Author Archives: Dave

Recent lack of activity

It’s been a few months since I posted something new, but I haven’t abandoned the site or my work on it.

The lack of updates has been been due to a combination of factors including my having started a new job, some family requirements, a need to focus on other things, a lack of content elsewhere that I thought warranted a “Recommended Reading” post here, and the fact that the articles I have in the works are all ones that require quite a bit more time than I originally expected to research and write.

So things may slow down for a while longer with blog and wiki articles coming more infrequently, but they will come.

Thanks.

Recommended Viewing: Impact Mapping with Innovation Games by Gojko Adzic

If you have never watched one of Gojka Adzic’s presentations, you really should.  This one is about 3 months old and in the first part is one of the best discussions I have seen on why so many projects and requirements efforts, including those that are “Agile”, fail to deliver value.  He also some valid comments on Business Analysis at around the 32 minute mark, and provides some suggestions on addressing some common pitfalls with Impact Mapping starting at around the 37 minute mark.

In my opinion, this one video has more value to Business Analysts than any webinar I ever attended.  If you have the time, give it a watch.

Keynote – Impact Mapping – Gojko Adzic from Italian Agile Days on Vimeo.

Recommended Listening: The Value Proposition of the BA Role

Back in January I was interviewed by Dave Saboe for his Mastering Business Analysis podcast.  The interview came about as a result of the LinkedIn discussion that resulted from my “The Role of the Business Analyst – It’s Time for a New Perspective” article that I had posted on this site.

The podcast episode has some discussion of that article, this site, and my own background (briefly).  If you are interested, the Mastering Business Analysis link above leads directly to the episode page on Dave’s website, as does the image below.  Or you can download the episode via iTunes.  This was episode 114 of Dave’s excellent podcast, so there are lots of back episodes for you to listen to as well.

Feedback and comments are always appreciated.  🙂

Certification News – IREB, REQB, and UXQB

Just a couple of quick news bits from the world of Business Analysis certification that I came across recently and which I thought worth sharing here:

  1. First, the International Requirements Engineering Board (IREB) announced that they were merging with the Requirements Engineering Qualifications Board (REQB).  With both organizations continuing under the IREB banner and with some options for those with REQB certifications to migrate over to the IREB certification scheme.
  2. Second, the IREB also announced that they were joining forces with 3 other certification organizations to launch a ‘Shaping the Future of IT’ initiative “whose aim is to create an interdisciplinary body of knowledge fit for the challenges of software development in digital society”.  Most of the organizations seem to be European-based, but you might want to keep an eye out for whatever they produce in the future.
  3. Third, one of the qualification boards that was part of the ‘Shaping the Future of IT’ initiative was new to me.  This was the International Usability and UX Qualification Board (UXQB).  It’s made up of organizations in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, and the UK and they seem to be building out what looks like a decent certification program for UX practitioners.  Therefore I added information on this certification program to the Certification page of the wiki.

If you want to know more, just follow the links above.

A Mind-Map View of the BA Decision Focus Argument

I use mind-maps in my day-to-day business analysis work, and I use them more often when exploring subjects I want to write about in a blog post.  So it should come as no surprise that I built a mind-map for my recent article The Role of the Business Analyst – It’s Time for a New Perspective.  And I have continued to expand on it and I continue to think about my perspective on the subject.

Given that, I figured some of you who are not as familiar with mind-maps might find it interesting to see the mind-map I have been working with (updated as of today) and maybe get some ideas how you might use them for your own needs (either professional or personal).  I am currently using the MindMaple ‘Lite’ software, but you can find links to it and several other mind-mapping packages on the Mind-Mapping Software page of the wiki.

Here is the mind-map.  Click the image to see a larger version.

A mind-map view of my argument for BA's to take a decision-focus.

As always, comments and feedback are appreciated.

The Role of the Business Analyst – It’s Time for a New Perspective

The conceptual role of the business analyst has evolved over the years.  Unfortunately, in my opinion it has not evolved enough in either the minds of most business analysts or in the minds of those who employ them.  For far too many the role of Business Analyst is still one that is focused only on project work and for most of those it is one that begins and ends with requirements.

But that concept of the role of the Business Analyst is one that I emphatically disagree with.  I believe that it inhibits the application of business analysis skills to situations where they could benefit the organization and which thus reduces the value the business analyst can provide to an organization.

While the IIBA has attempted to change this view with the new definition of what a Business Analyst does in BABOK v3.0, I think that definition also misunderstands and short-changes the role that the business analyst can play in an organization.  I believe that even the newest IIBA definition  continues to tie business analysis (as both a function and a job) too closely with the project environment.  And that this close conceptual tie to project work is holding back the profession and limiting its value.

So with this article I want to build on the concepts I started putting forward in April 2016 with my post “Have we mis-identified the core purpose and value proposition of Business Analysis?”  I want to put forward for discussion a new perspective of business analysis that I hope will both broaden and clarify the concept of what a business analyst does, and how it can provide value to organizations.

I want to do this not only because I believe it represents a needed change for the field, but because I feel that that the recent entry of the PMI into the business analysis arena, and especially their role definition for business analysis, threatens all of the progress made over the last decade in moving the concept of business analysis away from a requirements focus.  And that if those of us who practice business analysis can’t make a broader, clearer, and more robust definition of business analysis the default understanding of the field; we may soon be back to being thought of as just “those people who write software requirements”.

Continue reading

2016 Site Overview

Due to work and other commitments I ended up taking December 2016 off as far as new material for this website goes.  But I have several articles and wiki pages in progress and hope to get the new material coming soon.  In the meantime, here are some quick statistics for the website for the 2016 calendar year vs. the 2015 calendar year:

  1. Unique site visitors were up over 45% to roughly 48,400
  2. Returning visitors increased from 13.1% of site visitors in 2015 to 15.5% of site visitors in 2016
  3. Mobile traffic was up over 100%, but still made up under 15% of visitors (no surprise)
  4. The top countries that visitors to the site came from were:
    1. United States (27.0%)
    2. United Kingdom (9.8%)
    3. India (6.7%)
    4. Australia (6.6%)
    5. Canada (6.1%)
    6. Germany (4.0%)
    7. Netherlands (2.4%)
    8. France (2.0%)
    9. South Africa (2.0%)
    10. Philippines (1.6%)
  5. The most popular pages on the site in terms of page views (other than the home page) were:
    1. Responsibility Matrix wiki page
    2. Context Diagram wiki page
    3. My blog post on Why I Chose not to Renew my IIBA Membership
    4. Decomposition wiki page
    5. Stakeholder Onion Diagram wiki page
    6. My blog post on using OneNote for Meeting Notes
    7. Stakeholder Communications Matrix wiki page
    8. Benchmarking wiki page
    9. Stakeholder Salience Diagram wiki page
    10. Data Dictionary wiki page
  6. But the pages that people spent the largest average time actually reading were:
    1. Interviews wiki page
    2. My blog post “Better Business Analysis through Problem Statements”
    3. Decomposition wiki page
    4. VMOST Analysis wiki page
    5. Observation wiki page
    6. Unified Process wiki page
    7. Stakeholder Salience Diagram wiki page
    8. Data Dictionary wiki page
    9. Kano Model Prioritization wiki page
    10. My blog post “We are not Business Analysts”

For a web site that I work on during my personal time, without earning any money from and as a way of giving back to the community, this was a tremendously successful year.  The increase in returning site visitors to over 15% of unique traffic is extremely gratifying given that most users find this site through search sites like Google and DuckDuckGo.  That means that people are finding the material I write valuable enough to come back.  I am also very happy that several of my posts are attracting attention and being read.  It’s good to know I’m not just spouting off into the wind.  At least some of the time.  🙂

But honestly two of the things in the list above that I really appreciate is that the wiki pages for VMOST Analysis and Kano Model Prioritization are among the articles people spend the most time reading.  Both of those pages are (in my opinion) probably the best references on those subjects you will find on the internet.  The fact that they are there tell me that there is an audience who appreciates the occasionally months of work I put into researching some of these topics.

So to all of you who come here and find value in what I have put together with this site, I thank you.  Especially those of you who continue to come back, and those who take to the time to read some of the very long pages I put together when I try to make an exhaustive resource.  You can get a quick summary in a lot of places, but I hope that this will be where you come when you want detailed information.  And that continues to be my goal for the site.

I hope you all enjoy nothing but success and happiness in this new year.

Minor updates to wiki Certification page (Nov 2016)

I made a few minor updates to the wiki Certification page, just in case you haven’t visited it in a while.  They were:

  • Added new IIBA Level 1 (ECBA) and Level 4 (CBATL) certifications
  • Updated links for all of the IIBA certifications to go to the new pages
  • Added the PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) to the Agile group
  • Added the forthcoming [email protected] certifications from the IREB
  • Added the Certified Business Architect from the Business Architecture Guild to the Business Architecture group
  • Cleaned up the IREB certifications and updated the links to the new page URL’s

As always, if you are aware of a BA-related certification that I have not identified please add a comment to that page or send me an email (see the ‘About’ page) with info on the certification and I will think about adding it.

Thanks!

Recommended Reading: CrossTalk Journal – Beyond the Agile Manifesto

The November/December 2016 issue of CrossTalk is up and the subject of the issue is “Beyond the Agile Manifesto”.  CrossTalk is “The Journal of Defense Software Engineering” and as a U.S. Government publication is freely available.

Of the six major articles in the issue, five of them are focused on Agile in one way or another.  And one specific article I recommend everyone read is “The Heart of Agile” by Alistair Cockburn.

CrossTalk often has very good articles in it, and this issue in particular seems worth reading.

Enjoy!

The Absent Brain Problem

Ron Ross recently had an excellent article on Modern Analyst titled “The Story of Al’s Spreadsheet and Absent Brains” in which he makes several very valuable points.  Those include:

  • “Around the globe there is extensive core operational business knowledge running businesses day-to-day that is highly inaccessible. Just putting your fingers on it, much less revising it, consumes vast amounts of vital resources. We live in a service provider’s dreamscape. It makes you wonder how brittle (read not agile) many companies’ operations really are today.”
  • “To ensure the continuity of operational business knowledge, no organization should ever depend on absent brains – or even on brains that could (and eventually always will) become absent in the future. To say it differently, your operational business knowledge should be encoded explicitly in a form that workers you have never even met yet can understand.”
  • “Operational business knowledge can be either tacit or explicit (read ‘accessible’). The classic test for when knowledge is tacit is ‘lose the person, lose the knowledge’.”

The closing paragraph of his article is, “So make sure when you lose your Al, he doesn’t walk out the door with the day-to-day knowledge you need to run your business. Encode it as business rules!”

Of course, business rules are Ron’s normal answer to many problems (often validly).  But I think in this case he is drastically cutting short the type of information you need to make explicit.  It needs to be more than just business rules.  It needs to include:

  • terminology
  • business processes
  • reference and training guides
  • descriptive materials on what different units within the organization do and how they do it
  • what applications are used by the organization, for what purpose, and by whom
  • business rules
  • regulatory rules and interpretations
  • and a whole lot more

My test would be, “Can a new hire come into your organization and with nothing more than access to your knowledge repository figure out your work vocabulary, organization structure, what different units do, what tools are used, and how to do their job at a basic level?”

But having this information captured in an explicit form (preferably structured and searchable) isn’t just of value for business continuity and ensuring critical knowledge doesn’t walk out the door with departing employees; it’s of tremendous value for projects.  This information helps with scoping a project, acts as a continuously updated “current state” of the organization that can be leveraged, and allows critical subject matter experts to only have to devote project time for difficult-to-answer questions that require greater expertise.

In my experience (and yours may differ) the time spent by the project team gathering, synthesizing, and analyzing this information is among the most critical efforts of the project as well as being among the most likely to be cut short or skipped in an effort to “deliver something tangible” or “get going” or “show progress”.  Not doing this well or at all is in my experience the single greatest cause of scope creep, missed requirements, and missing stakeholders.

Unfortunately, creating and maintaining an accurate business knowledge repository requires organizational commitment and constant encouragement and support from management.  It can’t be done as a project, or an initiative, or any other temporary activity.  It has to become a constant act that is integrated into the entire organizations day-to-day activities.  It requires a commitment of time and effort from ALL employee’s.  And that is why it is so hard to do even an initial attempt, let alone keep it up.

But if you want to improve your projects; as well as your training, onboarding, and many other activities; keep Ron’s article in mind.  Just make sure you look at capturing more than just business rules. 

Agree.  Disagree.  Or have thoughts of your own to share?  Please comment!

 

© 2016 by David Olson

Recommended Reading: Painless Functional Specifications

Way back in 2000, Joel Spolsky wrote a series of articles on his ‘Joel on Software’ blog (highly recommended) that discussed Functional Specifications.  Now, given that this was written back in 2000 a lot of people will say it is out of date and no longer applicable.  But I think there are many valid points in his set of articles that any BA should think about.

Below I have provided a link to each of the four different articles in the series, along with a sample quote from each.  You may find that what Spolsky has to say resonates for you, whether you follow an ‘Agile’ or ‘Non-Agile’ process.
Continue reading

‘You Suck at Excel’ video with Joel Spolsky

If you are a business analyst, you probably use Excel.  And if you use Excel, there is a REALLY good chance that you don’t use most of its capabilities and don’t know all of the ways to use it most efficiently.  I know that is true for me.  🙂

That’s why I want to recommend you watch this video.  It was private session done by Joel Spolsky to employees of Trello, Fog Creek Software, and Stack Exchange.  And if you weren’t aware of it already; besides founding or co-founding all three of those companies, Joel Spolsky used to be a program manager at Microsoft back in the early to mid-1990’s and he worked a lot on Excel.

He moves quick in this video, but there are a ton of good tips and tricks for using Excel the way most BA’s do.  That is, NOT for rigorous data analysis.  🙂

It’s only 54 minutes long and it might worth your time to watch.

Enjoy!

Recommended Reading: Why I’m not a big fan of Scrum

This blog post from July 11, 2016 was trending upward on Hacker News a few weeks ago and I thought it would be worth sharing.  The blog post is titled “Why I’m not a big fan of Scrum” and I am recommending it so that BA’s can get some insight into one engineers perspective on Scrum.  He emphasizes that his comments are directed towards ‘standard Scrum as described in the official guide’ and says:

After two extensive workshops, more than five years, and a couple hundreds of sprints working in Scrum, I have some points of criticism about it. I think it’s not naturally conducive to good software, it requires too much planing effort on the part of the developers, and it inhibits real change and improvement. In the following, I will try to put these into more detail by organizing them around more concrete topics.

I am always against dogmatic thinking of any sort, and whether you are a fan of Agile in general or Scrum in particular, I think the author here makes some interesting and valid points.  But if they are not valid from your perspective it is always a good idea to widen the horizons of your perspective.  While you may not feel this way, some engineer you are working with might and it would be good to understand their perspective.

Enjoy!

Recommended Reading: Modern Agile

An article I was recently reading that was surfaced on Hacker News included a link to this November 2015 blog post by Joshua Kerievsky titled “Modern Agile“.  In it he lays out the four disciplines he see’s that make up the core of ‘Modern Agile’ and then maps many agile practices to those disciplines.  His four disciplines are probably the best concept I have seen for taking the concept ‘Agile’ away from its technology orientation, even if most of the specific agile practices he later discusses are almost all technology and software development specific.

It’s still a great blog post that I recommend any BA read.

Recommended Reading: What Great Listeners Actually Do

Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman have a good article on the Harvard Business Review site that was published originally in the July 14, 2016 issue.  The article is titled “What Great Listeners Actually Do” and presents the results of their analysis of nearly 3500 participants in a development program designed to help managers become better coaches, and what specifically those who were identified as the best listeners (top 5%) were doing and how that compared with others.

There are a number of take-aways for business analysts here, as being good listeners is something I consider critical to our job.

Enjoy!