New BA Video Tips

http://www.youtube.com/user/Wyyzzk

I have set up a video channel for Business Analyst tips on YouTube.
There are 15 videos there at present including:

  • 5 steps to better use cases – parts 1 and 2
  • Business rules versus Technical Constraints
  • Use Stories versus User Cases
  • Business Analyst Career Paths
  • and 10 videos on how a BA would start to work on a project
  • There are 10 different project types, so 10 different videos

I’ll be adding more over time, so let me know if there is something you want me to make a video about!

Here is the link again:
http://www.youtube.com/user/Wyyzzk

Pass on the link to other BA’s you know.

Thinking about your BA Career

In the early part of each year, I often get a flurry of people writing to me to ask for career advice. I get questions such as:

  • Is Business Analyst a good career?
  • Which job is better, XXX or Business Analyst?
  • I have been a Business Analyst for XXX years, what can I do now?

I cannot really answer these questions because the answer depends on what you want for yourself. My answers are always suggestions of things to think about, so that you can find the best answer for you.  The suggestions are generally about career planning.

You need to spend some time thinking about what you want from your career. You can change your mind later, but you need to have some kind of career goal, or you have no basis for answering these kinds of questions.

I made a video that goes through quite a bit of information on common career paths. It gives you a lot to think about, so that you can choose what appeals to you in terms of a career goal.  You can find that video on Wyyzzk’s YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/Wyyzzk

Once you know what you want, the answers about whether or not to pursue a BA role or what you can do next become obvious.

The video does not cover every possibility and individual people have had some very different career paths. I have focused on careers within the corporate environment, because that is generally where you find BA positions. Of course there are exceptions – I know many people (including myself) who work as BA consultants and contractors. But that number is far smaller than the number of people working within corporations.

Becoming a Business Analyst

Author: Geri Schneider Winters

Many people contact me because they want to be a Business Analyst. They are often in another job currently and want to change roles. They want to know “What do I need to do to be considered for a Business Analyst position?”.

A good starting point is to look over the IIBA BABOK to see how the BA role is defined. What is a BA? What does a BA do? What skills is a BA expected to have?

Then review your own experience, compare it to the skills in the BABOK and make an inventory of the work you have done that is also Business Analyst work. Have you elicited requirements, managed information, facilitated meetings, or used tools such as requirements management, version control, or UML modeling tools? Do you analyze information in your current position?

You will use this information to tune your resume, highlighting your experience that is applicable to a Business Analyst role.

You will also use this information to find gaps in your knowledge. What are some basic skills you need that you may not have gained from experience?

You can study books and online material for the information you lack. A better idea is to take a course for Business Analysts with a teacher experienced in the BA role.  Not only will you gain the knowledge, but the teacher will give you work to do and evaluate that work, so you gain some experience as well.

Finally, look at the IIBA certifications for CCBA and CBAP. You may find that you qualify for one of those certifications. Completing the certification process shows you have a certain level of knowledge and experience as a BA, and shows that you are serious about your career.

 

 

Learning Facilitation

Author: Geri Schneider Winters

Meeting facilitation involves a number of skills, because your job is to guide the participants in addressing the topic of the meeting. If they need to make decisions, you guide them to make the decisions. If they need to brainstorm, you guide them in brainstorming exercises.

1. You have to be a really good listener and pay close attention to everyone.
2. You have to keep the goal of the meeting firmly in mind so you can make decisions such as: This topic needs to be addressed in a separate meeting, so stop the discussion and move on. OR This topic has been decided, so record the decision and move on. OR Some people have not given their input and I need to draw them out on this topic.
3. You need to be firm in managing the people – make sure one person is not doing all the talking. Make sure all people get a chance to express themselves (as appropriate).
4. You need to be disciplined to not get involved in the discussion and to make sure you have someone else working as scribe and taking notes.
5. You need to take care of details such as making sure a room or conference line is scheduled, creating and sending an agenda, sending invitations, making sure the important people can attend, and making sure everyone understands why he or she is at this meeting.
6. It helps a lot to be a calm, even tempered person, and to have confidence in yourself.

 

Have you trained to be a meeting facilitator? Where were you trained?
Have you worked with a trained meeting facilitator? Do you think the meeting worked better with a trained facilitator leading it?

Changing Jobs Inside Your Company

Author: Geri Schneider Winters

You want to find a new job, but you do not want to leave your company. You know the job you want to do, but are having a hard time convincing someone to let you do that job.

When I worked for Rational Software, in order to get greater responsibility, or a different job, I had to demonstrate that I could do the work required. Not talk about it, demonstrate it by doing it. I had the same experience at Lockheed Missiles and Space. This is a very effective approach to changing jobs within the same company.

The first step is to identify the job you want to do. Go through job descriptions, or write yourself a one page description of your desired job. Second, determine what manager you would be working for. This might be your current manager or someone else. Then, talk to your current manager, and the new manager, about what you want to do.

The best situation is if your manager is sympathetic and will help you move into the new position. In this case, schedule a meeting with your manager, explain what you want to do, and ask your manager to help you work out a plan for transitioning into the new job. If another manager is involved, include that manager in the discussions of the transition plan.

To create a transition plan, start with a job description, from your Human Resources department. Then write a plan to get the education and experience you do not currently have. This plan might include the need for additional training; getting experience doing the work of the new position; getting exposure to the right people who can support you in obtaining the new position; producing papers, articles, or presentations in the skills or knowledge of the new job; or training other people in the new skills (to demonstrate that you know them well enough to train others).

This transition into a new position might take one or two years. As long as you keep working on the plan, you will eventually achieve your goal. You should meet with your manager quarterly to make sure that you are doing the right thing, and to see if the plan needs to change. If another manager is involved, you should also meet with that person quarterly to report on progress, refine your plan, and develop a relationship with the new manager.

You may be wondering why your manager would help you move into a new job. I have found that most managers, and certainly the good ones, really like helping people better themselves. If you are motivated and hard working, your manager will probably be pleased to help you work your way into a new position. If that new position means you will be working for someone else, your manager may be sad to lose a good employee, but happy for you and your success.

What if your manager is not sympathetic and will not help you? Then you have a harder job of working on the transition by yourself. The first step is to get a copy of the job description of the job you want to do. You can find this in your Human Resources department. Then, make yourself a transition plan as I described above. In this situation, you will have to continue doing your current work to an excellent level, and also start doing the work of the new job. In your annual or semi-annual performance review, demonstrate to your manager that you have done you own job very well, and also that you have been doing the work of the other position. If the transition plan is lengthy, you can then propose to your manager that he or she help you complete the transition process. If you have already learned the new job, then propose to your manager that you move into the new position. If the new position is working for someone else, then you can approach the other manager and demonstrate to him or her that you have been doing the work of the new job. Then propose that you start working for the new manager.

By taking one of these approaches, in a year or two you will find that you have the skills you need for the new position. Hopefully, you have the support of your manager and can move into that new job. If you do not have the support of your manager, then you can go to his or her manager or your human resources department and present the case for a job change to them. In the worst case, you will have obtained the skills you need to look for the new job outside your company, so the time spent developing your new skills is not wasted.

Assuming that you are trying to transition into a Business Analyst job, here are some specific things you can do:

1. Volunteer to take notes at team meetings and distribute those notes to your team members after the meeting. This demonstrates that you listen well and can act as a scribe or interviewer.
2. Volunteer to facilitate team meetings, meetings with stakeholders, or discussion sessions. Be sure you do not participate, but act strictly as a facilitator.
3. Make friends with a Business Analyst in your company and volunteer to help with his or her work. Things that a BA might be happy to have help with include interviews, observations, JAD sessions (the BA could be either facilitator or scribe and you can take the other role), writing first drafts of requirements documents, and managing requirements. Be sure you are a helper and do not try to take over your friend’s job! Learn everything you can from this person.
4. Look for a large project, preferable one that has 2 or more Business Analysts working on the team. Volunteer to the project manager or the manager of the BA team to do some information gathering for the Business Analysts. This is the work of a Starter Project BA. If you do a good job doing a little work for the project, ask the project manager or the manager of the BA team if you can come onto the team as a Starter Project BA either half-time or full-time. Explain that your work will be to support the other BA’s on the team. Let the project manager or the manager of the BA team negotiate with your manager for your time. Learn everything you can from the other Business Analysts on the team.

 

Resume Hints

Author: Geri Schneider Winters

You need a resume when applying for a professional position such as Business Analyst. You do not have to list every possible job you have ever held in your resume. Rather, focus on the jobs that relate to the issues you addressed in your cover letter. Yes, I am suggesting you create a customized resume for each position, or type of position.

Those of us with many years’ experience often can do many different kinds of jobs. When you are applying for a particular kind of job, you will want to customize your cover letter and your resume for that kind of job. In this article, I am discussing a resume for a Business Analyst position. If you are applying for a Project Manager position, you would change the resume to be appropriate for that role. You want to focus the reader’s attention on what is relevant to the job you are applying for. This means for many highly skilled people, you will have multiple versions of your resume.

Be sure you have contact information listed at the top of your resume. This should include name and address, telephone, and email. Make it easy for the reader to find this information.

Then summarize your strengths in a way that sells them to the reader. Make a bulleted list of what you are looking for and your strengths. These items should also relate to the issues addressed in your cover letter, but in a more general way. You might have something like this:
• Self-directed, industrious, grounded Business Analyst is seeking to develop other Business Analysts in a cutting edge IT department
• Likes working with a wide variety of people in a wide variety of situations
• Committed to helping others succeed
• Hands-on, practical, with broad experience on a wide variety of projects

Next will be your list of job experience. List the job and your position. Then make a bulleted list of specific things you did and the benefits this brought to the company. This should be something like this:

County Jail. Relationship Manager.
• Developed sensitivity program for guards and inmates for a 75% reduction in number of guard/inmate incidents
• Developed stress management program for staff for a 25% reduction in sick days

Then list relevant education, certificates, and awards. You can end with something like: References available upon request.

 

An Outline of a Cover Letter

Author: Geri Schneider Winters

You need a cover letter for each job you apply for. The cover letter may be completely customized, or it might be the same letter with different headers. At the very least, your cover letter should be customized for the kind of job you are applying for.

Those of us with many years’ experience often can do many different kinds of jobs. When you are applying for a particular kind of job, you will want to customize your cover letter and your resume for that kind of job. In this article, I am discussing a cover letter for a Business Analyst position. If you are applying for a Project Manager position, you would change the cover letter to be appropriate for that role. You want to focus the reader’s attention on what is relevant to the job you are applying for.

Start the cover letter with your name, address, and contact information (telephone, email). Then put the name and address of the person you are writing to and the date. In your salutation, put the name of the person you are writing to. DO NOT put To Whom it May Concern. You should always be writing to a specific person.

In the preparation for this application, you made a list of issues faced by your potential employer. In the first paragraph of the cover letter, list the issues you want to address. You might have a sentence something like this:

Recently you and I have been discussing some issues you are facing on your project teams. You have had to deal with difficult stakeholders, incorrect or poorly written requirements, and poorly trained team members.

Or if this is someone you have not been talking to, the sentence might look like this:

As a Project Manager, there are many issues you face on your projects. You have had to deal with difficult stakeholders, incorrect or poorly written requirements, and poorly trained team members.

Now in the next paragraph, explain why you are writing. You might have a sentence something like this:

I am sending you this letter because you don’t want to have these problems on your current project. There are many other challenges you need to deal with. I can contribute my experience and training in relationship management, requirements writing, facilitation, and change management to create smoothly running projects.

Notice how I state specific things that address the issues from the first paragraph. You can follow this up with a bulleted list of 3-5 specific things from your resume that proves you have these skills. For example:
• As relationship manager for the county jail, I cut the level of incidents between guards and inmates by 75%
• On over 20 projects where I was the Business Analyst, there were 1% or less project issues related to the requirements
• I have mentored 15 Business Analyst during their work on a project team, improving the quality of their work by 50%

Then summarize other things about you that may be important to the project manager. Perhaps something like this:

I am self-directed and work closely with my Project Managers to ensure the projects run smoothly. I love working with all kinds of people and in all kinds of situations. I think on my feet, and quickly create solutions to problems as they arise. (I love problem solving so much, I work on logic problems every night, which drives my family crazy.)

Then write a closing sentence or two. Here you are writing a call-to-action, which means you are asking the person reading the letter to do something. Maybe something like this:

Please review the enclosed resume. I am happy to provide you with references or any further information you require. I look forward to hearing from you.

Finally, sign the letter. Some people suggest a PS after your signature, perhaps something like this:

P.S. If you do not have positions available at this time, but know of someone who does, please let me know. My email address is foo@foo.com

Here is one final tip: hand address the envelope. This makes your letter look personal, and means it is more likely to be opened.

 

Direct Marketing for an Outside Job

Author: Geri Schneider Winters

You want to find a Business Analyst position and do not want to stay at your current company. Maybe you are changing careers and are not finding success in sending a resume to a Human Resources department or in response to an ad. Or you have no job experience and no one will talk to you. You looked at my previous article Networking for an Outside Job, and realized that you had no network of professionals to help you find a job.

There is a lot of confusion in the marketplace about what a Business Analyst is. You have to think creatively about your job hunt. My best advice for finding a Business Analyst job is this: instead of looking for a job and applying for it, think about what the job is that you want to do. Then find a manger who needs someone to do that job, and approach the manager about hiring you to do that work. To find that manager, I suggest using tactics from Direct Marketing.

In this approach, you will assume there are certain issues being faced by a hiring manager. You will craft a cover letter and resume showing how your skills and experience solve those issues for the employer. This is not as powerful approach as the Networking Approach, because instead of finding out the actual issues faced by the manager, you are guessing at the issues. That just means you will send out many more resumes and cover letters in this approach. Both approaches are equally effective.

The first step is to describe the job you want to do. Do this for yourself one day – spend some time to write a one page description of the job you want to do. Reviewing job ads is a great way to get started on this. You will use this information to find companies to apply to.

Now, get a list of people who might hire you. You can go to www.zapdata.com, a list service owned by Dunn & Bradstreet to find US companies. There are similar services for Europe. At zapdata, you can set up a free account, enter your search criteria (which you got from describing the ideal job), then when you are happy, pay the fee, and download the list. What is in this list? It will be a list of people you specified, such as owners or senior managers, at the kinds of companies you specified.

Next, think about the issues a Project Manager faces on a project team. Very often, the people working on his or her team as Business Analysts are really Subject Matter Experts. They do not have the training or experience as a Business Analyst. What is the difference? A Subject Matter Expert (SME) knows his or her business area really well. But he or she may have little or no training or experience in conducting interviews, facilitating requirements gathering sessions, mediating disagreements, writing requirements in many different forms of documentation (so the SME does not know the best form to use to present information), managing change, or managing and reporting on requirements. The SME is usually much less efficient and complete when doing Business Analyst work. That means that project issues that should be discovered early in the project are discovered much later, when they are more expensive to fix. Or maybe the manager is working in a highly confrontational situation. Think about issues you have seen on project teams (or ask some friends) and add to this list.

Look at your background and experience and compare it to the list of issues. Which issues can you solve for the employer? You want to select a few that you know positively you are really good at handling. If you are really good at dealing with difficult people (and want to do that work), then that is an issue you want to pick from the list.

Write a cover letter that addresses the issues you have identified and why you are the best person for the job.

Look over your resume and be sure it is focused on the issues that are important to this manager. You do not have to list every bit of work you have ever done. No one will read all that. Instead, highlight the jobs that are relevant to the issues addressed in the cover letter.

Can you see how this could be more effective than sending copies of your resume to every human resources department and every ad, hoping someone will respond?

I heard of a research study where the best people in a company were asked to disguise their identities and submit job applications to their own company. Not one person was selected for an interview. And yet, these were the best people working for that company! This matches my own experience where I cannot get a job applying through human resources, and yet when I talk to the hiring managers directly, I have no trouble getting the position.

Yes, there is some cost associated with this approach. You may have to pay $150 or $200 for a list of 600 or so people, in addition to the cost of sending all the letters. In the Networking approach, you will spend more time looking for work. In the Direct Marketing approach, you will spend more money. Both approaches work, and you might trying doing both at the same time.

 

Networking for an Outside Job

Author: Geri Schneider Winters

You want to find a Business Analyst position and do not want to stay at your current company. Maybe you are changing careers and are not finding success in sending a resume to a Human Resources department or in response to an ad. Or you have no job experience and no one will talk to you.

There is a lot of confusion in the marketplace about what a Business Analyst is. You have to think creatively about your job hunt. My best advice for finding a Business Analyst job is this: instead of looking for a job and applying for it, think about what the job is that you want to do. Then find a manger who needs someone to do that job, and approach the manager about hiring you to do that work. To find that manager, I suggest networking with other software professionals, such as Business Analysts and Project Managers.

In the Networking Approach, you will find a manager with a need or issue. Then you will draft a cover letter and resume demonstrating how you can fill that need. This takes a lot of time, but means you will find a job that really matches your strengths.

The first step is to describe the job you want to do. Do this for yourself one day – spend some time to write a one page description of the job you want to do. Reviewing job ads is a great way to start. You will use this information to find companies to apply to.

Then, think about what company would have people doing the job you described. You need to research to find out the companies and departments, by browsing websites, asking friends, and using tools such as LinkedIn. Now that you know companies you could work for, approach friends, family, and professional networks to see if you know someone who could introduce you to a manager or employee in the company and department where you want to work. Start a conversation with that person about the issues they face in the department and the needs that are not being met.

Think about the issues a Project Manager faces on a project team. Very often, the people working on his or her team as Business Analysts are really Subject Matter Experts. They do not have the training or experience as a Business Analyst. What is the difference? A Subject Matter Expert (SME) knows his or her business area really well. But he or she may have little or no training or experience in conducting interviews, facilitating requirements gathering sessions, mediating disagreements, writing requirements in many different forms of documentation, managing change, or managing and reporting on requirements. The SME is usually much less efficient and complete when doing Business Analyst work. That means that project issues that should be discovered early in the project are discovered much later, when they are more expensive to fix. Or maybe the manager is working in a highly confrontational situation. There are many issues faced by Project Managers.

Take this list of issues and use them as a starting point to talk with the person you identified above. You want to find out which of those issues this particular person is facing, and make a list of those issues. Then look at your background and experience and compare it to the list of issues. Which issues can you solve for this person? You want to select a few that you know positively you are really good at handling. For example, if you are really good at dealing with difficult people (and want to do that work), then that is an issue you want to pick from the list. You may find that you are not a good fit for this particular person or company, and so will not apply for a job with him or her.

If this person and company are a good match for your background and experience, then apply to the manager to work for him or her. Write a cover letter that addresses the issues you have identified and why you are the best person for the job.

Look over your resume and be sure it is focused on the issues that are important to this manager. You do not have to list every bit of work you have ever done. No one will read all that. Instead, highlight the jobs that are relevant to the issues addressed in the cover letter.

If you have been talking with an employee, that person may be willing to submit your letter and resume to his or her manager. Many companies give preferences to employee submitted resumes and may even offer a bonus to the person who recommends you. If you have been talking with the manager, then send your letter and resume directly to the manager.

Yes, this is a lot of work. You have to think more about each place where you submit your letter and resume, and customize them for each position. You will try this with 6 to 10 companies, or maybe more. Can you see how this could be more effective than sending copies of your resume to every human resources department and every ad, hoping someone will respond?

I heard of a research study where the best people in a company were asked to disguise their identities and submit job applications to their own company. Not one person was selected for an interview. And yet, these were the best people working for that company! This matches my own experience where I cannot get a job applying through human resources, and yet when I talk to the hiring managers directly, I have no trouble getting the position.

In order to have a network of people to talk to about jobs at their company, you need to be known to other Business Analysts. I recommend participating in forums or meetings in Business Analyst communities. For example, join a local chapter of IIBA or spend time in the Prince 2 forums. This is a good way for other people to get to know you. Most of my career, my jobs have come from people who know me and want to work with me. So I can highly recommend becoming known to other Business Analysts and Project Managers.

Here are some specific things you can do:

1. Speak at a conference on a Business Analyst topic. If you do not know enough, find another Business Analyst (inside or outside your company), who you can partner with to do the presentation. Be sure your contact information is in the presentation, and bring a lot of business cards to the conference to give to people.
2. If you cannot get a speaking engagement, attend a conference where you can find other Business Analysts. Have plenty of business cards. Be sure to attend sessions of interest to Business Analysts. If there is a chance to participate, do so. Make sure other people notice you (in a good way). After the conference, keep in touch with people who gave you their business cards. Participate in any forums associated with the conference.
3. Participate in forums or groups on websites where Business Analysts are to be found. Ask intelligent questions, make sensible suggestions. Become known as someone who has useful things to say about Business Analyst topics.
4. In the USA, become active in your local IIBA chapter.
5. In Europe, become active in the Prince 2 forums.
6. Use Google alerts to get notified about Business Analyst positions. Create a Google Alert for Business Analyst. Many of the results you get will be job postings. This can help you find companies who hire Business Analysts. But look carefully at the ads, because many of them are listed by recruiters, not by the hiring company. You can try responding to the ad, though you are probably better off using the approach outlined in this article.
7. Use LinkedIn to find people inside the companies that you want to work for.
8. Build your professional network in LinkedIn and Plaxo.

 

The Senior Project Business Analyst – a job description

Author: Geri Schneider Winters

You probably have three or more years experience in some kind of job, and feel that you have mastered the skills of a Mid-range Project BA. You are looking for a position with more responsibility, where you can work more independently, and think you have the skills for a Senior Project Business Analyst.

Everything that a Starter and Mid-range Project Business Analyst does and knows applies to you as well. The skills build on each other, leading to positions of more responsibility over time.

If you are a Senior Project Business Analyst you work on a project team. This could be a software project, a business process improvement project, or many other kinds of projects. You are responsible for managing information and results, and leading people.

Like a Sheepherder, your specialty is sheparding the requirements through to results and providing leadership. Your job is to ensure that the project will meet the requirements by managing risk, managing change, and reporting on requirements status. When the project is delivering results to stakeholders, you will confirm that the results of the project meet the requirements. At the end of the project, you may be called upon to lead a Project Retrospective. You may also be called upon to mentor less experienced BA’s and possibly to manage small projects.

In addition to all the skills of a Mid-range Project Business Analyst, you need to be comfortable with a leadership role. Your responsibility is to ensure that the requirements are implemented to the stakeholders satisfaction, and that may require some firmness. You need to know when to stand your ground and when to give way. You will understand the need for change on a project, and will choose the appropriate level of requirements change control for each project. You will understand risks and priorities for the project requirements, and will ensure that those risks and priorities are understood by the project team. You may be called upon to manage the User Acceptance Tests of the project, where you and the stakeholders verify that the executing software meets the stakeholder needs. You will work closely with the Project Manager, and in some cases may be asked to be the Project Manager as well as the Project Business Analyst.

You are the mentor for the other BAs on the project team. A Project Manager or a BA Manager may mentor you to develop the skills of a Project Manager, if that is a career path you choose. You are expected to know what to do on the project team and to do the work without much direction. You work quite closely with the Project Manager and the Project (Solution) Architect as the leadership team for the project.

The most important skills for a Senior Project BA are:
• Leadership
• Negotiation
• Considerate Assertiveness
• Managing when you are not the manager
• Reporting Status
• Management of versions of information
• Risk Analysis
• Change Management Strategies

Technologies you should master are:
• Reporting
• Change Management
• Software Test tools
• The software created by the project team

The most important personal traits are:
• Honesty
• Kindness
• Empathy
• Being a good role model
• Being a good mentor
• Being a good leader