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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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