Jacqueline: Hello! Welcome to #AskAnAnalyst. This is Jacqueline Sanders-Blackman along with Kupe Kupersmith. Hello Kupe!
Kupe: Hello Jacqueline! Ready to kick the year off right. Let’s do it!
Jacqueline: Absolutely! 2017. We’re hitting it #fullSTEAMahead. Really excited to start our first broadcast of #AskAnAnalyst. Those of you who have been following Kupe and I throughout 2016, we did our bi-weekly broadcast to bring to you topics in and around everything analysis related. This year is going to be very interesting, I think, for the industry. Anything related to analysis, project management, IT in general: we ended the year. A lot of conversations we had with people were around changes, transitions, and transformations, some very much around agile and those introducing themselves to agile. There is a lot of talk about and a lot that people are doing in this space to be both creative and innovative and also to address some age-old problems that have continued to challenge different projects. Kupe, President of B2TTraining, talk to us about, as we start 2017, some of the things on your mind and some of your thoughts and predictions.
To be agile you have to do good analysis.
Kupe: All right. As I was thinking of this stuff, I’m like, “It’s going to sound self-serving,” but we are in the space of analysis. We’re not talking about predictions like what’s going to happen with our political system in the U.S.; we’re talking about predictions of analysis, companies that we work with, information technologies, and how companies are running their business. Some of this might be confirmation bias because we live and breathe this everyday, but I get a sense of all the companies I talk to day in and day out, and that you talk to as well, of this refocus on analysis. When agile started to get a lot of speed, there was this anti-analysis mode.
Last year, there were still people. I mentioned on the show, too, about someone I talked to. I asked him what’s going on with their analysis practice because “we don’t do analysis, but we do agile.” I think there’s still a wave of people that aren’t completely understanding they’re not 2 separate things, that to be agile you have to do good analysis. I think there is this refocus on analysis. There seems to be push to whole organizations thinking.
Even with us and other consultants and people supporting organizations, I see a lot of the services are focusing on whole team, whole organization and culture-change type stuff. Organizations are definitely saying that this is not just, “Oh, we’ll talk to this team and get a couple of people focused in that direction when the new mindset”; it has to be not just the IT teams, but also the leaders and the other departments — the neighbors of the team. Getting those neighbors in the same kind of collaborative mindset they need to have.
I read an article the other day about when it comes to business process improvement, organizations that have a business process improvement center of excellence where the only people that focus on it are the people in that center are only going to see suboptimal results. But if you start to get everybody in the organization thinking about process improvement and owning processes that then, you really hit the ground running and make some major changes. There has just been a lot of things that I’ve seen that organizations are definitely at the point of getting out of this silo mentality. Things have to be much broader.
Resistance is futile.
Jacqueline: Absolutely. It dawned upon me. Leaning into this show and thinking about some of the trends and things we saw at the end of last year, I think we all were surprised about how many organizations were going through some type of reorg and change. I think that, to your point, a lot of organizations have come to realization, hit a wall, or just had a reality check that some of the things they’ve done, they could’ve abandoned, sidelined, or weren’t important; having to stop and reevaluate.
I do find and think that some of these reorgs and changing people and their roles and/or bringing in different coaches/teams and trying to evaluate different methodologies, it’s because the foundation has been shaking a little bit. People were trying to do business as usual. I don’t think this is my point of view, but I don’t think agile is even going to be an option. In some form or fashion, to keep up, you have to figure out how to adopt it. The issue is the people that are resisting vs. the people that are embracing it vs. those trying to implement it with good intentions but are misguided. There’s probably some buckets within there, but what I’m trying to say is resistance is futile. That’s what I’m finding.
Kupe: Yeah. Years ago, I think it was a conversation with Ken McDonald, who we both know. I was over, and I think you were, too, people saying, “Either you’re agile or you’re waterfall; waterfall is wrong and agile is right. What are you?” I don’t think it’s about that. It’s just a way we work. What you’re saying, that everybody is going to be agile, I think that is the mode that organizations, at least on the information technology side, they’re in some manner of agile. They’re breaking things down into smaller chunks, learning as they’re doing, and doing it in a way that allows for learning, growing, adapting, and changing as quickly as the market is; you get ahead of the market, if that’s even possible. I think that’s the way we’re going to work going forward, and organizations have to figure out what that means for them. There’s not one specific way.
The day of the purist is gone.
Jacqueline: Exactly. That ties into one of my thoughts as well as observations. The day of the purist is gone. It’s dangerous, almost, to be a purist that is all about waterfall or all about agile. Like you said, it’s finding that comfort zone. Where people want some type of dogmatic methodology that says you have to do something in order to get perfect results, that’s not IT. IT has gray area in between. You have to figure out what’s going to work with the variables you’re working with. That’s part of what an analyst should be doing in every aspect: understand what those variables are and helping people make some good decisions about which direction, which approach to use, how to use people, and how to use the team appropriately.
Anytime you hear someone say, just like we heard early on in agile, “We don’t need any BA’s.” Just completely removing a whole discipline. I think, again, that purist type of mentality is dangerous. That might work well in the academic world, but when you get into real-world working environments, you have the Legacy systems and people with years of experience. You can’t just do all or nothing and just remove that piece and think there are not going to be repercussions. There’s enough repercussions and horror stories, now, that we need to find that middle-ground, that balance, and really have that conversation about collaboration.
Kupe: Yeah. I think what organizations, and some have figured it out a long time ago. Shane, who is our Director of Business Development, everyday he would call me up or send a chat message about another co going through reorg. It was unbelievable how many organizations were under major reports last year. My other point is around organizations figuring out the right next step for them.
I’ll use an example from B2TTraining. The size of the organizations we’re talking about are fortune 500, even fortune 1000’s and below. We’re talking B2TTraining, which is in the 25 and under category. I want, as one of the leaders of the organization, certain things to make happen. To me, I’m ready to move. I’ve been thinking about it, I want it to happen, I can see the end game, but you can’t just, overnight, think everybody is going to make the switch. Everybody has their processes and their mindset; you have to bring people along with you on that journey to make it a reality.
To your point about the purist, you can’t go from one way of doing business and overnight say, “Now we’re going to this other thing.” To make that switch is really hard. If it’s hard in a 25 or less company, now expand that to thousands and understand that it’s really difficult to make this happen. You have to have a consistent view around the principles and where you’re trying to go. It’s different for everybody. How one principle is implemented in one country can be different in another.
You have to keep your pulse on the people.
Jacqueline: Exactly. You’re putting it on top of a Legacy, whether it’s processes and procedures. The shift is a culture shift, which we’ve talked about. Some times, with these reports, some are quite necessary and sometimes they’re just knee-jerk reactions because they’re not willing to give some of those transformations and some of that storming, forming, and norming the opportunity to settle in. That’s another dangerous thing. Like you said, it’s interesting, especially because we’ve worked very closely with clients for years, not only are they going through one reorg, but different parts of the organization are introducing and reorging on top of a reorg, introducing methodologies on top of the methodology. It has just been, for some of the employees, exhausting.
That’s another thing about the environment: being cognizant. Knowing what the impact is on people. We can talk methods, processes, and approaches, but you also have to keep your pulse on the people because they make or break any business; businesses should know that by now. On top of that, the type of resources people are looking for, now, it may be easier to say you can replace them, but at the same time, you may have somebody that has such a good background, the technical expertise, and the understanding of the vision of the organization.
We’ve always known that it’s very expensive to replace resources. Companies have to understand and also check for the health of the team, the health of the employees, and their morale level. Sometimes you have to take a pause and check that; things may look good on paper, but check the timing and pace that people can absorb when there are multiple changes going on in the environment. Sometimes we see it firsthand. When people are sitting in our class, we can see people want to embrace and that they can see the value, but they also have a lot of other things swirling around that they have to juggle and embrace at the same time. It’s important to find that balance.
Kupe: Yes. It’s all related to predictions, I think. When you talk about the people, the change, and the storming, forming, norming — well, the forming aspect comes first; it reminded me of an exercise you do in the agile-analysis bootcamp around how to make people feel what change means. You talk to them about how the concept of agile is about accepting change and adapting to it. Everybody’s shaking their heads like, “Yeah, makes sense,” and then they get into an exercise. It has change, and some people do accept it and adapt but others don’t. Then, they get it: “That’s what you mean by accepting change.”
I think that’s the piece where organizations are starting to realize and focus more on, “Ok, this is bigger than just throwing out a new approach. It’s figuring out how to get people comfortable and on board.” It goes back to the improv stuff I do. I always talk about how you can throw a team together and tell them to collaborate, but that doesn’t mean the people on that team are going to automatically overnight start to have good conversations and work well together. You have to give them the opportunity to do that.
Give them the guidance, coaching, and training to how they do that. I think that is where organizations are realizing that, “Yes, it makes sense. This is the way we’re going to do business, but we don’t have to just focus on the technical pieces of stuff. We have to focus on the people’s side of things.”
Jacqueline: Absolutely. Before we trail off any further, why don’t you take us back to some of your other predictions and thoughts around 2017?
Kupe: The other main one was around this whole company-focused aspect. It relates to analysis, process improvement, and the mindsets. You and I, in our offline conversations, talk about mindsets a lot. My prediction is people are going to be focused more on that and focused more on these key disciplines. You’ve written articles around and we’ve seen other people write about the T-shape of building your skills. You might have depth in one or two areas, but you’re going to grow where you need to grow: wide and to the top of the T. I think that’s going to be really important.
The people that separate themselves from the pack are going to be the ones to focus on that T-shaped model for their skill development. You talked about getting away from purists. The people that can be a little more flexible and pick up different roles depending on the needs of the team or the organization are going to be the ones that add value. At the same time you can’t be a pure generalist either; trying to be the jack-of-all trades isn’t the route to take.
The conversation of analysis shouldn’t just be within the BA community
Jacqueline: Exactly. There are definitely different disciplines, and those different disciplines have their tools, and techniques. You need someone that specializes in particular areas. Quite honestly, people have their different passions, too, and their natural skill set that they’re comfortable in. Like you said, you don’t want to make everyone a generalist. You want to celebrate and promote those specialized or those niche areas, but not without them being able to reinvent and be a utility player when it comes to supporting the team and what’s best for the team and the project. Being specialized but not being rigid is so important.
That goes back to the spirit of agile. Quite honestly, just having the mindset that, “Hey, I’ll help out where I can. I might have to have someone go behind me and proof what I’ve done, but I’m willing to try to be of assistance.” Something else that you mentioned: even when it comes to our podcasts, and we talk a lot about analysis, but the conversation of analysis shouldn’t just be within the BA community. We’re business analysts and we’re specialists, so yes, we talk about it; we go to our IIBA meetings and our conferences. But, what I definitely want to see more of in 2017 and would love to get your thoughts on it is that at these conferences, there are more CIO’s and even CEO’s and product owners, people in the different components of the business side are coming to these meetings and being a part of this community and the conversation about what analysis should be.
We feel, at the heart of it, that everybody, whether you’re doing system analysis, the technical analysis, data analysis, or process analysis, in some form or fashion, analysis should be a common thread across our vocabulary. We are just maybe doing different pieces of it, and we have to understand how to bring those pieces together and make sure we are connecting the dots between that analysis. That’s something that I definitely hope is a trend we see in 2017. Just want to get your thoughts on how to do that, and do we see some of that already happening?
Kupe: Yeah. I completely agree that it has to be in everybody’s mind that more people need to be doing analysis. Back to having that analysis mindset. One of the big pieces you highlighted is connecting the dots. That’s what analysts do. They see all these things that are going on and start to tie the pieces, analyze, and come up with the real problem to go after. Why is this potential solution a better fit than another potential solution? People having that is important. How do we do that? I’ll be honest: that was the whole purpose of the IIBA starting back in 2003, almost 14 years ago. I don’t think anyone has the answer yet.
The people that are business analysts at heart and always will be don’t have the title of business analyst
Part of the problem, and this is one of the things we wanted to talk about today — part of the problem is the perception of what analysis is. If you break down and talk to a CEO or CIO and they can talk to you and I and we talk about what analysis is, they’re like, “Oh, everybody does that.” But, when they look at the people that are playing that role today or have the title ‘business analysts,’ they don’t see enough of those people doing that kind of work. The people that are business analysts at heart and always will be don’t have the title of business analyst. The real people doing that stuff are not called business analysts.
Part of it is an HR issue. At many companies, the business analysis title is a catch-all. For whatever reason, that title picks up everybody. It’s like, “We’re not sure where to put you so we’re going to call you a business analyst, too,” but they don’t do anything that you find in the business analysis literature out there. A friend of mine called me once. The business analysis he does is analyze businesses and gives stock advice to people, saying whether they should buy in or not. He thought we did the same thing. I’m like, “No, that’s not the kind of business analysis I do.” There’s a lot of confusion, a lot of things going on in that space. I do think people need to realize that this discipline is needed not just by a few but by many.
With that said, if you’re a doctor, the smart doctors try not to self-diagnose because they’ve been through the training. A lot of good doctors go to other doctors just like you and I do. Everybody having the analysis mindset is good, but at the same time, you need to have different voices. Depending on your role and what you’re playing day in and day out, you need to have other people.
As an example, you and I and Hans Eckman just met a couple of weeks ago to talk about strategy for B2TTraining. I’ve been doing strategy for a long time, and I could facilitate and help other people do it for their organization, their department, or their project. However, I felt I needed other people that could do this, like you guys, to help. A good thing people need to be aware of is yes, they have the background, but it’s good to get other voices. What’s your take on that?
Jacqueline: I totally agree. Let me backtrack a little bit to something that you mentioned: the title ‘business analyst’ and how for years, it has been a catch-all. You met someone that you talked to, and that’s what they did: analyzed business and made stock recommendations. I’ve met someone whose role was to analyze businesses and determine whether they should acquire those businesses; they made recommendations to the executive and the board looking at other related businesses. My thing is, how we use it, especially in the IT space, we are of that same family.
Those areas might get a lot more mainstream where people can relate to them, but for whatever reason when we started introducing the aspect of the IT business analyst and technical business analyst, like you said, early on it kind of became a catch-all. It may have even started off as a technical writer and a scribe from there, but it became this passive role. Through tradition and handing down different practices, a lot of people who have been introduced and on board with business analysis are still carrying out that function of what we call the ‘order taker.’
In the meantime, there has also been that branch and that group of people, through organizations like the IIBA, through professional training that’s now out there, and through different books that have been authored about it, that has now developed themselves into more of that leadership business analyst and strategic business analyst. Even though for a long time we tried to differentiate it by calling it the ‘enterprise analyst,’ which didn’t necessarily take off, I did think that at some point, us in the business-analyst world have to take the bull by the horn and express and demonstrate ourselves as team leaders within the project and not just some back-office administrative function to the rest of the team.
The business analyst’s job is the steward to make sure the right thing is being built
I think that organizations can help in this, too, by understanding the other role that may be helping, almost like the project coordinator. You have the project coordinator and you have the project manager; people recognize the project manager role as that leader role. Then, you have the project coordinator who helps in that role. Both of them are very valuable and serve their purpose side-by-side. I think it’s the same way: you have some team-level business analysts. They’re great with the troubleshooting, getting the information, collecting it and making sure it’s organized. And then you have the strategic leader business analyst role as well.
Maybe somewhere along the way we’ll further define that and get it into the mainstream and communicated, because there are two different types. It’s really time for the role of the leader business analyst to take its place and parallel with the project manager to help lead both a successful project and a successful product. That’s something I bring up quite often: you can have a successful project but the product could be a failure in that it doesn’t deliver the value or the objectives. Just delivering something might deem the project successful, but the business analyst’s job is the steward to make sure the right thing is being built. Just wanted to make sure that this is not a conversation we’re having in the BA community, but we really need to.
You brought this up, that we’re seeing in the agile bootcamp that just having a room full of business analysts and teaching to a room full of business analysts, sometimes you’re preaching to a quire; they get it, they embrace it, they want to take on all these different aspects. But, these classrooms need to really actually have the team there so that everybody has bought into it, whether they’re just supporting or they’re providing part of that T and supporting the business analyst. Just making sure that analysis is being done to the level and the quality that it needs to be done. I needed to hit those points. Let me give you a chance to reply.
How much time are you spending on redoing stuff?
Kupe: I think this is a big piece of what we wanted to talk about today. When we were at #BBCCon, we were wearing a sports jersey that said on its back, “Analysis is a team sport.” That’s the thing that people really have to get in their heads, that analysis is not just a one-person role. There might be a main responsibility of 1 or 2 people on the team, but it’s everybody’s responsibility that we are focusing on the right things and we’re thinking about all the dependencies upstream, downstream, and all the impacts that the project is going to cause. We’re focusing on having a customer-centric view and we’re doing things that make since for the business. That is the key.
I do think the attitude of the team, and this goes back to my prediction. I really am starting to see organizations that get it, like, “We’re getting stuff done faster, and that’s good,” but one of the questions we ask our clients and that you talk about in the class is, “How much time are you spending on redoing stuff?” Even though refactoring and redoing stuff is part of agile, are there things that you don’t have to redo? A good example that I like to throw out, and we always use house analogies and metaphors. If you’re building a house and you’re doing it in an agile manner, right now you just want a regular light to hang on your ceiling. You put in a lightweight electrical box that can hold that light, but then the next general comes around and you want a ceiling fan.
Now, to put a ceiling fan, you actually have to start tearing up the whole wall because you need a heavier electrical box to hold that ceiling fan and not just a lightweight nailing picture. To me, good analysis is thinking about long-term and what can we do today that isn’t going to take up any time. There’s a difference between buying a lightweight electrical box and a heavy duty one; the difference is about $3-$4. Wouldn’t it have been better even if he didn’t go down the route of getting a ceiling fan to put that in rather than the cost that it did cost the team because you had to rip it out of the ceiling, patch it, and all that kind of stuff.
Getting everybody on board and thinking in that manner is really important; not just going through the motions. Everything we talk about is against just going through the motions. I’m a big believer, and I can tell if analysis work is going well. If at the end of the day, they’re tired, then that is a sign that they have done their job, because they’re thinking so hard everyday about all this stuff and trying to pull the pieces together. The movie “A Beautiful Mind”: he obviously had some mental illness . . .
Jacqueline: Maybe all business analysts have some mental illness, but that’s ok.
Kupe: Yeah. Maybe there is some therapy that we should go through that’s good for us. It’s that kind of thought process that people should be going through, where at the end of the day, they’re white. They just need to go home and kick their feet up for a few minutes to get some energy back.
Jacqueline: Exactly. And that’s one of the things. People want to see something tangible, and that’s their proof that work is being done, but some of what the business analyst is doing is some of that deeper thinking that allows freedom for the team once they get moving. When we think about agile and that fast pace, my thing is, if we set things up, then that’s what allows us to move at that fast pace and for us to use lean forms of communication and documentation. We set up the parameters to know what areas we haven’t done our deep-dive into so that we can make a note to revisit later whatever those repercussions might be.
People think they know a developer who does code and so they should be able to count the lines of code. A tester: I should know how many scripts you’ve tested today. They got hung-up with the BA. I used to say early on that I felt like I got paid by the pound, because the more paper you produce, that was some type of indication that you were being productive. That wasn’t necessarily the case. There could have been a lot of thought that went into me trying to find a concise form of communicating things that are in, for example, a context level data flow diagram. When I put a context level data flow diagram in front of people, I can talk about it over half an hour. There is so much information that you can glean from that and the conversations and questions.
In class, we’ll do one of the exercises of the model, and I’ll stand back and let them talk. Then I say, “Do you see how much of a discussion came out of this? Even though you guys read the same 2-3 paragraphs, look at how there were many different angles and perspectives that had to be put out, discussed, and dissected just to get to this conclusion.” That’s all valuable, and that’s what sometimes is getting overlooked or downplayed until it comes back to root. I’m even going to go back to our conversation about all these reorgs.
You’re just doing knee-jerk reactions that are really more deep-seated in your culture and the beliefs that you’re basing success and failure on.
Sometimes there are some expensive and drastic, whether it’s reorgs, changing methodologies, or changing approaches, where people aren’t just reevaluating, even what they are calling success and failures. One of the things we talk about in agile is learning fast or failing fast. People are pointing to those failures and saying, “Ok, agile failed.” No. We learned something from this, and from the fact that we adjusted, that should be considered a win. One of the things is the things that people consider a failure of expectations that management has is costing some companies in the fact that they’re doing some expensive reorgs and disrupting things drastically.
Give it another 3-6 months, and if you find yourself reorging again, it may be that you’re ignoring some of the things that you culturally need to evaluate, like how you are actually defining success and failure. I know that’s a lot, but that’s a challenge. Why do you have to reorg every 3-6 months? What analysis do we need to do to help you get to the root cause? Because clearly, you’re just doing knee-jerk reactions that are really more deep-seated in your culture and the beliefs that you’re basing success and failure on.
Kupe: Yeah. I think it is hard, because you have to, as a leader of the department or organization, it’s a combination of stuff of keeping the lights on, getting things moving, and also innovating and changing the way we do things. We lean too much towards — and this isn’t my thought but a podcast I listened to about innovation vs. maintenance. It was talking about in today’s culture, everything is about innovation and changing the way we do things. People get excited about innovation, and maybe that’s the reason these massive reorgs continue to happen, because they’re innovative.
Maybe it’s not innovative in the sense that, “This is where we were a year ago and we keep flip-flopping between the two,” but it’s a massive change, so people get excited about T-shirts and making it happen. The people on the podcast, the researchers and scientists, were saying that there needs to be more cultivation in maintenance. If you can maintain a good base of employees and the right culture, then it’s ok because you can take that on and adapt to it. If you have the right people in the organization, if you have the right culture of being open to change and being able to meet the needs of today, then who knows what’s going to happen a month from now, 6 months from now, 5 years from now? But it doesn’t matter because we have the right mix of people that can help us grow and get to where we need to be based on what’s happening around us.
Jacqueline: Absolutely. I just want to talk to our audience. You can reach us on Twitter. Kupe is @Kupe and I am @RequirementsPro. You can also send us emails at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have a question or a topic you would like us to cover. Kupe, we’re talking about the predictions and what you foresee for 2017. We’ve talked about organizations and a lot of the organizational changes. Any other areas that we haven’t hit upon as it relates to the predictions?
Kupe: This is less of a prediction but more of my personal feeling: analysis, in general, is going to take on a broader view or be accepted in a broader view. We talk about the work we’re doing with agile teams, but also convincing people what analysis is all about: helping with decision-making. When you have a mindset like that, then it is broader. Analysis is not about writing user stories or acceptance criteria. Analysis isn’t about writing work-flow diagrams. Those are tools, as you mentioned earlier, but really what it’s about is understanding impact, highlighting impact, highlighting solutions, giving people the information they need to make good decisions and feel comfortable with the decisions they make.
It’s less of a prediction and more of a hope that more and more people start talking about it in that form and fashion. Then, I think, organizations can stop talking about project management vs. business analyst vs. QA vs. developer and instead, get into the business of doing work. I’ve been saying this for years: CIO, CEO, business analyst or project manager alone is not the outcome organizations are hoping for.
That might be a step in the process, but in the end, it’s not standalone that we have a great BA practice in our company. Ok, fine, but we’re still not delivering products the way we should, or projects aren’t going as smooth as they should. We’re not reaching the goals and hitting the strategy items that we need to hit as an organization. That’s what organizations care about, and if we continue to head down this path of getting away from the individual role, then I think we’re better off in focusing on the outcomes that organizations meet.
Jacqueline: I completely agree. I can add a thing here or there, but I completely agree with you. I’ve also seen that manifest. It goes back to the T-shape resources and how you develop your resources with that T-shape. They still have some of their development be around specialized area, but there should be a segment of the training and development that’s the team and the team coming together. I’ve witnessed this in the class, where you bring the team together and you start talking about what needs to occur from dissecting.
One person might take to the data aspect of the analysis. Another person is good at breaking things down. Another person is good at summarizing and rolling things up. Another person can quickly connect the dots. Their all-natural analysis and ability comes out, and they find a way to come together: the uber BA. One individual doesn’t have to be a specialist in every aspect of analysis, and that’s also something to beware of. There are a lot of different areas of analysis, and so different experiences, exposure, and disciplines within analysis can all come together to create that super-uber BA.
The team together: finding what that feels like and what works for them. I definitely, from a team perspective, think that are training modules are starting to focus on team training. It’s not BA training, but it’s team training around analysis. We’re looking at a concept that you talked about for awhile now that has really come of age. Maybe people are ready for it now. I know you’ve been talking about it for awhile.
Sometimes you’re undermining agile if you’re just trying to follow page-by-page what works for someone else.
Kupe: Yeah. I think it’s one of the things that I could talk about and I could see. It’s a number of things that allows you to see the future and where things are going to hit. People can’t just listen to it, but they have to feel it, experience it, and know that, “Now, the things that Kupe and others have been saying is coming into fruition. I see the light.” I had a conversation with Ken yesterday. He asked me what did I think the change would be. I just think people got to a point where they did all these things that they were supposed to do, and those were the first good pieces to the reforming of the team and their approach. But now they’re realizing, “There’s still something missing,” and they’re realizing that what’s missing is the team analysis piece.
Jacqueline: Exactly. And I can say from my experience with watching agile mature, there were some early on where I saw the purists, the ones that said, “I’m going to take it and run with it because it’s easy to do.” What happens is, and I still find it sometimes today, someone wants to run to a book and say, “Well, I read this in a book. The book said…” Sometimes you’re undermining agile if you’re just trying to follow page-by-page what works for someone else. People that have been in IT for 25-30 years, what worked for the last project, for the next project it’s going to be a whole different set of circumstances and moving parts. Again, that analyst needs to look at those different components and say, “With this combination of factors, what would work best?”
Kupe: That, to me, is being agile. It’s being a good critical thinker, and it’s stopping/pausing when you get tired. Even being focused for this radio show is doing that. I thought of things I wanted to say today, but now as you bring up things, my thoughts change and I have to adapt; vice versa. That’s what good teams need to do. There is not a best practice that if you follow it, every single day and every single project is going to be great. It’s not that kind of environment. You can’t just pick a best practice. You have to look at all these practices that are out there, look at your situation, and be able to adapt. You need to buy-in to some of these principles of agile, but how you get there or how you implement those principles could be different. And that’s ok. That’s fine, as long as everybody is going down the same direction with those principles.
Jacqueline: Exactly. One of the things that comes to mind for me, which is not necessarily a prediction but a hope for 2017, is that organizations — within B2T, each of us have all been practicing analysis for 20-30 years – don’t just see us as someone that can teach the skill set and pass on the skill set to other analysts, but we’re also the ones that can help with assessing what the pain points are within their current environments. We can help them to articulate those pain points; not just the symptoms, but getting to the root cause and helping them come up with strategies.
Sometimes I feel like within IT and going through these transformations, we’re not necessarily leveraging some of the analysis techniques. You have someone that has an idea of the group going to agile, and maybe they’re looking for some type of turnkey approach like, “I’ll send everybody to training, move their desks around, call it agile, put up a board, and implement a tool.” In a lot of organizations now, there’s enough history and examples that we can say, “It’s not necessarily that straightforward.”
Use your analysis and some of the analytical approaches that we know works for when you’re trying to determine the right product to build; it also helps to determine the right way to implement new processes and approaches to how you do projects. I want to put that out there, that people also use analysis for their transformations.
Kupe: Yeah. I’ve been in too many situations where as an IT organization, what do we try to do with projects? We have project manager, analyst, and we’re trying to do exactly what you’re saying: look at the situation, how do we get there, should we build something, should we buy something, do we improve our process. That’s what we do everyday, but we don’t take the same initiative for our internal projects. To me, going to a new approach is a project. What’s working well today, what’s not working well, what should we change, what shouldn’t we change, and what’s the path we take? I really don’t think we do that enough. Back in the day when requirements’ tools started popping up, executives would go to a conference, and they would see a really cool tool.
Even if it was the right choice, there was no analysis done to say, “Is this a good thing? Why are we implementing it? How do we implement it across the company?” We just go on and buy it and say, “Ok, guys. Start using this tool.” We have to approach these things like an initiative. Part of that is good analysis and making sure we’re focusing on the right things while we’re implementing a new approach. To your point, what does success look like? What are we trying to achieve? Even though there are little failures, that doesn’t mean we’re not on the path to succeed. If you haven’t talked about what success looks like for your team or for your organization, it’s easy to say, “We keep failing, so let’s try something else.”
Jacqueline: Absolutely. This may not be a prediction, but this may be something I hope to see a lot of in 2017. In 2016, someone brought us in to help them with their agile practice, but I love that we did it in a way that we brought the teams in, we trained the teams, and we did some team-building. I want you feel agile; I don’t want to teach you agile. A lot of them, which we know, have read books and have even taken other classes, and they even took a pretest. We knew they knew the terms, the concepts, and could recite them, but to feel it and to experience it was missing.
The one thing that they did on top of the team and group training was that management went to training as a prerequisite to their teams actually being in the class. There was a certain coaching and setting up the framework so that when they came back, management and leadership was on the same page. It goes back to some of the analysis that we’ve done. You have management that will come and say, “These are the problems that our teams are having.” Well, some of the problems that the team is having, if you talk to the team, has to do with how leadership is still overseeing the rewards, recognition, and management of those teams.
There are 2 parts to it, and sometimes it’s because of the same leadership that is seeking out the training. There’s also a certain level of helping them to understand the terminology and the concepts around whether it’s agile or whether it’s analysis in general. We’ve seen a lot of success with that. What are your thoughts on that?
Kupe: There’s nothing really to add other than to piggyback on saying that there are so many different facets of this stuff that it’s not just one thing. Organizations have to think of this broader view. Management have to understand that they have to change. It’s not just about, “Oh, the teams have to change how they’re doing business.” It’s a broader thing. It’s the direct managers, their leaders, the neighbors, and the organizations around those teams that also have to change.
Jacqueline: Exactly. That was my second part. A lot of groups, as they’re trying to mature their practices and maturing the success of their projects, because some of them are experiencing levels of success. Maybe they’re trying to get it to a point where it’s more predictable or consistent or are just trying to close the gap. Not everything is just an epic fail and a worst-case-scenario. There are people who have embraced and are practicing agile. I want to applaud them, but it’s also knowing how to mature and make sure it’s sustainable. Some of these practices that I’ve seen is that you’re getting it out, but how are people going to feel? I’ve seen some signs of fatigue and burn-out within 12 months.
How does the scrum master and leadership make sure we keep the team healthy to keep is sustainable? Because you may be on to a good thing, but that good thing is not going to last at the rate you’re currently going. It’s about maturing. Again, sometimes it is helpful to let others come in. We partner with our clients to help them do some of the assessment and the analysis. It’s not just like they have to come to us with a pain point and a problem; making training reactive vs. making training proactive is part of my mindset, too. This is, again, so that you can sustain over the long-term. It’s important to do the assessment and look at maturing your organization instead of that just-in-time training or that reactive training.
What I also see with reactive training is people will pinpoint one particular pain point which might just be from one person’s perspective. Business analysts: we’ve seen this before on our projects, when someone comes with a pain point but it’s only one perspective. We go and fix that one thing, and really, it’s just a symptom of something else. For example, if someone comes and says, “We’re having a problem with user stories being too big.” We have a 2-day class that can take care of that for you, but my first question might be, “How are you guys defining the goals for your epics?” or, “What is the definition for your value of your epics?” I get the blank stare.
Well, if there’s no value assigned to the epics, if we break down the stories, then we’re never going to have anything to reconcile it back to and/or be able to find a minimal buyable product. That’s something that someone may not pick as a paint point because assigning a value to an epic doesn’t feel like a pain point; all you know is the symptom when it manifests itself later on in the project and everybody is bewildered when it comes to the user-story level. One of the things is being proactive about your training and not just being reactive. I hope to see a lot more of that in 2017.
I was able to get my wishlist out there, maybe plant some seeds. Might be a little biased, but what else are you hoping comes into fruition in 2017? What do you want to say to the community out there? I know we’ve been to various conferences, and people have been giving you their comments and feedback: the good, the bad, the ugly about where the industry and discipline is. What other thoughts do you have for 2017?
Kupe: Yeah. I know sometimes I talk in absolutes or it’s just easier to talk in absolutes so it’s not that it doesn’t happen, but one of the things I want people to take the bull by the horns of is when it comes to promoting analysis. All the things we’re talking about, we have talked about, and we will continue to talk about is how to get recognized and how to show the value of analysis rather than waiting for approval to do something. You go to a training class; you watch a webinar; you read a book. Just go and do it; do not wait for approval from a manager to say, “Yes, you can now try this new technique out.” Just go for it and do it.
One of the ways to feel comfortable with that, and some people do, which is why it’s not an absolute. Some people are constantly doing that, are lifelong learners, and are trying to figure out how to improve from yesterday. If you don’t feel comfortable, to those who are listening and are like, “Kupe, I can’t take the bull by the horns. I’ll get slapped down or I won’t get the promotion/raise I want”: find a mentor that can give you guidance on how to do it. Maybe there’s somebody within your organization that can make you feel comfortable to have these conversations with your managers to allow you to do whatever it is; just somehow figure out how to do it.
I feel like having mentorship is a great way to use somebody that has experiences; someone like you, Jacqueline, who has years of experiences. You have the war wounds and the battle scars because you did go for it, and you’ve learned a lot from it. Having a mentor like that can easily give you their experience so that you don’t make the same mistakes or silly mistakes that we’ve made in the past just because we needed help. A mentor will also give you comfort to go ahead and try something while having someone there to give you good feedback and advice that will allow you to improve as you go forward.
Our passion — Kupe, myself, and I think everyone had B2T — is that we don’t want to have to say, “I told you so.”
Jacqueline: Absolutely. One thing that I can say: people who just go for it, show what they have to offer, and show their value, having done this for 20-30 years, I’ve seen a lot of people and their careers as they evolved. Those that I see that stepped out there, and even in the moment or the organization they were in at the time when they stepped out there, they may not have gotten that immediate recognition, reaction or reward for their efforts, but I’ll tell you right now in their careers, they’ve progressed into leadership roles where they’re respected. Sometimes they stay within those organizations or sometimes they found themselves going to others. I’m not going to name names, but just last year, I got some texts and updates.
As friends and colleagues that keep in touch, it’s great to see when they give you their updates and they’ve moved on. I’ve seen things come into fruition. But, they stood by their convictions of what they felt like a valuable BA should contribute to the organization; they did that whether they were asked to or whether it was respected. I, myself, know there has been times; one particular incident, it took 3 years of what I predicted and said we should be doing to come into fruition. They wanted me to come back, and I felt like that ship had sailed at that point; it was unfortunate, because they were in a very sticky situation. It took them at least a couple of years to dig themselves out of a hole that didn’t have to happen. That’s the main thing.
Our passion — Kupe, myself, and I think everyone had B2T — is that we don’t want to have to say, “I told you so.” We’ve seen it, and so we’re saying these things to really try and help people prevent that situation. At the same time, depending on where you are and the experience you’re in, maybe at that time they don’t appreciate all that you have to offer, but it’s basically still building up your marketability until you find someone that does understand and respect what a full life-cycle and a robust business analyst brings to the table. To your point, Kupe, if people aren’t feeling empowered, get a mentor or coach, surround yourself with other professionals, either online or through an IIBA chapter to keep your energy level up, and stand by your convictions.
Kupe: Yeah. This is a good time to talk about this: a reset moment and a fresh year to start trying different things. The thing that I struggle with the most is the victim mentality of, “I couldn’t do it because of this,” or “I knew the right thing to do, but I didn’t because of that.” I don’t want anybody to get to a situation where they’re uncomfortable and they feel like it could jeopardize their career or job. I don’t want anybody to do that, but also, I want you to break assumptions down. A lot of people are talk to are like, “It’s a career-limiting move,” or, “I’ll get fired if I try that.”
In organizations we work for, how many people get fired? And why not have conversations with your manager saying, “I really want to try this stuff. Where can I do it? I know this is the right thing to do. I want to be a able to prove it. Let me do it. Let’s find a spot where I can do it.” Even if it’s not in your organization, I volunteer a good amount in different organizations. That’s where I try a lot of new stuff. Maybe it’s bad that the organizations I volunteer for are my petri dish, my testing ground. But, are they going to fire me? I’m just a volunteer. If you don’t want me to volunteer my time, then ok; I’ll go somewhere else. That’s a good place to try new things out.
Real early in my career when I first became a BA, I was on a PTA organization. There was process improvement stuff that had to go on within the organization, and I was like, “I just went to this class.” I started drawing stuff. That’s a good place to get comfortable and have a few bumps in the road. Like I said, if they decide to fire you, then you weren’t making any money with them anyway.
Jacqueline: Exactly. I have to give kudos to a couple of our students that have taken our class, and when they returned back to their roles, they may have been in between projects where they weren’t able to apply it. I love when they say, “I used a home improvement project and I applied agile.”
One just very recently said she was doing a remodeling, so she set up an agile board and had daily conversations with the contractor to talk about her priorities. She said they had to negotiate a few and she had to explain to him what the value was to her. She said she got to use her terminology, language, and concept. She was completely thrilled with it because she saw how it helped the project, the project manager, or I guess the contractor, which is like the project manager. He liked the way they approached it, and it helped with their communication. Like you said, instead of being the victim saying, “They won’t let me use this stuff,” you find a way to do your own professional development and maintenance. It’s for you as well as for the organization.
I daresay, some of the people, when they talk about what the organization will and won’t do, I often like to remind them, “Well, they did pay for this training, so that in and of itself is an investment on their part.” Now, you have to find a way to help them to find ways to incorporate what was in the training, maybe even grassroots or informally. Then, it can build its way into a formal component of the approach. No victims here! No victims allowed!
I think there are a lot of great things for 2017 and a lot of things that are coming of age. We are ready for people to come and contact us, connect with us, and to share if your experience is similar or different. Next episode in about 2 weeks, look for the date. Also, follow us so that you can get the notification of when the next episodes are coming. We want you to stay in touch and be a part. Next time, don’t be shy. Dial that number and we’ll let you talk. We want to hear what you have to say. Thanks Kupe! It has been a great show. Any final words on your part?
Kupe: We wonder, “How are we going to talk about this stuff for 90 minutes?” and then I end up wishing we had another 90; we’ll have to wait a couple of weeks.
Jacqueline: Absolutely. It’s an exciting time. I’m really looking forward to 2017 and a lot more of these great conversations and dialogue. Thank you Kupe, and thank you everyone for listening.