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Sunday, November 27, 2016

Understanding the Unspoken

Imagine that you have prepared for a week for the perfect requirements workshop. You know your agenda is on point and the techniques you are going to use are perfect for the group you will be facilitating. You are confident that this will be a successful workshop.  You also know that all the participants were prepped prior to the meeting on the purpose of the meeting and the changes that will be coming through this project.  The morning of the workshop you walk into the room confident. You start to set up the room ready for the day. Individuals start to arrive for the meeting. You smile and greet them as they walk in. Some greet you back and others do not. You start to wonder why there are some that are being cold and you haven't even started the session yet. You begin to get concerned as now you are beginning to wonder what this session will really be like.

As you begin the session you go through the agenda. You can tell that some are engaged while others are clearly disengaged. You begin to slowly get discouraged as this session might be harder than you expected.

I'm sure everyone has experienced this before. I have found that the unspoken can be just as telling as the spoken.  Truly, actions do speak louder than words.  However, you can still maintain your composure and confidence even in this environment. Here's how.

  1. Your response - how you respond to the dynamics in the room can define the environment.  It's important you still maintain control and composure.  Your reaction is more important than anyone else in the room. Facilitate the workshop with confidence, engage those who are engaged and those who are not by asking for their insight, ensure that all voices are being heard in the room even if his takes you of your agenda.
  2. Observe - It's really important in all that you do you observe.  In this type of situation though you need to observe quickly. Scan the room and carefully watch the body language. If you see individuals not making eye contact, arms crossed, leaning back in their chair or even checking their emails on their phone, there is probably a reason to be concerned. This may be telling you their mind is elsewhere when you really need it to be in the room.  When a person is engaged their body language may consists of sitting up straight, leaning forward, head nods, taking notes and making eye contact to make a few. If you are getting mixed body language in the meeting you may need to adjust your style quickly. The key to this is doing it quickly. Time is of the essence so it's important to be comfortable that your well laid out plans may need to be adjusted on the fly. So how do you do this you make ask? Great question! Move to number 2. 
  3. Adjust your style - You have to be comfortable changing up your agenda at a drop of a hat. If you are too bound to your plan without any flexibility your life as a facilitator is going to be rough. You may need to pause the agenda and do an exercise or ice breaker to lighten up the mood in the room or you may just need to go around the room to hear what is on the individuals mind. The focus here is to adjust you style to the environment to a place where everyone is somewhat comfortable. Everyone may not be totally comfortable, but your goal is to get the disengaged less disengaged and more comfortable. In order to do that you will need to drive it. Maybe tell a person story that relates to the topic you are there to talk about, or go around the room and ask everyone what is the one problem that keeps them up at night, or maybe find out why they feel they are a part of the workshop. You may find out why the disengagement is occurring. Once you lighten the atmosphere you want to seek to understand which is #3 below. 
  4. Seek to understand - Based on the questions you asked as you tried to lighten the mood you might have gained some insight on the disengagement, but if you are still getting resistance you may want to have a 1:1 conversation with the individuals who are disengaged after the meeting. Depending on how bad the disengagement is you may want to take a 15-20 minute break and pull the individual aside to have a conversation. You may find they did not want to share their concerns in front if others and having a more private conversation they are willing to open up. You need to continue to focus on the objective at hand without getting off your game during the meeting, but you've got to take time to understand why there are some who are disengaged. 
Once you have an understanding on the dynamics in the room and the concerns then continue to adjust your style.  Adjusting your style doesn't mean you are weak, it means you are taking into consideration everyone in the room who has a vested interest in the project.  It means you are creating an inclusive environment to understand the business needs to ensure an optimal solution is created.  

Remember, you need to ensure you are flexible and adaptable to your environment.  That is what takes you from good to great.


The BA Martial Artist

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Where Do I Start?

You've finally landed that business analysis job you've been waiting for. You get up the morning of your first day and you are so excited to start this new adventure that you are almost skipping around the house. As you get ready you start thinking about the new people you will meet, the projects you will be assigned and how to make a great first impression on your manager. You grab your keys and walk out the door. As you drive to work you can't hide your excitement. You pull in to the parking ramp and head inside to embark on your new journey. The security guard is waiting for you with your badge and one of your teammates is waiting for you to show you to your desk. As you walk through corridors you see people working on their laptops or on conference calls. You feel you will fit right in as the environment feels like home. As you are shown to your desk you begin to put everything in order. You are impressed with all the supplies and materials already on your desk ready for you to get to work.  As you organize the last thing on your desk, you get a tap on your shoulder. It's one of your co-workers. She introduces herself as the project manager for one of the projects you will be assigned to.  Your excitement is bursting within you. She takes you around the office to meet your fellow co-workers.  As you meet the last one she motions you to head with her to a conference room to discuss the project you will be working with her on. She explains this a multi-million project that is a high priority for the organization.  So there is a lot of visibility.  She explains the scope of the project, stakeholders involved and timeline. The timeline is very aggressive. She excited to have you onboard because you have to start requirement workshops in 4 days and she is ready to get this project rolling. 

As you leave the room to go back to your desk your excitement turns to panic.  This is your first business analysis job. Reality begins to set in. You really don't know where to start. You start sweating as questions start coming to your mind faster than you can handle. You look around the office as you are walking and it appears everyone has it together and knows what they are doing. You are not feeling like you fit in anymore. As you reach your desk you sit down slowly, feeling defeated before you even begin. 

How many of us have felt that way at some point in our career? How many of us have let fear overtake our confidence? How many of us claim defeat before we even begin when faced with a difficult task? 

We have all experienced this feeling at one point in our life if we are truly honest. Though this post is specific to business analysis work, there are concepts here everyone can use regardless of the situation. As I mentor and coach business analysts this is one consistent question I get (especially the junior business analysts), "where do I start?"

Let's go back to our scenario and I will present some ideas on we can help this new business analyst get their confidence back.  

Breathe - when presented with a challenge where you are panicked take a few deep breaths. Breathing will calm your body and clear your mind, detoxify your body and relieve pain to name a few benefits. It sounds simple, and maybe even silly to some, but many of us don't stop during the day to regulate our breathing. It's important to first get calm before you tackle anything. If you don't the situation can overcome you and leave you feeling defeated.

Absorb - once you get to your "zen" moment, take a moment to absorb the information that was presented. Hopefully you were taking notes while information was being explained. Even if you weren't just take a moment to digest the information you heard. 

Request - request from the project manager documentation about the project so you can start reviewing the information. In addition to the documentation start to do research on the organization as a whole. Understand the mission and vision of the organization. Look at the organizational charts to understand the key players. Learn the methodology used in the organization to do project management activities. Determine the artifacts that will need to be produced. Also, take time to meet the other business analysts on the team. You can learn a lot from the other business analysts. Start building crucial relationships.  Who knows you may create a mentoring relationship out of it. 

Plan - not that you've done your research start to determine your approach for the business analysis activities. This is where you start to determine how you will prepare for the workshop, how you will conduct the workshop, how you will elicit requirements, how you will document the requirements and how you will validate/confirm the requirements. This is the area I want to spend a little time because this is the area where my clients in the past have had the most challenge getting started. 
  • Stakeholders - it's important you understand the stakeholders and their role for the meeting. Know who the decision makers are because that will make your life easier. A tool you can leverage to document this out is the RACI matrix. 
  • Logistics - determine if this meeting will be face to face, virtual or a combination. If face to face look at the room it will be held so you can determine how best to set up the room. You want the room set up in such a way that everyone will be engaged. If virtual make sure you know the software available to you to facilitate the call/videoconference. If you've never used the software before find someone who can help you get acclimated to it prior to the meeting.  Make sure you have someway to capture items that need to be discussed a later time (parking lot items). Ensure these items are addressed and dispositioned. 
  • Agenda - think through the agenda of events for the workshop. It's often a good idea to do an icebreaker (that's not offensive) as a way to get to know individuals. Also start with working agreements (also known as ground rules), but ensure you give a couple of examples and have the group come with ideas as well. This allows the team to feel that they are contributed.  Make sure the agenda lists out the timeframe for the agenda item, the agenda item and who will be leading that part of the agenda. An example of agenda may look like the below (Please note this is just an example and depending on the organization timeframes and tasks could be different. For example, if current and future state maps were created you may just review them opposed to creating them.): 
    • 8:00 - 8:05 am - Welcome -Business Analyst
    • 8:05 - 8:20 am - Icebreaker - Business Analyst 
    • 8:20 - 8:30 am - Words from sponsor - Sponsor
    • 8:30 - 8:50 am - Project Overview - Project Manager/Business Analyst
    • 8:50 - 9:00 am - Explanation of requirements workshop approach - Business Analyst
    • 9:00 - 10:00 am - Document current state - Business Analyst
    • 10:00 - 10:15 am - Morning Break
    • 10:15 - 12:00 pm - Document Future State - Business Analyst
    • 12:00 - 1:00 pm - Lunch
    • 1:05 - 3:00 pm - Continue with future state - Business Analyst
    • 3:00 - 4:00 pm - Elicit requirements - Business Analyst
    • 4:00 - 4:30 pm - Recap of the day and next steps for Day 2
Set Expectations - sit down with the project manager to set expectations on how you will work together and how you plan to approach the project.  Make any changes to your approach based of feedback from the project manager. If you the ability to meet with the sponsor and stakeholders prior to the workshop then take advantage of that. You can learn a lot about a person from just having a conversation. This may help you understand how to facilitate the workshop. I have created a template called the "PM/BA Agreement" that helps to have this conversation.

Execute - execute on your plan. If things are not going as smoothly as you would like then tweak as needed. If the workshop is the first time you are meeting the audience you will start to understand personalities and communication styles. You may also realize that the room may need to be set up differently for engagement so you may to rearrange the room or use a different approach for those who are joining on the phone. 

Document - document what you think you heard and validate that information as correct as you document it.  Try not to take feedback personally as your job is to document the needs of the business.  Remember, diversity is powerful and helps create powerful solutions.

Retrospective - take time to request feedback throughout the process. These are lessons learned. You do not have to wait until the requirements are completed to ask for feedback. Getting feedback early is a "gift" and can help you be a more effective business analyst. 

As you continue to learn the organization and the stakeholders the fear you once had will turn into confidence. It's important to take a moment to collect yourself so you can be as effective as possible. It's okay to initially not know how to approach a task, but be confident in who you are and the skills you bring to the table. Secure a mentor who can help you through the process. Even if you do fail, dust yourself off, square your shoulders, hold your head up high and go for it again. Failures are not weaknesses, but rather bring you one step closer to your successes. You can do this as long as you believe in yourself and put in the work. 

I have templates for the RACI matrix, agenda, PM/BA agreements, requirements documentation, how to approach working agreements and capturing retrospective. If you are interested in any of these templates please send me an email ( and advise of which templates you want. 

The BA Martial Artist

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Facebook Page: Paula A Bell Consulting, LLC
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Saturday, September 24, 2016

Overcoming the Distractions

I think everyone can agree that there is SO MUCH going on in this world today.  From violence, racial discord, political unrest, just to name a few.  It's very easy to get caught up in all of the chaos with access to social media, conversations you hear as you are out and about or even at work.  However, some of this can take you away from what you are truly trying to accomplish in your life.  Distractions come in all shapes and forms.  Some can add value to your life, while others clearly do not.  Distractions can come in your personal life and take you away from taking care of yourself or your family.  Distractions can come at work and take you away from the true tasks you need to achieve.  Distractions can come when you are trying to reach certain goals in your life and take you off course.   So how do overcome those things that are distractions to ensure you maintain focus?  Here are a few things I have learned through this journey called "life".  Without focus you can easily become distracted and lose precious time that could have been used to reach your goals.

  1. Acknowledgement - in all things the first thing you need to do is acknowledge a distraction is present.  This is easier said than done in some cases.  Sometimes you may not even recognize there is a distraction as you go through the motions. So you may ask, "how on earth do you acknowledge something you may not even know is there?" One clear way to recognize a distraction is to find yourself in turmoil, distress or constant chaos that is adding absolutely no value to your life.  If you find/feel in your gut that something isn't right, something probably isn't right.  If there is something that is constantly pulling you away from what you want to achieve  you need to 1. listen to your gut 2. take a moment and stop what you are doing - be still 3. reflect on that item that is giving you the angst in your gut to determine what to do next.  Our gut tells us a lot of things, but it's up to us to listen to it.  You have to take time away from the situation, just sit and be still, in order to take control back from the "thing" that is giving the turmoil and chaos.  The "being still" part is allowing you to just sit and think outside of the noise.  Then you must reflect.  What part are you playing in the chaos? Who are the additional players in the chaos? Is this particular situation adding value or taking value away from what you're  trying to accomplish in life?  Depending on the answers to these questions you need to fully acknowledge the issue.  Don't beat yourself up over it because we all go through chaotic times in our life where we allow unnecessary distractions in. However, if you don't acknowledge the issue it will continue to reek havoc in your life.  So the first step is identifying and acknowledging you have a distraction that is adding absolutely "no value" to your life.
  2. Remove the distraction - once you have acknowledged you have a distraction that is not adding value to your life you need to remove it.  This could mean removing friends, acquaintances, organizations, companies, etc...This can be extremely hard depending on who or what you are removing.  If it's not adding value to your life, and just more turmoil, do you really want that to be a part of your life?  Why would you keep unnecessary drama in your life, unless you just like that sort to thing?  If you have distractions that are causing you to perform horribly at work, not meet you personal or work goals, stress, changing your attitude about yourself and on life in general, why on earth would you want to keep that distraction?  DO NOT let a distraction alter the joy you have.  Now I know there will be some situations that are harder to navigate depending on the distraction.  For example working with a co-worker.  In work situations if you have individuals that just make it hard for you to do your job, but really have no influence on the ability to remove them it can be challenging to remove the distraction.  However, there are behaviors that are under your control.  You have the ability to control one's self and how you interact with that individual, and those around you.  Don't feed into that individual when you know they are doing things to push you buttons.  Step away and determine what you need to do to calm down (taking deep breaths might help).  The more you feed into that person, or alter your behaviors, the more control you are giving that other individual.  I'm not saying this is easy to do, but if you want to keep your sanity and peace you may need to alter your behaviors in situations where you don't have as much control to remove the distraction.  Ultimately you control "your behaviors" and what you will and will not allow to take away your peace of mind.
  3. Accountability - find individuals who will hold you accountable.  I have accountability partners that keep me set on my goals and what I want to achieve  The reason I have accountability partners is sometimes while you're in the mess you don't see as clearly as you could.  My accountability partners are on the outside looking in and can alert me to things I may not clearly see.  They are trusted advisors that know what to say to get my attention.  I had to find a way to hold myself accountable from not allowing distractions to take me off focus., as I have a lot I want to achieve.  With social media and other vehicles that easily feed into negative energy, if used incorrectly, I had to be careful not to be sucked into that world.  In order for me to do that I hold myself accountable, but I also have others who hold me accountable as well.
  4. Retrospective - in all things do self introspection.  If there are distractions coming at you, what are you doing to either feed into those distractions or attract them.  It first starts with you.  You control "YOU".  So don't blame others look at yourself first.  Once you have a true session with yourself then identify what you need to do to remove the distraction.  Also, reflect on why you allowed the distraction in to begin with because you may see a pattern.  
Sometimes we allow individuals to take advantage of us because we are a good natured and caring.  Sometimes we allow our goal to overshadow our life and take away the joy and peace we could be truly experiencing.  Sometimes we allow individuals opinions of our goals or aspirations to stop us from achieving what we KNOW we are meant to do.  Sometime we allow conditions to dictate how we react and take us away from enjoying life.  Sometimes we just give people too much control over our own life.  Sometimes we just allow enormous amounts of distractions to come our way because we don't believe in ourselves.  Sometimes we don't even recognize we have a distraction.  

There are a lot of reason why we do what we do and why we react the way we do.  However, you control "YOU"!  You can control and overcome these distractions that are adding no value to your life.  You were put on this earth with a purpose.  You have goals and visions you want to achieve.  Don't allow distractions, in what ever form they come, to distract you from fulfilling your purpose and vision.  

There will always be distractions, but the question is how you will handle them?  Will you allow them to overtake you or will you overtake them?

The BA Martial Artist
Paula A. Bell Consulting, LLC

Monday, August 29, 2016

Part 2 - Being That Change Agent

As discussed in "Part 1 - Managing Through Change How to Survive", change is hard, but not changing is fatal.  However, as business analysts and leaders we are leading change constantly.  We are the agents driving the change and need to drive the change effectively.  So how do you do that?

  1. Understand the "WHY" - one of the main reasons change is not accepted is because people do not understand the "why".  It's important to understand why the change is occurring.  The change should relate to an organizational strategy with benefits.  You will need to articulate this "why" many times as you try to secure buy-in and help implement the change .
  2. Believe in the Change - In order to get others to buy into the change you need to believe in the change yourself.  If you don't believe in the change people will feel that and may be hesitant to accept the change.  If you have concerns with the change, voice those concerns with the appropriate people so you gain understand and gain a comfort level.
  3. Effectively Communicate the Change - one of the most important components of change is communication.  You will need to communicate frequently, maybe over communicate.  It's just as critical HOW you communicate than WHAT you communicate.
  4. Be Aware of the Different Emotions - being aware is critical as well because that awareness can guide how you communicate.  People are going to go through different emotions at different times so be prepared to be flexible with your communication style and interactions.  You may need to ease some individuals into the change which means how you approach meetings and conversations may change.
It's important that during change you understand, believe, communicate observe and repeat all of those.  Change is hard because it feels as if you are no longer in control.  However change can be a great thing.  The reason a project exists is because something is changing. As business analysts you are the agent to drive that change.  Don't just focus on getting the job done, but also focus on the emotions of the individuals you will be working with.  You will be a more effective change agent.  

The BA Martial Artist

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Part 1 - Managing Through Change - How to Survive!

I think we can all admit that the only thing that is constant is change.  The reason we are on projects is because something needs to change.  However, through change there are a lot of emotions that occur.  So the question is how do you manage through that?  Here are some best practices I have learned over the years.


  • Communication - communication is key. The communication needs to be honest, direct and frequent.  People take change differently so be aware that there will be resistance, acceptance, shock, concern and many more reactions.  Be aware of that, and take that into consideration with your communication style.
  • Empathy and Sympathy - it's not just about making the changes, but understanding how those changes will make individuals feel.  Think about a time when something changed in your life, how did you react to it?  How did it make you feel?  If you were ever laid off how did that make you feel? Some of these same emotions may be felt by those on your team. 
  • Be Available - during change it's important that you don't stay in your office.  People are uneasy and unsure.  They may not understand why the change is needed.  It's important you are visible and willing to answer any questions that may posed to you, even if you don't have the answer.  Saying something is better than not saying anything. Being visible is better than not being visible at all. 
  • Perspective - don't forget to keep everything in perspective.  You are dealing with people whose jobs may be impacted, whose roles may change.  Keep that in mind as you communicate and interact with individuals.  This can be a very sensitive time for individuals.  Remember you are human just like they are.
  • Don't Lie - if you don't know an answer to a question, or if decisions are still being made on certain topics, don't make stuff up when you are talking to your team.  Team members can tell when you are lying to them or making things up.  You need to keep trust during this time not lose it.  Trust is hard to gain, but very easy to lose. 
  • Motivation, Engagement & Taking Care of Yourself - keeping the team motivated and engaged during a world of change can be extremely hard.  The team will feed off of your vibe, so watch your vibe, and ensure you have an outlet to vent or discuss any concerns you have.  The team is going to heavily rely on you as a manager to provide guidance and security.  So you need to ensure you are taking care of yourself as you take care of the them.

Team Members

  • Honesty - be honest on how you feel.  If you are angry, confused or have some other type of emotion communicate that to your manager.  You manager is there to help you through the change.  Be open and honest with them about your concerns.
  • Communication - ask questions when you are feeling uneasy.  Don't break down in communication.  There is no stupid question, especially during change.  So ask away.
  • Keep an Open Mind - change will happen whether you like it not.  Make sure you understand the change and WHY the change is occurring.  Most changes make sense (I didn't say all but most :-)).  So keep an open mind and look for how the change may provide you better opportunities or make your work life easier.  
  • Don't Overreact - don't make swift decisions, or jump ship. You never know what the change will provide as opportunities. Think very strategically and understand the change before you start making movements. 
  • Stay Engaged and Motivated - I know this can be hard, but your attitude can really show leadership the type of team member you are.  You never know, your attitude might open up more opportunities for you.

These are just a couple of tidbits I've picked up along the way I wanted to share.  Change is difficult, but not changing is fatal.  Change is constant so it's going to happen, and most of the time out of your control.  Try to embrace change, you never know where the change will lead you.


BA Martial Artist

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Job Search - Don't Let Frustration Overshadow Your Value

Over the last few months I have had clients ask me the following: 'How do you get into the business analysis field without having a job with the formal title of Business Analyst?" "I've applied for business analysis jobs but am not getting any call backs, what am I doing wrong?" I have made it as a finalist in the interview process, but I still didn't get the job offer, what else can I do?"

First, you may not be doing anything wrong at all.  Second, I know it's frustrating,  but perseverance is the key.  Third, there are some fundamental things you should be doing that can help give you that edge during your career search that I see a lot of individuals miss out on.

First let me begin with my story.  Back in 2008 I knew, without  a shadow of a doubt, I wanted to be in management.  I've always had a desire within me to lead since I was young.  At work I would get stretch assignments where I was indirectly leading individuals, but could not land that formal management role.  After a while this got old because I felt as though I was good enough to do stretch assignments, but not good enough to actually be in a formal management role.  You do start to get frustrated and in some regards, bitter.  Every time I would apply for a position there would always be this requirement of "so many years of management experience (directly leading people who report to you)".  Unfortunately I didn't have that direct report requirement and that would knock me out of the running, though I have tons of leadership experience through my career.  I've been in leadership roles since the age of 5, but because at the time I did not directly lead people I would get overlooked.  What added insult to injury to me at that the time is that leading individuals indirectly is harder than leading individuals directly.  Mainly because you have no direct control over their work or performance because frankly they don't report to you. If you can get individuals to follow you that don't report to you, in my mind, shows how great of a leader you are.  Frankly, I would rather have a strong leader than manager.  So for 4 years, yes 4 YEARS, I continued to apply for positions within the company I worked and I wasn't making much headway.  Then I decided that maybe I needed to start applying outside of the company.  So in year 4 that is exactly what I did.  I would always make it to the finals, but I would always be a runner up to the internal candidate.  That again, was frustrating because I felt why couldn't the same thing happen within the company at worked (picking the internal candidate over external)?  Then you start second guessing yourself to determine if you are ready or not.  Luckily in 2012, a management position became available where the hiring manager didn't ask for management experience, but rather leadership experience.  That made all the difference in the world for me.  I prepared hard to interview for this position and I went in with everything I had because I felt this may be my only chance to get into management.  I did get the position and now I work really hard to help people through their career development journey.  There are a lot of factors that may cause you to not get a job and it may not be because you are not qualified for it.  It really could be a better fit situation or there is something better coming for you that you aren't even aware of.

Here are some things I have learned over the last 8 years of my career journey.

Advice to job searching candidates:

  1. Resume - When applying for a job make sure your resume speaks to the required, and any desired qualifications of a job.  This may require you to tweak your resumes for each job to really showcase you have the skills the hiring manager is looking for.  Typically recruiters and/or hiring managers are scanning a ton of resumes very quickly.  If they cannot easily identify you have the skills being requested you may get overlooked.  Remember this is your first chance to market yourself.  I wouldn't suggest you lie on your resume though because recruiters and hiring managers can pick up on that as well.  Just thought I needed to throw that in there.  :-)
  2. Job Applications - Apply for jobs for which you are qualified.  I'm all about going for positions that are a stretch from your current role, but make sure that stretch is realistic.  Also, be realistic on salary requirements if it is asked on the application.  Asking for $100,000 base salary on an entry level position is a bit unrealistic for a lot of professions.  Sometimes it's those items on the application that can take you out of the candidate pool from the beginning.
  3. Social Media/Branding - Make sure your social media profiles are clean.  Though some companies advise it's against policy to decide on a candidate based on their social media, I'm not convinced some companies still don't look.  It's better to be safe than sorry.  If you have information out there that is questionable you may want to clean that up as you are searching for jobs.
  4. Interviewing - Make sure you prep for the interview.  Read the job description thoroughly and have examples of work you have done in your career that align to the responsibilities being asked of in the job description.  Ensure your attire is appropriate for the interview.  Blues, grays and blacks are common and safe colors for the interview.  Also, ladies tone down your perfume and jewelry if appropriate.  You don't want those items to be a distraction from what you are saying in the interview.  In addition, gentleman watch your cologne.  Come prepared to the interview to hand the interviewers with a copy of your resume, and if sample work has been requested have copies for everyone.  Also, remember you are interviewing those interviewing you as well.  You need to determine if this is the right job for you, so don't just think you are the one being interviewed.  Come prepared with some great questions to ask those who interview you.  Also, ensure you send a thank you note after your interview.  You will be amazed how many people don't do this and how many times that has been the decider on whether they get hired or not.  
  5. Perseverance - This is the KEY.  Finding a new job can be quite frustrating.  Especially if you are consistently getting the rejection letter.  Try not to let the frustration get the best of you.   I know it's hard because I have let it get the best of me in the past.  Sometimes it's not that you are doing anything wrong.  It could come down to you and another strong candidate and who fits better in the organization.  I have been turned down for multiple jobs over my career and it's not that I interviewed poorly, actually it's been the exact opposite.  It's because the other candidate had something that would have been a better fit on the team, or they may have done work in that space already and it would take less time for them to get up to speed on getting the job done (learning curve).  What I can tell you is that hiring managers/recruiters do look at how you react to job rejection as well.  Keep that in mind as you solicit feedback and talk to the hiring manage/recruiter.  You just made a connection, you have done networking to an extent, and you never know when that next position will come around and you my be reached out to.  

I do extensive resume and interview preparation as one of the tiers of my consulting business.  If you would like to find out more please visit my website at Paula A. Bell Consulting

Advice to hiring managers/recruiters:

  1. Knowledge - Recruiters ensure that you truly understand what the hiring manager is looking for.  Take time to understand the different terminology candidates could potentially use when applying for the job.  It's important you understand the domain in which you are hiring.  Hiring managers do rely on recruiters and we hope that the recruiters understand what we are looking for.  Also, hiring managers it would be prudent for your to look at your candidate pool as well and create a list of those individuals you think would be great candidates, and compare those to what the recruiter has.  This has nothing to do with lack of trust, but everything to do with ensuring you are both on the same page on what you are seeking.  You may find, based on the candidate pool, you may have forgotten to emphasize a very specific skill you want to the recruiter.  Not only does this help the recruiter understand what you are looking for, but frankly, it also helps the candidates not go through a painful interviewing process if they shouldn't have been in the process to begin with.
  2. Feedback - This the number 1 frustrating thing I hear from all clients, and frankly a frustration I have had.  There is nothing more frustrating than going through a LONG interview process and then the hiring manager or recruiter won't even reach out to you to give you feedback, whether you solicit it or not.  We have got to do better in this space with candidates, especially those who make it as a finalist.  I personally feel as a hiring manager if a candidate has made it to interview with me, it is my RESPONSIBILITY and DUTY to reach out to that candidate and give feedback (preferably on the phone, not through email) on why they didn't get the position.  There is really NO EXCUSE for not doing this.  I don't care how busy you are as a hiring,  it's frankly DISRESPECTFUL to the candidate, and the process, to at least not reach out to the candidate and give constructive feedback.  You had time to interview them you have time to make a 5-10 minute call to provide feedback.  Also, hiring managers, YOU need to contact the candidate, not the recruiter.  As you can tell I'm a little passionate about this topic because this is the area that has caused me the most frustration in my job search journey.   
  3. Searching for Candidates - Open your mind to transferable skills.  Sometimes it's worth taking a risk on a candidate.  I'm not saying take a risk on someone who hasn't shown they have the skill set to do the job, I'm talking taking a risk on someone who is a strong candidate and a finalist  For example, let's say you have 2 really strong candidates.  1 of the candidates is within the group you work now and the other candidate is not.  Maybe it may be prudent to hire someone who can bring in a new fresh perspective.  Sometimes it's good to get out of the norm.  Diversity brings stronger and better solutions so keep that in mind.  I was one of the candidates a hiring manager took a risk on and it paid off beautifully, not only for him but for me as well. 

Searching for a new opportunity can be nerve wracking.  Some professions are harder than others to get in to as well.  Remember, perseverance is key.  You have to keep trying until you land that job.  The above are just tidbits on what I have learned and I would love to hear other's thoughts. 

Paula A Bell Consulting, LLC

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Prioritization - What is That?

As I continue my posts about interpersonal skills, one area that I have used my interpersonal skills as of late, is in the area of prioritization.  You want to talk about having to be a strong communicator, negotiator, influencer and facilitator.  My goodness!  Prioritization is not black and white.  It's definitely not black and white if you are working with a lot of different partners, who also have processes in place, where they have a pipeline of work they have to prioritize.  Prioritization has always been an interesting topic to me because it is really based off of someone else's perspective.  Even if you have created a process of prioritization that is based on calculations, it is still someone's perspective on how that calculation should work.  As I work with clients a popular question that comes up is, "how do you get everyone to agree on work to be done?"  I will be totally honest, I don't have a direct answer to these question as I experience these challenges every day as well.  Everyone situation is different because the players are different.  Depending on the players may determine the approach you take.  However, I can provide some guidance on some things to keep in mind as you go through this process called prioritization.

  • Communication is Key - I don't care what type of methodology you use, or the environment you are in, if you cannot communicate you will not get anything accomplished.  What I find interesting is that most people thing they communicate well when in actually they don't and and there is opportunity for improvement.  It's not just what you say, but how you say it.  The tone you set to conduct this prioritization will determine the responses, and engagement, you will receive from the audience throughout the process.  I would recommend that you don't come off like a dictator.  I will give you an example of something I have experienced in my career, as I have sat in many meetings, where items needed to be prioritized.  I was in a situation where I worked in a matrixed environment.  For those who may not be familiar with a matrixes environment, I reported directly into one leadership chain in the organization, but was a dotted line to another one that I needed to work closely with.  The leadership chain I was reporting into had prioritized some process work that needed to be done.  However, in the matrix environment I was a dotted line into, they also had a huge initiative they were leading where my team was needed to conduct some work as well.  The approach that was taken by this other group was to come in, advise me that their initiative was the highest priority and advise that is where the focus should be.  That didn't work too well for me for a few reasons:
    • Issue #1 - This individual did not even take time to understand the current environment being new to the organization.  Nor did they take time to understand why the work was prioritized the way it currently was.
    • Issue #2 - The individual pretty much came in and told me what I needed to do (really this was a bully approach).  This never works.  It definitely doesn't work for me, especially if you want me to partner with you.
    • Issue #3 - This individual did not listen to my concerns on why these priorities could be not only conflicting, but impact how work would get done, because the same resources were being leveraged.
    • End result- The communication approach totally turned me off and it ended up becoming a battle of wills.  I have to admit I do like a challenge so I was not giving in very easily, and frankly, didn't give in at all.  Actually, if I must be totally honest, I still would not want to work with this person regardless of how much skill is present.   The entire situation and approach turned me off.  Unfortunately, this happens all the time and one of the reasons getting anything prioritized is an act of congress.  Be very deliberate, and thoughtful, in your tone and approach as that can make all the difference in the world.  The goal is that when you leave the meeting that everyone agrees on the priorities established.

  • Agreed Upon Prioritization Criteria -  It is imperative that everyone agrees on the ranking criteria.  As well as have clear definitions on what that criteria means.  Prioritization may not be just "high, medium and low".  There may be other reasons where you may need to use a numerical ranking system, or different levels of category.  The most important thing is to define the criteria and ensure everyone agrees with it. Try to be as specific as you can when you define the criteria as well.  
    • For example, what does "high" really mean? You may define the category of "high" as: 
      • Significant legal, operational and reputational risk to the company (i.e. will result in litigation if not remedied immediately, will cause significant operational risk and/or could potentially hit the media in a negative light).  
      • High volume of occurrence (95% of negatively impacted accounts).  
      • High negative customer experience (90% or more of customers are impacted).  
    • You need to get down to potentially quantifiable criteria to give everyone the same perspective. Then you need to determine how everyone will come to agreement on the correct priority (i.e. what type of voting system do you use or decision system).
  • Ensure All Needed Stakeholders Are At The Table - One mistake that is made is prioritization in a vacuum.  If you know that there are other areas of the business you will need to get the work done, engage them.  Other partners have a pipeline of work as well, so you may as well have that conversation upfront to get realistic time frames in place as you try to prioritize.  Also, you may need to incorporate their prioritization perspective in the criteria as well.  There may be other categories that need to be taken into consideration based on the work that is performed.  Don't get irritated or annoyed because business partners are introducing new criteria.  It's better to take that into consideration upfront than deal with the drama later.  Everyone needs to have a voice, whether you agree with that voice or not.  You just need to ensure you have a strong facilitator to keep everyone on task to reach the ultimate goal of prioritizing work that everyone feels comfortable with.
  • Take Emotions Out of It - To be frank it's not about how you feel so get over that, and yourself, before you walk into the room.  It's all about getting work prioritized so you and your team can focus.  Get rid of the ego and ulterior motives.  There is no room for that and it provides no value whatsoever.  Nobody really cares about them anyway and it's a total waste of energy.  Walk into this conversation knowing you may have to make some compromises.  Definitely give your perspective and share concerns, but don't be driven by emotions  This is truly not personal so don't make it that way.  If everything you want doesn't happen, get over it.  Trust me your stress level will go down and you will be a happier employee.  Plus everyone around you will be happier too.  :-).  
  • Revisit Your Prioritization - Once you have your prioritization list it doesn't stop there.  As you know, change is constant, therefore, priorities will change and shift.  Come up with a frequency on when you revisit your prioritization list. The priorities may have to change over time so this first blush doesn't mean the work is done.

Don't get me wrong, I'm by no means saying this work is easy.  It's not and it's been a constant challenge in my career.  It's hard to identify everyone who needs to be involved, let alone determining criteria.  However if you don't, it causes pain throughout the entire process.  It causes bottlenecks to where work cannot get done. The conversations are hard, but crucial and critical.  They need to happen.  We need to spend more time communicating upfront before we jump into doing all this work.  I'm still working through how to make this process less painful and I'm learning everyday.  I'm open to any other best practises out there as well so please share.

Happy prioritization!!! :-)


Paula A Bell Consulting, LLC
Twitter: BAMartialArtist

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Putting It All In Perspective

Unfortunately, I have not been doing the best with my goal of being consistent with my blogs, but I'm definitely working on it.  As I've had the opportunity over the last month to do quite a few speaking engagements (face to face and webinars) my time has been quite busy.  However, despite that, I took some time this evening, as I was baking and cleaning, to reflect over my past couple.  I must admit that I have had quite a bit of stress over the last few weeks.  Stress from all areas of my life. This is HUGE for me to admit by the way.  As I reflect on that I had to put some things in perspective and I hope this blog will help you do the same.

  1. What I do is NOT life and death - there are professionals who truly do work that are life and death, and I'm not one of them.  I'm not that doctor that has tell a family they just lost their loved one.  I'm not the emergency worker that has to witness fatal crashes.  I'm not the person from the military that has to pay a visit to a family to advise their son or daughter was killed in the act of defending their country.  I'm not the cardiac surgeon that has to be so calculated and precise, every day because one minor mistake, could literally take someone from this earth. I said all of that to say this, "don't sweat the small stuff".  It's not worth it.  If you find that individuals always act as if the sky is falling when it's not, you may want to remove yourself from those individuals.  If you don't you will be adding additional stress to your life that is unnecessary.  For those who do have the "true" life and death jobs, I appreciate all you do.  I also admire what you do because you truly need to have a passion for that type of work.  That is the truly some hard work there.  For those who don't I'm not diminishing what we do, I'm just putting what we do in perspective.  Sometimes we make things bigger than they need to be and sometimes you need to step back and put things in perspective.
  2. Put your energy toward things YOU CAN CONTROL- The only person in this world I can control is "ME".  I can't control what someone else is going to do or say, but I can control my reaction to it.  I can control how much energy I put toward it.  I can control if I will allow it to control me.  It's amazing to me how many times we give people control over us.  They could be in the grave and still have control over aspects of our life.  You can't sleep, eat and stressed over someone and they are going about life not even giving you a second thought.  You are ALWAYS in control of you.  You make decisions on whether you will allow others to control you.  If you find you are miserable constantly you may want to do some self reflection to determine what is the root cause of that feeling.  
  3. Life is too SHORT - I have watched friends commit suicide, lose family members to terminal illness, I've lost friends to terminal illnesses or going through that right now.  I've watched families go through losing their young children due to senseless violence and more.  Tomorrow is NOT PROMISED to anyone.  Actually, the next second is not promised to you.  So why spend time in spaces where you are not enjoying life?  I'm not saying life doesn't have it challenges and curves, but some of the things we go through in life is no one's fault but our own.  Some decisions we have made in the past isn't the brightest, but that is how we learn.  However, again life is too short to sweat the things you cannot control.  If you are not enjoying life it's time to turn that around.  Life has so much to offer.  It's not always going to be sunshine, but YOU set the tone on how you go through life and how life will treat you.
  4. Someone is ALWAYS going to have something to say - no matter what you do someone is always going to be a critic.  Take it with a grain of salt and keep on moving if it's not constructive feedback.  I said "construction feedback", not someone's opinion.  Sometimes we mistake opinions for feedback.  There is a difference.  Don't let someone else's opinion of you define who you think you are.  Be confident in who you, love yourself and know your self worth.  If you don't love you, respect you, know you, how on earth do you expect others to?
  5. It's TIME for a change - sometimes you just need to make a change in life to get out of the environment you are in.  If you dread going to work every day, then maybe it's time for a job change.  If there are people you dread being in contact with, maybe you need to change your circle of friends/acquaintances.  If you find that you dread doing your hobby, maybe it's time for a new hobby.  Moving on doesn't mean you have failed, it actually might mean you have grown.  You've closed one chapter of your life and moved on to another.  Sometimes going through the words of that chapter are painful, but once you have completed that last word and moved on to the next one you have a perspective.
So this blog entry is totally off the topic of interpersonal skills, which I'm supposed to bringing this year, but I really felt compelled to write this one at 9:30pm.  I want to be able to come back to it months or years from now to see what occurred in my past, how I addressed it in my present and how it impacted my future.  Life is way too short to be miserable.  Life should be a source of energy that we enjoy.  Life should be an experience and journey with challenges and successes.  Life should be refreshing.  However, there are external forces at play that can totally skew what life should be.  It's TIME you take back your life, your control, your happiness and your joy if it's been missing.  If it hasn't been missing and you are enjoying life find ways to even enjoy it more.  It's time to live and enjoy living.

I know I have some opportunities to truly live life to the fullest. It first starts with YOU and everything after that will fall in place.  Continue to PUT IT ALL IN PERSPECTIVE.


Paula B.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Communication in Handling Conflict

Handling Conflict
In any relationship there will be conflict at some point. We are all different and will not always agree or have the same perspective. I had an opportunity to speak to someone I'm mentoring a week ago and she is having some challenges with one of her coworkers. She advised that she was going to look up some books on how to avoid conflict. I wouldn't recommend avoiding conflict. I do believe you have to pick your battles sometime, but not all conflict is bad. It's all about your reaction and approach to the conflict. Whether in project teams or your personal life conflict will arise. Here are a few things I've used in the past to help with conflict:

  1. Remove emotion - when you are emotional that will fuel the fire. If you are too emotional to confront the conflict at the time it happens then wait a day or two until you can address it rational. This isn't avoiding the conflict, but rather waiting until you can have a productive conversation to handle the conflict.
  2. State facts - when a conflict arises recap exactly what happened. Don't add or take away from it. Don't try to add in your perception or what you "think" was meant. That only clouds the issue.
  3. Listen, Listen and Listen Again - you have stated your peace now listen to the other side. You might be surprised it was a total misunderstanding because what was said, or done, was perceived incorrectly by you. Listening is power and sometimes just listening resolves the conflict.
  4. Identify the root cause - in order to identify the root cause both parties need to be heard. Both parties need to come to the table with open minds and no biases. If you truly want to resolve the conflict then you really need to to get to the root of the problem. The 5 Whys can be used here to help get to that root cause.
  5. Come to a resolution - the end hope is to resolve the conflict. Hopefully, going through these steps will help you get there.

Dealing with Difficult People 

Now what do you do if the other party doesn't want to play nice? This can be EXTREMELY challenging depending on the setting. Again, you can't control people, only your reaction to them. If you can't resolve the conflict by yourself you may need to bring in an unbiased 3rd party to help. It would be best to choose someone that is far removed from the situation and potentially someone you don't know, but respect.  If the other party isn't open to that, then ask them what they recommend to resolve the conflict? Put the accountability back on them to make a decision. If they can't make a decision and not willing to resolve the conflict you tried. However, now you need to figure out ways to cope and maintain with this person as this unresolved issue can cause a very awkward environment.
Here are some tips I've learned in my career on dealing with difficult people.  Specifically why they may be difficult and some counter actions you can do to work through the madness. 
  1. Power & Control - sometimes people want control and don't want to relinquish that control by admitting they are wrong. How you can counter that is make them feel they have control, by seeking their viewpoint on decisions or ideas. This empowers them and allows them to feel heard. It makes them feel that what they say is valued and they are respected. It takes a lot of energy from you, but it makes your life easier in dealing with the person.
  2. Hidden Agendas - political games or ulterior motives can motivate individuals to not solve conflicts. They have it in their mind what they and they are going to do what it takes to get their way. Again, your response to that is ask for their viewpoint, but in this case you're going deeper with your questions because you are trying no to figure out the hidden agenda. Once figured out you can strategize on how to work around that.
  3. Lack of Self Confidence - it's amazing when others feel horrible about themselves they try to bring that vibe to other people.  Sometimes this can be a power play because people use their lack of confidence in themselves to bring others down, or make others lives difficult.  Sometimes they are doing this to make others feel the pain they are feeling and this is their way to do that. The way you counter this is recognize what the person is doing and not feed into it.  Don't them take you to where they are because once they do you have just fed into that negative energy.  Instead, listen to what they are saying and decipher the TRUE message they are trying to convey.
  4. You're Perceived as a Threat - if you intimidate someone or threaten them their behaviors can show that vulnerability. I actually take this as a compliment sometimes because there is something I posses that someone else admires.  Recognize that you are deemed a threat and communicate in such a way that the other person feels they are being heard and their opinion or words value.  Don't feed into the threat and intimidation distraction.

How Does Communication Fit In This? 

Throughout the conflict cycle communication is key. How you approach the situation, the tone in which you use and the body language demonstrated can all impact the reaction someone else will have toward you.  Your communication style has been to very deliberate and thoughtful  Knowing your audience is key as well because you should tailor your communication to the audience.  This means you need to spend time getting to know the individuals you will be interacting with.  The investment upfront is worth mitigating the pain you could encounter without that investment.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Staying Focused & Communication is Key

Can we say WOW!!!!  2016 has already brought some challenges, but some great opportunities as well.  My word for 2016 is "consistency" when it comes to my personal businesses, and I must say in order to be consistent you must stay focused.  You must define goals and stay focused, consistent and disciplined on achieving them.  No matter what comes your way on this journey of life stay true to who you are.  

This year I'm going to focus a lot on interpersonal skills that are needed to be successful as a Business Analyst, but that you can use in every day life on my blog.  This month's skill I want to focus on is 'Communication'. I will give you a little taste on what I speak on concerning communication.

The reason I start with communication first is because, communication is key to achieving anything you want in this life.   Communication can be one of the most difficult skills to develop and sharpen as well.  Reason being is because everyone you come in contact with is different.  They have a different perspective and those perspectives can be based on things they have experienced in life.  You are dealing with difficult skill sets, strengths, areas of opportunities, etc...So how do you make this communication work?  That is the million dollar question.  Communication is not only hard with work relationships but it's hard with personal relationships as well. Based on my experience here are some key things  I have learned about what makes communication work and what doesn't make it work.  There is more to communication than what is below but here is a little taste.  :-)

When Communication Works:

  1. When it's honest - honesty is still the best policy.  When people believe you, trust you, hold your words credible they are just naturally drawn to listening to you and being around you.  When you are trying to sell that new idea or influence change be honest with your communication.  Whether the news is good or bad you will gain more respect from just being honest.
  2. When it's authentic - I have found that people are really yearning for "realness".  There is so much negative in the world that people don't want to deal with fake.  They want the truth and authentic communication.  They want to not fee like the wool is being pulled over their eyes.  The cliche "Keep It Real" is more true now than ever before.  When having those conversations with business partners be extremely authentic.  It goes a long way in your career and you will be known for being that authentic.  I know this first hand and have received the feedback this is what makes me stand out.
  3. When it takes into account the audience - don't forget who you are communicating to or with when you are ready to communicate.  Not everyone can take communication the same way.  Some people can take direct communication and some cannot.  It's important to know your audience.  There are many ways to get to know your audience and we will talk about that later in the post.
  4. When it's continually refined - communication is something that can continually be strengthened.  It's an art in my mind and can be fun as well as extremely frustrating.  I have found to never thing you have it down because once you do someone will cross your path who will shake that up.

When Communication Does Not Work:

  1. When it comes off with ulterior motives - people are smart and can tell if you have ulterior motives.  There is nothing that turns me off more.  This goes back to being authentic and honest.  Just be authentic and honest upfront and save yourself the pain.
  2. When it is not clear - communication works best when it's clear.  It eliminates confusion.  Sometimes it's hard to be clear and when not clear just apologizing helps.  No one is perfect and sometimes we don't say what we mean, but we can at least apologize and correct the situation.  Sometimes you have to swallow your pride or take a nice slice of humble pie and make it right.
  3. When it comes off intimidating/confrontational - the minute the communication comes of intimidating you have lost the other person because the other person is immediately on the defensive.  They are thinking ahead of their next response to what you are going to say opposed to actually listening to what you are saying.  You can tell by body language, tone and response on if the person is on the defensive.  Once you recognize that you may want to change your communication style before the conversation escalates into something it shouldn't.
How can you strengthen your communication skills:
  1. Training - There are a lot of communication training courses out there you can take advantage off.  One great course to take is Crucial Conversations.  Communication is hard and sometimes you need to have very difficult conversations.  Knowing how to have these conversations is powerful and can help alleviate a lot of unnecessary pain.
  2. Networking - this a great way to get to know your audience.  The more you do a skill the better you will get at it.  The more you talk to different types of people the more comfortable you will feel in certain situations.  As you network you will see where your communication can use some sharpening.  Ask yourself, "Am I being authentic, honest, communicating clearly?" First impressions only happen once so make yours count.
  3. Get Out of Your Comfort Zone - sometimes you have to get out of your comfort zone and take a risk.  Stretch yourself.  Maybe networking is not your thing, so branch out and go to an event to network.  Even take a friend with you until you get comfortable.  Maybe when presented with an opportunity to speak or do a presentation take that step to try it and see how you do.  The first step is trying.  You'll never know what you can do unless you try.
  4. Request Feedback - remember feedback is a gift freely given.  Take the feedback and learn from it.  There is a difference between an opinion and feedback so ensure you are taking the feedback and determining what you can do better. 

And for those who may read this and say, "this is nothing new or this is common sense".  If it is, then why do we still have the issues we do with communication.  Typically a lot of people think they do interpersonal skills well and don't need any help in strengthening them, when in truth, the same ones who think they do it well, others think they do not.  Do some self-introspection and be really honest with yourself.  Could your communication use some strengthening?  I will be the first to admit this is an area I focus on and continually strengthen because this is a complicated skill, but a skill that is key to my success.  How about you?

Have a great month and talk to you in February!

If you want more from Paula on communication feel free to reach out to her at  Also she is constantly adding new presentations and workshops to her website so continue to look at her website:

Saturday, January 2, 2016

2016 - The Year of Consistency

Happy New Year!!!!

We made it through yet another year!!!!  Though each year presents challenges and successes there is ALWAYS something to be learned through every experience and interaction.  In 2015, I successfully achieved my CBAP (Certified Business Analysis Professional) designation.  It took many months of studying consistently and some stressing, but when I saw the screen that stated I passed, I realized that all the hard work paid off.  Unfortunately for me in 2015 I wasn't as consistent in all of the goals I had set to achieve, but for the ones I was consistent working toward, I achieved them all.  

So for 2016 the word I have chosen for myself is "consistency".  There are a lot of things I want to achieve this year and one starts with blogging more consistency.  I have a lot of knowledge to share and writing is therapeutic.  I want to focus on the interpersonal skills for blogging this year as I have seen so many project and initiatives fail because individuals don't have the needed interpersonal skills to secure buy-in or the ability to influence and negotiate.

I'm excited about 2016 and what it holds.

My best wishes to all of you in the ares of achieving your goals and remember consistency is one way to achieve those goals.

More to come from the BAMartialArtist.

Twitter: BAMartialArtist