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


10 Business Analyst Blogs You Need To Follow

10 Business Analyst Blogs You Need To Follow

One way to be a better Business Analyst is to learn from others who are rocking it out and are sharing information. The intro is short to this one, but the content is exponentially useful. Check out the blogs listed below and feel free to add in your suggestions down in the comments!

  1. Adrian Reed’s Blog – Adrian is based in the UK and his writing style is informative, insightful, and engaging. Want a good example – check out his post on turbulence and data!
  2. BA Mentor – While it is technically not a blog, this sight is run by a small group of seasoned BAs who love what they do. Their articles are always helpful, especially when you are looking to sit for the CBAP and CCBA.
  3. BA Times – This is a must-read for any BA. The group of authors who write for BA Times have over 155 years of experience collectively. Wisdom, anyone?
  4. Bridging the Gap – Laura Brandenburg is just awesome. That’s really all there is to it. You should listen to what she says and bask in her knowledge. Plus, she is pretty darn funny, too. Laura has tons of resources for the BA career and I hope to one day be at least half as impactful to the BA community as she has been to my career (even though she probably doesn’t know it).
  5. Business Analyst Learnings – Your one-stop-shop for BA resources. With timely blog posts and a wealth of practical knowledge, BAL is top notch for learning about the BA field. You could literally spend months combing through all the content and still not reach the end.
  6. IIBA – The group that wrote the book (BABOK) probably has a lot of knowledge to share. Just sayin’.
  7. Modern Analyst – With awesome forums, a thriving community and articles out the wahzoo, the Modern Analyst is the place to be. While they are not strictly BA intensive, it is awesome to get a view from other related analysis fields. Stop in, meet some folks and start networking with other analysts today.
  8. Practical Analyst – With a tag line of “Practical Insights for Business Problem Solvers,” what’s not to love about this? Jonathan started his blog for much the same reason as I have begun this one – to get better at business analysis while helping others to do the same.
  9. Practical Requirements Management – Run by the awesome folks at Accompa, Inc., PRM is dedicated to one of the biggest tasks BAs deal with on a day-to-day basis – Requirements Management. Sure is a good thing they don’t monkey around (at least not too much, anyway).
  10. Seilevel Blog – Coming from a software requirements standpoint, the Seilevel Blog is a hard-hitting repository for everything requirements-related. If you have a requirement question, here is where to find the answer.

Well, there you have it. Short and sweet today. What did I leave out? Did I miss any important blogs that have helped you with your BA career? Let me know down in the comments so I can add them to my list!

What is a Business Analyst?

What is a Business Analyst?

big-data_conew1 via luckey-sunThere is no way to completely define what a Business Analyst is other than to say, rather broadly, that it is someone who performs business analysis. This definition opens up a large gap that now needs to be carefully filled in and will most likely not be completed in this one blog post.

It would be a huge overstatement to say that anyone can perform business analysis as it does take a special set of skills to shoulder the weight and responsibility that comes with the practice of proper business analysis. Anyone can hit refresh on a report, but a true Business Analyst can make the data come to life in a way that makes sense to many different levels of an organization.

Project Management Institute (PMI) recently put out an initial draft of Business Analysis for Practitioners: A Practice Guide, and detail out what they call a “partial list” of the important skills needed for those who are performing business analysis:

  • Analytical skills,
  • Business and industry knowledge,
  • Communication skills, including strong business writing and verbal communication skills,
  • Conflict management,
  • Creative and critical thinking,
  • Cultural awareness,
  • Decision making,
  • Facilitation,
  • Familiarity with multiple project and development methodologies,
  • Influence,
  • Issue management skills,
  • Leadership skills,
  • Learning skills,
  • Negotiation skills,
  • Organizational skills,
  • Political awareness,
  • Presentation skills,
  • Problem solving,
  • Systems thinking,
  • Technical awareness, and
  • Availability to work effectively in a team environment, including virtual teams.

Sure, that seems like a long list, and it is a great place to start.

What’s in it for me?

If those are some of the individual skills needed for proper business analysis, then what benefits do Business Analysts bring to the companies they work for?

PMI concludes that when a Business Analyst does their job correctly, projects and programs can expect the following results:

  • High-quality requirements are produced resulting in the development of products and services that meet customer expectations;
  • Stakeholders are more engaged in the process and buy-in is more readily achieved;
  • Projects are more likely to be delivered on time, within scope, and within budget;
  • Implemented solutions deliver business value and meet stakeholder needs; and
  • Organizations develop competencies in business analysis that are reusable for future projects.

All of that to say that when Business Analysts do a good job, the company has the insights to make revenue-impacting decisions. These decisions could lead to innovation and innovation leads to more publicity and increased sales.

Of course, the company could just make bad decisions, even though the analysis is tight and right on mark, and that will happen from time to time. As a good Business Analyst, you get to gather more current data and begin working again to help direct the company through change and improvement.

Great Business Analysts are in high demand. Those who can not only crunch numbers, but look out at the horizon of the industry, notice a shift coming and be able to either guide the company in that direction or put up a detour sign because the bridge is out ahead. Without dedicated Business Analysts, data would have no meaning, projects would lack direction, and companies would fumble around in the dark hoping to stumble upon the next big thing.

Where do I go from here?

Well, you are starting in the right place. Knowledge and community. That’s what Your Business Analyst Guide is all about – giving you the most relevant knowledge to do a better job tomorrow than you did today, and a assembling a group of people who are dedicated to the art of Business Analysis to support you, be a sounding board for ideas, and answer questions.

Look for other blogs on this same topic, or closely related topics (like Data Analysts, Financial Analysts, or Operations Analysts). Seek out podcasts and books that will help you learn about the field and what kind of people thrive. But don’t just stop there. Holding on to knowledge will get you no where. You need to begin applying that knowledge. After all, we learn by mistakes and failures. If you are not applying what you know and seeing if it actually works, how will you know if we are telling you the truth?

Sure, soak it all in. Ask questions and get to know some of the folks in the field. But don’t just keep it here. Go help others understand what proper business analysis is and is not. And usher in innovation by bringing people and data together.

Keep the conversation going!

Are you a seasoned Business Analyst? What other skills would you add to PMI’s list above? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

New to the idea of business analysis as a field? Introduce yourself below and share what you find most exciting about it.

image via luckey-sun

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