PersistenceDo you find it easy to get in a rut? This may be especially true if you work with the same people and products every day. It takes effort to build your skills and expand your capabilities. We are all busy juggling projects, but it’s important to keep growing and stay out of the ruts so you can stay sharp. I currently work as a Business Analyst and had to learn the skills necessary to deliver better business value for my customers. Listed below are the techniques I’ve identified that are most useful for me to grow my career as a business analyst.

Explore and Experiment with Different Techniques

Reading books, searching the internet, attending specific training courses are all obvious, and good, ways to explore new techniques. I also try to reflect and identify areas where I could have done better after completing an effort. I interviewed stakeholders for a new project to try and understand their “needs and goals” focusing only on what they wanted to accomplish. I later learned that they were really describing a work around based on and existing system’s limitation! After retrospection, I figured out simply changing perspectives during the interview would have saved me some time and confusion. By simply taking a different approach and asking, “What is preventing you from completing your goals?”, changed the perspective and I reaped insights that the stakeholder wouldn’t have communicated just talking about needs and goals.

Try experimenting with different techniques to help freshen up the perspective. For example, if you always use the MoSCoW method to set priorities, try Buy A Feature instead. I was recently introduced to Innovation Games and now eagerly keep an eye open for alternative techniques. The Innovation Games are great because they get individuals involved and also provide a change from the norm. I highly recommend trying some of these simple techniques just for the fun factor alone.

Learn Skills that are not Necessarily Business Analysis Related

I think one of the best ways to grow and gain different perspectives is to learn skills that do not have anything to do with your career or that don’t seem to be directly related. These activities really expand your breadth of experience and get you thinking from different perspectives. You can attend self-enrichment training like Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People or take Tom Rath’s Strengths Finder assessment. Research a new industry, particularly if you are about to start a new job or project with a customer in an industry in which you have no experience. Different industries sometimes require different business analysis approaches and techniques. If you are not doing these things already, you will be surprised how well these activities expand your mind.

Get Engaged

No, I’m not talking marriage proposal – get out there and connect with people. We are social creatures and benefit from interacting with each other. In today’s world, there are so many options and opportunities to connect with people from all over the world and expand your knowledge – for free! From Twitter and LinkedIn to joining an IIBA (ok, IIBA is not free). Leverage the knowledge and experience other people have by starting discussions in these virtual groups. Attend industry conferences like Business Analysis World or Building Business Capability. Even better, present at a conference (I have yet to do this one). Network with people on any possible venue. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with information, but the important thing is to follow through and apply the new things you have learned. Some ideas may get scrapped and others may rock your world.

Seek Certification

Certification gives in two major ways:

  1. You will no doubt learn something new.
  2. You are instantly more marketable.

Seeking any certification is usually a lot of work, especially if you are working on the PMP or CBAP where you have to prove on the job experience, have references, and oh yeah, pass the test! I was very intimidated to take a certification test when I was just starting my career as a Software Developer. However, my employer at the time required it. I worked for a small consulting / custom development firm and the owners wanted the paper to back up the credible staff. I used study guides and practice tests to identify my weaknesses, worked to fill those weaknesses, and successfully received several technical certifications. I found out it wasn’t as hard as I thought and my skills really did increase dramatically. Preparing for certification pulls you away from your go-to tools and really expands your options. Better invest in a new toolbox.

In my experience, I find these basic techniques to stay sharp apply to almost any career. I recommend working in regularly scheduled times for all of these activities. Even if it’s just thirty minutes a week, you never know, what you learned may open up new opportunities or make you more effective. We are all different and find that different techniques work better than others. Hopefully, you work in an organization that values and invests in a continuous learning environment. If so, take advantage of every opportunity you have. Stay persistent to stay sharp.

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