For my January 2015 my post, The Most Critical [BA] Skill for 2015, I said “As a BA, one of the greatest values you bring to your team is the ability to facilitate sessions, draw out ideas, gather information, and help groups make decisions.” I went on to say that doing this remotely is becoming more of the norm. Throughout the year, I encountered more and more companies that have recognized the need for better facilitation and value the ability to do this well in a virtual environment. At BBC 2015 Kim Kimmey and Melissa Harless took a deep dive into this topic. Turns out, I wasn’t the only one interested…the room was packed.
While virtual facilitation did turn out to be a big topic in 2015, the facilitation of decisions was even bigger and took on a life of its own. When I sat down to write this post, I was surprised to see that a blog post I wrote about this dated back in 2014…talk about a blink! In this post, Decision Making: The Goal of Business Analysis, I started trying to convince our community that facilitating decisions is why we do what we do as a business analyst.
Fast forward to 2015. I turned this concept into a presentation (Decision Making: It IS What We Do) that I presented to many BA groups across the country. What I found while presenting this material and talking to the groups is that the community understands that the techniques in the BABOK are the means to the end, not just what you do as a BA. For too long, when a BA was asked what they did, the response was something like I understand processes, elicit, analyze and communicate requirements for solutions. That answer covers what you may do day in and day out, but a better answer is explaining why you do what you do. To me, the best answer for this questions is I facilitate decision making. The techniques in the BABOK are still important since they help you facilitate decisions throughout an initiative, but to move the project forward, you have to make decisions. This will all make more sense if you read my blog post or if you have seen my presentation.
Now that you agree I was right about my 2015 prediction, let’s move on to 2016. When I sat back and thought about 2016, 3 things popped out to me.
#1 – Agile teams are realizing they need help in specialty areas.
As teams have been transitioning to an agile approach, the focus has been getting the team and management comfortable with a new approach. Coaches are being used to stand-up teams and get them started. Now that more teams are underway there is a realization that deeper dives in areas like Product Ownership/Analysis, Testing, and in technical areas is needed. Sometimes that one coach does not have the necessary expertise in these areas.
This made me think of a great analogy. Think of an American football team. There is a head coach that provides the overall philosophy for a team. Then they have specialty coaches like the Offensive Coordinator, Defensive Coordinator, and special teams coach. Those coaches take deep dives in their respective area and prepare the team to perform the best they can. The same applies to Agile teams. The current trend is having one coach for the team. This to me is like only having a head coach for a football team. Going forward, I see a rise in bringing in more specialty coaches based on specific needs of a team that can’t be met by the head coach. So teams will have analysis coaches, testing coaches, etc.
#2 – Soft skills are getting some love.
For so long the community wanted to focus on the technical skills of our job. You know all the techniques like workflow diagrams, user stories, etc. Now, more and more of the community is seeing the value in the soft skills like facilitation, ways to engage stakeholders, how to influence, how to build a strategic network, etc. There is very little work done these days in silos. With agile principles being engrained in organizations, leaders are realizing they need to improve how the team interacts with each other. Early on, I saw companies just putting people in teams and saying good luck. The thought being we are all professionals… they’ll figure it out. This is not easy and companies are realizing that focusing on developing high performing teams is the ticket to successful initiatives.
One of the reasons I feel this movement is happening is because I am seeing more people talk about Improv. I am a trained improv actor and have performed on stage for years. A few years ago, I developed a program to help companies and individuals apply improv skills to improve collaboration, teamwork and communication. You can read more about this in my white paper, Six Improvisation Lessons to Improve Teamwork. The Agile 2015 conference even had an Improv artist as one their keynotes…more non-improv people are talking about using improv skills at work. I think in 2016 a bigger push will be made to get more people with an improv mindset on their teams.
There is more proof! At a Gartner conference in September 2015 that I attended, a research analyst said one of the top skills needed for today’s knowledge worker is User Research. He went on to say being an anthropologist, a sociologist, a phycologist is a key to success. As business analysts, we deal with people day in and day out. The better we connect with those around us the more success we will all have. In today’s environment we need to solve problems with our customer in mind and we need a deeper understanding of our customer to accomplish this. People in the BA space are primed to take a deeper dive in this area and excel.
#3 – Design Thinking is the new Agile.
For years, agile has been a main area of focus for many companies. This trend will continue, but it won’t be #1. Agile and other topics will lose the top spot to Design Thinking. I had the honor and pleasure of working with my buddy, my brother from another mother, my comrade, Blair Loveday this year facilitating a presentation and workshop on Design Thinking and Critical Thinking. Blair hits on a lot of what we discussed in his blog, Use Design Thinking to Lift Your BA Practice Beyond Ordinary.
Why is this important? For one, CEOs around the world want their teams to be more customer focused. They care increasingly more about customer experience. Design Thinking is a creative problem solving approach that starts with the end customer in mind. A second reason Design Thinking is important is because software teams are still struggling with building the things that customers want. They are better at creating products faster, but there is still a lower than acceptable rate of success in building things that people will use. At the Gartner conference I attended the same presenter said if you are sending your child to college, have them get a degree in design. More and more companies are standing up Design departments. The good thing for you, many of the techniques used in the design space overlap with techniques you are aware of in the BA space. Some even say, Design Thinking is just good Business Analysis. I can’t disagree. Just be aware that the connection you are making between analysis and design may not be happening with your executives. I recommend learning more about Design Thinking and get familiar with the lingo in 2016. Start by reading Blairs blog post above and then I suggest picking up a copy of Change by Design.
My predictions this year bring great opportunity to those practicing business analysis. It may mean a slight change in your role, but at the same time it opens up doors that maybe you didn’t even know existed.
To a great 2016,
For more from Kupe on his 2016 thoughts, catch up with him and Jacqueline as they discuss this topic in their December 22nd Business Analysis Podcast episode.
More on Analysis in 2016