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Paradigm Shifts for Business Analysis

We’ve all heard the arguments, and probably started a few as well, about the fact that business analysts are so much more than scribes, requirements clerks, documentation writers and the like. Yet the perception and utilization of BAs in this regard continues to permeate the profession. In looking at the responsibilities and actions of the general BA population, there are signs that may point to why this continues to be a problem. In 2011, Glenn Brule wrote a series of articles that discussed the progress ion of the BA career path and the shifts in focus, as well as skills needed for the changing competencies.

Transitioning into a senior role, the BA is acutely aware and well seasoned in technical skills and begins to flex business skill muscle in enterprise analysis-type activities, e.g., writing a business case, understanding business needs, conducting capability analysis, defining solution scope.

Glenn R Brule, Are Business Analysts in Danger of Becoming Extinct? Part 2

Continue reading “Paradigm Shifts for Business Analysis”

Essentially, Brule was highlighting his foresight into the fact that business analysts had a path to remain relevant in their roles if they understood some basic phases of the BA profession and the general skill sets required for each. He painted a high-level picture that provided a road map for a practitioner to start with, as a basis for moving forward. Concurrently, the proliferation of the popularity of certifications such as ITIL and TOGAF have gained significant momentum while new organizations continue to form up, mature and provide a home to aspiring business architects. This year at the Building Business Capability conference in Las Vegas, there was noticeable on the push to add strategy to the mindset of the BA’s pursuit of excellence through exposure to more strategic process discussion and architecture modeling platforms. In fact, Sparx Systems we quick to espouse a recent partnership with IIBA to cement the importance being placed on the topics. Even more exciting is the increase in volume of blogs and articles peppering the Internet that promote these shifts.

But! There are two major things that I think are missing in the drive to mature the profession. The first is the recognition of the business analyst as a strategic analytical weapon by organizations, key business units in the organization and managers of individual or groups of business analysts.

While Enterprise Architecture is seeing a healthy foothold growing in many organization, that doesn’t always equate to the parallel creation of business architecture capability. Business architecture units are still relatively new ventures in the same organizations as additional focus on the business is added. Therefore, it might not be unreasonable to assume that good visibility in to the solution and technical architecture is present, yet there are holes tracing it back to strategic need and value statements, assessing fully the organization impacts or determining the level of change management.

“The crucial element is how well the Business Architects are integrated with the other architects and with the analysts. In many cases Business Architecture was within the Enterprise Architecture function – as an aside…”
What is Business Architecture?
By Allen Brown, President and CEO,
The Open Group

Additionally, the word “solution” in many instances has somehow come to signify the technical product delivered to the customer in project execution, and I think that is a massive and dangerous proposition. The dumbing down of “solution” (which is not a comment on the high value of technical awareness and delivery) makes it easy to simply forget that the technical product should be assessed against the organization that will install it and turn it on. Without clarity on what will happen to existing process, resources, workload shifts, data flows and the need for communication and training, there is significant failures to occur. Combine the project execution missteps to understand business impacts with lack of business architecture viewpoints, stakeholders and interaction points; the business understanding becomes even muddier. The best thing to resolve this obstacle has already started, and that is the aforementioned increased dialog.

I think the second major point is more problematic. After watching many, many business analysts, reading the content in the BABOK (all three of these fine, fascinating tomes of career non-fiction) and also reading the general flavor of dialog in the community; and managing, mentoring and guiding business analysts, I’m convinced that the younger, less experienced analysts today are short-changed by focus on tactical execution of requirements identification and techniques without realization on the value of those skills in a strategic setting. So, for those of who just choked on hot coffee reading that, I’m NOT espousing that we stop understanding and analyzing content to produce great requirements. Our current jobs are more essential than ever. I am stating that training and cultural awareness that targets our up and coming BAs earlier on the value of their current skills and how to better apply them in different scenarios must gain more traction. The IIBA® has taken a huge step forward in the new BABOKv3 by introducing the Core Concept Model (page 12) to all business analysts. The model applies a framework to every action we will perform and uses it mentally chop up and reframe the work we are doing and the questions we are asking. This is the first piece of the strategic puzzle communication, but it must be followed by reinforcement of more experienced analysts guiding the professionals who will take over in the coming years. While the collaborative dialog HAS increased, I’m hoping that there will be movement, by our own hands, to increase the clarity and applicability of the BA value into enterprise and business architecture.

Let’s start here.

IIBA President and CEO, Stephen Ashworth, in closing remarks at BBC 2015, put out a call to the community to give back and add value. I would like to propose this as one starting point for us to put some focus on. I’d like to also add anything I can to what may be the first major movement of business analysis since the IIBA formed a qualifying body for certifications and standards. This will be a recurring topic in this blog from time to time and part of my mentoring regimen with willing participants.

Interested in everything you wish to add to this conversation, good or bad.

 

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Acceleration of Disruptive Change and the Need to Keep Up

I had the pleasure of taking my passion for mentoring to the IIBA Greater Atlanta Chapter’s BA Boot Camp yesterday. It was a great thing to see a People track on their break out sessions, as it gave a talk like mine a niche to fit into.

In sharing my thoughts on mentoring, I have a slide in my presentation that highlights some key concepts from the Building Business Capability Conference (BBC) 2016, which I use to cement the importance of learning. In giving the presentation yesterday, it struck me how different the message is in the lead-up to BBC 2017 in November AND how fast that message has changed. What was strategic architecture and common taxonomy last year is digital transformation and agile analysis and product ownership today. To be more precise, the latter topics were also present last year, but the strength and veracity of the communications and regular publications has certainly shifted. Even more interesting and concerning is what seems to be a shift from roles on job boards from business analysis to product ownership, data analyst, agile analyst, etc. 

So, it was a perfect time to get out and share the importance of learning, and learning to learn in new ways. It’s incredibly easy to get too busy to pay attention to things that we all know we must do, in light of pressures to deliver at work or care for family. Before long, though, another calendar year has passed and another disruption is altering our career stability and forward path. 

The ability to accelerate your learning potential is real, and so is the need to get the most out of your learning experiences. as I’ve written about before, mentoring provides some key advantages when paired with or when replacing traditional learning methods, such as courses. I encourage you to investigate on my site, and you can start here

If you want to learn more, contact through my site, my LinkedIn profile or at douggoldberg@gmail.com.

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How and Why to Work Mentoring into your Educational Repertoire


Iterative learning is the process in building on learning constructs from the ground up through experience, while regularly adding experiential knowledge into the learning cycle. 

Just like when we started to learn when we were young, we still start the learning process as adults with small pieces and apply or practice those to inform on future learning.  It got me to thinking about how professional learning occurs nowadays, when time away from family or the job is at a premium. Due to this constraint, we are somewhat forced to regularly pay large sums for intensive courses or workshops in order to obtain a certificate that describes new found expertise. We’re in and we’re out; and, while there are definitely situations that produce great results through this type of learning, it’s not always the most appropriate option. For instance, taking a deep-dive course on how to become a professional in something is very different than taking a deep-dive course in specializing in certain aspects of that same profession after several years work. The former inundates potential practitioners with everything they need to know without the context. The latter brings years of experiential learning as contextual input into the specialization process. As I’ve mentored many individuals, I’ve heard over and over about courses and classes that promise certification, resume experience updates, new skills, etc., but deliver only fractions of the total promise. 

The other thing that can be problematic for some students is that courses are built for mass delivery to a an audience that possesses a fairly consistent level of knowledge. It’s a simple business decision in controlling costs, as it’s not reasonable to customize a course for every student. Those that fall below the knowledge bell curve get lost while those who know too much get bored. The average class population benefits though. 

Where Can Mentoring Replace Traditional Education?

In short, it can’t; except in very specific circumstances. Mentoring should be viewed as a compliment (see below) to standard methods of education, e.g., college, post-graduate and/or professional courses, certification courses, etc. through enhancement of the learning process via additional professional dialog and guidance. Situations in which professionals are not learning specific skills but rather seeking to work though obstacles or handle specific situational factors, mentoring may provide the most direct and rapid results.

Where Can Mentoring Compliment Traditional Education?

Mentoring sessions are built around dialog and practical application of learnings. Students that find it difficult to make sense of large volumes of information disseminated in a short time frame or lacking experiential context can normally find benefit to mentoring. The mentee is able to deconstruct the learnings with the mentor and obtain experience-guided context and advice for practical application from the mentor. This serves to bolster the knowledge already obtained and make it more useful and easier to apply. Typically, short-term mentoring is used to manage immediate needs.

However, this scenario presents itself also for those entering a profession anew. These individuals are students to both skill building courses and tangential learning through mentoring, but it occurs over a longer period of time in order to weave both types of learning together. So, mentoring may take the form of long-standing, regular sessions or short bursts of standing sessions.

Money vs Value When it Comes to Education Decisions

Just like anything else, we each assess what we are going to get when we pay for something. When making decisions about how you wish to spend your education dollars, consider some things with the following sample models. 

The Pay Up-Front Model

  • Non-Financial Considerations
    • Immediate and intense knowledge gain with early high value
    • Course content is created for the average student, not targeted toward individual needs 
    • Content becomes increasingly obsolete over time (esp technology)
    • Limited use of learned information produces minimal benefit and can even degrade value as information is not retained as a result of practice
    • Minimal utilization of learned information almost immediately degrades value as information is not retained as a result of practice
  • Financial Considerations
    • An initial investment to take a course costing $2000 produces high immediate knowledge gained
      • Regular use of learned information reinforces and expands knowledge obtained
        • ROI peaks early, then diminishes over time as environmental changes can degrade value (esp. technology)
      • An increase in time OR a decrease in utilization yields LOWER ROI

The Pay-as-You-Learn Model

  • Non-Financial Considerations
    • Low to moderate immediate knowledge with early high value. Knowledge builds, value remains moderate to high
    • No content is created for the average student, everything is targeted toward individual needs 
    • Learnings, if practiced and applied, build over time
    • Learnings are reinforced with experiences and expert guidance to accelerate new lessons
    • Value is obtained through application and applies to tangible skill and behavioral gains
    • Limited use of learned information produces minimal benefit and can even degrade both non-financial and financial value as information is not retained as a result of practice
    • Minimal utilization of learned information almost immediately degrades financial value, and slowly for non-financial value) as information is not retained as a result of practice
  • Financial Considerations
    • An initial investment to engage a mentor costs @$100. Subsequent monthly costs also equal @$100, for a total investment of @$1200.  
    • Produces foundational knowledge that is built upon over time
      • Regular use of learned information reinforces and expands knowledge obtained
        • Value against investment may be measure ROI incrementally 
        • ROI Peaks early, plateaus, and then increases proportionally to effort
      • An increase in time ONLY decreases ROI if lessons are not utilized, typically
        • There is a much lower level of technical learning and higher level of behavioral learning

*Numerical data is for illustrative purposes only

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Business Analysts? Aren’t those the folks in the basement who write documents?

Today I write you having recently returned from the Building Business Capability (BBC) conference in Las Vegas, the premier Business Analysis conference globally. Like most of us going to similar events, I come back energized and full of information, and one such chunk of news strikes a chord with me…so I’m sharing it here.

If you’ve read my posts out in the Internet ether, you’ve read that I believe that we business analysts must collectively STOP referring to ourselves as requirements experts, which connotes one who documents requirements and results in others evaluating us on said requirements that we produce. We must START vocalizing our skills in strategic, system, enterprise and critical thinking which deliver value to our team, our organizations and our customers.

A new study (http://www.iiba.org/Learning-Development/L-D/research-and-study-impact2016.aspx) has just been released that validated a number of things that I have been writing about, and that others have also been espousing about the trends in business analysis and the obstacles related to these trends.

“IIBA engaged KPMG Canada to study how business analysis can continue delivering value to organizations. In conducting this study, we heard from global practitioners and business leaders, and augmented their insights with KPMG’s 2016 CEO Outlook1 and other proprietary research. We heard from many who feel traditional business analysis skill sets and capabilities will no longer be sufficient to add the value that their organizations need to compete.” (1) 

I highly recommmend that we all take a peek at the study results, which are both alarming and right on the mark, in my opinion. The crux of the results point to disparate opinions between practitioners and C-Suite executives about what each group THINKS business analysis is, the value it provides, the purpose of it, the utilization of it and the location of practitioners in organizations. For instance, cited in the report is a comparison of where BA Skill Sets are perceived to be located in organizations. 19% of BA practitioners indicate that these skill sets exist in C-Suite and/or Strategy groups while 68% of C-level executives and 81% of strategists feel that those skills reside in their respective higher level groups. That is an abyssmal gap, but what does it really tell us? To me, it says that the latter combined groups, those who drive innovation, company direction and strategy feel they have the skills do to the job. Conversely, those that are practicing and updating Business and Architect skills daily, getting trained and getting certified see very few practitioners engaged, and little evidence of skill utilization, at this level to proved value.

Another very potent result is the fact that predictions of industry trends for the next three years have organizations, based on responses, looking for more strategic thinking, better leadership skills and enhanced creative thinking and innovation. Today’s skill sets deemed valuable are led by domain knowledge, critical thinking and problem solving and requirements elicitation and documentation.

Finally, a shift in analytical capability that provides VALUE based on outcomes and away from tactical analysis (read requirements analysis) is also taking hold. Business analysts mired in paralyzing granularity will struggle to break out to provide strategic capability wihtout C-level executive recognition that these capabilities exist in this group and understanding on how to first free up these resources and then how to capitalize on it to serve not only customers directly, but also peer teams in the same organization. Analytical capability is crucial in sales, enterprsie and business architecture, strategic planning, financial planning and the like.

While I was at the conference, and before I had a chance to read this study, I had an opportunity to sit down for a short chat with Alain Arseneault – Director, Corporate & Business Development at IIBA. I expressed concerns that I felt IIBA global/corporate must do more to assist lone evangelists in marketing the skills of a profession that I’m very passionate about to organization executives. I also described the difficulty that single persons and groups of practitioners battle when trying to illustrate value and sell BA skills and capabilities to those 68% of executives mentioned above. It is an almost impossible task without the power of a professional industry leader to convey how much we can offer our repsective firms, and I politely encouraged IIBA to give us a hand in the messaging through the power of their corporate aliiances. Thankfully, the study bears this out and there was significant dialog at the conference about efforts underway to make this happen. However, it really is up to each of us to self-promote what we are capable of, and the urgency is never greater!

Speak up and be heard! There is no downside to communicating this message!

(1) 2016 KPMG LLP Business Analysis – Positioning for Success

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Learning Series: What Happens When You Have EI Awareness

“Many times we are our worst enemy. If we could learn to conquer ourselves, then we will have a much easier time overcoming the obstacles that are in front of us.” 
― Stephan Labossiere

In the last article in this series, I wrote about the tie-in of emotion to the ability to learn. The point-of-view that emotional obstacles block growth and learning is interesting. They don’t actually stop us from trying to learn; we can still go through the motions of going to a class and listening to discourse and trying to use that information for a particular need.

brainbulb

So, what happens to those students of themselves who learn to become more self-aware? What effect does it have on them and what effect does it have on their ability to learn?

Those who have had, or taken, the opportunity to recognize how they feel about different experiences have also been able to essentially evaluate whether each experience is valuable…either positively or negatively. For example, a person might work up the courage to ask her boss for a raise or promotion, only to be shot down. The rejection of the request and the emotional dejection from the failure to get the promotion is obviously negative. However, there are positive consequences that not everyone can recognize nor attain. Those more attuned to their emotions may be able to walk away with a feeling of pride after conquering the fear to work up enough courage to even ask for the promotion. That success also builds lasting confidence and can lead to larger and great feats to accomplishment. In effect, a negative and positive experience was used to produce a value statement for this person, in order to determine whether the result of the experience was worth the struggle. At this point, the brain has attached actual value to the experience.

“Through the experience of emotions, [we] come to recognize what is cognitively and affectively of value,” helping determine how and why we respond to the world around us
–(Dirkx, 2006)

Continue reading “Learning Series: What Happens When You Have EI Awareness”

How Do I Learn to Become More Aware of Emotion?

As I alluded to in the last article, the learning environment is important and must provide a “safe zone” to allow emotional content to be brought out when the moment is right. At this point trust has ensued and the walls start to come down. The student steps aside and gets out of his or her own way, so solid learning can occur. When you become aware of your awareness, it can truly be an awakening of sorts. It’s at this point, conscious or not, you begin to think about and process things differently. This leads to a different in your approaches with others and with yourself.

Mentoring can help this occur, because it is a different learning platform that provides specific benefits for specific circumstances. It is an alternative learning experience that promotes emotional intelligence improvements (one of many). It is very different than the traditional learning model we’ve all become accustomed to.

  • Individualized, customized, private vs. group classrooms and mass-audience
  • Focused on iterative assessment trust and value vs course completion certificate
  • Life-long behavioral lesson shelf-life vs. diminished value as course version or content changes
  • Transferrable skill into every facet of life and work vs. direct applicability to specific purpose
  • Pay-as-you-go and assess for value attainment vs. pay-up-front for single event

“If people are anxious, uncomfortable, or fearful, they do not learn”
–(Perry, 2006)

I’ve Got My Emotional Awareness…Now What?

Building this type of awareness is a journey, so if you’re holding your hand out for a certificate of completion, don’t bother. The good news is that when you’ve started to build this awareness, it can become a great cycle. A little struggle, a little growth. As it repeats, you as the student start to look at others differently with more recognition of what they are going through based on your own experiences. You are more attuned to their reactions to words and actions, keener to how to best approach a problem or a conversation, more prone to let or help a situation defuse before attempting to “fix” it. This is empathy in action.

If you haven’t read between the lines of the previous paragraphs to recognize what’s happening, here is my perspective on how you are transforming…

  1. You learned about yourself, and you developed an awareness that you did this.
  2. You continued the process, achieving additional awareness, regardless of the presence of negative consequences…thus a net-positive experience.
  3. Your perspectives of others changed as a result of your own growth.

“Experiencing one’s self in a conscious manner–that is, gaining self-knowledge–is an integral part of learning.”
— Joshua M. Freedman
 

  1. Your change in perspective led to changes in how you work with others, bringing a certain non-intimate closeness to your interactions.
  2. Your closer exchanges brought forth empathy and shared experiences developed
  3. The shared experiences formed bonds that built stronger working relationships.
  4. Those around you received benefit; comfort in your approach and success in results as you worked with them.
  5. Your thought process maturation has accelerated. You’re asking questions that you wouldn’t have thought to ask, factoring in complexities and concerns that never occurred to you before, recognizing potential obstacles before they appear to surprise you and seeking out answers that have new importance.

Transferability

The last item in the list of benefits is REALLY important. It’s integral and directly aligned to points when people are able to make mental jumps in their lives and careers. It’s also integral to the message this website brings, which is that when you grow in your thought process and the way in which you approach it, you afford yourself the ability to grow in your ability to learn and build personal capability. That is the difference between business analysis and business architecture.

 

References
Dirkx, J. (2006). Engaging emotions in adult learning: A Jungian perspective on emotion and transformative learning. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 109, 15-26. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Shuck, et al., (2013). Emotions and Their Effect on Adult Learning: A Constructivist Perspective

 

 

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You’ll KNOW Mentoring is Right for You When….

  1. You realize you are completing coursework and getting certified, but not fulfilled. Academic and even crash courses are built for classrooms, not individuals. You take courses that are worthwhile at the time for a specific skill and as the course is developed for the masses.

Mentoring is training customized to the individual and is equal parts listening/learning and dialog/application. It deals with emotions, emotional intelligence, personal obstacles and capabilities and personal goals and aspirations.

  1. You are ready to squirm in your chair. It is extremely uncomfortable in the early days, because you have decided to bare your soul for the benefit of very targeted guidance. This is not an easy decision, but your thought process has matured to the point that you have self-awareness and realization that you’ve probably blocked yourself unnecessarily. Way to go!

Mentoring is only productive and transformative when built on trust. You MUST be able to trust your mentor to tell he or she the things that make you vulnerable. Until you do, you cannot have the conversation about which of those items are irrational fears and which are real and need some work.

  1. You are ready to slay your dragons! You WILL meet the things in life that bring you fear, shame, embarrassment and angst. It will start as a professional conversation, but you’ll soon realize there is not a work YOU and a NOT WORK YOU, just a YOU.

Only when you are ready to talk about those things can you quantify them, add color to them, see them for what they are, understand what triggers them, understand how you typically react….and realize there is a better way.

  1. You are thoroughly engaged in the mentoring session, and constantly applying the lessons in new situations to grow away from the session. The mentoring session is great and invigorating, but it’s not where you learn. Business analysis and life lessons are learned by experience.

Mentoring provides the framework of the lessons in the sessions, but the time between session is where repetitive application in real life occurs. THAT’s where the light clicks on! You have to be ready to do some offline work reading, writing, thinking and doing.

  1. Your thought process and maturity has evolved to seek long-lasting lessons that pay dividends based on your efforts. You have realized that you are your greatest advocate and “ace-in-the-hole”.

You know now that there is a way through the most difficult obstacles that you have encountered and are able to lay out a plan of attack that is predicated on your own dedication, which builds the learning experience to position you for goal attainment. You realize that this enhanced perspective is key to learning things in different ways and applying them toward harder problems.

Is this YOU? Have you arrived? Then I want YOU to join me in applying mentoring to help achieve your success! Sign Up Now!

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LEARNING SERIES: Emotional Intelligence and its Impact on Your Ability to Learn

This is Post 2 in a series about how we learn and how it’s related to mentoring. The first installment is here:

Renowned experts in Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman, Travis Bradberry and others that indicate there is a strong link between emotional intelligence and our ability to learn. Emotional intelligence employs self-awareness and introspection to allow us fully retain the learning experience, because there is a real connection to our minds through the effects we feel with our emotions. Not to mention it, through the employment of empathy, we learn to connect ourselves with others connect with them socially and learn from them.  “WHA?!” you say. “What does emotion have to do with learning? Can’t we just enable the firewall and let our nearest mobile communication device do all that..that…mushy stuff?!”

“Afterwards there was less cynicism – people had gained an understanding of colleagues differences.”  – FIT Emotional Intelligence

Let’s say that you are someone who is essentially very positive, an always glass-is-half-full kind of person. You might approach a situation in which you don’t know something as a great opportunity to learn something new, to grow or to gain awareness. Your coworker or friend, on the other hand, struggles. He or she feels overwhelmed not only with what is not known, but also how much there is to know. There is a sense of dread and a never-ending fear of falling further behind. If you each take on a learning task, there is an immediate point in which your mental state sets the stage, in part, on your ability to absorb information and actively put it to good use.

Pain, fear, happiness all play a part in our ability to learn. Think about those self-deprecating blockades we install in our way, “I’m never going to be able to figure this out,” or “This is way over my head,” or “I’ve never done this before.” Those voices are in almost everyone and have effect in the ability we have to learn. Many of us don’t even recognize the devil on shoulder, because the little gnome has been there for so long, self-sabotaging our progress and ability to change.

It stands to reason that before we can remove the negative obstacle to our own learning, we have to become aware of its presence. Emotional intelligence may help us to hear that voice as an alien or unwanted presence, because it essentially disrupts the normal state of self-awareness. Just like the fact that some of us see or hear better than others, there are some people more attuned to self-awareness of emotions more than others. Fear not, though. Emotional intelligence is something that can be improved upon with attention and some repetition. While, I’m not going to discuss that part here, you can read a fantastic article that I’ve found produces great results with some practice. The important take-away is that we can set a healthier stage for learning by being mindful and aware of ourselves and our tendencies. This helps us connect with others, because our social walls come down some to allow other experiences (and other people) in.

“Knowing others and knowing oneself, in one hundred battles no danger. Not knowing the other and knowing oneself, one victory for one loss. Not knowing the other and not knowing oneself, in every battle certain defeat.” 

–Sun Tzu, The Art of War  

When I mentor someone, I invariably work with someone who is a highly-skilled professional, or a highly-capable individual. In both instances, I have found that the individual is perfectly capable of successfully completing a specific activity that has come up in a session, and that the mentee believes that it is a “blocking” item to their growth. These people are fully competent and capable and smart as whips, yet they ask for help in struggles that prevent them from realizing success. How is this possible?

I’m not an expert on emotional intelligence, and in fact am still in the “WOW!” phase of learning it. It amazes me that this is just recently gaining so much traction, because it is so important to understanding how to get the hell out of our own way. When I mentor others, I have found that the learning we do in a mentoring session is electrically charged with things that aren’t on any agenda. Investigation into handling a difficult customer, managing up to a supervisor, tackling new domains or achieving vision goals are all able to be achieved by the person writing the agenda. The struggle is the person’s emotion tied to the item, which effectively either halts a person in their tracks or clouds their judgment of their own ability. Something trigger an emotional response. Bringing it up in the mentoring further re-triggers it, so it’s not uncommon to set the written objective aside, while we speak about why achieving it is perceived as unreachable. This can be tough stuff to discuss, most especially when it wasn’t planned for and two people are treading on “trust boundaries” in talking about it with one another.

“The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.”
— William James

This is one of the reasons mentoring is such a special learning experience, as well as extremely powerful. We spend thousands upon thousands of dollars on academic and corporate education that provides knowledge and certificates to indicate we have accomplished something.

Few of us, though, invest in learning about why we struggle to do the things we really have a hard time with. The mentoring environment provides a safe haven, or “safe zone”, as I have referred to in other writings. This is critical to allowing the mentee to get some raw emotion out onto the table so it can be dealt with.

“Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we have a clear picture of it.”
— Benedict Spinoza

Only when there is trust between mentee and mentor can this occur, because there is recognition that great damage can occur without it. The experience that comes of this can be a huge leap forward in personal growth, and that is when the door opens wide to learning.

I’ve learned, too, that I am a student of my own recommendations. As a mentor, I learn by teaching and actually have to stop in the middle of doing so to remind myself of the need to listen and absorb.

Next post, I’m going to hit you with another stage gate of emotional intelligence and learning. What Happens When Strong Emotional Intelligence Encounters a Watershed Moment in Self-Awareness?

1 How to Increase Your Emotional Intelligence ― 6 Essentials
Preston Ni M.S.B.A. Psychology Today. October 2014. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/communication-success/201410/how-increase-your-emotional-intelligence-6-essentials

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Deconstruct Delivery Issues Using an Architecture Mindset

We’ve probably all experienced teams that have struggled to deliver what has been promised, estimated, quoted, sold and talked about. You may have even been on one of those teams. This post is a short one (What? Not everything I write is a novel) about some things that all parties can do to take a step back before it’s too late.

There are a ton of reasons that things can go wrong, but let’s just talk about one. Scope. BORING!

Here’s why it’s important to this post and the general dialog though. SOLUTION. OOOOOO! Exciting word!

Depending on who you are and what you do, you might define solution a bot differently than someone else…..and THERE is the issue.

In a world (<—C’mon, say it like that guy in the movie trailers…) where technology has become very dominant, there are a lot of people who focus on it. There are even a few very specific methodologies devoted to delivering it better. Fine. But when the word solution starts getting thrown around, get it collaboratively defined by all stakeholders.

  • To a technologist (generic term I use for developer, methodologist, enterprise architect, etc.), that might mean the technical solution. That is what they focus on.
  • To a sponsor, they might THINK the solution is the new platform, because that is what is tangible and visible.
  • To a test team, they typically only think about test the platform, usually not the process or information sharing changes.
  • To a UX team, mucho focus on usability and experience and user satisfaction on both.

These four all have a common technology thread. No issues with that from me.

Now think about this….

  • People use processes and information
  • Process and Information interact with technology and data that facilitate processes and information
  • Create new technology or change the existing technology, and you touch the data, processes and those pesky people.

A SOLUTION SCOPE should be all encompassing. Technology. Process. People. Simple as that. Just start asking some basic questions and you will likely find that the answers to at least one of these facets is not nearly thought through enough.

See what just happened here? I didn’t even have to cite the Standish Group Chaos Report on how poor requirements contribute to project failure. I took out whole scope threads to start defining where we can go wrong. Gotta’ have a scope to write a poor requirement, right?

Questions:

  1. How would missing one of the two non-technical facets (process, people) effect a single project outcome?
  2. Same question, yet this time consider impacts to an enterprise platform
  3. How would delivery of value to the customer be impacted without a solid solution that encompassed all three?
  4. How would a process improvement program be stunted by eliminating technical concerns?
  5. How would an organizational restructuring or reduction in force impact processes and information?

Weigh in! Let’s hear what you have experienced! How has this issue manifested into delivery issues?

What questions do you make a part of your due diligence?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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LEARNING SERIES: How We Learn…and Unlearn…is a Complicated Matter

We have all learned to execute tasks in specific ways from training, from education or from experience. The amalgamation of those methods has provided us a core routine to do each thing in life (personal and work) that we frequently perform.

Do something long enough and you eventually learn something more than when you started day one. Over time and repetition, we might figure out natural ways to streamline for effectiveness The result may or may not be the best way with regard to quality, but we did wander from the original method toward learning a different way to accomplish the same goal. Generally, only with strong enforcement and repetitive training do we maintain protocol, because there is stated reason not to deviate from the norm, and even that is not a guarantee.

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Just this week, I read two articles in the news that reported on breaks in protocol that led to disastrous consequences. The http://www.cnn.com/2016/04/19/politics/us-air-force-plane-crash-afghanistan/ was a report from the military that cited human error in the crash of a cargo aircraft that killed 13 people. The pilot of the aircraft, while it was on the ground, jammed an object behind the yoke (steering stick) to keep the wing flaps up so a truck could maneuver underneath for maintenance. When the plane went to take off, the object remained behind the yoke and caused the crash. The second was a mauling of an expert and experienced zookeeper by one of her tigers, because she had neglected to follow the procedural steps designed to keep her safe.

This got me to thinking about how we learn and how we don’t. Learning can be either a passive or active activity. When we have decided to undertake something new or to enhance current understanding through exploring and/or education, that can be considered an active effort. We sit with someone else to observe and ask questions, we sign up for a class, we read a book to bring further enlightenment. However, learning can also be a passive experience, such as when we absorb external input without any purposeful action meant to do so. We, as complex thinkers, can also passively figure out other ways to accomplish tasks by combining elements in our environment. What about how we Unlearn? How is that we as people can have things beat into our heads, often at thousands of dollars at our own expense, only to effectively say, “Screw it! I much prefer this idiotic method that I just thought about!”? We don’t typically go out and take courses to remove knowledge from our brains, but the effect is strikingly similar.

The pilot mentioned in the above story passively combined an aircraft, a flap, spatial constraints, a need to remove the constraints for a period of time, the lack of intent to be burdened with constraint removal over that period of time, and availability of a tool to facilitate accomplishment of that goal. What’s of even more interest is that in seconds, in an environment that is maintains operational and organizational effectiveness based on structured regimen and protocol, the pilot’s thought process simply overrode all that training.

And THIS got me to thinking about the underlying intelligence of learning. In the work place, we encounter both passive and active learning opportunities. Organizational training programs are a great example. We are provided options to seek out training to enhance skill or capability for fulfillment and advancement, but we are often not outright ordered to take those courses. Conversely, when it comes to the obligatory compliance training course, there is no question that we are active ordered to attend. So, what is the difference in thought for a person that attends to the mandated compliance course and walks away with retained knowledge from a person who walks away with a check mark in the course completion box? How come one person falls asleep while another ponders what circumstances led to the need to develop a response that trained resources in advance?

Is it maturity? Is it topical interest? Is it recognized value?

It might be something called Emotional Intelligence (EI).

e·mo·tion·al in·tel·li·gence
noun

brain-954816_960_720
the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one's emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.
"emotional intelligence is the key to both personal and professional success"

In a forthcoming post, I’ll discuss some of the things that hinder and help us learn and how this general topic relates so importantly to mentoring.

In the meantime, here’s some things to keep your brain busy. Keep these questions in the back of your head as you go through your work and home life. What do you come up with at the end of each day?

  1. How does state of mind impact training effectiveness and adoption?
  2. How can a person simply eradicate training or good judgment from thought?
  3. Why does taught knowledge not always “stick”?
  4. What is it in experiential learning that cements the lesson?
  5. How can we empower ourselves to learn, and then again by applying the learning?

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Please! Go Screw Something Up!

I was asked this week to provide a statement to the broader community of participants in a mentoring program I am involved in (not mine). In thinking about what I wished to say, I accidentally reminded myself of a thought I haven't uttered in some time, yet it's ingrained in the mentoring I do....and it happens to be the title of this post.

We're terrified to fail, you know, and it's a shame.

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Failing is one of the best learning mechanisms we can have, yet we do everything we can to avoid it like the plague. Often, we learn best when fall the hardest, because those situations have the most vivid, longest lasting memories.

Atychiphobia is the abnormal, unwarranted, and persistent fear of failure, a type of specific phobia. As with many phobias, atychiphobia often leads to a constricted lifestyle, and is particularly devastating for its effects on a person's willingness to attempt certain activities. --wikipedia.com

What about fear of trying?

Neophobia, cainotophobia or cainophobia is the fear of anything new, especially a persistent and abnormal fear. In its milder form, it can manifest as the unwillingness to try new things or break from routine. --wikipedia.com

I would just like to reiterate our thought for the day. Our Edict! I give you permission to...

Go screw something up!

By the time you are done screwing something up, you will have tried. I applaud you for trying! You have tested the waters, failed in your endeavor, admonished yourself harder than anyone else could, and learned both the steps to performing the task incorrectly AND potentially the avoidance path for the next time. If you are reading this after making a mistake, you will also by now realize that you are alive and life has NOT ended. Not to minimize the significance of some failures, nor debilitating conditions described above, but we often are so hard on ourselves anticipating the failure that hasn't happened yet, we actually talk ourselves right out of adding to discourse, changing behavior, attempting a new activity or completing a task. We do this so well and so fast that we sometimes don't even realize that we are doing it, and it takes over before we are even close to being aware of it. If you fave failed, you made it through to the other side! Most importantly, if you have failed, you have started the process of conquering your fears. Why am I talking about this? As business analysts, we're on the front line of discovery and engagement with our customers during some of the earliest and toughest stages of projects. As you know, we interact with everyone from helpful SMEs to Type A Executives with lots of power (and they know it). Allowing our fears to manifest can be a huge problem, because we're expected to actively deliver information, analysis, identified risk, and dialog that helps customers make decisions. Any of this sound familiar....? I can't. I shouldn't. What if they don't like what I say? That's stupid. They'd hate that. I'd lose my job. You idiot! I could never...That's not my job. That's his problem. I have no idea. I wouldn't know. She hates me. He thinks I'm a moron. My opinion has no value......and on and on and on....  
  1. 1

Here are a few steps to help turn it around....

  1. Have a conversation....with yourself. If your fears can get the better of you, make it a practice to make you tell yourself what you are afraid of. Say it in your head and out loud. Hear it. Then ask what could happen if your fear becomes a reality. What are the true consequences and are they as severe as those your mind envisions? The internal dialog provides you a forum to safely talk things out and safely validate that you have a fear.
  2. Really listen to yourself respond. Being mindful of your own voice and the emotions that lock you up and out of being able to be your best is extremely powerful and can lead you through resolving anger, calming fears and making hard decisions with confidence. There must be something to all this.....Take a run through the links above, and notice that there is attention to and teachings in this subject from bloggers; journalists; professionals; educators and spiritualists.
  3. Grant permission for your fear and/or to fail. Encourage it. The acknowledgement that you CAN fail and it's OK takes the power away from it. The next step puts you into control.
  4. Make your failure plan in writing. When the time comes that you realize you've screwed something up, plan out what you will say to yourself, what you will say to others who point it out, what steps (generic) you will take to rectify AND how you will capture the learning experience. No matter the outcome, you will have something to take away from the experience.
  5. Finally, take a look around. The rest of us are right there with you with the same fears and struggles to look good and not show weakness. Ugh! It's exhausting, too.
Learning about how to empower yourself to fail and conquer your fears is a great opportunity to grow, but with it comes responsibility and consequences....good and bad. Your new found empowerment isn't an open door to confidently burst into a meeting and point out the fallacies of the company's mission statement or the courage to tell your boss what you think of her. It's a way to allow yourself the confidence and courage to have a voice and opinion that has meaning when used properly and respectfully. Mentoring often highlights situations in which completely competent, capable people/professionals have every means to accomplish what they seek to do, yet they are stuck. We stand in our own way far more than we imagine others standing before us. Move aside! You have places to go! If you are open to sharing your fears and how you conquered them, special advice from others that has stuck, and how you felt when you beat the beast off your back....you would provide great encouragement through your story!  

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How Project Analysis Matters to the Larger Architectural Picture

This post seeks to shed some light on the differences between project analysis and enterprise analysis, where business architecture takes on a more important and visible role. As our profession grows and matures, understanding the commonalities and differences in analytical technique will serve to promote the BA role.

Continue reading “How Project Analysis Matters to the Larger Architectural Picture”

Who, What, Where, When, Why, How

The words in the paragraph header above are the simplest terms that we, as business analysts, can focus on to collect information and maintain it during the execution of a project. They provide our view of the project world we will operate in. Without it, we don’t have a clue about what we are doing or where we are going on a project….and the BA plays a key role in setting up the whole team to understand the project and problem domain from the start. Yet even when we get all pertinent project data collected and analyzed, it is still common to get hit with scope expansion due to hidden surprises, and surprises can cause issues with success. Why is that?

Often, projects are more than what is in the SOW in front of us that defines our scope; miss it in the discovery and estimation and it’s too late. Missing the bigger picture is easy when focused on specific aspects of change or solution delivery. There are two really important reasons for this (well probably more, but you only have so much time to read here). First, failure to actively question reality, and; second, myopic views of a solution. Questioning is a primary skill of the business analyst and we are all able to execute this, but ACTIVELY questioning a series of stop gap questions can help avoid scope creep and pitfalls while concurrently building your domain knowledge.

Consider this scenario…..

Assume that you have identified five stakeholder groups and their roles on your project. You understand who they are, what they do in the business, what knowledge they have and what user stories/use cases they are associated with. You also have been able to identify their needs for the current project outcomes (process and software). As you build your process, you are able to tie activities to the stakeholders that have been identified. You then build a context diagram to understand the general system and data architecture for reference, and you are able to also tie your identified stakeholders to the in scope system. However, your research (YOUR QUESTIONING) shows that the system actual sends and receives data with three other systems; none owned or operated by your identified stakeholders. What are these other systems? What do they do? Who uses or relies on them? How do they map to the business?

You have just identified out-of-scope impacts to and from your project and are about to delve into business and enterprise architecture. (Thank gosh this doesn’t happen in real life, right?). Your limited view of your project domain has grown to include other business and/or technical architecture elements that all work together in some way. How a BA addresses these other elements is often the distinguishing characteristic of our profession.

scopeexpansion

Identify Project Impact to the Larger Enterprise Structure through Questioning

Projects are executed to complete a set of tasks to achieve a goal or objective. When they are estimated, it is not uncommon to have unknown elements, such as the scenario we just encountered. It’s easy to see how a project can quickly get into trouble when encountering surprises that impact scope, ability to complete on-time, and project budgets. The triple-threat at work!

A Technical Solution HAS IMPACTS! Analyze the Total Solution!

Good business analysts think about all the interdependencies that scope creep entails and the inquire about the details. Even when the answer is known, questioning serves as a validation mechanism. The three impacts/systems you identified are there for a reason. This is where the information you have or don’t have can be used to fill in gaps in the larger picture (remember no information is an answer, too). If you’ve ever done a logic puzzle, this is much in the same. You are using a few pieces of information to make assumptions and validate those to lock in as many facts as possible in order to solve the total puzzle.

At this point, knowing that new items have been identified, the most effective BA technique is to refer back to the technical architecture/business architecture/prior project documentation (because we KNOW that was the first thing you pulled together when you came on project. Right? Right!). If not, get your hands on it and start locating the pieces that form the domains that your project application and processes live in.

In the absence of these documents and diagrams, you have in this example the beginnings of at least your local architecture and how your project fits into the bigger elements.

Technical Documents and Diagrams that Are Helpful

There are several primary documents/diagrams that I rely on regularly to help shed light on the technical architecture. Each of these provides a specific view of the technical structure. There are MANY, MANY others.

  • Context Diagram: a simple model that shows a central system and the surrounding system architecture, plus the TYPE of information that gets passed back and forth. Easily consumable by business.
  • Technical Infrastructure Framework/Diagram: a complete model of the technical infrastructure on all levels. Usually very complex but an excellent source for researching technical architecture.
  • Data Dictionary + Data Model or ERD + Data Flow: This data “trifecta” is technical in nature but is built around business and organizational concepts and structures. Knowing what the data is reflects the “conversation” between roles and systems, which allows processes to function.
  • Integration Model: Usually not part of the technical repertoire, but a great addition to show which systems interact with one another and often includes data types for passed information through the integration points.

Business Documents and Diagrams that Are Helpful

There are several primary documents/diagrams that I rely on regularly to help shed light on the business or organizational architecture. Most you’ve heard of before.

  • Glossary of Terms and Acronyms: Cannot stress enough how important this super simple document is to have in place and iteratively built through the life of a project. Common taxonomy and shared understanding is a HUGE issue in achieving success on a project
  • Organization Chart: Another simple document that can help tie pieces together as information builds. It normally serves to identify people, roles, titles and business units, but ad-hoc notation can be added by the BA to includes capability utilization, data types, system utilization and more.
  • Process Flow and/or Use Case Diagram: The de facto form of “what the business does, who does what, when “it” occurs and how people and systems interact together.
  • Capability Model: A business architecture reference that defines what the business does, but not how. It represents the core capabilities for the master organization or the business units within/subsidiaries. The capability model can be used to map every other element of the organization to individual capabilities, which provides a clear line of sight view for people, processes, systems, data and other elements. It is often non-existent in less mature organizations, but the BA can begin to craft it as the project occurs to provide superior value and domain understanding.
  • Context Diagram: While this is a technical artifact, I really like how simple it is and have often used it to illustrate business units and the information and actions that pass back and forth between them.

Take Away

Requirements are often cited as a primary reason for project issues and failure, though I refuse to cite the Standish Chaos Report again. While true in some regards, the root cause is a much stickier issue that can be traced many times to lack of or elimination of proper discovery to clearly identify the complete scope of an effort. The BA encounters a situation in which requirements are essentially needed for an unknown, hence the importance of questioning. When encountering scope surprises…

  • ask the right questions (who, what, where, when, WHY, how) over and over
  • also question what is NOT evident or obvious (are there roles that don’t map to systems? data that doesn’t map to capabilities or process? process that doesn’t map to roles or systems?)
  • revisit the available documentation and interview key SMEs to acquire answers
  • pull the pieces of your problem domain together to build an updated view and define impact
  • document the architectural mappings and alignments as a value add for your customer (and your team’s ability to succeed)
  • learn the general architectural constructs that work best for YOU when trying to craft answers about the bigger pieces

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