Why is Software so Awful to Use? A Case Study and Call to Action.

Why are apps, websites, software, and other products still not very nice to use? We’ve spent more than a decade as an industry focusing on user experience, and yet I consistently find myself frustrated with the miserable experiences I have doing the simplest things on websites, in apps, in other software, and using a variety of consumer products.

I just went through a miserable experience trying to update an airline reservation. I won’t mention which airline because despite their really awful website (let me fix it, please, please, please) I love the company and in real life (not the web) my interactions with them are superior. Bear with me as I describe my experience (or see my conclusion at the bottom).

I found my reservation easily enough and found the button to change just one leg. That was nice. I wouldn’t have to worry about accidentally changing the other leg. On clicking the button, I expected to see details about that leg, but instead I got a choice of four buttons: change cities, change dates, change times, change seats. Ummm, I’m changing all of them. So what should I pick? I choose change cities and assume the rest will be changeable as well (this turned out to be a correct assumption).

I see my current flight information across the top. That is nice. It verifies what I am changing. It turns out having that information was REALLY IMPORTANT. There are 3 radio buttons: round trip, one-way, multi-city. Round trip is already selected. Wait, I’m changing only one-way. Why is round trip selected? The whole trip is round trip, but I’m only changing one part. What to choose? I left it alone because surely they would have defaulted to the right choice. Being skeptical I scrolled down the page and saw they wanted me to select travel in two directions. So they didn’t default to the right choice. I scroll back to the top and select the one-way radio button.

I had to wait for the page to refresh. When it refreshed the page now showed select a date. Wait, I haven’t changed my city yet! I scroll back to the top to pick a city. The departure city is fine, I select the destination. The screen refreshes back to select a flight and the departure city is not the one I selected. What? I did not change the departure city and I have yet to select the date. Scroll back to the top and select the correct departure city. Which changed the destination too, so I had to reselect that.

Wait for the screen to refresh. Again. It refreshes at select a flight. Thankfully it now has the right cities, but I have not yet selected a date. Scroll back up to select a date. The screen refreshes back to select a flight, but the date has not changed. Scroll back up and see that the correct date is selected. Re-clicking it does nothing, so I select a different date. The screen refreshes at select a flight and it does have the date I just selected (which is not the date I actually want). I scroll back up and select the date I really want. The screen refreshes again at the point to select a flight.

At least now I have the right type of flight (one-way), the right cities, and the right date. Now I select a flight. I get a banner saying the change is being processed, then a message that said something went wrong, try again, or call us.

I just wanted to cry from frustration at that point.

This whole process took me far longer to do than it took you to read about it, and they are asking me to start over. They even provided a helpful start over button!

Sadly, my experience that day was far from unique. That is crazy. We humans should not have to work so hard to do simple things with a computer.

I want to do something to make things better. This is what gets me so excited about Solution Anthropology.

Solution Anthropology blends practices from Business Analysis, User Experience, Solution Design, and Anthropology for the purpose of creating solutions that delight the users. It is a user advocacy role and a terrific way for Business Analysts to grow their knowledge in a way that expands career opportunities. Solution Anthropologists work in companies of all sizes from major corporations to startups and work on solutions in areas such as software, business process improvement, branding and imaging, mobile, and product development.

I am working with my clients to incorporate Solution Anthropology practices into their projects, whether Agile, Waterfall, or other. Everyone is happier when we do. And maybe someday I’ll get my favorite airline to apply Solution Anthropology to their website!


Tips for Job Searches

Many people come to this blog because they are changing careers. I recently put together a workbook that steps you through using the Strengths Finder quiz to find keywords to use in your resume, LinkedIn profile, and cover letters. These keywords are your strengths, as well as being the search terms that recruiters use to find people for jobs.

Right click on the link to download the PDF.

Using Strengths Finder to Get the Job You Love

I hope you find this useful.


New BA Video Tips


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:

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.

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!

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.



Business Analyst Podcast Series

Michiel Erasmus has a nice podcast series for Business Analysts. Michiel got the idea in 2009 to interview experienced BA’s so that he could learn more about the role. He decided to record the interviews and make them available so other people could benefit from the information as well. I quite admire him for his work on this series!

Michiel contacted me to be interviewed for this podcast series, and we met last week. He has posted the first part of the podcast (which is number 27), and it is available for your listening pleasure You can also explore the other interviews in the series.


You can post comments on his blog and if you choose to, you can make a donation to help him pay for creating the series.

I hope you enjoy this great resource from Michiel Erasmus.


Followup on Iterative Planning Class: Resources

During the Q&A for the Free class in May on Planning Iterations, I referred to quite a number of resources.  I had some folks ask me to write up those references. Here they are:

Book: XP Explained, Kent Beck
Certified Scrum Master training – http://www.implementingscrum.com
Book: The Inmates are Running the Asylum, Alan Cooper
IIBA and certifications: http://www.theiiba.org

Analysis is a very important skill, analysis on the problem, the requirements, the solution

Requirements Management Tools
Spirateam from Inflectra:  http://www.inflectra.com
IBM Rational Requisite Pro, http://www.ibm.com
IBM Telelogic Doors, http://www.ibm.com

Free UML Modeling Tool
BoUML, http://bouml.free.fr/

Requirements Writing and automatic activity diagram generation
Ravenflow, http://www.ravenflow.com

Free Documentation Tool
OpenOffice,  http://www.openoffice.org

LinkedIn Group: Starting A Business Analyst Career
Laura Brandenburg – good resource as a BA, and helps people with tuning a resume and job hunting. Her blog is http://www.bridging-the-gap.com/

Network in the Local IIBA chapters – meet other BA’s  http://www.theiiba.org

Business Process Modeling Standard, http://www.omg.org

Increasing Productivity and Performance

Author: Geri Schneider Winters

I was asked recently how to increase productivity and performance as a BA. Here are some ideas based on my own experience.

  1. Before acting ask yourself the best approach to something.
    • For example, when collecting information we often assume that interviews are the best approach. Before scheduling interviews, think about the information you need. Maybe you can get the information you need more quickly from a document.
    • Another example could be effectiveness. It may be more effective to collect 5 people in a room together where they can discuss an issue, rather than you asking questions of each of the 5, then following up to resolve differences. Acting as a go-between is less effective than letting the people work it out for themselves.
  2. Do only what you have to do at each  point in time and no more.
    • Early in a project, we identify just the architecturally significant requirements so that the project architect can do his or her work.  The rest of the requirements are discovered later.
    • When I write use cases, I start with the basic flow. Sometimes I do not have to write any more, but if I do, I write the alternatives when they are needed.
  3. Keep focused on the goal of the project.
    • You should not be working on things unrelated to the goal of the project. If you are asked to do so, talk about it with your Project Manager.
  4. Keep learning your craft and get better at it.
    • Take classes in areas where you are weak.
    • Look for ways to get additional experience. Many of the skills of the BA can be practiced outside of work. For example, you can practice interviewing by asking a grandmother to tell you stories of her life while you write them. You get to practice asking questions, listening, and writing, and you have stories from grandmother that you can share with the family.

What do you do to be more productive? What things have you found that help you work faster?


Use Your Common Sense

Author: Geri Schneider Winters

In the context of the BA role, I see so much published on the internet that is just nonsense. How can you know who to believe and what to trust?

You have to trust in your own experience and common sense.

  • If something seems reasonable, some technique or process, then try it for yourself, and judge the results.
  • If it does not seem reasonable, then it might be the wrong thing for you in that situation.
  • If you do not have the experience to judge, then find someone else with more experience and ask his or her opinion.

Having said that, I also want to encourage you to keep an open mind. Something that seems reasonable, but that does not work today, might be just the right thing in a new situation. Re-evaluate what you know in the context of the current job, the current project.

I love this quote from over 2000 years ago:

“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”
Hindu Prince Gautama Siddharta, the founder of Buddhism, 563-483 B.C.

When have you trusted your judgment, tried something new, and it worked? What about the times where it did not work? In a new situation, have you applied something that did not work before and had it work for you in that new situation?