Does Your Business Analyst Do This? They Should!

Ipswich, Waterfront, Ipswich Campus, The Big Question Mark Sculpture

Does Your Business Analyst Do This? They Should!

I’m sorry, the data we have to pull from in that category is not accurate and the last thing I want to do is give you bad data to make important decisions from.

I hate those words.

No, not the part about wanting to give someone bad data. The part about data not being accurate.

As a Business Analyst, data is the gateway to improvement. If the gateway is hanging from the hinges, the improvement could get a little rocky or, even worse, not happen due to a massive collapse. While data is absolutely important, that is not the point of this post. You see, I would not have known exactly which category the data needed to come from if I didn’t ask questions.

A ton of questions.

No, seriously. Probably more questions than most people want to deal with.

Why do you ask so many questions?

Well, I’m so glad you asked (see what I did there?).

It happens every time. About 5 questions in and I get the eye roll.

How far back did you want the data to go?

Do you have a list of products you want me to investigate in particular?

Are the ones you are concerned with the red ones or the blue ones?

Would it be correct to say that we should consider all product that should have been created in this certain assembly line?

Are you concerned with revenue orders only, internal only, or do you need both sets of data?

See, right there. By the time we get to that question, the sigh comes out and the eyeballs begin peeling upward toward the ceiling.

This is why requirements gathering is so important for Business Analysts. In order to provide high quality data and the proper analysis of that data, it is imperative to understand what data needs to be pulled, an idea of what the end user is expecting as output, and to know what is available in the data lake you have to work with.

Asking to understand

Now don’t get me wrong. Asking questions just for the sake of asking is never a good idea. This is a quick way to get a lot of people upset with you.

Asking to understand, on the other hand, is an important skill for Business Analysts to have. Without the ability to collect specific requirements one of three things can happen:

  1. The wrong data gets pulled all together – in the instance above, internal data was needed, but there is a good chance revenue data would have been what was provided since the internal data is not accurate.
  2. The correct data is used but with the wrong parameters – again, in the example above, the product from the single assembly line was needed, but there are many different lines that assemble the same product.
  3. The information, usually by sheer happenstance, is provided correctly. This only happens when the request is so broad that it would be like trying to throw a pea over the Grand Canyon…into a headwind.

Oddly enough, there is a fourth possibility and those Business Analysts who often ask a lot of questions already know exactly where I am going with this.

On occasion, as the questions press a little deeper each round, it becomes painfully obvious that the person asking for the data has no idea what they are looking for. At this point, asking more questions can do one of two things – either help them to clarify their own understanding of what data is needed, or just confuse them more and you end up running in circles trying to get something pulled together to resemble the abstract image they have laid before you.

Proceed with caution.

How to ask better questions

So, Business Analysts should ask questions.

Lots of questions.

For the sake of gathering requirements.

And while you may have to endure the eye roll, those who are getting your analysis will be eternally grateful to get the right data, how they want it, in a way that is instantly useful and insightful for them. In order to do this, we must get better at asking questions.

Here are 3 ways to ask better questions:

  1. Keep them open – If your questions are open ended (not ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers) then it allows for the requester to verbally walk through their thought process. Open ended questions are great for clarifying thoughts because it may come to light that the data they are looking for is rather contradictory or it overlaps.
  2. Ask for clarification – Repeat back the request in your own words to make sure you have all the requirements correct. If you can gather the requirements and relay it back to them, not only does it allow them to hear it another way, it demonstrates you actually know and understand the ask.
  3. Listen – Yes. Listen. This is not a passive skill. Active listening is one of the greatest way to ask better questions. If you are actively listening to the requirements (and not thinking ahead) you will be able to spot the gaps in the request. Combining active listening with your knowledge of the data you are working with allows the Business Analyst to contribute to the discussion through questions rather than just writing down a bunch of bullet points only to have to revisit the conversation days or weeks down the road when it is not as fresh.

What are your tips for asking better questions?

Or even better, let’s hear your story about asking tons of questions (as you should!).

image via Martin Pettitt

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