On Being a BA: The Question Behind the Question

[Part 5 of a 5-part series of posts about ways of being while being a Business Analyst]

I have this handy article about “Disguised Queries” that gives a great metaphor for how to talk about the differences between ‘good’ and ‘great’ requirements.

Asking people to just deliver their requirements to you, fully-formed, in the first interview is untenable.  People frequently can’t think like that.  It’s another reason why we stopped saying “requirements gathering” and started saying “requirements elicitation” — because the requirements aren’t laying about to be scooped up.  You must prize them from people’s minds!

The cool part about the article shows that how we talk about a thing can change, depending on what we need to know about that thing, or do with that thing.

Continue reading

On Being a BA: Requirements are Never Done

[Part 3 of a 5-part series of posts about ways of being while being a Business Analyst]

That’s right, they are never truly done.  We could analyze until the oceans erode the mountains and still not completely understand a problem or capture every potential scenario of a process.  As a recovering perfectionist, I personally struggled with this the most.  If we just had more time then we could truly understand!  Except we need to eventually DO something about our technical issue or business problem.  We can’t spend a lifetime in quiet contemplation of the finer points of claims processing, inventory management or mobile user behaviors.  We have to do just enough, just in time to depict the needs of the clients in an actionable way.

Concrete thinkers really hate this part.  They want to be certain, and BAs live in a world of nuance, uncertainty and ever-shifting priorities.

Our challenge, should we choose to accept it, is this:  Change is inevitable, and should be welcomed.  How can we be effective at getting things done while being flexible about letting things change?

Methodologies and processes do most of the tactical heavy lifting here, but business analysts do almost all of the expectation management.  Understanding how change affects people will go a lot further toward elegantly handling change than understanding how change affects project timelines or budgets.

Other posts in this series:

  1. Requirements as Art (not Science)
  2. These Aren’t Your Requirements
  3. Requirements are Never Done
  4. People Problems, Not Technology Problems
  5. The Question Behind The Question

On Being a BA: These Aren’t Your Requirements

[Part 2 of a 5-part series of posts about ways of being while being a Business Analyst]

Something I see with junior BAs a lot is an ego attachment to the requirements they produce.  When the requirements change, they get upset.  They are disturbed when the beauty of their creation is unwound by one missing stakeholder who turns up with their pile of messy ideas to add to the mix.  They have an anger response to revisiting approved requirements.

As a business analyst, you facilitate the expression of others’ ideas to feed the work of even more people.  Diplomat, translator, liaison, messenger, advocate, shepherd.  That’s what we do.  It’s not about us as business analysts, it’s about representing your customers’ or users’ ideas to the best of our abilities.

It takes conscious effort to recognize how you are reacting to change, and making a different choice in response.  I try to frame requirements changes as a gift. I’m grateful to my colleagues and clients for helping refine the requirements and making them as accurate and relevant as possible. The cost of change skyrockets once the functionality leaves the requirements phase, so it’s a cost-saving move to change requirements early on.

I like to joke that managing requirements is like taking care of other people’s kids.  We’re responsible for their care and conduct when they are under our supervision, but the qualities of the requirements were never ours… they belong to the parents/clients.

Other posts in this series:

  1. Requirements as Art (not Science)
  2. These Aren’t Your Requirements
  3. Requirements are Never Done
  4. People Problems, Not Technology Problems
  5. The Question Behind The Question

On Being a BA: Thoughts in 5 Parts

I’ve been mentoring and sharing Business Analysis best practices on an ad-hoc basis for most of my career. Colleagues and friends have been the primary audience, on everything from BA 101-level stuff, like “How do I write good requirements?” to more delicate and complex topics like how to navigate tricky political waters on a project.

There’s been much ink spilled over the nuts and bolts of documenting requirements.  And we could talk about that, but that’s not terribly interesting for me.

How I would answer the question of “How do I write good requirements” gets a little philosophical.  I’m also going to make a quintessentially BA-like move to make everyone rewind and examine their assumptions before answering the question, so that’s what’s going to happen up in here.  I’m going to talk about how to BE as you do requirements elicitation, analysis and validation as a Business Analyst.

Stay tuned for posts on:

  1. Requirements as Art (not Science)
  2. These Aren’t Your Requirements
  3. Requirements are Never Done
  4. People Problems, Not Technology Problems
  5. The Question Behind The Question

 

On Being a BA: Requirements as Art (not Science)

[Part 1 of a 5-part series of posts about ways of being while being a Business Analyst]

There are many ways to express requirements as a Business Analyst.  There are templates and methodologies and analytics about requirements metadata… but all that quantifying effort fails to illuminate that requirements are not concrete things that can be effortlessly pinned down, categorized and defined. That’s why BAs stopped saying we “gather” requirements and instead “elicit” them.

Much of what we do as Business Analysts is to take messy ideas and complex situations and describe them succinctly.  This is what any system that has people as a component (e.g. all of them). We tend to lean on the hubris that we’re performing objectively.  That what we’re documenting is fact, reality, truth.

In practice, it’s more like a painting than a photograph.  Sometimes it’s an out-of-focus photograph of a painting of another photograph.  How close you can get to the primary source of the ideas will dictate how accurately you depict them.

Business Analysis is also a discipline you cannot study in school (this is emerging, but most of us “fell into” business analysis).  It’s experiential.  You get trained on some of those methodologies and templates and make lists of questions to ask and check them off one at a time and you still make mistakes.

Because you need to live through it to learn from it.  That’s really painful for people who are not genetically predisposed to analysis to fathom.  It’s why BAs will often answer every question with a long story as preamble to their reply.  Because there is more in heaven and earth and their requirements, than are dreamt of in their philosophy.

Other posts in this series:

  1. Requirements as Art (not Science)
  2. These Aren’t Your Requirements
  3. Requirements are Never Done
  4. People Problems, Not Technology Problems
  5. The Question Behind The Question