As Business Analysts, we are professional change practitioners. We are experts in the field of “change” and should expect to add maximum value to the organisations we work for. To be effective in this role I believe we must manage change in our own professional development and stay up to date with industry and BA trends.
It can be incredibly constraining to rely solely on training and development provided by your employer. The challenge can be that Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is seen as a “nice to have” activity, and is often the first thing to get re-scheduled or cancelled when budgets are tight. As professional change practitioners we should take ownership of our own development, and build personal development activities into our daily and weekly routines. This involves making a transition to becoming a “reflexive learner”, taking every opportunity to reflect on experience gained during projects and crystallising our knowledge.
This doesn’t have to be costly or time consuming. There are several low cost (or no-cost) ways you can build on your BA knowledge without the need to attend any formal training courses or seminars. The key is to consciously build development activities into your schedule, and take time to reflect on your experiences and development.
A few tips and techniques I have found particularly useful are outlined below:
1. Be clear what you are trying to achieve
Before starting with any professional development activities, it is worth considering what you are trying to achieve. What knowledge are you trying to gain, or where are you aiming to get? For example, you might be looking to expand:
- Organisation knowledge: Knowledge specific to your organisation
- Domain knowledge: Knowledge of your business sector or industry
- Change delivery knowledge: Knowledge related to change, projects or delivery lifecycles
The types of development activity that you carry out are likely to vary depending on the knowledge you are looking to gain. Separating out your development aims into short, medium and long term strategies can help to ensure you focus on the right activities.
2. Keep a project journal: One of the single biggest ways we develop as BAs is through the work that we carry out day-to-day. It can be tempting to move straight from project to project without taking any time to reflect on what has been learned. Recording relevant information in a journal (acronyms, terminology, lessons learned etc) can be an effective way of crystallising knowledge and storing it for future use. This can become an excellent reference point if you work on a similar project in future. You can spend as much or as little time on this activity as you like, it would be valuable even if you only spent 15 minutes writing a summary after every project engagement.
A very light-weight journal might include:
- Project name
- Stakeholders worked with
- 3 things that worked well
- 3 things I’d do differently next time
- Biggest learning point
- Acronyms & terminology
- Other relevant information
The act of reflecting on your progress and recording it is useful in itself. It helps you to consolidate your knowledge and consider what you might do differently in future, which is an important part of reflexive learning. It can also be useful to review the journal periodically, to reflect on previous projects and ensure any knowledge is carried forward.
3. Make time for reading blogs and articles: There are a wide range of business-analysis related blogs and articles on the Internet, where professional and qualified BAs share their knowledge for free. It is well worth building some reading time into your weekly routine, perhaps by reading whilst on the train to work or during your lunch break.
4. Participate in online forums: Another way to expand your knowledge of BA tools and techniques is to participate in online forums. There are a number of forums on social networking sites like LinkedIN where you can connect with other BAs and post questions or observations. You may find that other BAs challenge your opinion, or perhaps see things from a slightly different angle. I personally find that this can be extremely illuminating, and can help gain a new perspective on an old problem.
5. Start a lunch-time Business Book Club: One great way of expanding your horizons is to read business related books. By reading case studies and biographies often possible to see what kind of strategic problems businesses faced, and how they dealt with them. You might also want to consider reading books related to lateral thinking, LEAN or anything else that appeals to your development goals.
If several of your colleagues are interested, why not start a lunch-time book club? You could read one book per month, and meet to discuss it. I run a book club at my workplace, and I have personally found it incredibly enlightening to hear others’ views. Plus, having a monthly deadline tends to provide me with an incentive to finish reading the book, and it is also a great networking opportunity!
6. Network and ask questions: One of the greatest sources of knowledge we have as BAs is often our colleagues, business stakeholders and peers. If you know someone has knowledge in a particular field, why not ask them for an hour of their time? This is often seen as a huge compliment, and you may find that you get a huge amount of relevant information for the cost of a cup of coffee!
Professional development can be a way of gaining competitive advantage. By building this into your weekly routine, you will continue to gain up-to-date knowledge and stay ahead of the crowd. Combining this with conscious reflection of the project work you have carried out could just give you the edge!
However you tackle your continuing development, I hope that you have found this article interesting and practical.
Many thanks to Robert Myers for his creative input and thorough review of this piece
Do you have any tips on how to develop as a BA? I’d love to hear them, please feel free to reply to this post, or contact me directly.