Managing Up

I was pleased when Geri asked me to write a guest post about managing up. I think it is an important skill that everyone should cultivate, regardless of job level or industry. The following post skims the surface–I look forward to any questions or comments you may have so we can expand the conversation.  -Jen

One of the most important skills any professional can have is that of “managing up,” or Managing Your Manager. While the idea of managing the person who is supposed to manage you may sound contrary, you can also think of it as a beneficial outcome to communication, demonstrated professional integrity, and good consulting skills.

Managing up also is a form of visibility, or presence. As workplaces and teams span locations and more of us work remotely, it is important to remain visible in a positive way. Being top of mind (and showing how responsible, consistent, and good your communication skills are) is a great way to get considered for successively more interesting or challenging projects. Plus, you’re helping to ensure that your manager isn’t caught off-guard when it comes to you or your projects, and that often translates to more latitude (or less micro-managing).

What is it, really?

Managing up will sound like your boss is going to get more out of it than you will. In the short term, that’s probably true. A big part of managing up is to help your manager look good by keeping him apprised of what’s going on with you, your projects, and the team. The benefit to you is that people appreciate it when their staff–or teammates–help them look good. You get the benefit of people wanting you on their teams and the good professional reputation you’ll build in the process.

  • It is a tangible demonstration of your professional integrity. In his book “Selling the Invisible: A Field Guide to Modern Marketing”, author Harry Beckwith states, “Invest in and religiously preach integrity. It is the heart of your brand. The heart of a service brand – the element without which the brand cannot live – is the integrity of the company and its employees. The value of any brand rises or falls with each demonstration of the company’s integrity.” (p. 155). In this case, rather than thinking of the “company” brand, think of it as your personal brand–the value of your brand rises or falls with each demonstration of your integrity. Giving your boss a heads-up when something didn’t go well, reporting what you have been and will be working on (without it being required), and telling the truth are all demonstrations of personal integrity.
  • Your manager should always be able to answer the question, “What is Judy/the team/the department working on?”. By proactively providing this information, you are helping your manager to look good to his/her peers or boss – and that’s always a good thing.
  • Your manager should never be caught off guard by hearing project news from someone else. Especially if it’s bad news! If something transpires that may result in a call to your boss, make sure he or she hears about it first from you, and not when they are cornered in the company cafeteria or restroom. It may be very uncomfortable to deliver bad news to your boss, but it’s guaranteed to be even less comfortable if they hear about it from someone else–and look uninformed or not in control of their staff/team in the process. By hearing about it before having to have a conversation, they can be better informed and prepared for any conversations that may arise–or have the opportunity to be proactive and nip a potential issue in the bud.
  • Managing up isn’t just for the little guys. This is one skill you’ll always need – everybody has a boss, even if it’s the Board of Directors.

How do I do it?

You might be wondering how this managing-up thing works and how it’s accomplished. Here are a few suggestions based on my own time-tested practices:

  • Provide a weekly status report, even if one isn’t required. Especially, in fact, if one isn’t required. It can be a simple email or one-page document that lists:

– What you accomplished that week

– Any issues or roadblocks

– What you’re working on in the coming week

  • Provide an as-needed update, especially if something significant happens relative to a project. If good or bad news comes up for a project, let them know right away–no need to wait for your weekly status report.
  • Keep it short. The point isn’t to over-burden your managers with minutia. If they want more information, they’ll ask for it.
  • Keep your tone professional. Managing up isn’t about competing with others, it’s about being professional and helping your boss to look good.

Here are a few examples from my own experience and that of friends:

  • “Hey, Jane–I just had a meeting with the stakeholders from Underwriting. They were not happy with the process we’re suggesting for (whatever).” (As business analysts, this will happen, probably more than we’d like it to.)
  • “Hey, Jane–I just met with Customer Service – they were really pleased with ….” (Stop in and deliver some good news, too – especially if something goes better than expected.)
  • “Hi, Stan, here’s some info you’re going to need. You don’t need to go over it now, but you’ll want to have it on hand.” (This was from a friend who works in a contentious engineering environment. After a meeting, he dropped off crucial numbers at his supervisor’s desk. His supervisor was then prepared to deal with the irate visitor he had thirty minutes later.)
  • “Do you have a minute? I was just in a meeting with Art from Accounting and I really lost my patience with him. I want to let you know before you get a phone call.” (Awkward? You bet. But not as awkward as getting called into your boss’s office after s/he gets a phone call from Art or Art’s manager. For best results, be sure you take responsibility for your actions, and let your manager know what you plan to do to remedy the situation. Or, ask for suggestions on the best way to deal with the individual. No matter what sort of jerk the other person may be, you will always look good by taking responsibility for yourself and behaving professionally, which is to say, not whining or blaming.)

Managing up takes some discipline and some courage. You will find that it improves your personal brand and over time is well worth the effort. This is a long-term career investment; get started today!

Starting, mid-range, and Senior Business Analysts

Author: Geri Schneider Winters

I have been thinking a lot recently about what I would expect if I were hiring a Business Analyst.  My expectations are very different if the person is a starting Business Analyst, or someone with a few years experience, or someone very senior.

For a starting Business Analyst, I would expect the person to be able to elicit, organize, and verify information with the project stakeholders. Notice I do not say to elicit requirements, but rather to elicit information. I think it takes more experience to be able to determine what the actual requirements are, and this requires a person to be skilled in analysis techniques. The starting Business Analyst should have strong communication skills – listening, speaking, and writing – with people who have a wide variety of personalities and knowledge bases. I expect to spend more time with a starting Business Analyst, reviewing his or her work, guiding, and mentoring.

I expect my mid-range Business Analyst to have strong analysis skills. This person needs to be able to review a lot of information, determine the actual requirements and their priorities, write the requirements in the most appropriate form for the project, and manage the requirements throughout the project lifecycle.  The mid-range Business Analyst will take on more leadership activities, and will be more self-directed. I expect to spend less time with the mid-range Business Analyst.

I think that a senior Business Analyst will be more of a specialist. This person might decide to become more of a project manager, or might focus on human/computer interaction, or develop more technical skills to work more closely with the development team. The senior Business Analyst will be completely self-directed.

Employers tend to focus heavily on subject matter expertise, which in practice I have found to be the least important part of my job. There are plenty of Subject Matter Experts (SME) at any company, and I work closely with them. As a Business Analyst, I am really a communication expert, and I have been extremely effective in that role in many companies. But it can be hard to sell yourself to an employer that way, especially at the beginning, so developing subject matter expertise in order to get your foot in the door is a good plan.

Keep in mind that the point of a Business Analyst job is not the subject matter expertise. Rather, work to develop good Business Analyst skills of elicitation, analysis, communication, and management of information and people. This will allow you to more easily transition jobs in the future, because your work is not dependent on a particular industry.

 

Think about the Business Analyst job. What do the best Business Analysts do? What is a good transition path from starting through senior level positions?

 

Who Runs a Software Project?

Author: Geri Schneider Winters

I work on a lot of really large software projects.  Over the years, it has become clear to me that three roles, and the interactions between people in those roles, are really vital for the success of a software project. These three roles are the Project Manager, Business Analyst, and Project Architect. This article discusses these three roles and their interactions.

The Project Manager is responsible for interactions with the Project Sponsor, and for managing the people, budget, and schedules of the project. The Business Analyst is responsible for determining the goals and business requirements of the project, communicating that information to the project team and project stakeholders, and verifying that the goals and business requirements are met. The Project Architect is responsible for determining the technical requirements of the project, interacting with Enterprise Groups to determine Enterprise level technical requirements for the project, and for guiding the technical team in the implementation. Decisions made by one of these people will impact the work of the others, so all three people work closely together throughout the project to accomplish the goals of the project.

In a very small project, the three roles may be filled by one person. In very large projects, each role may be a lead over a team of people who fill the role.  There could be a Project Manager managing a group of  assistant Project Managers, a Lead Business Analyst managing a team of Business Analysts, and a Project Architect managing a team of Software Architects and Designers.  This is not theory – I have often worked on projects large enough to require teams of people to fill these roles.

In this approach of sharing the project leadership between three roles, the Project Manager is ultimately responsible for the success of the project. The Business Analyst and the Project Architect report to the Project Manager, but being senior members of the team, they will often interact with the Project Manager as peers, each bringing a particular viewpoint and set of concerns to their meetings about the project.

The Project Manager, Business Analyst, and Project Architect meet regularly (at least weekly) to talk about the project and any issues that need to be addressed. Some issues will be resolved by one role, while others may require the collaboration of all three roles to resolve. It is important to the project that the three people in these roles respect each other’s expertise and talents. A smooth working relationship between the three roles leads to a smoothly running project.

Some projects may require additional leadership roles, such as a Deployment Manager or Test Manager.  So the leadership team may be larger for those projects.  I focus on the roles of Project Manager, Business Analyst, and Project Architect because every project I have seen needs leadership in those areas. The larger the project, the more work there is to do, and the more need there is to divide these roles among multiple people all of whom have leadership responsibilities.

 

Think about projects you have worked on.  How did the relationships between the Project Manager, Business Analyst, and Project Architect affect your project?  What other leadership roles have you seen on a project team?

 

Career Paths for Business Analysts

Author: Geri Schneider Winters

People come to the job of Business Analyst in many different ways. Some people graduate from college and immediately start to work as a junior Analyst for a major corporation. Often a Business Analyst has some years of work experience in some related field before starting to work as an analyst.

You may choose to work for a company in the role of Business Analyst, or you may be a consultant and some of what you do is work as a Business Analyst.

Once you are working as a Business Analyst, what can you expect in terms of career growth? This will depend on the experience you bring to the job and your interests.

BA’s with more experience are generally assigned to larger and/or more complex projects. If you are an experienced BA, you will be often asked to mentor junior Analysts, and depending on your other
experience, you may also be asked to mentor the Project Manager, Software Process Engineer, QA group, or even the Project Architect or Designer.

Over time, you may be asked to work on a small project as both the Business Analyst and the Project Manager. This will introduce you to the job of the Project Manager. You may decide to gain experience and certifications through the Project Management Institute (PMI) and evolve your career into management. You could work your way up through the levels of management as far as your talents and desires take you.

You may decide that you really love the BA job. Over time, you will work on more complex projects with more responsibility. You may then choose to create an internal organization for other BA’s in the company, to provide guidance, internal training, and resources such as templates or guidelines for people in that role.

You might decide you really like teaching and mentoring, so go into jobs such as corporate training or consulting. You would work to train and mentor other Business Analysts in their jobs.

You might become very interested in software development processes and become a process engineer. This tends to be a consulting position. Few companies have software process engineers on staff, though you may find such as position as part of a corporate governance or continuous quality improvement organization.

With your strength in the soft skills of listening, speaking, writing, and meeting facilitation, you can look at other kinds of careers that may interest you more than writing requirements for software projects.

For example, if you really like learning to install and use software tools, you might become a tools person – someone who elicits the corporate needs for software tools, determines what tools are needed, and how they will be used to support corporate goals. You might also be involved in creating manuals and training for company personnel to show them how to use the tools in their jobs.

Maybe business is your real passion, so you use your soft skills to become a business coach. You work with people to discover the goals of their business and how to achieve these goals. This is often a position where you work with small business owners who want to improve or grow their business.

Consider a job as a Product Manager. Note that is product not project. A Product Manager is a marketing person who surveys the market and writes the business requirements for new projects. A Product Manager typically works closely with project teams to achieve good products that meet the needs of the marketplace.

As you see, with experience as a Business Analyst, you have developed a lot of skill in listening, speaking, writing, and meeting facilitation. You may have also learned a lot about a particular domain. You can use these skills to develop further as a Business Analyst, or to go into other jobs such as Project Manager (and higher management positions), Product Manager, Tools Person, Governance, Quality Improvement, Business Coaching, Corporate Training, Mentoring, and Consulting.

Getting Started as a Business Analyst

Author: Geri Schneider Winters

Many people write to me to ask how they can get started as a Business Analyst. Here are my thoughts on what you can do to get started in that career.

An Analyst (Business or System) is typically in a leadership role on a project team. So the hiring manager often wants someone with some years of experience for the job. This does not necessarily mean experience as an Analyst, but some years of experience and maturity.

I started out as a Senior Scientific Programmer, then worked as a Field Engineer in a sales organization, then became a Business Analyst. This gave me technical and communication experience, plus about 12 years of work experience before I started working as a BA.

I know other very fine BAs who started as Project Managers, Newspaper Reporters, or experts in their industry (banking, insurance, etc).

If you do not have years of experience, you can look for jobs that are related or that help you develop the skills you will need for an Analyst position. Skills that are important include:

  • Soft skills – listening, writing, meeting facilitation, communication skills in general, negotiation
  • Domain knowledge – knowing a particular industry such as insurance, banking, or retail
  • Technical skills – understanding software architecture, design, and development
  • Leadership skills – project management, chairman or president of an organization

You do not necessarily need all of these skills to work as an Analyst. My own background is weak in any one domain (I know a little about a lot of domains, not a lot of one), but I have the soft skills, technical skills and leadership skills to be successful.

Some jobs you can look for include: junior analyst, reporter, sales person, marketing, technical writer, field engineer. These jobs involve a lot of the soft skills. You can work as a programmer and develop your career through the technical ranks (programmer, designer, architect). You can volunteer to lead an organization in your community to gain leadership experience. Take a junior job in an industry and work your way up. For example, if banking is your interest, take a job as a branch teller and work your way up through the ranks of the bank, taking on different roles, and really learning the business.

Definitely work with contacts, people you know in the business. Sometimes a project can use a junior analyst, but the position is not really advertised. If you know the senior analyst on the project, that person may be willing to bring you in to work with you personally.

Look for internships. For example, Safeway Inc. used to offer internships for Business Analysts at their corporate headquarters in Walnut Creek, California. I do not know if that program still exists. You may also find professional development programs at some companies. For example, Johnson and Johnson hires promising college grads into a 2 year professional development program where you work in 4 different parts of the company for 6 months at a time, learning the business. The goal is to put you into a leadership position at the company.

Look for large companies, and explore what options they have available. Check their websites and talk to people in their human resources department. Analysts work on larger projects, which are usually at larger companies. Banks and Insurance companies typically hire quite a number of analysts, but so do big retail companies (WalMart, Safeway, etc.) and companies in the defense industry (BAE Systems, Lockheed, Boeing).

Are you looking for a position as a Business Analyst? What have you done to prepare yourself to do that job?

Are you an experienced Business Analyst? What would you recommend to someone just starting out?