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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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