Jan 24, 2016

Over managing the plan?

The overzelous project manager who spends more time managing the project plan then focussing on the execution, every single risk or issue makes her look at the plan again, spend hours with the leads to rework on the plan again -- without knowing that the execution suffers. Have you worked with such a PM or a have such a colleague in the PMO?

Success definitely depends on how well a project manager manages issues and risks. The key is to have the pragmatism to know how much of the time the team needs to spend in planning vs execution. I do see some PMs who often have less contextual knowledge get into the trap of over-planning and dragging the team along with them.  How to get out of this trap? Any tips?

Jun 1, 2014

Do BAs make good PMs?

I got an opportunity to talk about transitioning from Business Analysis to Project Management at the Business Analysis Open which was recently organised in Pune. I am sharing the slides here.

Since past few years I have been primarily doing project management. I  have led multiple implementation of drug safety systems for large Pharmaceutical companies. Being a project manager provided me opportunity to look at the problem from a different perspective - which I feel is very a important to become a good consultant.

I do believe Business Analyst can become good Project Managers.  Here are my learning:

Let me know your thoughts.

Jun 22, 2012

10 Steps to CBAP

I love IT systems. I am fascinated by the way small applications create big differences in our lives, the way they have changed our perception of the world and the way in which we conduct our business. That’s what I wanted to do, I recall, when I was asked by a recruiter during my MBA campus placements. I wanted to build IT system and help organizations change. Luckily they liked my answer and I got my first job as business analyst for leading Software Company.

I struggled in my initial years, primarily because there wasn't structured approach available on Business Analysis which could be used as template and there was a lack of knowledge base both within the organization and in the broader network. I came to know about IIBA and CBAP certification in 2007, the very fact that there is an international organization supporting and promoting the profession gave me a lot of confidence. Certifications in the area of the work is important, they demonstrate ones seriousness and expertise. I immediately wanted to do the certification but was disappointed to know that a minimum of 7500 hours (approx. 5 years) are required by the candidate before one can become eligible for the examination. So, I worked hard to ensure that I get the necessary experience. Now when I look back, the minimum experience is necessary to have before one can appreciate the content of the BABOK.

The CBAP application form requires significant amount of effort and I have listed the some of the tips to complete it here. After two months of preparation, I cleared the CBAP exam on 29th May. It is not an easy examination to clear if one does not approach it in the right way. I will like to share some tips which may help aspirants in getting CBAP certified.

1.       Schedule the date of the examination – It is always good to work against a date. I would advice to give around 6-8 weeks to prepare. Other than preparing for CBAP, I also had a critical project at work which consumed around 12 -14 hours every day, had to decide which car to buy, buy the car and learn driving :) I don't claim to be a champion at time management but I had to work hard and manage by time well as I was committed to a date.

2.       Join a study group – Learning becomes easy when your have peers and it is so much fun to study in a group. I was unfortunate that there weren’t any available in New Delhi. But I did collaborate with people online and took help from those who have already appeared for the examination.

3.       Read the BABOK as many times as possible – BABOK is the only book that one needs to read. Nothing else is required. The more is the time spent with BABOK the more familiar one gets with the concepts and understand the overall setup.

4.       Understand the concepts: This is linked to point #3. I always tried to link the KAs, Tasks, Elements and Techniques to the bigger picture. It takes a while and few readings of the book before you are really start understanding the concepts. An experience Business Analyst will be able to make sense out of the theory. For example: If one has written a Business case it won’t take her too much time to under the Enterprise Analysis area.

5.       Create your own notes and memory maps - This is important – and will come handy when a quick revision is required.

6.       Input, output, elements and techniques are must: Many direct questions come from these areas. For example: What are the inputs to ‘Conduct Elicitation ‘? What are elements to define Business need? Which of the following technique is not used for defining solution approach? The remaining questions are scenarios based which requires application of knowledge gained while reading the BABOK and your professional experience.

7.       Know enough so that you can eliminate 3/4: It is difficult to remember all the inputs, output, elements and techniques related to a task. Let's accepts- very few people have photographic memory and in case you don’t have a photographic memory , all you need to do is know enough so that you can eliminate 3 out of 4 options and select the right answer.

8.       Buy a practice test series: This is extremely helpful. I bought a practice test series from Watermark Learning, it was very useful. They have a very good quality question bank; the questions are similar to what was asked in examination. I used to read a chapter, take the test, review my answer, work on my week areas and take the test again. They also excellent CBAP exam simulators - aim for at least 85% marks in those exams to be on the safer side.

9.        A day before the test

a.       Read your notes

b.      Review the Input/output, techniques and key points of various KAs

c.       Relax and sleep well!

10.    One the day of the test

a.       Reach early

b.      The centre provides pencil and paper. I carried my own water bottle

c.       Read the questions very carefully. You can “Flag” the questions that you are not sure of and revisit them later

d.      Run through the questions once more before your hit submit

e.      Submit – and you are CBAPed!

Oct 31, 2011

Business Analysis in COTS environment: Evaluating COTS Products

This is going to be a quick post, I was asked by a reader on best practices that Business Analyst can use to evaluate COTS products. Following was my response:

Business Analyst role in COTS analysis is often undermined and not given due importance. What I have seen is that, the days of fresh developments project, where an application or a business solution is build right from the scratch is over, IT managers look for tools which can "best fit" the business needs and have a warranty associated with it.
Having said that, here is what I think a BA need to do in order to evaluate COTS products:
  1. Understand and gatherbusiness requirements very well. This is the first step. What business problem are we trying to solve? What the business is trying to achieve? What are the high level requrements or the desired funtionality? These kinds of questions..which will give an idea of the length and breath of the field that has to be covered.
  2. Make sure that these requirements reflect the need rather than the solution .
  3. Categories requirements based on the priority(first) and then on the similiar feature groups. Example: wokflow requirements can be categoriesed together... so can be admin and editing realted requirements.
  4. The selected vedor(based on the prices, feature match, support etc.) can be asked to demo the product, do a pilot(implement top 5 features in a sandbox environment which has end user access) ...this will help in selecting the right vendor.
  5. Prepare a evaluation sheet..for example features with their quantitative weights, mapped with the scores of the various vendors and their product. The final score can be used to judge the best fit product. Gartner publishes some really good evaluation matrix..check those to prepare the evaluation sheet. This is a critical excercise and will be crucial for building the final evaluation report.
  6. Always, have a technical analyst, project manager and business users representative as stakeholders in your analysis. Communicate with them, make them the part of the demo..do the scoring with them and faciliate them with the decision making process.
  7. The COTS tool will never be a complete fit there will be changes in the requirements to fit the tool and some change in the tool to fit the requirements. Ask how customizable is the tool, ideally, if the tool fits 80% of the requirements... it is good enough.
  8. Don't encourage too much customization the vendor will always say that everything can be done OOB or can be coded, make the business understand that customization will only add to their administrative cost in the future.
  9. Prepare an analysis approach which is best fit for your business need. :)
What do you think additionally a BA should keep in mind while evaluating COTS products?

Jul 11, 2011

CBAP Application- Few points to remember

My  CBAP application got approved some time back and I am really  delighted. There are couple of reasons for my excitement. First, I have a total experience of just over 5 years and I was really nervous about the acceptance of my application form even though I had required hours.  Second, now  I can appear for the certification which I wanted to do since long time and was just waiting to get the necessary experience required. The application process is indeed a little lengthy  and requires quite an effort from the candidate. I have some tips and pointers which might be useful in case your are applying or planning to do so in near future:
  1. Few really  good tips are mentioned on the B2T Training Website, check 8 Hints for Applying for CBAP. This is the place to  start.
  2. Capture high level business goal in the project description. There are restriction on number character for project description, make sure that the project description is written in language which is concise and understandable. 
  3. Don't miss on your consulting work. The projects where the outcome was not a software application can also be listed, for example I mentioned the the content management strategy  work that I did for a pharma company. The outcome was a recommendation document but it involved a lot of business analysis activity which maps to the knowledge  areas.
  4. Pre-sales do not count as a Business Analysis experience. But if you  have done some kind of solution assessment or enterprise analysis that may  be counted. What may not count is responding to  RFPs and RFIs. 
  5. It is  not necessary to  allocate some percentage to  every knowledge area for every project. It is OK to have, for example, 0% allocation for solution assessment and validation for a particular project. It is again dependent on the work that you done. What is important in the end is that you have a minimum of 900  hours in at least four knowledge area at a minimum total of 7500 hours. 
  6. Avoid listing online recorded training for PDUs. You  should list only those classes where there was instructor, you had an opportunity to interact with the instructor and it was related to  business analysis work. Read this article by  Laura Brandenburg to  understand the PDUs concept better. 
  7. Start  the reference process early, don't wait for the other sections to complete before asking  for reference from your career managers. If the feedback is received late your application submission may be delayed.
It takes time to complete the form, a lot of information has to  be entered and  tracking  the overall BA hours, total hours per knowledge area while your are entering information is not possible. IIBA should revise the form to  make it more user friendly. I have created an spreadsheet to  manage the application process, this is based on a presentation by Angelique Robateau & Michelle Gehrig. You can download the sheet here or by clicking on the image below:

Click on the image to download the  sheet.

Apr 27, 2011

How to interview a Business Analyst?

I had a chance to  be on both the sides of the interview table on quite a few occasions. From what I have experienced, there aren't many companies which are good at interviewing  business analyst.  Often the interviewer is confused on whether to  ask technology  questions or the business questions? No one can be  blamed for such confusion as often the job description itself is very confusing, for example "looking for a Sharepoint Business  Analyst". Here the interviewer and interviewee they  are confused on whether to  focus on Sharepoint knowledge or the business  analysis skills.. to  be honest I often think if the BA has to  be an expert in Sharepoint than what the other member on the project are suppose to  do?

I would like to share my  learning  with the broader community  having interest in this topic:

1. As Project manager or the HR manager make sure that the designated interviewer(s) understands clearly the role of the  Business Analyst...in general and in the project. Ideally  the interviewer should have the direct stake in the project or in the organization for which the BA  is being hired.

2. Let the interview be case study  oriented. I think it works better than asking  standard  questions which are published all over the web, case studies are unique and a very  good way to  evaluate analysis and problem skills. Take scenarios from your previous projects and ask how the candidate would have  handled the situation. A case study can be a business problem which a company  is trying to  solve, a difficult requirement change situation in the middle of the  project, a tough client handling  situation, a unique business requirement etc.

3. It is important to ensure that the candidate has the right communication skills, whether he/she asks good follow  up question to understand the scenario given in the cases study? Whether the responses are detailed enough and yet short? Whether the candidate answered the question you  asked? Does the candidate take too much time to  understand and answer the question? Or in general as interviewer are you  able to enjoy the conversation?

4. Ask open ended questions, this is a good tool for a business analysis as well  for interviewing  a business analyst. Such questions open a  platform for discussion, gives an  opportunity  to  gauge domain knowledge and are foundation to  get into  specifics. For examples: Tell me about agile software development? What are the benefits of prototyping? How do you gather implicit requirements?

5. If the interview is face to  face, give the candidate a situation where he/she can white board. It could be drawing a work flow through many decision points or mocking of a screen as per the given requirement. This will  is a good way to evaluate diagramming  and creative skills.

6. Schedule a round of interview with  a team of  professionals representing various skills in a typical project.  For example let a team consisting of Tester, Developer, BA and PM interview the candidate, this is a good way to evaluate the candidates ability to  communicate with  different members of the team.

Here are some good links I found on the same topic, would love to  hear back via comments on this post:
Follow the discussion on LinkedIn: How to interview a Business Analyst?

Mar 25, 2011

A good user story

It is very important to templatize things and define some good practices when there are many Business Analysts involved in a project. We faced this problem. In my last project we had a global team of 10 BAs and everyone had their own way of writing requirement. We soon realized that there is an immediate need of  harmonization between the BAs and to establish a common understanding on what a user story is and how they should be written.  The outcome was a beautiful user story template and some of the best practices which helped a lot during the following sprints and subsequent releases of the project.

Here is what I learned  about user stories, I would like to summarize it in Mindmap:

Jul 28, 2010

WIll be back soon

Its been a long time since I have posted something here. Almost 8 months. The  reason for inactivity is my laziness and a lot of action on personal and professional front.

But now I am back and have a lot to share, in past few months I had an opt. to  work on various project and in different capabilities:
-  Lead a  team of Business Analyst across geographies to build  an enterprise portal for a pharma major. I have a lots of learning to share.
-  Handled a very politically  charged project( I was drained out in 3 weeks!!) for a mobile company. We were buiding their support  center application and I created the testing plan. I do have few learning to share... but the major learning is not to  get involved .

Nov 29, 2009

Go by the Rules

I have been reading a lot about  Business Rules  lately mostly  by  following  blog of practitioners. Though I have been documenting rules during the analysis in someway or the other but not in the way recommended or the way 'Business Rules'  should be treated and written.The major learning  has been  separating Rules from Business Process/Use Cases. Often they got mixed up in the Business Process Model  or are hidden in the use cases(I could have saved a lot of pain if I separated rules from the diagrams). 

For folks who are getting into  the profession I would recommend treating  and learning  Business Rules as par with  Use Cases, Process Modelling  or any other technique.  For Starters I would suggest the following text on the internet: 

1.  The Business Rule Manifesto-  Clearly  specifies the importance of Business Rules and various principle of rule independence.
2.  RuleSpeak- Is a set of guidelines for expressing  rules in concise and business friendly  fashion. This site also two  very  good documents which are freely  available for Download, they  are
Basic RuleSpeak Do's and Don't and RuleSpeak Sentence Form.
3. Introduction to  Business Rules By Scott Ambler -Provides a template for detailing  Business Rules. 
4. 'KISS' Process Modelling  Technique by Kathy  Long - Kathy  gives a beautiful example on Separating  Business rules from Business Process. 
5. Business Rules Hidden In Use Cases by Scott  Sehlhorst -A very interesting article on separating rules from requirements and how the rules are commonly hidden in the use cases.   

Let me know if you come accoss more such articles, I would love to add them to the list :)

Oct 17, 2009

Why I Like Being a Business Analyst?

Reading the last page of the book which has been lying on the table besides the bed for months is most fulfilling. I recently completed reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. In this book Gladwell explores the reason why some people are so accomplished, so extraordinarily and more successful than others. Gladwell argues that some people are successful not because just because they are really smart, but success is a function of culture and community and family and generation the person belongs.

The book is a very good read and highly recommended. As you read through the book few things stick with you for  example the 10000 hour rule, the  trouble with geniuses, the Chris Lagan Story and the facts about airplane crashes.  But this one caught my attention the most, for a  job to  be satisfying, Gladwell says, it should have 3 qualities: Autonomy, Complexity and  Connection between effort and reward. This is how he describes: 

Those three things--autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward--are, most people agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying.

Isn't this true? No matter how well you  are paid you can never continue and be 
satisfied with a job which is monotonous, non challenging under an autocratic(let’s say  non-democratic) management. This I like best about Business Analysis and being a Business Analyst.

Autonomy : Throughout the project lifecycle, process and requirements management is a highly autonomous job. Not to sound boastful but I have realized that I am never under pressure from managers or clients during the lifecycle (off course I make sure not screw up things) nobody interferes during the process or questions your approach, in fact there is less or no interference from the delivery teams during this period. All that I have to make sure that all stakeholders are well communicate and there expectation well mapped. It is indeed an autonomous task.

Complexity:  Well do  I need to  explain this point? We analyze the complex Business processes, liaison between various Business Units, work hard with the IT teams to  make sure that the solution is made right, negotiate requirements, help PMs in estimations...and what not and as Jeff Martin wrote in his post We help  the companies change .. Isn't it complex?

Connection between effort and reward:  Organizations have realized that experienced BAs are their most valuable resources. Their ability to communicate, facilitate and analyze makes them indispensable. Today companies need people who understand both business and technology well and BAs get amble exposure to both ...and yes they are one of the best paid professionals currently in market. 

I like my job. I am working with for an IT outsourcing company and have experienced this in my projects and with the pressure on optimization and cost I feel the BAs still enjoy more freedom then other roles in a project. Personally the most satisfying experience is the day when my role gets over, the requirement documents are signed off after a good review with stakeholders, when business user shows confidence in you because finally someone from IT understands their process, pains and needs, or when the sprint gets over and the stakeholders are satisfied after  sprint review. Or simple things like when the developers are confident about the requirement they are to write code for and the QA folks are clear about the testing scenarios or the PM is sure about the scope, effort and estimate. These things indeed make my job very satisfying and finally I am able to enjoy the inflight entertainment system on my  flight back  home.