In today’s fast paced environment many projects Business Analysts are assigned to already have a project end date assigned. This means the team needs to work backwards to determine dates for analysis, development, testing, and deployment. Often for BAs the time allotted for analysis is less than ideal. For today’s post I wanted to share an excerpt from Barbara Carkenord’s book, Seven Steps to Mastering Business Analysis. In chapter 7, Increase Your Value she explains how timeboxing can help BAs through this challenge.
A useful technique for analysis is timeboxing. Timeboxing acknowledges that some types of tasks are difficult to finish because the end state of the deliverable is subjective (e.g. is a screen design ever “right?”). This technique is used in software development when the time frame is set and the deliverable is negotiable. Timeboxing gives the worker a specific amount of time within which to complete a given task. The task must be completed by the specified date and time with the goal of getting as much done as possible in the allotted time. Timeboxing is difficult because it forces the analyst to prioritize the most important work first. If time allows lower priority items can be addressed. Timeboxing is valuable for people who tend to be perfectionists and tend to over-commit.
Imagine you have been assigned a small project for which you need to write a complete requirements document by a specific date and there are four high-level business requirements. The tendency would be to take one high-level requirement at a time, elicit the detailed needs, and prepare the requirements document. Using this approach, the time allocated might be used up on the first two high-level requirements. Timeboxing would recommend that you initially spend some time on each requirement to learn a little about it, its priority, and its risks. By working on each requirement for a short period of time and then moving onto the next one you will get an overall view of the deliverables requested and be able to determine how much can be done in the time available. Frequently talk with your project manager and sponsor to provide a status and confirm your plans for utilization of the time.
If all four requirements are needed, break the total time available into four time slots and get as much done as you can on each of the four requirements. Acknowledge that you may not be able to completely detail everything and your requirements package may not be a professional quality deliverable. Keep track of risk and outstanding questions as you go along. At the end of your timebox, you will have an overall understanding of each requirement and at least a rough requirements deliverable. You will also have a list of risk and outstanding questions.
These risks and outstanding questions should be reported to your PM and sponsor. They need to decide if more time should be allocated to resolve these items or if they are willing to accept the risks and move forward. Timeboxing must include risk assessment because by its very nature, the technique acknowledges that the work will be rushed or squeezed into a smaller-than-ideal time frame. Analysts must be able to best utilize this time and report the risks of the shortened schedule.
Timeboxing is a great technique when the deliverable is a written document like a requirements package or training manual. Writers can edit and re-write over and over again, never getting the sentences perfect. But most documents used internally in organizations don’t need to be perfect – they need to communicate the important messages to their audience.