The Purpose behind Programs, Products, Projects, and Process

The business world is constantly buzzing with new ideas and technologies that affect products, projects, programs and processes. However, the biggest “P” is for purpose and profit. What is all this “P” buzz about and how does anyone begin to put all the pieces together to understand the big picture? The best analysts at all levels of any given organization will consider the purpose involved in refining the process in order to plan for the profits.

Every business has a strategy and this strategy is almost always associated to a number of programs that involve products or services that serve the organization’s purpose. The purpose is also part of the organization’s mission and the overall vision.

It is also important to know that there are two types of business sectors. In the private sector each organization works to achieve sales profits and customer satisfaction. In the public sector the government works to protect and serve its citizens. Now, let’s break these four Ps down into more detail.

Programs are part of the core of most organizations. They are the business initiatives or areas of concentrated focus where improvements can be made to leverage doing more business or doing better business. Whether the business is in the private sector or the public sector, the organization’s leadership will identify various areas to allocate funds for the improvements related to the enhancement, or delivery, of new products or services to generate more profit, or for transformation and growth of the organization. Programs and initiatives are put in place to align up to the overall business strategy and down to the customer satisfaction and success metrics.

Products or services – as a service can be called a product – all organizations differ based on the various industries. Whether a business is categorized as financial, manufacturing, educational, construction, or other there are always products and services that can be associated and will drive the organization’s need for success. In many organizations they employ product owners or product managers to facilitate the work that involves enhancing the product line and creating new products, or services, for increased revenue stream or increased savings. The product expert (owner or manager) will communicate the vision and ensure the best results are delivered from conception to implementation. Products and services live on until they are deemed useless.

Projects are revisited regularly – weekly, monthly, quarterly and annually –  to ensure that there is a return on investment aligned with the tracking of funds from research and development efforts through the various programs or initiatives. The project team is expected to meet the objectives and deliver the results so the organization can realize the benefits. In the private sector, projects are always meant to improve the products or services to gain more customers and/or shareholders. In the public sector, projects are intended to improve services through savings and proper use of taxpayer funds. Project in the public sector often deal with new programs or automating a tedious manual process to save time and money. Project managers are always in place to manage time, scope and budget. A project is intended to be a temporary endeavor; an endeavor with a specific timeline toward implementation and delivery.

Processes are what will make a difference regarding the effort. Improving processes save time and money and can sometimes save an organization millions of dollars. For a private sector organization it means making millions more by making a product or service the public wants and cannot find themselves living without. For the public sector, government offices and non-profits are anxious to serve their altruistic goals of serving humanity in the most effective and efficient way possible. To be effective and efficient leadership would respect the processes that they put in place and always look for ways to improve them. Processes are only as good as the people who live by them and follow them. The idea is to improve processes to a point of being highly optimized. Creating a repeatable process that everyone adheres to is the idea behind optimization. Processes are where the measurements and metrics prove the needed results for added value. Not everyone will like to follow the process. That is just the way people are, some like to be difficult. But difficulties can be overcome and remember, the process was created so that everything would get done in the shortest amount of time possible using the best methods – because time is money. So at the end of an effort everyone will be able to articulate the added value provided to the organization and why it was needed; or how it served a purpose and so everyone benefits. And if there is one more thing to be shared,  it is that all smart organizations document their processes.

To bring all these “P” words together is the big picture perspective of the business analyst. Every organization has leaders who will define the programs that sell, or share, the products/services using projects to improve the process for better optimization of the work effort, product performance and customer satisfaction.

Remember Peter Piper? Well, think of Peter as your leader. What if Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled products? How many pickled products did Peter Piper pick? He picked a peck. A peck is a unit of measurement equal to a dry measure of 8 quarts, or the fourth part of a bushel (this definition of a “peck” comes from Random House Dictionary). The point is that every organization has a way to measure success. The analyst will understand what is needed to measure the value added and ensure the needed reports for leadership.

The bottomline – Everyone involved from the top of the organization down needs to understand the importance of the organization’s products and services. When the leaders and the workers are aligned the work brings added value for the organization and the benefits are shared all around.

What? There is a Failure to Communicate?

Communication is at the core of everything we do. Being able to use our voices and words to communicate ideas, opinions, instructions, and how we feel is a wonderful thing.  Is it any wonder then that some managers believe that the “lack of communication” is the “main culprit” when it comes to the failure of some projects. Is the English language really to blame or is it something else? Communication is not as easy as some might think. Could we really be stumbling over our words or is it the way in which we use the words?

I am just fascinated by words and languages! According to the SIL (Summer Institute of Linguistics), an organization that has been tracking languages since the 19th century to translate The Bible, they have identified 6,909 distinct languages worldwide. And as of January 2015 there were 1,025,109 words in the English language alone. The Oxford English Dictionary contains 171,476 words in current use and 47,156 obsolete words. And when it comes to organizations and their lines of business the terminology might be a bit different depending on the culture. I agree that communication can be a very tricky thing!

This sort of concern becomes very serious when an organization is spending millions of dollars to implement a new solution to ensure continued success and growth. How can any organization grow if they are getting hung-up on their own language?

As a seasoned BA, I like to listen and ask a lot of questions. I like to start with some organizational research and then questions about the project life cycle and the various layers of communication in use with the project. That is why a glossary for terminology, acronyms, and organizational nomenclature is so important for any and all kinds of companies.

Whereas marketing and communication professionals know how important it is when crafting a message to their external customers – communication can be equally important internally – in other words, learning how to be a good communicator/messenger all around.

There are many things to think about when it comes to good communication. Here are six essential communication techniques:

1.)    Be clear and concise – as the simpler the message the quicker it can be comprehended

2.)    Make the information valuable – as the proper context can improve depth of knowledge

3.)    Share important details – as the details will make a difference regarding the results

4.)    Ensure consistency –  as to convey mixed messages can lead to chaos

5.)    Provide only what is necessary – as putting extra words “or noise” in any message will dilute it

6.)    Do the research and preparation – as preparation serves to achieve the goal(s)

Throughout history communication has been a problem – no matter what language is being used. Yet when the message being communicated is broken down and shared in comprehensive pieces it can become easier. Let’s take Moses for example he created a set of commandments for the people to follow, to bring order to their growing community. From my perspective Moses was the first BA to write a set of requirements in stone. Ha, ha….you may laugh! But really! He led with the word “shall” as that is much softer than “must” or “should.” “Thou shalt not lie” is just as basic as “The solution shall provide a way to calculate a sum total for each purchase.”

Now, I am not saying that we can compare ourselves to Moses….or maybe I am! What I am sure about is that Moses was one great communicator. Another man who earned a nickname as “The Great Communicator” was Ronald Reagan (all politics aside).

Ronald Reagan understood the basics of good communication. His style had everything to do with the delivery, tone of voice and the choice of words but the biggest impact came with knowing the content. He wrote that “I wasn’t a great communicator, but I communicated great things, and they didn’t spring full bloom from my brow, they came from the heart of a great nation.” Reagan communicated thoughtfully and with a prepared voice ensuring that the people could feel connected to his message. In other words….he told them what they wanted to hear and needed to hear.

When Reagan wrote his presidential memoirs he told of how he gathered his speechwriters together and told them that he wanted them to use a basic template. The message was to be twenty minutes long and they were to follow a simple format;

  1. Tell them what you’re going to tell them
  2. …then tell them
  3. …and then tell them what you’ve told them

This strategy of Reagan’s is brilliant because it is so simple. This is a bit different though from what a company president once shared with me; “if you say it to them once, say it three times!” It is a great approach to use repetition in order to execute better communication. Work it into your conversation…it does not need to be a matter of restating a sales order three times in a row. Just for clarity ask for permission to restate the instructions to gain a positive confirmation.

So, if you follow these easy steps it most likely will improve communication for your next project. Unless of course you run into that terrible prison official type from the movie “Cool Hand Luke” who is just waiting to say, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” (Poor Luke, he was stuck in a prison for robbing a parking meter. And the prison official wanted him dead.) I certainly hope that none of you are in that situation, but I would be weary and strive to practice better communication skills.

These communication tips and the use of repetition can also be applied to life in general, as we all take steps to achieve our goals. Remember to manage communication thoughtfully, keep it simple, be consistent with the delivery method and fulfilling the needs of the audience, and then reflect on what was achieved. This is what we do in our daily lives with each and every thing we say and it applies to all great leaders, managers and BAs as they communicate progress and the successes that make businesses better, customers happier and nations great.

We hope you liked these insights! Let us know what you are thinking! Thanks for all your comments!

Mini, Gini, and Vini

Big Data and Business Intelligence: Riding the Revolution of Relativity and Resilience

Part of the excitement of being a BA is understanding leadership’s vision for organizational evolution and success. That success is often times all about realizing the opportunities at hand in relation to the organization’s data. Getting at that data is the tricky part.

When Einstein created his “Theory of Relativity” it was just that, a theory. It took years before his theory would be proven to show the relationships between time and space. It is the same way with project work, there is the idea and in relation to the project goals and objectives there is the need to prove the expected results.

The other  tricky part is in getting others to agree that the data, or the findings, mean something. It is no secret to the world of analysis how easy it is to have two people look at the same data and perceive two totally different stories. That is what makes the role of the BA so exciting, as it is full of challenges that can make a difference. It is also a bit scary as there are so many unknowns. Plus, there is more data available today than ever before and the amount of digital information in the world is more than doubling every two years.

Because business analysis involves “doing analysis”, knowing what data to use as well as what possibilities reside in the data is often a challenge. Understanding the concept of BI (Business Intelligence) can reveal plenty of useful information to the skilled analyst – information that is all relative – as the story the data tells is all in the way that the analyst connects the dots.

Understanding how to handle Big Data can take a BA to places they never thought existed.  However, there are differing opinions when it comes to using data to glean information. There are those who would question the significance of BI, who claim the data is “dirty” or “stale”.  So “Is Business Intelligence an oxymoron or is Big Data and BI really the wave of the future?”

The term “Big Data” surfaced as a result of all the massive amounts of data that were being stored. This affected the need for bigger storage capacity as time went by and which, because of its size, became more difficult to analyze and manage using the same old database tools.

The definition of Big Data is a bit more pragmatic, as it can be described as that vast frontier of information that every organization has the ability to cultivate and aggregate. It is comprised of the three “Vs”; volume, velocity and varieties of data that are considered to be too large, as it changes too quickly, and it is often unstructured. It is this same data that needs to be stored, processed, and accessed in order to make an organization more effective in operations, more strategic in its decision-making, more financially responsible, and more thoughtful when reducing risk and serving customers.

BI (Business Intelligence) is defined a bit differently. It is “the set of techniques and tools for the transformation of raw data into meaningful and useful information for business analysis purposes.” In fact, the idea that “intelligence” can be derived from data is pretty amazing – as data can reveal new insights toward solving problems and offer up amazing solutions.

There are six ways of utilizing business intelligence:

–   Discovering new perspectives and trends in the industry
–   Dashboards to drill into reporting aspects and managing metrics
–   Operational maturity (repeatable processes need to be in place)
–   Multi-dimensional analytics (slice-dice/pivot tables)
–   Mobile BI
–   Alerts and notifications

The utilization of business intelligence is the first step in defining real business value. By utilizing the data the data begins to make connections on its own. Take the Google search engine for instance, the data is being indexed alphabetically, when you trigger a search the engine does all the work, connecting the dots by indexing keywords to  provide answers to the question.

There are few things that out live humans; those things are music, literature, and art… and then there is data. Data is likely to outlive everyone. But, just like art, data does not have any meaning unless someone discovers it and gives it meaning.

Einstein’s Theory of Relativity was given meaning and importance only when several other astronomers discovered a way to prove it by using mathematics and data from a series of eclipses.

Since the beginning of time mankind has been interested in discovering patterns. Another example is the patterns of the stars in the night sky and how the creation of zodiacs mean something to the viewers, but the constellations change as a result of different perspectives depending on the hemisphere in which the stars are observed.  There are patterns in weather, patterns in language, patterns in animal and human behavior, patterns in geology and the formation of rocks, and it goes on and on. Now the world of analysis is exploding with the patterns discovered in the combination of data sets.

The business demands of today are constantly looking to find new customers and see what trends are evolving. For that reason an organization might look to hire a Data Scientist, or a statistician…yet, every analyst could be that scientist by becoming more aware of how important the data is to its organization.

The folks coming out of MBA programs are the new data analysts.  Academia has taken the time to train these students on the latest technologies and greatest revelations concerning innovation. These students are learning and trying out the newest tools for building dashboards, retrospective analytics, pivot table comparisons, predictive analytics for discovering trends, rapid processing of parallel data streams, and more. Which makes BI is every bit as exciting as watching the stars in the night sky! Because, it is all about spinning the data, discovering the patterns to determine a model, and arriving at a way to support all that hypothetical and critical thinking…all the “What ifs!”

Today, data experts are using the term “mashup”, which is a combination of data sets to achieve a particular goal. Mashups have also been defined as a type of technique that uses multiple sources of web-based data to make any project concept more meaningful. In other words the data was just sitting there – all alone – yet when it was merged with other data it suddenly had new meaning.

Here is a fun mashup example that comes from an open government data gala held in California. This gala was a government app contest targeting innovative uses of refreshed state data which included over 400 major data sources and millions of public records. There were five winners, one of which was called “California Cage Fight” and it allowed state residents to compare county data pertaining to population growth, per capita income, unemployment, and new housing developments, in comparison to any other county across the State of California. Just choose the two counties to compare and a graph would display providing the type of information the user wanted to know.

These mashups are techniques that BAs were not able to use ten years ago because the data wasn’t there and neither were the tools to manage the data, query the data, and compile it, let alone the ability to store all that data.

There are so many career opportunities for a business analyst, and these opportunities – just like the data – will keep on growing. It is all a matter of what the BA wants to make of their career. The future of business analysis is full of possibilities. These possibilities span the needs of every industry, and every level of government, organizations both big and small (public and private), career ladders both high and wide, and the data sits in the center of it all.

For financial analysts, sports analysts, insurance and risk management analysts, political analysts, business analysts, web analysts – and so many more types of analysts – the data is just waiting for new discoveries to be made.  The potential to find the answer to all those organizational unsolved mysteries – those so called “problems” or “opportunities” – is sitting inside all that relative data.

Along with the relationships that are discovered between various data sources there is the movement toward resiliency. Resiliency is the new path for essential technologies, it goes hand in hand with innovation as companies are choosing to evolve as their customer demands evolve. And being able to trust the data is a big deal. In organizations with fewer than 20 unique data sources there is 70% confidence level in the data. As the number of unique data sources increase the confidence level goes down. However, where data governance and good Master Data Management efforts exist valuable information can be shared with the executives quickly and can make the difference in four out of five times.

Technology plays a big role with the newest trends in data management and reporting. And these trends are leading to mini revolutions in the workplace….freeing up employees in ways that change lives. The business demands that utilize these trends span from digital data to cloud redundancy to mobile device technologies using GIS/GPS geospatial location-aware devices – all of which deal with data. That is why it is so important to be resilient as that data will also be resilient. Playing with the data can result in telling stories to further organizational success and encourage organizational resiliency as the “information age” marches forward in to the “age of data mashups” where the master data analyst brings the data together to deliver the “punch”  to give the data meaning.

Innovate or Die?

Innovation is a popular topic among many leaders these days, even though it has made its mark in history from as far back as the invention of the wheel and the discovery of fire. Innovation has also been the central catalyst of invention and change for many Fortune 500 companies over the last 100 years. Minnesota is home to many innovative companies; 3M, General Mills, and Medtronic just to name a few. To some of these companies invention and change are integrated in to their culture.

However, there are many other companies that routinely enhance their products and services by spending millions on research and development efforts to only produce something that is obvious or mainstream. Yet the true innovator knows that real invention takes place beyond the obvious. Henry Ford once said, “If I had asked the people what they wanted – they would have said faster horses.” So, what makes some organizations more ready for innovation than others?

First, it is important to understand what innovation is. Innovation is defined as “something new” or “the introduction of a new thing or method.” It is impossible to know how many new inventions occurred in 2013. But, the research shows that had over 1 Million visitors to its web site over the last year and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has had an increase of 6.6 times more the submissions in design patents since 1965.

While 3M created a wonderful business model that embraced innovation from every angle; starting initially with the manufacturing of various types of sandpaper and evolving to create adhesives, Post-It Notes, reflective materials, and even moonboots with chemical adverse soles. General Mills’ inventive thinkers created the first “Space Food Sticks” for NASA astronauts back in 1962 and today they host an all weekend event to engage their internal employees in an “intrapreneurship”; a three day event to create new ideas which are then presented to leadership. As for Medtronic, they have established a new Innovation Center of Excellence in Shanghai, China to showcase all their medical devices.

In order to get a closer look at innovation from the viewpoint of the experts let’s focus on several key web related inventions from the last few years. Twitter is perhaps the most phenomenal social media brand on the web today and its stock just went public. Who knew that a small boy from Detroit who was fascinated with the short and fast dispatch messages from the emergency arena could lend the same service to the broader public?  Jack Dorsey knew as he developed his business model to show that the 140 character limitation, based on his dispatch messaging research, could be beneficial and fun for everyone in the entire world.

Likewise, there was Kevin Systrom who worked at Google for several years. Upon leaving Google he co-founded Instagram in 2012. Instagram is a service for sharing instant photos with messages to the web. Systrom sold it to Facebook for $1 Billion in cash and stock.

These examples clarify a great deal when it comes to understanding the difference between innovation and strategy, or whether innovation is embedded in an organization’s overall strategy or not. While strategy is often confined to changes that result in better “value” to the customers through making better business choices. Innovation is more about discovering that next best thing, a thing we didn’t even know we needed until there was that eureka moment of discovery… that moment when the team realized that what they created would be of value to others. While both innovation and strategy are associated with vision, only innovation brings about something extraordinary.

Many organizations realize that innovation is a means to address new ways to be more effective and efficient. Yet, on the other hand they also realize that as one problem is solved it creates space for another. Yet, these changes often bring about optimizations that lend toward increased levels of organizational maturity. And in an organization that continues to evolve and change that ability to adapt is key, as innovation brings out the tools that provide the means and not an end.

Keeping things as simple as possible is the primary rule when it comes to innovation.  Another rule is remembering that the idea of learning while doing is part of the grand picture; a picture that allows for full transparency of the entire project from the point of access to sponsorship to visibility in the market. Plus, recent research around innovation has uncovered that too many layers of hierarchy often leads to the beginning of failure.

Many innovation organizations know that they have to watch for those predictable benefits today while also watching for the unpredictive benefits of tomorrow as those unusual unexpected ideas surface out of the same black hole as those planned expected ideas. Companies like Google know that innovation is liberating, empowering, that it scales down hierarchy, and that it generates productivity along with dissatisfaction of the “status quo”.

The organization’s ability to believe in itself, to do good work for a good reason, is where innovation becomes a bit ambiguous. As often only half of all companies who attempt to be innovative feel their company’s culture supported their innovation strategy.

In fact, for innovation to work, it is imperative that everyone agrees that innovation is important to the organization.  The private sector knows this better than the public sector, as the private sector has that extra incentive known as “competition” to deal with. Where the public sector will always be there to offer products and services to the citizens, the private sector companies could be here today and gone tomorrow; like Blockbuster, Kodak, and US Steel.

Trying to embed innovation in a culture that never felt innovative is a big challenge. Generally, there are only two things that can really bring significant change to an organization’s culture. One is to change the organizations foundational platform and reform everything. The other is to gain full support of the top executives; every chief who is a leader: CEO, CIO, COO, CFO….needs to convey that message of innovation.

The other big concern, that most organizations find challenging, is the fact that when you create an open innovation forum the organization may fail. Failure is a big concern because no one wants to fail, and like all the other barriers that come as part of the next challenge, failing is often considered to be one of those things that are important to avoid. Avoiding failure is not an approach that works well.

When wanting to innovate, the organization that accepts failure and learns to adapt to what is being learned is going to realize more success. Often it is all about having that conversation, what does success look like? If we do not achieve the result needed for success, is it a failure? Failure needs to be part of the Innovation picture, just like success is.

Is it fair to say, the organization’s culture will be a culture of risk and innovation, or it will be a culture of no risk and no innovation? Or can we say that there will be degrees of failure, just as there are degrees of success? It is, after all, all a matter of what is culturally acceptable. Edison said he failed hundreds of times before he found the right filament for what is now known as the light bulb (which is an icon symbol for ideas). So, to answer what makes some organizations more ready for innovation than others? It is their willingness to look upon failure as a moment for discovery.

Estimation Frustration!!!

The world of project estimates is a bit mystifying and to some it can be down-right frustrating! Depending on what the organizational culture is like, a conversation around task assignment and the estimated time it will take to complete the task are often very interesting conversations. There is even a mindset floating around out there that it is best to just give in and call it SWAG – a Silly Wild Ass Guess – but, how does anyone arrive at a good sound estimate if everyone  thinks they are guessing?

When management asks for an estimate, they are not looking for a silly wild ass guess. They want good estimates. However, sometimes there is confusion regarding the meaning of the word “estimate” and the word “budget.” Estimating is defined as a technique for forecasting the cost and effort associated with a task. Estimates are basically created to provide an informed assessment related to an event. Project Managers are used to doing estimates all the time for construction projects and software projects, as they need to know those tangibles associated to time, resources, and materials when it comes to their budget. Budgets are determined based on the cost estimates. Once a budget is set, it is best leave it be.

The very word estimate implies that there is a thoughtful process behind the numbers that are based on available facts. The dictionary definition states that estimates are used “to calculate the approximate amount or extent of something,” or “to evaluate.”

Estimates are interesting because the estimate arrived at depends on the depth of understanding and experience of the estimator. Likewise, good estimates also rely on managements “buy-in” and confidence regarding the approach. Once the approach is decided upon all the fear melts away and the basic groundwork is in place to achieve success.

However, there are many different ways to do an estimate. Without knowing the variety of ways to achieve a decent estimate can sometimes lead project teams down a very slippery slope. So, if the task is to get a two million dollar project delivered in time to satisfy federal regulators , and there is a task to provide development estimates to complete the project, what is the best way to make those estimates?

Even the language of estimates is slippery. When there are terms like “top-down”, “bottom-up”, “analogous”, “parametric”, “three-point”, “what-if”, “apportionment”, and “Delphi” one has to be able to navigate the ambiguity of it all. Figuring out which approach your organization is most comfortable with is only half the equation. The rest is all about those interesting conversations.

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Unified Process Practices Guide regarding project estimates there are a variety of techniques that can be used.

  • Top- Down  – very high-level, provides more of a “ball-park” estimate
  • Bottom-up  – very detailed pieces of work which are then aggregated into the total
  • Analogous  – expert judgment, based on historical information from similar projects
  • Parametric  – manage independent variables such as design specifications to describe the scope of the work
  • Three-Point  – uses a weighted average of three types of estimates to create  a formula to gain a weighted average, also known as the PERT (Program Evaluation and Review Technique) chart
  • What-if Analysis –  uses scenarios to evaluate the effects of changing various factors depending on project schedule, resources, scope, and quality
  • Dephi method – principle is centered around the “collective intelligence” to make decisions and determine forecasting aspects also known as Estimate-Talk- Estimate (ETE) or mini-Delphi used for a structured forecasting approach

Then there are some additional methods listed as best practices in the BA Body of Knowledge Guide.

  • Rolling Wave – uses a refinement of estimation tasks as one iteration leads into another
  • Historic Analysis –uses history as a basis for estimating
  • Expert Judgment – uses the expertise of those who perform the work

The aforementioned SWAG  is not listed, as the SWAG approach only tends to defeat the purpose. A guess is a guess… it is not an estimate, as a guess is not based on any sort of informed assessment. A true estimate takes in to consideration the experts understanding of the overall effort. To get to a decent estimate it helps to lay the groundwork, know the culture, understand the acceptable techniques, and define the overall approach. All of those aspects will bring meaning to any estimate.

As stated earlier, when trying to figure out an approach toward making estimates it is a good idea to consult management. To add to that, some organizations like to talk about “percent of confidence” or a “contingency factor.” Sometimes the discussion regarding an approach can happen as part of a project team and sometimes the estimates are elicited in a silo, it totally depends on the culture of the organization.

Plus, many large companies have something called a “capability model,” these organizations are pretty mature and they know how to arrive at decent estimates. But if a capability model is not part of the organization’s vocabulary it is best to follow the direction provided by management and the Project Manager.

Where “Time” is all about the various resources needed and how long it takes to get something done, “Materials” are all about the tools, equipment, and supplies needed to deliver on the customer’s expectations. There is the thoughtful approach to each task, as the granite countertops would not be applied to the counters prior to installing the counter cabinets.  Just like the roof of a house would not be added without the main walls and framework being built first.  The idea is that by doing estimations there are expectations being set, dependencies foreseen, and risks identified regarding the timeline for completion!

Good estimates are attainable, but only when there is a level of comfort and confidence in the estimate itself. Recognizing a good thoughtful approach will lead all good analysts to gain traction on that slippery slope called “estimation frustration.”

The Nebulous Nature of Leadership

By M. Duvernet

Leadership has many faces, from teachers, to organizational executives, to the President of the United States, and we look up to our leaders for various reasons. One big reason is to be a part of something larger than ourselves, to find meaning and purpose within the various communities of practice; whatever the practice might be. In fact, based on some recent research by the statistical scientists at Gallup Poll, it was discovered that the likelihood of everyone getting more than one opportunity to lead during their lifetime has a 97% chance; an enormous stochastic percentage. So, why is it that it seems that fewer get a chance to lead?

It is the nebulous nature of leadership. When it comes to the definition of leadership, one could call Dorothy a leader as she headed down the yellow brick road. Meeting more characters as she went and inviting them on her journey to the Land of Oz. She led them on a mission of discovery that was deeply rooted in their sense of self. Along the way each character was put into a situation that challenged them to grow. How did Dorothy gather these followers? It was mostly due to the needs of each character; Dorothy inspired them with hope that they might find a solution to their needs at the end of the yellow brick road in the Land of Oz.

This same story has been told in many different ways since the beginning of time. What people look for in a leader depends upon their own needs. Communities of practice can focus on many different domains; religion, industry, products, services, professions, and more. According to a variety of references, academic publications and Forbes articles concerning this topic, there are three basic qualities that are inherent to good leadership.

The three basic qualities inherent to leadership are:

1)      Continual commitment to becoming more competent
2)      Comprehensive understanding of team building, and ways to maximize teams
3)      Clear understanding around the needs of the followers

These qualities cover a very board range of leaders. All of whom have one thing in common, that is the pursuit of something; happiness, success, freedom, and more. Everyone wants something, largely to feel fulfilled in some way. Part of this puzzle is acknowledging our own abilities and utilizing them to face both the personal and professional challenges presented to us.

Do you recognize your strengths and use them every day?

Upon getting to Oz, what did all the characters learn? Dorothy and her friends learned that they had the ability within themselves from the very start; they just needed a situation to challenge them and someone else to recognize the strengths they already possessed. The Wizard of Oz recognized the strengths of the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Woodsman and the Empty-headed Scarecrow and presented them with awards to commemorate their accomplishments – which increased their confidence and inspired them to change their perspective of themselves.

One thing is certain, that leadership at any level is a challenge that requires different kinds of preparation. To that point, here are seven simple insights that are fundamental to leadership.

1)      To be able to inspire, one must know how to motivate
2)      To be able to communicate, one must know the message and the audience
3)      To be able to connect on various levels, one must practice civility
4)      To be perceived as fair, one must be open minded
5)      To be able to delegate, one must know how to enable and empower others
6)      To be appreciated, one must find ways to be grateful
7)      To understand the needs of others, one must listen, listen, listen

Many of these insights are appropriate to maintaining any sort of relationship, whether it concerns friends, family, co-workers, management, or even the general public. Leadership can sometimes even be inconspicuous to its host, as Dorothy never called herself a leader, her only wish was to find her way back home. Yet, she would never have gotten caught up in that tornado if she had not run away from home to save her little dog Toto. Dorothy was compelled to make a choice about what was most important to her.

Likewise, in the rest of the story entitled “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” (published in 1900), the author; L. Frank Baum, masterfully chose three areas where the other three characters have opportunities to grow. The lion was all about the courage to believe in something and the ability to promote and honor the cause, the woodsman was tired of being cold as metal and only wanted to have a heart and be able to empathize, and the scarecrow was all about becoming knowledgeable; where he thought he had nothing but a head full of straw, he came to realize that he actually knew something. These are the same sort of desires felt by many, as it is a shared desire to make some impact on the world, to contribute in some way and feel some measure of achievement. This desire is also what drives us to lead in whatever capacity possible depending on the opportunity presented.

These possibilities are endless, and the opportunities are everywhere. It is all about the pursuit of something worthwhile; whether it is happiness, excellence, truth, courage, knowledge, or compassion, whatever it is… it is all about attaining it.

So, if leadership is all about the pursuit of happiness, then the other side of the coin must be apathy; or in the words of Shakespeare “to be, or not to be, that is the question.” Of course, happiness means different things to different people. Different perspectives foster different values. Yet, where it may seem that good leaders are hard to find, in reality they are hiding among us. For anonymity has its benefits, just like James Bond might convey, sometimes to be recognized for your abilities can work against you. Many leaders just want to go about doing good things to make sure that good things happen, they take on another persona to maintain privacy, and as masked superheroes they get no recognition or glory. So, when it comes to realizing the significance of that whooping 97% percentile, look around and know that you are surrounded by many natural born leaders.

Storytelling Techniques for Capturing Effective Requirements!

By M. Duvernet

Since the beginning of time mankind has enjoyed a good storyteller. A story that is simple and compelling can change lives and offer new perspectives on solving problems that the listener, or reader, may never have otherwise considered.  Stories provide a view of someone else’s challenges and ways in which a series of events can either make for a tragic end, or show how certain choices can make things right. Telling a good story is the best way to convey a message to inspire. So, as a business analyst what does the process of building a narrative do when trying to put a voice to the business needs as requirements are captured and documented?

Just like the abilities of a capable business analyst, the power of a good narrative is not something to underestimate. The fully competent business analyst understands their role and the importance of providing everything the project stakeholders are expecting, even if the stakeholders don’t know what that is. It is a discovery process sometimes for everyone, as believe it or not, many organizations lack the leadership to be responsible to the business.

According to an article entitled “The Power of the Narrative” by “” this lack of responsibility is an inherent problem for many companies as sometimes middle management does not have the vision that those at the executive level might. Often times business analysts are faced with businesses that do not even know what their processes are. In this type of situation the requirements effort can end tragically, going millions over budget, or facing failure…or in the hands of a competent analyst the effort can realize success and thus, a happy ending.

In the American Heritage Dictionary, the term “Requirement” is defined as “something that is required; necessary, obligatory; prerequisite.” However, getting at the requirements does not always render a solution. There is so much more that has to be managed, from communication channels to realistic estimates and deadlines.

The same “” article declares that as we all are consumers of information and as we have become more inundated with information, we have also become more inattentive. This is somewhat alarming, as throughout history people have always been interested in becoming more knowledgeable. So, how is it, that in an age when we have information at our fingertips we make a conscious decision to “neglect” the information? Perhaps it is because we have become confused about all that information, confused about what to believe and what not to believe. As business analysts it is part of our role to filter through all that information and hopefully find the “root cause,” the “source system of truth” or just the plain old truth; as expected in a good story.

But, getting at that truth is what inspires! If there is any sort of truth to the opportunities of doing more business, it is management’s objective to provide a vision to show the way, which will foster pride in the workplace, improve moral, and create optimism for growth. Good leaders know the power of the narrative, the power of storytelling.

As business analysts we can easily consider ourselves storytellers, for telling a story is a sure way to grab everyone’s attention. So let’s take a look at how to leverage the structure of storytelling to reinforce capturing and documenting requirements.

First one needs to understand the four steps involved in eliciting and capturing requirements:

Step 1: Business Case – Stakeholders create the business case, making a case will enable the business to improve organizational value.
Step 2: Elicitation – Often begins with stakeholder conversations in regard to the business needs (doing some research regarding the organization’s products and/or services is important to good elicitation.)
Step 3: Analyzing Requirements – Prioritization and organization of requirements as they are documented help to specify certain details and remove any ambiguity as completion deadlines loom.
Step 4: Verification and Validation – Making sure that the requirements map to the business needs and they can be traced toward valued results and back to initial business needs as approved by the stakeholders.

As for the basic story structure there are also four parts:

Part 1: The Beginning – Map out the story line by setting the stage and introducing the characters (The story line has scope, goals, and objectives pertaining to “the story value/concept”, while the characters are the stakeholders and their business processes and/or systems have assumptions and risks that add suspense.)
Part 2: The Body – Where there is suspense, there is conflict. What are the problem(s) and the opportunities? (The needs are defined, requirements begin to take shape.)
Part 3: The Climax – There is a point where the story builds in intensity toward a solution. (The business rules are described in detail along with any data attributes toward prescribing what data or results will prove the “value” essential to success.)
Part 4: The Resolution – Solution to the conflict, end of story. (The solution is described in detail, the results are traceable and viable, approvers have signed off, and end results fit the business needs.)

Using the structural story arch to simplify the task of writing requirements can be fun! The complexity and chances of getting “lost in the weeds” that are present with any project, fall by the wayside. Being able to simplify the task of capturing requirements offers an opportunity to strip away that complexity. Even if the requirements are epic in proportion thinking about the four major parts of story structure can aide in constructing the requirements documentation that will be most useful, gleaning only those necessary business needs in a clear, concise, and consistent manner.

As business analysts, we all know the importance of ensuring that our requirements be verifiable, clear, concise, complete, consistent, traceable, viable, and necessary, we also know that this never happens all at once. It takes several drafts to reach a state where all the stakeholders could confirm that the requirements documentation is indeed complete. The only thing any analyst can do is try to make sure that no useful information is neglected and that all the stakeholders remain “attentive.”

That Creepy Thing Called Scope Creep; the Six Steps of Planning and Monitoring to Calm That Creepy Feeling

By M. Duvernet

Oh, the constant fear of the unknown! It is like every main character in any movie – scary or not – when the character ventures to make a choice or open the door to “who knows what?” Nobody can know everything, yet what we do know is important, and applying what we know is what will help get us beyond those unknowns. Just like the movie directors who draw out those storyboards to gain perspectives of the various camera shots, the analyst has to figure out what will be involved in all the project tasks believed to be in scope. Yet, figuring out scope is just the beginning, the rest is all about making it part of the plan and monitoring progress, or is there more to it than that?

Those looming unknowns can only begin to take on shape when the analyst delves into the details, understanding more about the culture of the organization and what sort of documentation has been done in the past. That is why most project work begins with a business case, or a program charter, where the project’s scope is already defined. To further understand scope there is usually some sort of problem statement, or identified opportunity, to supply an overall vision for the work to be done.

Getting a grasp of everything that is a known factor for success is important to any plan. However, one of the most challenging areas of business analysis is figuring out what to plan for in order to set expectations and identify the needed deliverables, so that there is some way to monitor overall team performance toward project success. Just like anyone else blazing a career path, business analysts are expected to become more proficient in their skills as they gain experience.

Planning and monitoring is perhaps the most complex knowledge area in the BABOK® 3.0 (Business Analysis Body of Knowledge). It is Chapter 2 in the BABOK and it covers every business analysis aspect from approach, to understanding stakeholders, to requirements, to processes, to communication, and finally performance. Chapter 2 is 32 pages long, the longest chapter specific to a single knowledge area. While planning is essential to project success, the monitoring piece is associated with overall performance, all of which is a collaborative effort executed by the project team. Sitting at the core of that team is the relationship between the project manager and the business analyst.

Whatever the business climate, or culture, the business analyst needs to approach a project plan by setting some expectations. But this is where things get tricky, as the expectations have to be practical and manageable, as expectations are to be managed thoughtfully to ensure success. However, often times these expectations are besieged by that creepy thing called “scope creep.”

To combat “scope creep” proactive teams often figure out how to identify quick wins and recognize collaborative opportunities where buy-in from all the participants will bring value to their tasks, as well as the deadlines for delivery. The business analyst does not want to be set up to fail, no one does! However, the business analyst and the project manager will often be the ones watching out for scope creep. The very idea of planning is to provide steps for success and define the increments toward that success. It is all a matter of having that important team discussion, to be led by the project manager on behalf of the project sponsor. By defining the expectations the vision takes on more clarity and the definition of success becomes more comprehensive. By creating a collaborative project plan everyone on the team has a stake in the success of the project and everyone becomes accountable to the team to perform to the best of their abilities.

Fundamentally, there are eight questions to answer when creating a project plan.
1.) Who are the stakeholders?
2.) What are the roles held by each stakeholder?
3.) When it comes to the project plan, what estimates are assigned to the various tasks?
4.) What will be communicated to the stakeholders and when, to ensure project progress?
5.) Where do the requirements fit in to the plan and when does the analyst engage the SMEs for prioritization and traceability efforts?
6.) Who will determine what deliverables the analyst is expected to produce?
7.) What process(es) are changing, and who is the expert?
8.) Where can we get the metrics for the current process(es) in order to show improvement?

With all of this in mind, some have even suggested that business analysts need their own methodology, but that is somewhat impractical as there are so many facets to the factors of analysis. The definition of “methodology” is centered round a set process, and there is no one set process to analysis. In fact, there are so many “if this, then this” scenarios depending on the culture of the organization that the processes involved with these facets could be written into infinity. So, to simplify all the aspects around managing scope – to be ready for any unknowns – all we can do is create a plan, then monitor progress of the plan as well as the performance of the project players. The six tasks associated to planning and monitoring, as defined by the BABOK® 2.0 are:

Step 1: Plan approach; define scope, methodology and framework
Step 2: Conduct stakeholder analysis; identify subject matter experts
Step 3: Plan BA activities; tasks and deliverables
Step 4: Plan various communications; communications across various teams, management levels and governance
Step 5: Plan Requirements elicitation and management process; toward achieving sign-off and re-use
Step 6: Manage BA performance; this suggests that the BA maintain quality relationships to ensure project progress and success

This is a monumental task and it cannot be done well without involving the project team, or at least a core sub-set. In some organizations there is a belief that the BA needs to be managed by the project manager. While the project manager is very concerned with time, scope, and budget, their primary concern is the project, this implies that they also manage the team. However, to manage a team, there needs to be a mutual respect among all the stakeholders and agreements regarding estimates and deadlines. If a timeline is unreasonable the PM needs to hear the reality and discover ways in which the team can accomplish the goals and objectives to realize success, even if it is a small success. If the plan is created independently by the project manager, without business analyst buy-in, feelings of uncertainty will surface and any positive team dynamics could evaporate.

Just like in any other project the plan maps out all the “What’s” regarding tasks. The task involving requirements qualify all the “What’s” regarding business, and/or functional, needs; pertaining to definitions, rules, data attributes, system constraints, and quality to ensure valued results. While writing requirements may be rather tedious, it is beneficial to ensure that all the inputs are mapped to outputs and all the outputs are exactly what the business wanted. If some of these aspects are forgotten, or if someone feels they want to control the expectations beyond what is achievable, that is a creepy situation indeed. That is when scope creep can turn ugly. Regardless, the best defense is to make sure that the sponsor and/or executive management is well-informed, instead of uninformed, and as communication is step 4 of the 6 above, there likely will be fewer unknowns to deal with as scope is maintained and project constraints prevail. So while we, as business analysts, may not know everything, what we don’t know, we are eager to learn from others and the willingness to learn is what counts. The bottom line is: To keep that creepy thing called scope creep away, keep focused on the stakeholder goals and communicate, communicate, communicate!

BA Problem Solving; Advancing Your Career by Learning “Lean” and “Six Sigma”

 By M. Duvernet

When a job description for a Business Analyst is accompanied by a few lines regarding minimum qualifications, it is pretty fundamental to expect to see the basic line requesting “excellent verbal and written communication skills,“ as well as “problem solving abilities to create and implement effective solutions.” These two basic needs are necessary to any level business analyst.

Yet, as many analysts know, there are all sorts of wonderful opportunities along the BA career path as the IIBA® Business Analyst Competency Model suggests.  The question is what skills would enable a person to have an advantage over other business analysts?  There are two ways to heighten one’s level of competency. Those two ways involve learning the value of “Lean” and “Six Sigma.”

By learning about “Lean” or “Six Sigma” one can begin to understand the big picture business perspective in a pinch, as these concepts promise to intensify proficiencies toward becoming a top notch analyst. While the concept of “Lean” is about reducing defects, the concept of “Six Sigma” is all about seeing patterns in the data; understanding what is measurable and metrics. These concepts are important to the organizational growth and success of all businesses and it is these “in-demand” skills that will take a person further in their business analyst career.

If one takes a holistic view of the basic objectives of “Lean” it is all centered around avoiding waste and reducing defects; to learn from previous missteps when producing products that are intended for the consumer. Yet, even before 1988, when John Krafeik wrote his article entitled “Triumph of the Lean Production System,” or before Henry Ford included the elimination of defects in his “Just-in-time manufacturing” construction of the assembly line, Benjamin Franklin packaged some examples regarding common sense in his “Poor Richard’s Almanac.” Franklin coined the phrase, “a penny saved, is a penny earned” and the ratio of investment compared to consumer demand in relation to a specific price point per product, or service, became an instant formula for success. It is rather interesting to find that Benjamin Franklin, as a man of many talents, also recognized the importance of common sense and packaged it in the simplest way possible so that everyone could understand it and profit from its benefits.

While “Lean” is all about uncovering defects, or waste – whether it be time and/or money – in a given process, or processes. The concept of “Six Sigma” is all about a business management strategy which seeks to improve the quality of the process outputs.

Historically, Motorola (an Illinois based company) is credited with conceiving the concept of “Six Sigma” as a business management strategy. As the story goes, a senior executive named Art Sundry took a pragmatic look at Motorola’s poor product quality in the 1970’s and he began to share his notions that there were connections between increases in quality and decreases in costs of production. It was not an easy sell, as the mindset back then was that quality costs extra money. However, common sense prevailed, as management understood that if you build good products, you have a greater likelihood of customers returning to buy more products.

By 1986 the “Six Sigma” methodology was formalized by Bill Smith and it is, to this day, a registered service mark and trademark of Motorola Inc. It also has served to inspire all sorts of other experts regarding Total Quality Management (TQM); experts like Deming, Ishikawa, and Taguchi. Plus, it laid the foundation for process improvement methodologies, the likes of Information Technology Infrastructure Library, known as ITIL.

As for the more rudimentary details, the “Six” in “Six Sigma” it is derived from the sigma rating corresponding to “yield” (an internal rate of return: IRR) directly related to the percentage of defect-free products created. This process is known to have 99.99966% of products manufactured to be free of defects (3.4 defects per million) a number based on thorough statistical research and a desire to provide a baseline for organizational maturity. To elaborate further, the notion is that if one has six standard deviations between the process “mean” (mean is an alternate word for “average”) and the nearest specification limit, it is expected that no items will fail to meet specifications. This is how “Six Sigma” became so important to the world of doing business.

Another big picture leader of “Sigma” is Jack Welch; CEO of General Electric, who from 1981 to 2001 escalated GE’s value – as a high performing company – by a whopping 4000% (and yes, that is a 4 followed by three zeros).

Today, many practitioners have combined the concepts of “Lean” and “Six Sigma” to create a new methodology known as “Lean Six Sigma.” This “Lean Six Sigma” carries the same principles of process improvement to further promote the importance of reaching optimal organizational maturity by achieving business and operational excellence.

Many Fortune 500 companies offer training in these areas to their internal employees. It is part of management’s job to provide opportunities for growth and career advancement. Offering these training classes suggests that the goal is to plant the seed of innovation in order to further strengthen the production of better products and/or services. It also provides a vehicle for better understanding standards in software development toward achieving sales goals and functions that define an organization’s service delivery.

In organizations where “Lean” is part of the culture there are efforts to provide every internal employee the ability to become a trained “Kaizen Facilitator.” In other companies – that are financial industry powerhouses – there is the effort to promote the certification of “Six Sigma Green Belts” to give every employee a basic understanding of the six sigma methods, so they can watch for opportunities to better the business. As for the “Six Sigma Black Belt” training, this is a more in-depth training opportunity to demonstrate cost savings and identify CBAs (Cost-benefit Analysis) related to an organization’s processes. All of which need careful planning, managerial buy-in, and expert execution to implement cost savings as expected. These certifications are complete when a Black Belt shows a savings of $250,000, or more. At which point they are designated a Master Black Belt expert, which adds expertise to anyone’s resume.

Of all the business organizations, and entrepreneurs, who look to provide better options to consumers or to improve on effectiveness and efficiencies in the business world, every single one of them understands the importance of having a business strategy behind the “numbers” that will help them define the overarching value needed. As every business owner knows, they are a major stakeholder when it comes to composing a convincing business plan, or business case, to show the looming potential that awaits the organization’s product(s) or service(s).

The very first thing when it comes to defining a business strategy for all new, and growing, businesses is to define the problem, so that a solution can be created. A good example of showing how an entrepreneur saw an opportunity to capitalize – where another business was not listening to their customers – is the Redbox and/or Netflix, in comparison to Blockbuster. Where Blockbuster was making a big profit on customer “late fees”, both Redbox and Netflix, recognized the cost to the customer and thus offered an alternative where “late fees” where not even part of the business strategy. Blockbuster had to totally rethink their business strategy and now they have fewer stores with an option to order both movies and games online.

Other examples of how manufacturers have used both “Lean” and “Six Sigma” to plan their approaches to process improvement and workforce management are all around us. Many of them are utilizing the benefits brought about by the ever-changing evolution of leading edge technologies. Benefits that came about as someone recognized a defect, or areas of overproduction, or transportation alternatives based on changes in routing, time wasted because of waiting, or limitations related to inventory constraints or excess, or cost of services in motion, and possibilities of over-processing of processes.

There are four things to learn from both “Lean” and “Six Sigma” that can add to the competency levels of any business analyst. Those things are:

–       How to apply Lean Six Sigma concepts to service-related processes
–       How to reduce defects and unnecessary waste
–       How to discover and define process improvement toward better business strategies
–       How to promote organizational value by increasing customer satisfaction

While the IIBA® Competency Model is full of good information regarding the various career paths that every analyst may achieve, the role is assigned a title based on organizational context (as titles can differ based on organizational structures). No matter what the title, the main thing to remember is that all the roles are focused on the work that the business analyst does and the value derived as a result of the work. As every career option outlined in the model is based on three different role categories; Generalist, Specialist, and the Hybrid, the model does not stop there. It suggests, that when it comes to the level of competencies acquired, representing those competencies are key to fulfilling the various roles. And where one may begin as a novice level BA, there is no limit to the places one can go… for the BA landscape is full of possibilities. That while the ladder of success may only have so many rungs to it, the potential to go anywhere exists; including Enterprise Architect or CEO. The bottomline: If you want to improve your competency level learn “Lean” and/or “Six Sigma.”

Problem Solving the BA Way

 By M. Duvernet

One of the best qualities of every business analyst is the eagerness and determination to want to solve a problem; for in many industries the business analyst is known as the “senior problem-solver.” In order to solve these problems the seasoned BA will have various ways in determining what recommendations would qualify as possible solutions, they will most likely know what key questions to ask and who would have the answers. While the less experienced business analyst will do their best to collaborate in order to determine a solution. Yet, in both instances the likelihood of success depends on the competency levels of the analyst.

One of the most beneficial ways to determine the cause of any problem is to listen to the customer, listen to the way in which the customer describes their problem. The most fun any analyst can have is by pretending to be the customer. For one of the most well-known techniques of an analyst is putting themselves in their customer’s shoes, trying to see the problem from their perspective and then analyzing a way to overcome the problems. So, as a business analyst, how can you discover new ways to solve all types of problems? First, let’s take a look at some very interesting problem-solvers.

Perhaps one of the most interesting problem-solvers of all time is Benjamin Franklin. Aside from being one of the founding fathers of the United States of America, he was a wonderful inventor and business man. One of the ways in which he made a lucrative livelihood was by publishing “Poor Richard’s Almanac,” an annual pamphlet that compiled historical weather data across the American colonies to distinguish possible patterns of planting and harvesting opportunities for the farmers. All of this data was tied to the yearly calendar and there were also poems, and astrological information around the actual time of sunrise and sunset based on the previous year, etc. The print runs for the publication were upwards of 10,000 copies annually and every farmer wanted one.

Another example of a good problem-solver is the inventor of the cash register. His name was Ritty, and although he is not as well-known as Benjamin Franklin, his invention made a big impact on the retail industry. Ritty was a clever saloon-owner from Dayton, Ohio who realized one day that his sales clerks were pilfering profits from the store cash drawer. With an idea in mind, Ritty set to work just after the civil war, and in 1879 he revealed his invention to the world.

Ritty’s model consisted of a machine with a cash drawer that would “ding” every time there was a sale, so that he would be notified of the sale as he worked the store and helped his customers. Presumably, it is also to Ritty’s credit that we owe the idea of odd pricing, as all items with a .49 cent or .99 cent price tag would cause the clerks to open the cash register to make change, thus declaring the sale with a loud “ding” or “ka -ching.” Honestly, you can bet that every item in that store had such a price tag. Today we use “ka-ching” in every day conversation to signify getting rich.

Remember that old saying: “Necessity is the mother of invention” and likewise, necessity is also the reasoning behind all kinds of problem solving. You may ask yourself, “Just how necessary is it that we solve this problem?” If it means more profits for your business it might be wise to get serious, and start finding innovative ways to overcome the problem. The trick is to understand the problem, as some problems are symptoms of other problems. 

Some of the most complex problems in our world today involve cash handling and banking services. Banks today are scrambling to get as many customers as possible to use as many of their services as possible. As banks grow larger, their assets increase in value, and when those assets increase they discover they need to change the service fees associated to those services to keep their shareholders happy. What a great line of work to be in! But, banks have had their own history of problems. There was always the risk of being robbed, fearful of another depression, and not so long ago bank employees used to fear being fired if their daily receipts did not balance out correctly. As anyone who has ever had to close out a till will tell you, the till does not always balance out correctly with the daily receipts. As a bank clerk it is your responsibility to balance out your till. At certain banks, if you reported a till that was under or over the amount you started with based on the daily transactions, you could be fired. To avoid being fired, workers created something known as “petty cash” – found money that could be tapped into and applied to anything – and in tight situations “petty cash” would always be handy to balance the till. But as time went on these “petty cash” pots grew, who knew that banks would get so greedy. Being greedy is a problem, and that is why there are compliance regulations and auditors.

Unfortunately, there is never a big red arrow pointing at the problem, it is the business analyst’s job to peel back all those layers of information and uncover the real problem. Whatever the skill level is of the business analyst who is engaged, it is the analyst’s responsibility to help the customer and learn from the experience, acquiring the knowledge and the skills to become highly effective in their role as the years mount up. Becoming more and more proficient and professional as their wealth of knowledge grows more and more mature.

For when it comes to maturing one’s BA abilities there are plenty of resources to turn to, one is the Business Analyst Manifesto:

Out of chaos, we create order.
Out of disagreement, we create alignment.
Out of ambiguity, we create clarity.
But most of all, we create positive change for the organizations we serve.

This manifesto is all about manifesting the needs of an organization so that it can gracefully be transformed into the organization it wants to be. The business analyst is the catalyst for positive change, they help teams – big and small – evolve to become more efficient and effective from the inside out. The problem-solving doesn’t stop there. For every expert problem-solver is always on the look-out for the next problem. Even if it comes to learning some new techniques, or skills, to improve the likelihood of your own success.

So ask yourself, “How competent am I?” To find some answers a good resource is the IIBA® Competency Model. It can help to define some characteristics or abilities that could make you more effective. It will show you “the BA way” by focusing on aspects like:

–       Ways to determine the best possible solution to prove the desired value

–       Ways to align the needed values with qualified results

–       Ways to determine the necessary needs to achieve the goals

–       Ways to make the business believe in their solution


The focus on the abilities of a BA comes with experience, and organizations recognize this. However it does not mean that your own individual development is based on the number of years you have been a BA. It is based on the overall understanding and skill levels demonstrated to produce the artifacts that will help in the cause at hand. The end result is always bigger than expected, just like “Poor Richard’s Almanac” is still published today, with more statistics and data as every year goes by, new data is revealed to aide in agricultural planning. Just as Benjamin Franklin understood the importance of being able to focus on the work in the course of solving a problem, but back then he never knew he was doing it the “BA Way.”