Each year, the BA Conference Europe connects together hundreds of BAs from around the world. It has grown year-on-year, and this year will be held in September, in London. The conference is a great place to share knowledge, exchange ideas and meet other BAs. I really enjoy attending the conference, and it has formed a very useful forum for the BA profession in Europe and beyond.
I recently took part in the ‘Mastering Business Analysis’ podcast series, and I am pleased to say the recording is now available to download.
The Podcast episode is entitled “Strategy and its Role in Business Analysis”. In the Podcast, we discuss topics including:
- Why understanding organizational strategy is critical
- How to trace projects back to an organization’s vision and mission
- How to better understand your organization’s strategy and gain alignment
A huge thanks to Dave Saboe for inviting me to participate in the Podcast!
I hope that you find the Podcast useful and enjoyable, and if you do, be sure to subscribe.
About the author:
Adrian Reed is Principal Consultant at Blackmetric Business Solutions, an organisation that offers Strategic Business Analysis consulting and training solutions. Adrian is a keen advocate of the analysis profession, and is constantly looking for ways of promoting the value that good analysis can bring.
To find out more about the training and consulting services offered at Blackmetric, please visit www.blackmetric.com
A common question that gets asked at BA events and forums is “How do I become a business analyst”. Often people wanting to enter the profession feel that they are stuck in a chicken-and-egg scenario: They want to get their ‘first’ BA role—but all the job adverts they can find ask for 3 (or 5 or 10) years of experience. It can be a frustrating dilemma—without experience, it’s difficult to get a role—and without a role it is difficult to get experience! In this article, we’ll explore seven tips for breaking this cycle.
1. Becoming vs discovering – maximise your current experience
A fundamental point to start on is that, when it comes to business analysis, one thing to keep in mind is that you don’t have to be employed as a ‘business analyst’ to do business analysis. There are many people in organisations that undertake a sub-set of the business analysis role who have very different job titles. This leads to an interesting pattern—rather than consciously setting out to become business analysts, some people discover they are already undertaking business analysis!
This is an important subtlety. Often, those seeking a BA role for the first time actually have more BA experience than they are giving themselves credit for. Take the following examples:
I recently met with a good friend for a coffee and catch-up. We were discussing all sorts of business analysis related topics, and our conversation quickly moved on to projects, careers and jobs. As we started to discuss jobs and careers, I sensed unease in my friend’s voice. This was unusual—he is the kind of guy who is normally really up-beat. I asked what was wrong. He took a long sip on his coffee and his forehead contracted into a temporary frown. He took a deep breath:
“Adrian, I’m really not happy in my current job. I’ve made some suggestions on how they could run projects better, but management see this as ‘rocking the boat’. I’ve been sidelined. They’ve put me on a dull, boring, pointless project, which will deliver a pointless outcome. It’s a train-wreck. I am so bored. I think they’re hoping I’ll leave.”
This came as a complete shock to me. My friend is one of the most innovative and positive BAs I know. He’s the type of person that you can imagine fitting in just about anywhere, with the ability to quickly build rapport with stakeholders and really start delivering effective change. Clearly moving someone to the right place for the right reasons can benefit the individual and the company—but in this case it seemed to be a pure case of sidelining.
Why would anyone sideline him?
If you have worked for large corporate organisations for long enough, you’ll probably know someone who has been sidelined in this way. Someone who has been seen as too ‘radical’ for the status-quo—they raise positive ideas which could make a significant difference but challenge the tunnel-vision of established middle-managers. Rather than reward them, the organisation responds by moving them to another role, another team so they are less inconvenient. They never seem to fit, so they are moved around and around — after a while they get moved to a remote outpost somewhere, in the hope they will give up, keep quiet or leave. Maybe it has even happened to you.
This is an example of what I call getting quasi-sacked – or “quacked”
Why people get ‘quacked’: The good, the bad and the ugly
I’m very pleased to say that my recent presentation at the Building Business Capability Conference entitled Strategy: The Crucial Enabler was recorded. You can view the presentation below, complete with slides and audio — in total it’s around 55 minutes long.
Here is a brief description of the session:
The words “strategy” and “strategic” are frequently used in organizations and might be seen by some as “corporate buzzwords”. Yet in reality, having a clearly articulated strategy is a crucial enabler for organizational alignment and success. As BAs, we need to ensure that our projects and programs align with strategy–else we may end up with different departments and teams pulling in different directions (and we may end up getting caught in the cross fire!)
The BA toolkit is broad, and there’s a huge opportunity for us to contribute. If we seize this opportunity we may get involved in shaping or defining organizational, project, program or business unit strategy.
In this presentation, Adrian Reed explores strategy through a business analysis lens, covering:
1. What is strategy?
2. The role of strategy and strategic thinking in Business Analysis
3. What can we do when strategy is “cloudy”?
4. A ‘whistle-stop tour’ of useful strategic analysis tools and techniques
I hope you find the presentation useful and enjoyable, and if you do, be sure to subscribe.
A few weeks ago, on a cold Tuesday morning, I made my way reluctantly out of the office and towards my dentist’s surgery. I reluctantly walked up to the dentist’s door, subconsciously slowing down my steps as I approached – my fear was trying to force me to delay entering the building! I have a great dentist—she is patient and friendly—but nevertheless, I would be lying if I said I was looking forward to visiting. Particularly as this was the second of three planned appointments to have dreaded root canal therapy. It was my first ever root canal, and I had heard many horror stories from friends and family. As much as my dentist had told me it would be fine, the fear still set in.
Within 20 minutes I was settled in and lying in the dentist’s chair. She had put me at ease and was going about her work. As it turned out, my fear was unfounded, I felt no pain whatsoever. Discomfort, yes—but nothing like I had feared. She was giving me regular updates about what she was doing, and how the procedure was going. I was actually feeling quite relaxed. At several points she took X-rays to see how the procedure was progressing.
As time progressed, it turned out that the procedure was more complex than she had expected, and she was struggling to fill to the very end of one of the affected roots. She had taken a couple of X-rays but was concerned that she couldn’t verify whether the filling reached the end. After looking quizzically at the X-ray on her screen, she turned to me and said:
“Adrian, I know I’ve taken a few X-rays already—I need to see from a different angle—is it OK if I take another X-ray? This will, of course, expose you to another small dose of radiation.”
I paused—I know nothing about the cumulative effect of X-ray radiation. I have no idea how many are safe—in fact I wasn’t even sure how many had been taken previously. I felt unsure how to respond—and a little confused. My gut feeling was that there was little risk, so I composed myself and replied (as best I could, given my mouth was full of wadding):
“I’m happy to go with whatever would be your professional recommendation.”
She nodded, took the X-ray. I am pleased to say that she completed the treatment successfully.
On the way back to the office, this situation was buzzing around my head. It struck me that the dentist had asked me to make a crucial decision, but hadn’t given me a specific recommendation or a context in which to make my decision. In a dentist’s chair this is completely understandable as ‘the heat was’ on and she needed an immediate decision in seconds—and in no way do I want to criticise my dentist. Yet, in business, we work with our stakeholders and clients to make high stakes decisions all the time. Are we giving our stakeholders all the information they need? Are we packaging the information up to a digestible format, and providing an actionable recommendation?
The importance of a decision package
Say the world “sales” to many people and you’ll get a negative response. Perhaps they’ll remember a time that a desperate salesperson tried to “hard sell” them an expensive extended warranty that they didn’t want or need, or perhaps they’ll remember a time when an unethical sales executive sold them a car that turned out to be completely impractical, unreliable and not fit for their needs. In fact, for many people the whole idea of “sales” and “selling” is uncomfortable. It conjures up negative images of unethical and unfair behaviour.
Yet selling is a crucial part of what organisations do, particularly those organisations that sell ‘big ticket’ items or complex services. The reality of sales can be very different from the cliché—it really doesn’t have to be murky and unethical. Good sales involves understanding the customer’s needs, finding a solution that meets their real needs and ensuring that solution is deployed successfully within any relevant constraints. It involves building relationships , providing advice and advocating what is best for the customer whilst keeping the organisation’s needs firmly in mind too. Clearly this is quite a broad definition!
But do you have to have the title of sales executive or salesperson to work in Sales? I would argue not—in fact, there is an element of sales in just about everyone’s role. Whatever your role—whether you’re an internal business analyst or whether you work for a solution provider or managed service provider (MSP), it is likely that an element of your role involves “selling”. Just about every role involves building relationships, understanding stakeholder/customer needs, and so forth. If we are not selling products or services we are probably selling ideas. Imagine the project sponsor that has to ‘sell’ the idea of their project to the board. Or the business analyst that ‘sells’ the benefits of an idea or option to their business stakeholders. Or even the consultant within an external managed service provider that convinces their client to change tact and invest in a solution that is a better fit than the one the client had in mind. All of these are variants of selling and sales. But I suspect many of us haven’t thought of it this way before!
What this means for business and business analysis: Customer and Benefit
Organisations that initiate projects generally do so to embed some kind of favourable change into their operation. The types of outcome and benefits desired will vary depending on the organisation’s situation and strategy, but might involve increasing revenue, reducing costs, achieving regulatory compliance, improving customer service or any other combination of goals. Let’s imagine that a financial services organisation decides to streamline its ‘customer sign-up/on-boarding’ process. Possible benefits might include providing enhanced customer service (leading to an increase in sales) and lower processing costs (leading to higher profits). There are likely to be many different ways of achieving these outcomes—and those options are likely to be examined in some form of business case. For small projects this might be a very lightweight document, with larger projects and programmes needing a more thorough and formal document. Either way, the relative pros/cons of various approaches will be considered—including the tangible and intangible costs/benefits, and also the risks.
The business case is often the gateway to getting a project off the ground. In many organisations it is like a key to the cheque-book—until the business case has been signed off work cannot start with any vigour. This leads to a useful focus on a business case early in the project lifecycle—which is a good thing of course—but once the cheques have been written, interest can start to evaporate very quickly. There is a danger that the business case will fester away, collecting dust in a document repository rather than being seen as a ‘living document’ that is central to the project and change initiative. This can lead to some very unfortunate outcomes.
A business case shouldn’t be “one and done”
Problem solving is a skill that is relevant for just about every role within an organisation. It doesn’t matter whether you spend most of your time working with colleagues internally, or whether you work for a managed services provider (MSP) that offers services externally, it is likely that dealing with problems takes up a significant part of your day. Whether you’re a CEO, receptionist, or contact centre worker, chances are that you are involved with solving a wide range of problems. These can range from small, well defined and well scoped problems (for example, a customer not receiving a parcel) right through to tricky, messy and ill-defined problems (for example, revenue dropping due to multiple unrelated yet volatile conditions in the business environment). Sometimes, our problem solving activities are so ingrained in our daily activities that we do them without thinking. Other times, for larger problems, we might use formal business analysis, creative thinking or problem management techniques. Entire methodologies and practices have emerged which help us liaise with relevant stakeholders and analyse different potential options for solving organisational problems.
One important element of problem solving that is rarely discussed is problem ownership. Even the smallest problem is likely to need coordinated action from a range of people within the organisation to resolve. The problem owner works with others to ensure this cohesive and coordinated response. Significant problems can occur when a problem isn’t ‘owned’.
Imagine the scene. It’s 5pm on a Friday. It’s mid-summer and the air is humming with heat – but you’re stuck in a hot, stuffy conference room with no air. You’ve been up since 5:45am, and are only surviving because you’ve downed 17 cups of coffee and 3 energy drinks throughout the day. It’s been a long day and you hope it’ll be over soon. You’re sitting in an uncomfortable chair watching a visitor give a presentation. You’re trying to stay focussed, but your attention is wandering… your eye is drawn out of the window to a colleague getting into their car and heading home for the weekend. “Lucky”, you think to yourself. You start to think about what you’re going to have for dinner. You start to think about the traffic on the drive home—“I wonder if those road-works have finished?” Your mind is wandering. You make a mental effort to focus.
Your attention is drawn back to the presentation—the presenter is speaking in a monotonic voice that can only be described as ‘dull’. They are uncovering bullet point after bullet point after bullet point—and really they are just reading their slides. They move to the next slide and an undecipherable and unreadable diagram is displayed. They look at the diagram, and turn back to the audience:
“I know you won’t be able to read this diagram as it’s too small—but let me talk it through it”
They proceed to do so. Your eyes drift in and out of focus—you are trying to stay awake. You notice a number in the corner of the slide “25 of 118”. It’s going to be a long evening…you take a final swig of coffee.
Recognise this situation?
I bet we’ve all been in that conference room. We’ve all experienced that mind-numbing and spirit crushing pattern of death by bullet point. I suspect that many people reading this will have experienced it many times. And, if we’re truly honest, probably most of us have been on both sides of the podium. We’ve probably all given presentations that have lost the audience’s attention as well as endured them…