- Q: I’ve always tried to teach you two things. First, never let them see you bleed.
- James Bond: And the second?
- Q: Always have an escape plan*.
*From the James Bond movie (The World is Not Enough)
In case you have never followed the Bond movies, Q was typically an elderly gentleman who would invent and demonstrate all the cool gear that Bond would use to confront and avert danger.
Imagine how great it was that 007 had the right weapon, tool or technique to keep ahead of his enemies and avert any danger. Glasses which could shoot bullets, exploding gum, ropes and parachutes that would suddenly appear in the throes of imminent doom, speed boats or cars, blasting from the water to land, allowing Bond to apprehend the bad guys in the most incredible way.
Q’s advice to 007 also works for business analysts. A business analyst, like 007, needs to be skilled and confident. A BA must plan to be prepared for all the normal situations (never let them see you bleed) and an experienced BA must always have a well thought out “escape plan” to preempt failure even when the unpredicted occurs.
Q’s rules can help us change the negative perceptions of the BA role that some still hold. Have you ever been frustrated at complaints volleyed by the agile community against business analysts? “A BA is an unnecessary middleman. The BA is an impediment to meeting project deadlines. BAs are often inflexible to react appropriately and efficiently when it comes to determining how much documentation is needed on each project.” Yada, yada, yada and on it goes. According to some there is no need for a business analyst on software projects. As a profession we need to collectively change this view of our value.
Never let them see you bleed
One approach is “Never to let them see you bleed”. In other words prove the naysayers wrong on every project you work by making a difference to the final outcome and providing the highest value. Give them a reason to request you in the future because you have shown that you are prepared, confident and efficient. There are steps you can take to build an excellent reputation.
When assigned to a new project an experienced BA can hit the ground running by quickly sizing up the project and looking for similarities from prior projects. Considering those common threads, you can confidently plan the next steps in short order. For example, if you have previous experience with the project stakeholders, with that prior knowledge you know which elicitation methods and communication channels will work and can move ahead quickly. As you articulate exactly what techniques or deliverables are necessary (and why) to anyone who asks you begin to change the negative attitudes about the efficiency and effectiveness of a BA.
Or take an example of a project similar in purpose, such as a complex enterprise COTS project where many different stakeholders were involved. You already know what type of documentation is necessary and how formal it needs to be. Lessons learned from the prior projects will provide a roadmap for the next. Another key is to define deliverables necessary based on the project risk and to be secure in advocating those that need to be done to reduce the risk. You are not out to create the perfect requirements document but to ensure you have captured enough requirements clearly and correctly. You are focused on eliciting what needs to be understood and documented (communicated) for project success. Every project has some unique characteristics but many of the same characteristics that can be leveraged to the next effort. Adequate planning based on previous projects is a great way for you to stay in control of all the customary tasks that need to be done and to set proper expectations with the project team and other stakeholders.
Another timesaver is to look for repeating patterns from project to project where you can apply similar solutions. Patterns can be found and not limited to business processes, business rules, data, interfaces, stakeholders, business units, enterprise efforts, types of risks, type of defects, budgetary constraints etc. Look for the sameness in each new project so you don’t spend time reinventing the wheel on each project.
At the beginning of every project taking time to plan the BA activities, consider the project risks, review lessons learned, and pausing to think about any similarities or patterns from prior projects can improve your BA efficiency and value. When you practice repeating certain things time and time again with success you will become more confident in your recommendations and “never let them see you bleed”.
Always have an escape plan
Appropriate time set aside for planning is wonderful for identifying what needs to be done and accomplishing it efficiently for the normal course of events. On every project there is some amount of negative risk, hence we need a well thought out escape plan. One type of escape plan is that the BA is on the alert for business risks and unexpected issues. As mentioned, certain types of risks can be the same from one project to the next. Proactively managing risks on a day to day basis by prioritizing high potential and high impact risks and preparing risk response plans are a great way to have available the necessary escape plan. When negative business risks become a reality it is always better if you have already thought about what to do and have an action plan ready for how the problem will be handled. I think “Q” would be proud!
Another example of being ready for the unexpected is to always work on the most important requirements first. You should always know the priority of the requirements. This is considered a best practice. Then if the project has to all of a sudden be cut short or the analysis time is not enough to complete all requirements, the most important requirements are completed. This practices gives you an elegant escape plan.
Now in summary to mix my metaphors just a bit. I want you to imagine the Mission Impossible music, picture yourself as the BA James Bond, and think of your current project as you recite the mantra of these two rules:
- Never let them see you bleed and
- Always have an escape plan!