mean by that, a lot of people could probably relate to this. Jacqueline, you and I talk about house examples all the time and this is just another one. If you have ever looked to rent a house or an apartment or buy a condo, one of the things realtors push is curb appeal. So when you drive up to a house and you haven’t even seen inside the house yet and you start falling in love. You start to picture yourself in the house, playing in the yard and all this stuff. Then you walk into the house and you realize it only has 2 bedrooms and you need 3. We have six kids, we need at least 3 bedrooms. Then you start making concessions or excuses or you come up with ways that it could work because you have this strong emotional tie to the house just because it looks so good from the outside. A good critical thinker would say yes it looks good on the outside but it doesn’t meet these four or five criteria, so get back to the facts. I try to act in those emotions. Although, I can get emotional about things, I try to step back…especially when it’s not my emotions. It’s so much easier when it’s not your house that you’re looking for. It’s the same thing with projects. It’s typically not your project. You’re not in the business doing the work so it’s easy for you to step back and be that critical thinker.
The second piece is design thinking. I’ve been working on this with our partner in New Zealand, Red Vespa, and specifically close with Blair Loveday who pushes a lot of design thinking thoughts and how to incorporate that into business analysis. What I love about design thinking is that it is a collaborative, problem solving approach. So I lean on design thinking because the whole point of design thinking is one that you take the view of the customer lens. I don’t think enough of us in the organization or space really dig deep to really understand the customer’s view of things. I use the accounts payable all the time as an example. I ask who is the customer on an accounts payable project? A lot people say it’s the AP clerks and the people working in the AP department. If you’re in an IT department that is within a company, typically that is who your customer is. They are the ones asking for and paying for your salary. So you view your AP department as your customers, but really your customers are your vendors. You can do something in the AP department that makes the life of the department thrilled, it makes their life easier, and you guys did an awesome job but in the end nobody had the view of the vendor and then it impacts the relationship with the vendor. If it is a negative impact than those vendors might not want to do business with you and companies don’t survive without third parties working with them. So that could be a failure. That’s what design thinking is about. I believe in that type of approach. It does include divergent and convergent thinking. You can look up stuff on the internet on design thinking or shoot me an email, I’d love to talk to you more about it. Those are my go to thought processes.
Jacqueline: Absolutely. I am studying and learning the whole design thinking approach so I am looking at and embracing and looking at more of that. The other piece that I just wanted to piggyback, critical thinking is definitely one of my go to thinkings as well. What I mean by that is a lot of times the business knows how they do it today, that’s something we talked about earlier. The critical thinking part of my role and facilitating is sometimes playing devil’s advocate, sometimes it is being the detective and investigating, cross checking and cross referencing. It is not necessarily criticizing for tearing down, it’s probably a combination of critical and analytical thinking. A lot of times it is not looking at the first thing they say at face value. I have to start peeling it back. As much as it is to help them understand, it is to help you understand as well. I think that both sides benefit because again when we talks about doing and moving really fast, the first things is let me take that as gospel so to speak. This is why all these different thinking styles work together and blend together because that what you said in design thinking. It is perspective too. It is the truth at the moment for that person but what about during peak times? What about end of the month? What about end of the quarter? What about end of the year? There are different cycles and difference perspectives to every person’s job.
I think about the business analyst. If you ask me my role and what I am responsible for, it’s different in initiation than it is with go live and implementation. It is the same for someone else. So you may ask me a question, I even in being the same person, I might add different in that answer. That is us as humans in our multi-color world and yet the computer is black and white. There is a huge translation and the computer is not going to assume anything. It is going to take exactly what you took and be rigid in that perspective and that’s I think that the translation. Critical thinking for me is could it ever, should it ever, you know that type of thing. So critical thinking is definitely one of those go-tos because I am definitely trying to get the subject matter expert, or the product manager or product owner to be thinking of those different possible scenarios that the computer, you know, when we do the programming the computer has to know, how do you want me to handle it. That was my one in the same, critical thinking.
The other one they call a version of this dynamic thinking but specially a technique that a lot of people may have heard of or you can look it up. It is called the 6 Thinking Hats because it is looking at taking a particular problem and looking at it and the hats allow you to look at different perspectives. You can modify the definitions of the different hats. You’ll see online the different variations of the hat. I’ve used it in retrospect when we are at the end of the iteration or sprint. Let’s look at all the different aspects. How did it make you feel? Give me a positive. Give me something we can do better. Give me something that you have learned from this project from a thinking perspective. So I take each one of those and apply them to a retrospect. I’ve also used it in a actualized project too. It is just to show how versatile it is. It shows people too that there are different aspects and that in of itself is kind of team build exercise to show people the different thinking styles. It kind of serves two purposes. It is almost like a training and awareness type of thing so that now they can take the different styles of thinking as we are talking about a problem as a team. Those are my two, dynamic and critical.
Kupe: With the 6 Thinking Hats…the beauty of that approach or way to go about addressing a topic is that I talked earlier about it is not always good if you’re trying to come up with ideas it is not always great to be analytically thinking and be judging and breaking it down. How do we handle this and how do we do that, that approach gives everyone comfort in that we are going to get there. We are going to do that part of it but first what we have to do is come up with and generate all these crazy ideas. So let’s all put on this crazy hat and go crazy but again it gives those people who have that lean towards those other approaches, the comfort that okay that side of me is going to come out. I just have to wait until we get to that hat right. It’s a great technique. I am glad you brought that up.
Jacqueline: To your point, the first time I used the 6 Thinking Hats was kind of in a lessons learned environment and they had a history with their lessons learned that they turned into gripe sessions. As the facilitator, sometimes when you get into gripe sessions mode, you can’t pull them back or you’ll lose them so the thinking hat is really a time boxing method too. Okay we are going to have an opportunity to talk about and I always purposely make sure I lead the positive and even leave time at the end to compliment someone in the room. We go around the room and everyone has to tell someone else something that they did good they did on the project or something like that. Leave it on an up swing. Even though we have to talk about the good, the bad, the ugly, let’s bring it back to the positive and what can we do better. You kind of get to control and time box it. You’re absolutely right. It gives everybody a chance and opportunity to use your different thinking styles too, but it will also push those who naturally go negative quick, to pull them back.
Kupe: But they also know that, there will be time to get negative or to give my critical feedback that I want to give. That’s the beauty of it. It just seems like one of those techniques where everybody feels good, their style, they get to get what they want to say off their chest. There will be time for that.
This is a total sidebar but you brought up that computers are black and white, if you’ve read anything about singularity, it’s the belief…there was an article in Time Magazine about 6-7 years ago about in 2045 computers will take over. The processing speed and how computers will start improving themselves will eventually take us over. So it will kind of be like the nature. 2045 is when it is supposed to happen. We are less than 30 years away so we will see what happens. We will play this session back to see did it really happen. Or will we even know that they’re taking over!? It should be interesting.
Jacqueline: Or maybe they’ll be doing a blog talk radio show, the computers and they’ll be running the whole discussion.
Kupe: Talking about those humans, they’re so black and white. We have to help them.
BUSINESS ANALYSIS THINKING QUESTION 4
Jacqueline: Good point. It may come. Thinking is less up to us with all that drama in the world so let’s talk about one of the other questions related to this. How do you estimate about how much time you need to think about or analyze a requirement? How do you convey to the project manager that you need more time than you think?
Kupe: Yeah this is a real interesting one. Like how do I answer? What is the answer? I don’t think I’ve kind of estimate it or I do estimate in that way. I never stopped to think “okay well how do I incorporate the thinking time? How do I incorporate that into my fine thought process estimating how long something is going to take?” I was thinking about how I approach things and I do think thinking happens faster the more experience you have. One thing I know from an estimation standpoint, I don’t really know if I’d do it on a large-scale. If I was asked to give an estimate on a project, I don’t stop and think okay how long is this going to take not only to elicit the information, then put it together in some form, but I do do it based on activities and goals. So if there is a specific topic where it is determined that we have to elicit information and then come up with priorities on features, I’ll look through and based on how many people I’m dealing with, what type of elicitation I’m going to do, think about what kind of information might I gather and how long might it take to decipher this information.
For example, if I have to go out and do one on one interviews then there is probably more thinking time needed to analyze and break it down because I’m going to have to break all this data from three to four people together, what overlaps, where do people agree, where don’t they agree, where are there conflicts and then try to approach or attack these conflicts or the overlaps or disagreements. I do it in that stage. One of the things I did think about was I am thinking all the time. For me, and I think I brought this up before, I wrote this blog that our job is not a 9 to 5 job. You should allow your brain to noodle on things and then when it pops up into your consciousness, jot it down and that might be 9 o’clock at night when you’re watching TV with the family or you wake up in the middle of the night like I do sometimes and you have an idea. I have a notepad in my night stand so I’ll write a note then go back to sleep. I allow these things to constantly happen. I allow myself to constantly think. So as soon as I get out of a meeting, I’m thinking about what to do next. I’m multitasking so as I am walking about to my desk, I’m thinking about what just happened, what my next steps are and what I have to do.
This one was a tough one to answer because I don’t know that I’ve ever stopped and thought about that. The other thing though that I thought about here is the difference between extroverts and introverts. I am more of an extrovert. So my thinking is happening while I’m talking. What I try to do is plan in working sessions where we have time to think things through. What I do plan is to always have these peer conversations after sessions or it could be with other people in the session. If you’re gathering information, I like to have a meeting after the meeting to talk through all those things. For me, that’s how I think about stuff and what was met. It kind of makes it a little easier there. Two things here, as an extrovert it makes it little easier to do that thinking in order to plan but also to your point, if a manager walks by it looks like I’m doing something. I am in a meeting, talking. So they can be like “oh yeah Kupe’s working.” Now for an introvert, that’s not their thinking. By the book, they don’t think by talking. They think by being quiet. They’re not going to speak until they’ve formulated what they want to say. Where as I haven’t formulated what I’m going to say. I keep talking until I get the right answer. So for them it works. I think it is important for people to have a discussion with their manager because it is not always apparent who is an introvert and who is not. Introverts can be seen as disengaged if they’re sitting there at their desk doing nothing. When really they’re working really hard in their thinking. I think for an extrovert, it is less of an issue because you’re going to be having conversations or maybe you’re talking to yourself, but at least it looks like you’re doing something. Whereas introverts, it could look like they’re totally disengaged and not doing anything when they’re actually working very hard.
Jacqueline: Very good. I might be able to help with that, I mentioned to some students, and the light bulb really went off for them. I told them when I am doing any type of facilitation or working session, let’s say for every two hour meeting I actually block 30 mins after that meeting so I don’t get pushed into back to back meetings. What it comes across is I’m organizing and preparing for the next steps and strategies, all valid things that has to happen. You’re sending out reminders and setting up the next meeting all at the same time, it is my time to digest what just happen in the previous 2 hours. I get to do some of my quick thinking and I tell them to do that in that first 30 minutes or if it’s been a 4 hour session then it might be a full hour. While the thoughts are still fresh in my mind, even though some other things will come out of that 30 minutes or hour, be it action items or meeting notes, but really it is my time to digest, and think, comprehend and strategize. It is a combination to be closed up in a room. They said that makes sense and I told them that they need to do more of that because what I’ve found that if you left your schedule open then someone was booking a meeting right up to that so you’re running out of that meeting, running to the next meeting, you’re changing your trend of thought, you may have lost your trend of thought. In my mind I can organize and group a lot faster for an hour afterwards than putting off to the end of the day. It is a nightmare when you’ve had 5 meetings and at the end of the day you’re looking at writing meeting notes and reminders, that’s how things can fall through the cracks. I found it much more possible this way especially when you’re doing 2 hour meetings, take 30 minutes. Make it formal rather than having thinking as something you just squeeze in. It is important. We can label it was analysis. I think the trick is when we talk about elicitation, okay you’re going to schedule meetings, you’re going to be talking to people, we know what that looks like. When we talk about documentation, you’re at your desk typing at your desk and your printing. But people don’t know what analysis looks like so sometimes people feel like if a BA isn’t meeting with someone, then what are you doing? Being in a room and working through things in my mind is the analysis piece, the strategic piece that helps you get the most out of next step.
Kupe: That’s great advice. I always talk about using Turner Time for meetings. I worked at Turner Broadcasting, TBS, all their shows used to start at 5 minutes on the hour and 5 minutes on the half hour so 1:05 and 1:35. Part of the reason they did that is because if you’re watching a show that goes from 1:05 to 1:35, the other networks the shows start at 1:30, you’re not going to go back to another network, you’re going to stay on TBS. People have to schedule meetings like that. Whether they block off time or schedule a meeting from 1:15 to 2:15, where most people schedule on the hour or half hour. So now you at least have a chunk of time where you can stop think, get your thoughts together, what are the next steps for this meeting rather than back to back meetings. In high school, there was always a break between classes. Why is there never a break between meetings? It’s really amazing how people forgot that concept. Especially when you are soliciting data, it’s a lot of stuff. It’s a lot of information. You got to figure out what it all means and that is doing analysis. I think part of the problem people are having is how long is it going to take you to put the information in a deliverable? How long is it going to take you to write-up that process? Actually creating that is not a big deal, but to actually be able to look at it to see what’s right, what’s wrong, what’s missing, what’s confusing, what other question do you have from that. For whatever reason, people don’t see that as part of the process. But that is how you have to explain it. Yes, I can put it in this form and that takes me an hour after the meeting but then I have to look at it and see where there are conflicts and where there are pieces missing, where are the pieces that I don’t understand. Whatever the things that pop out to you by putting things in these analysis tools or techniques.
Jacqueline: Exactly. Now I think along those lines, in my mind, I am always trying to dissect and get to the root cause. Part of these shows is getting to the root cause of some of the things we keep finding in IT around business analysis. Sometimes it’s just a word and sometimes people think whatever comes out of the SME’s mouth the first time, put that in the document and we’ve got an excellent solution. They’re experts aren’t they!? So they’ve got to have the answers right there on the tip of their tongue. But that is why I was using the analogy of our world is this multi-colored world and we’re trying to fit this ideal and concept and expectation into a very black and white language. It still comes down to programming. What is that 2045? So pre-2045, we still have to machine, code and language, translation and then it’s got to be a programmer. In their language, they’re like well what do you want me to do? They need some black and white language on what is expected. There is this whole translation and I think it’s just a lot of expectations about this one conversation we are having about this SME and it coming out in a perfect format by those people who are developing and coding. Do you think I am way off there? Has that ever crossed your mind? And have you ever just thought on that topic?
Kupe: Nah well you’re a little crazy there. I am just kidding! You’re right. To me it’s back to critical thinking. You can’t take – there are two pieces as you were talking that i started to think about. One is even before that SME says anything, have you even thought about do you even have the right subject matter expert. I think too often people are or they ask or given or this topic, here are the subject matter experts. Have you even validated that they are even the best person? Often times in business the best person is not available. They’re the best in that business area because they’re off doing things for the business. So if you’re working on a business project, the best salespeople are off selling for the business. You’re given someone else who may be a junior person who is not as busy whatever is it is, are they the right person? Do they have all the right information? So thinking about that and validating that you have the right person but then to your point when they do something how do you know it’s complete not that it’s not accurate, but it’s complete. It’s all the parts and pieces. That’s where good questioning come in and being curious and digging deeper and looking for facts. People will say stuff anecdotally but do you ever go back and say use multiple elicitation techniques to validate what someone said in an interview is actually reality. Then look at data to say oh yeah what the salesperson says we sell most often is true because people in the sales space might say well 90% of our sales are to this type of customer. Well it’s up to you to really get the data behind the scenes to make sure that’s actually happening because that person knows a slice of information. They might not know everything. So working with them to go back into the database and get a list of all the clients and put them into chunks and see what it looks like rather than just getting anecdotal evidence.
Jacqueline: And then it goes back to your analogy. It is all relative. It’s like during certain season you might sell one thing versus another, around Christmas time. You might have that subject matter expert but let’s say they only work the morning shift. The customers you get in the morning might be totally different from the customers you get in the evening. I think that is something we miss sometimes. Agile– the whole idea is that you introduce the product owner or business owner or subject matter expert, people may use different terms, but they’re right on the team talking to that person.
I remember early on it was one representative of the business. My very first project, this lady had 30 years of claimed processing experience. She was the guru. But at the same time it was some limitations to getting that one person’s perspective. A new person that came on the time didn’t have the same experience in this area. So their knowledge and what they needed on the screen and aids and different types of things like that – things she could do in her head, a new person couldn’t. Yes she was the expert but another she found out was that there was some type to claim that always went to a specialized person. Then when we got down to it to design it, she was saying she hadn’t done one of those claims in 25 years. So again it’s let bring in that person who is doing that on a day-to-day basis. We could use her for a lot of thing, but it’s a lot just to say one person has all the answers and that you don’t have to kind of test and pull out some of the different contexts and perspectives and that type of thing. It might require another person. Even in agile you can’t say this subject matter expert has all the answers on the tip of their tongue. I also call this a point of failure. Relying on one person and there is no cross checking or verifying of seeing what the data says. I often joke and say the data doesn’t lie. Someone might say “this always happens” then I pull data and see “no, not always.”
Kupe: I think in stakeholder engagement, I talk about agile teams. We are going with the product owner and it’s one person and it’s a lot easier but, to your point, what gets missed is multiple perspectives. You don’t have to be the person getting the multiple perspectives but you better ensure that whoever, the product owner, how are they getting the different perspectives? This goes back to design thinking. Really getting into the customer’s heads and their environment. They talk a lot about ethnographic research so it’s really like being an anthropologist and really getting in and seeing the how people are acting in their environment and it’s taking personas to the next level.
You have this perfect example around that there are claims specialist but there are different levels to claims specialist. There are people who have been there for 30 years since they got out of high school or college, then you have the newbies that just started and then you have the people who have been there 5 to 10 years. Whatever those chunks are, it’s not just a generic specialist. There are so many layers within that, that you have to ensure that those things are coming through. This person might be the only person that’s been there for 30 years and most of the people are new because some of the organizations are dealing with employee turnover because people are retiring or there are layoffs and that sort of thing. This person might be the only 30 year vet whereas everyone else might be 5 years. Again you don’t have to do that, but you have to ensure how am I going to validate that we are getting the right perspectives.
Jacqueline: You made me think too that we talk about this subject matter expert and it’s often associated with a person. I can remember one scenario, we were reminded that the subject matter expert wasn’t talking to the rest of the team or as we needed to reiterate you have to make sure you are eliciting from the whole team, you are the voice of the subject matter expert. It was also a two-way street because we also needed her to go back and make sure they had buy-in too. That’s something else I’ve seen, that a person comes and represents their perspective and only their perspective. You don’t want to build a solution and then when you get ready to bring it to the team then you’re getting, what about this?, what about that?. The stakeholders were in different countries. We ended up having to different representative for each country. We had to keep telling them now what you heard or see, you have to take it back, you have to talk about it, and build consensus and come back represent the whole team, not just what you think. The definition of SME maybe should not just be a person but a person that is a representative of a team. Maybe some people are doing that and doing it well. But maybe we also need to talk about that a little more too.
Kupe: You made me think, maybe our subject matter experts have to be a republic and they have to be voted in by who they are representing. If the system gets released and it doesn’t meet their needs, then they can vote out their representative. A new SME gets elected to the project team. We should start that movement. It could be fun. You can be impeached and we start and election process. That would be awesome.
Jacqueline: There is some logic to what you’re saying..representative. I was just going to say hi to our audience. We actually have people listening to us. The voices you hear are Kupe with B2T Training…Kupe is also a speaker. Do you have any upcoming events that you want to tell us about?
Kupe: Actually I have a lot. May is going to be busy. This year so far, I haven’t travelled as much as I normally do. The end of April and May, it’s coming back to haunt me. I’m going to Toronto. It’s actually an administrative professionals conference I am speaking at talking about my improv stuff. A couple other things, I also do a workshop using the DiSC. I am a DiSC facilitator so we are going to do a DiSC assessment with them and figure out how to collaborate better. Figuring out your style and other people’s style, how do you collaborate with them better. I am doing that next week. Then I have a bunch of webinars I am doing multiple times this month. I am going back to Toronto. There is a BA World Conference there. I am going to Wisconsin for WI BADD to talk about decision-making and improv. Then, I go to Des Moines to talking about design thinking. I am doing a stakeholder engagement workshop in Winnipeg, also that week. There’s a lot of things going on. I am going to Milwaukee to maybe hang out with some of my friends at Miller Cores. All good stuff.
Jacqueline: Things sounds like they are heating up. Maybe there are some listeners out there that want to hear you speak or for you to come to a conference. How do they get in contact with you? What’s the best way?
Kupe: You can send me an email at email@example.com or you can send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org. Either myself or one of my team members will pick that up and get you the information that you need. You can also call me 404.939.5873. I think those are the best ways. Or if you’re out there on twitter, I’m @kupe. You can send me a direct message that way as well. Plenty of ways to get in touch with me.
Jacqueline: As many of you know this show is sponsored by B2T Training. Check out their new website! It’s pretty cool. Kupe and I have been talking about doing more thinking rather than doing. Everyone is looking for you to schedule meetings, facilitate meetings and document. We still have to make sure that we are framing out time to do both the analysis and with the analysis comes not just the analytical thinking but all different types of thinking, whatever the situation calls for. Also planning how you’re going to plan other aspects. The more information you get that’s information you’re making a decision on, what to do next, how to approach it next, how to get what you need from our subject matter expert. Which took us to the discussion of subject matter experts and should their roles be defined a little bit more. I’ve had conversations where we set the parameters around the scope of the SME. I don’t know if you’ve ever done that.
Kupe: Share what you’ve got and I’ll see if I’ve done anything different.
Jacqueline: Some of it is on the one part, what we talked about. Setting up representatives, do we need more representative and then what are their roles and responsibilities. I’ve seen this resonate with students in class before and sometimes people are just casually told, you are going to be the SME on this project, a BA is going to be contacting you. There is really is nothing set up in terms of expectation and even the amount of time it takes to be a SME. So now I am looking at them to be my go to person, to have a lot of answers, I am going to ask a lot of questions. One of the things we always hear is why do you have so many questions. They have no idea what they’ve been signed up for. That’s part of what I was talking about as well.
Kupe: One thing that is critical as a leader on that team, you need to validate that roles and responsibilities are clear so people understand why they’re on the team, what they’re there for, what they’re going to be needed for, how much commitment is it. Allow them to put up the red flag and say I’m not going to have time for that. I think too that often the business side and BA side can get into conflict where they need more time but the subject matter expert that it was going to be one meeting and now you want another meeting. Didn’t I tell you everything I knew. They don’t realize that this is a process and there are going to be conversations and new information is going to come out and that analysis that you do, you might have additional questions or there is going to be conflicts or difference or gaps and you have to fill those. It’s not just with the subject matter expert that you set expectations, it’s with everybody.
Sometimes I think with teams, and this can even go to coaching for subject matter experts, in having conversations with subject matter experts, especially ones you’ve worked with over and over, explaining to them what you’re looking for and what you start to see if that instead of asking more questions they’re coming to the table with a lot of that information already. They’re learning over time what information you’re looking for and then they’re coming to the table with that information. So it actually helps improve. Some people may look at it like oh it’s taking me out of a job. The way I look at it as there are more projects that companies have people than time. The more analytical skill that your subject matter expert comes to the table with the better because it’ll save you time so that you can work on other things, more important things for the organization. Whatever coaching you can give to the subject matter experts is ideal.
If you have a question or comment, call 855-484-6837, leave a message and we’ll read it on our next episode. Also, please visit our Tech Expresso Cafe page on iTunes for this and other series!
Please enjoy our other episodes:
- Episode 1 | December 8, 2015: Podcast launch and general overview of business analysis today
- Episode 2 | December 22, 2015: 2015 in Review and Set Your Expectations for 2016
- Episode 3 | January 5, 2016: Your Business Analyst Career Path
- Episode 4 | January 19, 2016: Business Analysis Role Fits in Many Careers
- Episode 5 | February 9, 2016: Overcoming Business Analysis Project Failures
- Episode 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 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