October European Tour

Next week, I begin my European road trip. Four cities and two conferences in ten days. How does that work?

Well, the first event is the combined Austrian/German Business Analysis Development Day being held in Salzburg, Austria on October 11. Elizabeth Larson of Watermark Learning is the opening keynote, speaking on influence, and I wrap it up with a discussion on the future of the business analysis profession.

On Saturday, I will check out the sights in Salzburg and perhaps sing a few songs from The Sound of Music (yes, this is where it was filmed). I head to Vilnius, Lithuania, early Sunday morning.
Starting on Monday, October 14, I will participate in the BPM in Practice 2013 conference which is being held in three cities over five days: first location Vilnius; Wednesday, October 16, we move to Warsaw, Poland; and the last event is held in Hamburg, Germany, on Friday, October 18.

Roger Burlton of BPTrends will share the spotlight with me along with our host Darius Silingus, from No Magic, and a number of other notable speakers on business process management. My topic is the Business Analysis perspective on Business Process Management. I will share some of my insights with you in future posts so stay tuned. But in the meantime, here is a hint: BPM is tool in the BA toolkit and a Business Process Analyst is specialist Business Analyst. But more on that later…

So how good are you, really?

I love to take tests. Not the academic kind, mind you – too much anxiety or memories of “all-nighters” associated with those. I mean the fun ones. The quick ones that test to see if you are up on current events; the latest products; what “stars” or famous people have been misbehaving; even the monthly IIBA® Knowledge check! But my favourites are ones that assess me – my personality, skills and competencies. We all have opinions on how well we do our jobs; how we interact with others; whether we demonstrate those lofty competencies like leadership, emotional intelligence, collaboration, integrity. I jump on the opportunity to take any assessment that validates those opinions.

Mirror

So yesterday, while skimming through my online Harvard Business Review, I ran across this survey: The Eight-Minute Test That Can Reveal Your Effectiveness as a Leader. Perfect. Only eight minutes long and it was going to tell me what a great leader I am compared to the rest of the world.

I answered the first question by saying I was exceptional. Not just good. I was great. Then I looked at the next question. I could be exceptional at that one too.
Hmmmm. I was beginning to feel I wasn’t going to get much out of this survey after all. Could I really be that amazing? Maybe, but probably not. So I decided to take the survey differently. Instead of quickly responding to each of the questions, I thought about the underlying meaning of the question, and focused on identifying gaps. What could I do better to improve my performance in that area. Based on the answer, I ranked myself. Definitely lower than I would have originally!

When I received my “grade”, I was a bit disappointed to find I did not perform as well as others who had taken the test. It didn’t take me long to delete that email.
But I did learn something in the process. I used the questions to help me critically assess my strengths and weaknesses across different areas of leadership. My analysis wasn’t exhaustive but it was eye-opening. And it gave me an opportunity to think about areas of development that I could work on to become that exceptional leader that I want to be. It also provided me with insight on how to approach these personality quizzes again. Don’t assess yourself against others. It is your personality after all. Assess yourself against the standards and goals you have set for yourself. The effort will more than just a fun distraction. It will remind you of what you have to do to become the person you want to be.

You can’t please everyone all the time

If we want to achieve anything in this world, we have to get used to the idea that not everyone will like us
Simon Sinek (www.startwithwhy.com)

This is very difficult advice for a business analyst to hear. We generally want everyone to like us. By nature, we are collaborative folks who need to engage a variety of different – and sometimes difficult personalities – to capture the needs of the project or other change initiative we are working on.

So how do we reconcile the fact that every once in a while, we may have to piss someone off to get our work done – and deliver value to our organizations?

Don’t treat it personally. Your actions are not about them or you. They are about trying to achieve something larger. And their responses, while they may feel personal, are about them – not you.

So thanks for the advice you say, but how do I manage my emotional response?
It isn’t something you just can just turn off. It will depend on the circumstances but here are a few of the tools I use to help me.

  1. Visualize the conversation. We are BAs, after all. Who better than us to develop scenarios on how a conversation may go? If you play it out enough times in your head, you can prepare yourself for whatever may occur.
  2. Play the role of the recipient. Think about why they may be upset, or irritated, or frustrated. Think about how your actions can be altered to mitigate those emotions. You still have to get the work done, but you may be able to soften the impact a bit.
  3. Stay focused on what you are trying to accomplish – and keep that front and centre of any of your conversations. If they believe what you believe, you will be able to remove some of the negativity.
  4. Stay strong. You are better than you think you are!

Lessons to help me (and maybe you) grow

ABCs

In planning my next big life / career adventure, I often have to reference a few of my favourite mantras, especially when I feel uncertain or overwhelmed.

Here are a few topical selections:

  1. Raise the bar higher than you can reach and stretch
  2. Do the job you have been given and do it the best you can
  3. Have more ideas than you can action and then prioritize
  4. Find the lessons in the things you hate to do and then learn from them
  5. Pick the longest line in the grocery store and be patient

Now, I will just have to remind myself it is all part of the growth project next time I am waiting – for ever – in a check out line!

 

 

 

A New Beginning

Road ImageOn my own again…

It has been a while since I have sung the first line to that song.
The rest of the words don’t quite fit but the chorus applies:

“Cause I’m on my own again
All alone again
On my own again
Without you (IIBA)
On my own again
All alone again
On my own again
Without you (IIBA)”

Unlike the fellow plaintively bemoaning the loss of a relationship, my relationship to IIBA isn’t lost, it is just changed. And I believe in change.

Change allows you to redefine, reprioritize, and reassess what is important to you.

New beginnings are always a bit scary but as Scotty said in the 2009 movie Star Trek when arriving on the deck of the Enterprise, “This is exciting”

The next phase of my life adventure will be thrilling and I am looking forward to it.

Business Analysis begins with ‘Why’

One of the most important (and favourite) questions a BA asks is ‘why’.question

Asking the question, ‘why’, if done repeatedly, will get to the core of an issue.

It strips away all the distractions and noise to explore the underlying purpose or motivation behind a request, action or even existence of a thing.

We generally think of BAs asking why in the context of an elicitation session. But BAs need to ask the global why of their organizations to truly understand the underlying need or requirement.

One of my favourite and oft referenced books is Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action” by Simon Sinek. Simon explains that inspired organizations, regardless of their size or industry, start with their “why”. You need to understand why your company exists, why your customers do business with you to understand why they keep coming back. Repeat business is not about the products or services you provide. According to Simon, customers do business with you because they believe what you believe.

So what does that mean? Is the why the vision of an organization? Sometimes, but not necessarily. In most cases, the best way to get to the why is to understand the reason behind the creation of the organization.

I just recently finished reading the biography of Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs seemed to understand this explicitly and it drove everything he did and created at Apple. Apple’s why is to create beautifully elegant, sophisticated, yet simple tools for consumers. People don’t buy Apple products because they are cheap or compatible with other equipment. Apple is the most valuable company in the world because its devotees will pay a premium to be part of the Apple why.

Another great example of a company that focused on its why is Southwest Airlines. Even though it is a low cost carrier, Southwest has enjoyed forty years of profitability while other airlines have gone bankrupt and/or disappeared. Why? Because Southwest lived its why.

Southwest originated as an intra-state carrier, offering a fast, convenient alternative to cars and buses. When airline deregulation occurred in the late 1970’s, it was able to expand its reach even further, offering low cost air transportation across many more markets. But cheap doesn’t necessarily mean successful. Southwest applied its why in everything it did: standardizing on one type of plane, eliminating prepared food on flights, and improving the utilization of its fleet.

Asking ‘why’ can be difficult as it can often put stakeholders on the defensive but an effective BA knows how to get to the why indirectly. Remember: understanding ‘why’ will ensure you, your sponsor and other stakeholders can deliver the best solution for the organization.

The Flavours of Business Analysis

Think about any task you need to accomplish—going to the supermarket, making a bed, washing the car. There is an approach to doing each of these things and there may be commonalities in how different people carry out each task. But not everyone approaches them in the same way.

It’s the same with business analysis. A BA may demonstrate up to 53 discipline competencies as defined in the IIBA Business Analysis Competency ModelTM and execute up 32 tasks as identified in the BABOK Guide® v2, but which competencies and tasks, as well as specialization or expertise required, will depend on the industry, personality of the organization, the stability/maturity of its product lines, its business model, functional areas being supported, and stakeholder groups engaged.

How do these aspects of the job impact the “Flavour” of business analysis? Below are brief examples of what might be required.

Industry

How competitive is the industry? The higher the level of competition, including number of new entrants, the more an experienced, generalists BA is required. Why? Organizations in competitive environments need to anticipate or respond quickly to ensure their continued success. Responding to changing market conditions requires a BA to broadly apply the discipline of business analysis without spending too much time thinking about “how”; instead focusing on “what” needs to be done.

Personality of the Organization

Without being accused of anthropomorphizing, organizations do have “personalities” which impact the type of BA skills required. These generally reflect the market in which they operate; how long they have been in business; whether shared functions are centralized or distributed to the various business units; is there one customer or a variety of different customers; and their operational models. For example, a product-focused organization may require a BA with a deep understanding or specialization in that product area. S/he will need to understand both internal as well as competitors’ product nuances or features to support constructive discussions with stakeholders and help assess which solutions best support market needs. On the other hand, BAs working in a highly integrated organization may have to have multiple conversations with a variety of stakeholder types. This will require excellent facilitation skills and knowledge of different techniques to capture the appropriate level of detail from each group.

Product Line(s)

Mature organizations with stable product lines do not need the depth of expertise required from organizations with highly dynamic or evolving products. These organizations may rely on hybrid BAs, individuals who can draw on all aspects of business analysis to do their jobs but do not necessarily have the depth of knowledge required of an expert in a particular area. Hybrid Business Analysts perform multiple roles including project manager, tester or even operational positions.

Business Model

Any business model can require a variety of BA types to support its needs but there is one element that has had a tremendous impact on the type of BA skills required – the rapid emergence of the extended enterprise. Whether it is use of a SaaS solution, outsourcing (people, software, hardware), or a globally integrated resourcing model, certain BA skills are critical. Facilitating a meeting across multiple locations and time zones often without seeing all the participants is becoming standard operating procedures for companies who have outsourced part of their IT departments. Different techniques need to be developed and honed to ensure all requirements are captured and verified. Deploying ERPs, SaaS or COTS solutions doesn’t mean you do no requirements, it means you do requirements differently. The solution has to work within the organization but the organization also has to work around the solution. To support these types of engagements, consulting companies have BAs with deep subject matter expertise in the software.

Functional Areas

Generally, a BA working within a specific functional area will be expected to have broader knowledge of that area than a BA working in another group. What are examples of functional areas: Information Technology, Human Resources, Finance, Strategic Planning, and Logistics. This specific knowledge can be application-based or general domain knowledge.

Stakeholder Groups

The higher the stakeholder sits in an organization, the less time you have to engage them which means a BA needs to understand the most appropriate way to get the most out of a discussion. The techniques vary and the conversations planned well to get the most out of the time allotted. Strong facilitation and negotiation skills are essential the broader and more diverse the stakeholder group.

 

Defining Business Analysis

I just described a number of different flavours of business analysts. How does this impact the definition? V2 of A Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge® (BABOK® Guide) is the set of tasks and techniques used to work as a liaison among stakeholders to understand the structure, policies, and operations of an organization, and to recommend solutions that enable the organization to achieve its goals.

The revised definition of business analysis proposed for version 3 of A Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge® (BABOK® Guide) is: The practice of enabling change in an organizational context by defining needs and recommending solutions that deliver value to stakeholders.

In the both definitions, all the different variations in the role described above apply. It is the different techniques or depth of knowledge that create the differences.

What does this mean to you as a BA professional? You have options. You don’t have to do just one job. Depending on where you work, you can seek out different challenges to improve different aspects of your BA capabilities. In larger organizations you may have greater opportunity to move around and try different things, developing deeper or broader skills. In smaller organizations, you may be able to work in multiple roles and “try out” different jobs. You may develop a more thorough knowledge of the organization but not necessarily a deep expertise of any one area.

 

Which Flavour of Business Analysis is Right for You or Your Organization?

To determine what type of BAs your organization requires, it first must identify its resource needs. The challenge for many organizations is they don’t know—they haven’t assessed their portfolio of products, operating model and plans for the near and long-term in the context described above to determine their BA needs. So many organizations don’t fully leverage the benefits of appropriately skilled business analysts to get the work done.

How can you help? By educating your management on the complexity of the BA role and introducing them to the BABOK Guide and Competency model and sharing with them the differences that can exist within the BA role.

Once an organization does determine its BA needs, it needs to do an assessment of its current resources. What are the current strengths and weaknesses of the BA team? Where are the critical gaps between need and capability? As a BA you have to figure out how you currently fit into the mix and what you want to accomplish over the longer term.

How do you figure out your strengths and weaknesses?  IIBA members have an online tool that can help you evaluate your abilities in business analysis against a standard set of skills in the profession, and receive a personal development plan to help you improve in the areas in which you need the most work.

IIBA has also developed a BA Career Ladder which captures and further clarifies the different “flavours” or career options in the business analysis role.

 

 

Networking Tips

Many people think that when I was the President and CEO of an international professional association, networking would be easy for me. It wasn’t. I find networking very difficult.

I have been fortunate that because of my position, when I attended professional events such as chapter meetings or the Building Business Capability (BBC) Conference, people would approach me to talk —they know who I am so I can avoid the sometimes awkward situation of “breaking the ice”.

When I think about the topic of networking I am reminded of a woman I know who is a master networker—she really knows how to work a room! It is fascinating to see how she can effortlessly join a group of people already in conversation, introduce herself to each of them, and collect and distribute business cards before slipping away and seamlessly entering another group. I’ve often wondered what makes her so good at this, and I finally understood.

It’s confidence.

She has confidence in herself, in her knowledge, and the value she has to contribute. Also, confidence in knowing she is truly interested in people and making connections.

Now some people are naturally shy and uncomfortable in social situations. Some people may think they have nothing important or interesting to say. One networking trick to keep in mind is that to be more interesting, you need to be more interested. Ask people questions and listen to the answers—really listen, don’t just think about what you’re going to say next. Have you ever noticed that people who are considered great conversationalists are in fact really good listeners? There’s a reason for that—people want to be heard and appreciate someone who listens to them.

Here are some other tips you can try at your next networking event

Treat a networking event as a project.

  1. Define the purpose of the event. Why are you participating in this particular event and what is the value to you? What do you want to get out of it?
  2. Identify your objectives. What are your measures of success?
  3. Think about your opening line. Craft your ice breaker questions—from a BA perspective these are your interview questions. The people you meet are stakeholders of your career.

Don’t discount anyone you meet.

  1. Every meeting is an opportunity. Just because someone doesn’t seem like the right fit and may not be aligned to the goals you set for yourself at the event, it doesn’t mean there is not an opportunity there. People know people and you never who someone knows.
  2. Think about what you can do for others. Don’t just think about what people can do for you; pay attention to other people’s needs and who in your network may be able to help them. What goes around comes around, and besides, helping people is so rewarding!
  3. Knowledge is power. Talking to people in a different field can give you a new perspective on your own profession and career. It never hurts to learn, as something new you learn today could be relevant tomorrow.

Follow-up!

  1. Follow through is key. When you receive a business card, be sure to follow-up with the person. It can be as simple as an email saying it was great to meet them, and send a link to an article, video or website you were discussing.
  2. Keep it short. Don’t be too formal or send a long note. People are busy and appreciate a brief email that gets right to the point.
  3. Update your LinkedIn and other online profiles. People you meet do check you out online, so if you haven’t look at your LinkedIn or other social networking profiles in a while, schedule a half an hour to review and update them today.

How can you practice networking? Go to your IIBA chapter meetings, industry events or conferences. Just be yourself, be confident and remember that everyone has something to share and can add value.

 

Business Analysis is more than just a Title

In late June we kicked off a new project for International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA), SEO (Search Engine Optimization) for the IIBA® website. For those of you unfamiliar with SEO, it is about improving the searchability of your website on the Internet. One of the challenges with SEO is that search engine algorithms change regularly so you are never finish the initiative. To ensure we started off well on the search engine optimization journey, we hired an SEO expert.

At our first meeting the SEO consultant began by asking questions: what are our goals and objectives for the website, who is our target, what’s the context, what are your greatest challenges? He was, in fact, eliciting the requirements for the project. We weren’t even 10 minutes into the conversation when I said to him, “Do you know you’re a business analyst?”

He said he didn’t, but that is essentially the job he was doing—asking the right questions to discover our needs for this project so he could recommend the right solution to achieve our goals.

We spent over an hour discussing the ways in which IIBA supports the business analysis profession. One of the targets of IIBA is people who don’t know they are BAs. These people could be in the area of change management, business process, enterprise analysis, or our topic this month, agile. Our SEO consultant would be considered a usability BA.

Part of our SEO project is finding ways to reach the people who don’t know they are BAs by uncovering the topics they are searching for online, answering their questions and delivering solutions to their problems.

Do people want to know they are BAs, especially if they are in another related field such as agile. The response is mixed. For people who realize that business analysis is a recognized profession and the role that is becoming increasingly valued in companies large and small, across all industries and around the globe, it is positive. Being part of a larger professional group creates awareness and momentum because there is power in numbers. For some though, the old perception of BAs as assistants to project managers or other roles, the awareness is a mixed. We all need to advocate for our profession.

By-the-way, by the time we finished our call, the SEO consultant was convinced he was a BA.

To Reach Your Career Goals, Map Your Course

In a previous job, I used to travel to Houston, Texas to meet with companies like Exxon and Texaco. I took these trips with a colleague who knew the area and how to get round the city, so I would drive but he provided the navigation. On one of my many trips my colleague did not accompany me. I thought, no problem, we’ve driven this route many times. I am sure I can get to the hotel without a map or formal directions. Wrong! As soon as I started driving, I was lost; I didn’t know the route as well as I thought I did, and was driving blindly around the city, in the dark. I can tell you that I was more than just a little relieved when I finally made it to the hotel.

The moral of the story: no matter how clear you think you are on where you’re going, if you don’t formalize your plans, you won’t get there; certainly not before taking a few wrong turns.

SO how does that relate to your career? Perfectly!

In the April BA Connection newsletter, we discussed the many flavours of business analysis. As you consider where you want to go with your career, you can chose from multiple alternatives. And there isn’t just one path you have to follow to reach your career objectives. Just as with a map, you can choose many different routes to reach your destination. As you proceed on your career journey, you can vary your route, take a different path and still arrive at your ultimate goal. If you find a role you prefer, you can move fairly easily to another one. You just need to identify and develop the skills and knowledge you need to make the transition.

This month, we are pleased to announce the Business Analysis Career Roadmap. International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) has identified the various roles within business analysis and connected the dots in terms of skills and knowledge needed to progress through the various roles. We have defined the roles and responsibilities of various BA titles such as Business Requirements Analyst, Decision Analyst, Business Systems Analyst, Agile Analyst and more.

A benefit of the Career Roadmap is that it gives you a language to speak with your boss and your peers. We’ve given names to the roles and defined them for you. Print out the Roadmap, show it to your boss, take it to your human resources department, and post it on your bulletin board so you can see where you’re going. Read more about it in the article “The Business Analysis Career Roadmap” [link] by Maureen McVey.

Using the BABOK® Guide to Map Your BA Career

Business analysis provides you with the tools you need to help you map out your BA career. By drawing on the knowledge areas and tasks within the A Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge® (BABOK® Guide), you can identify where you want to go, what you need to do to get there, who do you need to engage, and what options do you have as you move along your professional development path.

Enterprise Analysis

My personal favourite knowledge area! Enterprise Analysis contains the tasks that help you articulate your career “future state” and the measures you need to implement to assess your progress against that goal. If you don’t know where you are going, how will you ever know if you reached your goal!

Business Analysis Planning & Monitoring

What course of action do I need to accomplish my career goals? First step, assess your current strengths and weaknesses by taking the IIBA Business Analysis Competency Assessment™. As part of your membership in IIBA, you can take the 75 question intermediate or senior level assessment to assess your current skills, knowledge and behaviours. Based on the outcome of your assessment, a development plan is generated which identifies gaps and recommends activities you can undertake to improve your performance. Step two – Put a plan in place. Schedule time to work on your gaps—attend a webinar, read a book from the Online Library, or review articles. Step three – monitor your performance against plan. Create milestones. Schedule time for re-planning. It all starts with a personal assessment so if you haven’t taken the BA Competency Assessment, do it now

Elicitation

Engage all the people who can help you in your career—your manager, colleagues, friends, people in other departments. Start with your own self-assessment of your skills then talk to them to get their take on your strengths and gaps. Don’t be afraid to ask yourself the tough questions; the more honest you are today, the better it will be for your career tomorrow.

Requirements Analysis

Once you’ve done your skills assessment and spoken with your peers, you need to understand what it all means. How do my current strengths map to my goals? Are there opportunities to develop myself in my current work environment? Should I consider moving to a different department? Do I need to look outside my current company? This can be the hardest part of the process because the analysis may identify that you need to make a significant change to realize your career goals.

Requirements Management & Communication

How are you going to continue to engage with the people who are important to your success throughout your career? Communication is critical, so be sure to review your LinkedIn profile and other online listings every six to twelve months. For key contacts, reach out a couple of times a year to send an interesting article, video or website link, or invite them for coffee or lunch.

Solution Assessment and Validation

Look at everything in total, assessing against the information you’ve collected to determine if you will be able to achieve the objectives you’ve identified for yourself. What is the benefit in pursuing your short-term and long-term goals? As the person responsible for monitoring and managing your career, you need to continue to work on it—put a plan in place and schedule time for you!

This is not Waterfall project; it’s an iterative approach to achieving your career goals. You have to start with a plan which you can always adjust as you progress. Many different roads can bring you to your destination. And your career, like life, is about the journey. Good luck!