The Samurai Business Analyst

My Lineage
I am a Senior Business Analyst in a major financial insurance company in the UK. I have been working for the company since 1986 and in that time have performed many roles, which in some respects makes me a grizzled old veteran and in other respects a non-adventurous long term retainer. I have some formal qualification in my job and have mostly developed my skills via experience, training with several leading companies and learning from others. This blog is not an attempt to be a text book on being a BA, instead it is my attempt to bring a slightly different frame of reference to the role and provide a framework for personal development and growth.
In 2010 at the age of 43 I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease which has been a major challenge for me as the condition has progressed. Living with a health condition has given me greater focus on leaving a legacy and making a difference; outside of the office I used to be a fencing coach and have interests in Zen, martial arts and samurai history and it is in this area that I initially found a real model around which to structure my personal view of the world. My co-habitation with Parkinson’s has enhanced my views and I believe that people perform better when they have a job that they can believe in and grow through. I also believe that everybody frames their world with their own perception and rules. It has taken me a long while to synthesise my job, life and principles but it has been an interesting journey to get here. Hopefully you will find some of the information on these pages of use.

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“Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking…” Part 2

How’s your submission coming along? If you are intending to speak at this year’s BA Euro conference in September you’re running out of time to put your submission in to the committee. I have decided what I am going to go with this year and whether I am going to present on my own or with someone else. If you are a first time presenter it may be appealing and useful to co-present with a colleague for mutual support and benefit and in fact, this was the way I cut my teeth at BA Europe when I co-presented  a three hour work shop. There are a lot of benefits to be gained from this method but also a few things you should consider before submitting:

  1. Are your styles compatible? Too compatible? Will you gel on the day or will there be jarring segues? This applies not only to doing the presentation but to planning and preparing it; an improviser and a detail junkie will probably thoroughly annoy each other…..
  2. Do you trust your colleague to keep to the plan and timings? I saw one two person presentation once where the fifty minute slot was supposed to be evenly split between two colleagues. However; one got a tad carried away and took 39 minutes. The ever growing despair on the face of their colleague was tragic…..
  3. Are you located together in the same office? This is vital when it comes to rehearsals etc. Also if you are presenting with someone outside your organisation there may be issues with sending files to each other through corporate firewalls etc
  4. Do you have a plan if you or your colleague are unable to attend the actual conference?

You need to consider these questions very carefully before you decide.

This year I am once again presenting (If I am successful with my submission) on my own. I have numerous presentations I could have used but in the end have decided to go with an elaboration of my evolving ‘Middle Way’ framework that I first alluded to on my blog here last year.

So, then I needed to craft the submission… although I had already developed some material for my internal BA Community I needed to summarise it into something relevant for an external committee to judge, something that wasn’t required when I presented it one of my regular community calls as it was my meeting!  So I examined the material I had written to distill the core and hopefully sufficiently alluring message, which I eventually put forward as follows:

Business Analysis: The Middle Way

Drawing on both his 25+ year career in Business Analysis and his long-held interest in Samurai Japan, David synthesises these apparently disparate elements into a practical framework for Business Analysts everywhere. He will recount several historical examples from Samurai Japan that directly relate to the modern Business Analyst before explaining how these examples eventually formed a workable framework for him after several years of rumination. He will discuss the principles that inform this mindset and the advantages of maintaining “a beginner’s mind” whilst undertaking analysis on change programmes. During the session he will discuss how keeping to the Middle Way will allow you to:

Manage conflict situations in a professional way

Assist teams through crisis situations by leading calmly from the middle

Boost your confidence by focusing on outcomes rather than outputs

Discover the surprising similarities between the Bushi of medieval Japan and the Business Analyst of today…..! 

Note it is written in the third person (think of it as a sales pitch), mentions a bit about me, indicates three learning points (positioning a couple of ‘proto-memes’) and finishes with what I thought was a nice flourish; highlighting the letters BU in Bushi and Business Analysis! Obviously I have yet to find out whether I have been successful but I am remain optimistic. If I am not successful, the next article may be quite brief but if I am, I will go on to describe how I will put my story together. Good luck if you are submitting!

Change Resilience

I’m hearing a lot of discussion at present about resilience to change and how to develop it at individual through to organisational level. This, you will not be surprised to hear, has set me thinking as it is a topic not only close to my heart but also to my brain.  As someone who lives with a major neurological condition I am exposed to change every day. Parkinson’s Disease can present its symptoms in a wide range of severity, depending on my levels of fatigue, anxiety and dopamine production. This means that my physical condition fluctuates from ‘almost normal’ to ‘almost non-functional’ within the space of a few hours, sometimes through several cycles in any waking period. This is upsetting in itself but it’s compounded by being largely unpredictable from day to day; some days are worse than others but at different times. For instance, today I felt ‘off’ from the start; I woke up early (0600) and couldn’t get going at all. The first part of this article was typed with one finger and it is only now (1129) that I can feel the drugs beginning to work and two-handed typing has emerged again, although PD does affect my key-board aim so a lot of back-spacing and deleting is going on as well right now. So this means I have been pretty ineffective for most of the morning, not forgetting the cramping and discomfort that accompanies the persistent hand and foot tremors and the associated constant wriggling about in my chair to get comfortable. The good news is it feels great when I feel my motor functions returning, my hand loosens up, my left leg stretches out almost involuntarily and I can do helpful things again, like open bottles, walk without stumbling and smile, all things that most people take for granted. These ‘off’ periods are also stressful because everything takes longer and ironically almost always seem to coincide with multiple skype messages, e-mails and other activities that require much valued ‘brain-petrol’ from my depleted tank. (I am thinking of putting a message on my skype profile and e-mail signature that reflects the fact that sometimes I will be slow to respond to communication; not through indifference, more through incapacity!)  Without labouring the point, this has challenged my concepts of change resilience and I thought it might be helpful to detail a few of the things that help me deal with it.

Resilience vs resistance

I dislike the concept of resistance to change, mainly because I don’t think it’s possible and is thus a waste of resources. It’s true that to an extent you can resist change but its going to get you eventually. I think the following table demonstrates my view here as to the quality of the experience

Resistance Resilience
Aggressive/assertive Supple/pliable
Needs energy Conserves energy
Opposing Absorbing
Angry Understanding/compassionate?
Negatively biased Positively biased

 

In my view, the feelings on the right are much preferable to the ones on the left.

Perspective

I think it’s important to have a perspective on change. Obviously the primary perspective is that it’s happening to you and as it’s your universe* it’s only to be expected that you apportion a lot of energy/importance to your change event. However, sometimes it’s helpful to compare scales of change. OK, admittedly you’ve got a really difficult change to deal with but there is always, somewhere, someone who is experiencing something much more challenging. You can take this intellectual experiment as far as you want; it is entirely possible that somewhere out there an entire intelligent civilisation has just been wiped out by a super-nova, cometary impact etc which does tend to add a different twist to your train being cancelled. Remember, I’m not belittling anybody’s challenges here, just challenging the apparent vs actual scale of them.

Nurture yourself

To me, it’s important to conserve/nurture yourself when going through challenging times. It may seem counter-intuitive but taking time out to relax and reflect, or simply do something that you enjoy and energises you is much better for you than throwing all your energy into ‘solving’ the problem and can often lead to useful insights from the subconscious background programme rather than the in-your-face foreground programme! I also have created some powerpoint decks of a positive meditative nature which I play when feeling off centre that help me chill out and relax and I’d recommend you find something similar; perhaps a piece of music or a picture or video that means something positive to you.

‘Viewing the Distant Mountain’

This is a concept I’ve borrowed from Yagyu Munenori and his tome “Heiho Kadensho” (Do your own research if you’re interested) which essentially reminds me to look beyond my immediate challenge or opponent to see what lies beyond it. This is something that usually brings both perception and perspective around the problem and allows me to see what the future looks like once the challenge has passed. Sometimes we can’t see the horizon for the things immediately in front of us…………

So there you have it; a few of my techniques for embracing change and being more resilient. I hope you get something of value from them; they have been forged in the fires of my individual experience but hopefully they will spark something positive for you.

 

* i.e. you are reading this in your universe, whilst I am typing it in mine……

Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking…

For the last seven years I have spoken at the BA Europe Conference in London and it’s fair to say it has changed my life. It has provided me with many opportunities that I would not have got otherwise in terms of networking and the chance to contribute to the development of the Business Analysis profession in general. It’s certainly something I would recommend if you think you are ready for it; it’s a friendly atmosphere and every effort is made to help you succeed. To this end I thought I would put together some advice to assist any of you who are stepping up to volunteer for the first time. I will attempt to put the advice in the chronological order of the process you go through….
It’s submission time!
Once the call for speakers has gone out it’s time to consider your submission (this has now been published – click here for guidelines and to apply online) . If you are a first-time speaker then I strongly recommend carefully reading the advice for speakers that IRM publishes every year. I always review this to check nothing has changed then basically the process I go through is as follows:

What are the conference tracks this year? This can be found in the e-mail issued by IRM to previous delegates or via their website; www.irmuk.co.uk. Once I’ve checked this out I then consider whether I have any material already that fits or whether any of the tracks offer any inspiration. If I have material already it makes the whole thing a bit easier but I’ll treat this as if I’m writing a submission from scratch. In this eventuality the next thing I ask myself is “do I have a story to tell?” My way of working this through is to work backwards from the punchline, or the message I wish to leave in the minds of the audience and then figure out the important components at a high level. Remember you don’t need the whole story at this juncture, but just enough to put together a summary of your talk and the key outcomes and learning points for the submission. It is important at this stage to be concise and remember the guidelines in terms of not letting your submission become an advert or your life story. Essentially, your submission allows you to really distil the essence of the presentation you will ultimately produce and present and should be looked upon as an opportunity to crystallise your thoughts and get useful feedback from the advisory board.

If your submission is unsuccessful, do not be too discouraged. The advisory board receives many more submissions than there are available slots on the conference programme and this means there are always going to be some people who are disappointed. It may also be that you have chosen a topic that is well represented in terms of the number of submissions so you have unfortunately narrowed your chances of success; whatever the reason for the advisory board declining your submission do not be disheartened or put off from trying again. In fact, seek out other opportunities; is there an IIBA event you could speak at? Or another IRM Conference? Or something within your own organisation? If you have come this far and believe you have something to say then it would be a shame not to pursue that desire….!

If your submission is successful, then the fun really begins! You will be asked to submit a one page summary outlining the story-line of your presentation to ensure that the key messages of your online submission are reflected in this.  On the synopsis you will be asked to indicate your speaking experience – don’t worry if you don’t have much experience as the Advisory Board track leaders will be very supportive of you.  Once this has been accepted it is now time to work on the construction of your presentation and again, I suggest you refer to the speaker guidelines mentioned already which will give you plenty of ideas and guidance on the practical formatting of your eventual presentation deck. However, there is more to it than that! In my experience successful presentation has to have a clear and compelling story and it is here that I recommend you concentrate your initial efforts. Consider your audience’s knowledge and experience of your topic before you begin your presentation; what do they know? What do they think they know? By understanding this you will be able to create a clear narrative to allow them to improve their knowledge, increase their understanding, or maybe consider and agree with any argument or opinion you are putting forward. As a presenter or speaker you have to take the audience on a journey with you that will leave them either in a more enlightened or satisfied state at the end of that journey. You may even wish to leave them curious to know more so you have acted as a catalyst for their learning. But, to do so it is essential to put yourself in their position and understand their point of view rather than assuming yours is the correct one.

Once you have the beginnings of your narrative you can then start planning it out step-by-step or even slide by slide. You may do this on post-it notes, a good old-fashioned process model, or even the slide planner aspect of PowerPoint; either way you will start to construct a story-line or through line as it’s known around which you can build the rest of your deck. (I am assuming that you will be using PowerPoint as a standard presentation tool but if not most of the principles I will talk about will transfer to other media. If you are using non-standard software it is worth checking with the events team as to compatibility requirements etc.)

In terms of your actual presentation there are numerous books available on presentation styles and formats and I strongly urge you to read anything by Chris Anderson or Carmine Gallo regarding TED presentations as they contain a mine of information that will add huge value to your presentation and your experience of the event. ‘Resonate’ by Nancy Duarte is also an excellent read. For those of you intending to submit a proposal or those just planning a presentation these books are brilliant homework!

It is my intention to return to this topic over the next few months as we build towards the BA Europe Conference in September. I am intending to submit a proposal and I shall use this as a case study. I will also discuss how to manage your nerves before (and during) the event and also pass on some hints and tips around personal style plus the logistics of presenting at conferences such as using microphones, working with the events team etc.

Hopefully those of you planning a presentation will find it useful and there’ll be interesting stuff for those who aren’t!

What’s Your Through-line?

Over the last few weeks I have been finessing a lot of presentations; one for a team building session I hosted in London, another for the upcoming BCT Conference in March and various other sessions for internal training. During this process I have also been reading the excellent book ‘TED Talks’ by Chris Anderson, the current head of the TED organisation. It’s a brilliant read for anybody with an interest in public speaking and has provided me with many insights and creative ideas for revising some of my slide decks and presentations. In terms of speaking and presenting I believe you should never stop learning; in fact I think that applies to life in general! One of the many interesting concepts Anderson discusses is the ‘through-line’, which he describes as the narrative and reason for your entire talk or as he puts it “The point of a talk is to say something meaningful”. It seems a very simple point but it’s surprising how many people forget it. It also strikes me as a concept that can be applied wider in everyday.
Your personal through-line
This links in with some of my recent posts about goals and my core belief that everyone needs to bring their core purpose into everything they do where possible. So, in the face of all distractions and when all is said and done, what’s your through-line? What is the one message you want to get across in your lifetime? It’s worth thinking about because it will inform of everything else that you do as a person or as a BA. For instance, if your through-line is “break down the detail” then you might find yourself becoming an expert in the field of data-analytics, process decomposition or even strategic planning. If your through-line is something like “get the right outcome” then you might be a great facilitator or leader of teams etc. my personal through-line is “Make a difference” and it brings me great satisfaction to apply this to the art of developing and encouraging others; if I can help at least one person per day then that day has been a good one. “It is a good day to try” to paraphrase either Sitting Bull or Commander Worf…..
Your project through-line
A through-line does not have to be restricted to individuals, they can also be associated with projects or organisations. Perhaps it is a good idea the start of every project to identify exactly what the project through-line is. i.e. the purpose of the project or its ultimate objective. This way you will have something to refer back to as you define requirements and something that will refocus the team in times of uncertainty. Likewise an organisational culture may have a through-line that it can use in order to refocus its activities on a common goal. Once again, this is something a business analyst can use to their advantage when working in such organisations, so is well worth finding out exactly what these through-lines are.
Your professional through-line
As a Business Analyst it is important to realise that your professional skills are consistent regardless of the problem, the corporate culture and the method you are working on. What I mean by this is that your key strength as a BA is your ability to think through a problem and ask the right questions about it! You don’t have to be an expert in waterfall or Agile; you just need to think, question and keep to the Middle Way (as I have previously posted on). You are a person not a methodology manual………. Or to use another of my favourite analogies, the method is the car but you are the driver.
In conclusion, in my opinion it is always good to have a powerful view of your through-line in many different perspectives, as it can provide a much needed foundation when tings are ambiguous.

The Week That Kept On Giving

Seven days ago I confess I wasn’t looking forward to the week that’s just gone by. I was tired, a little grumpy and felt that I had a lot on. These feelings had unfortunately compounded my ‘off times’ that I get with my Parkinsons and had left me quite frustrated. In addition, our dog Branston had just had his second visit to the Vet with an upset tummy, neither my Wife or I had been sleeping very well due to Branston’s nocturnal nausea and I knew there were a lot of events coming up that meant a lot to me in terms of life development. This was how the week looked

Monday – prep for upcoming events, run a training session, get haircut

Tuesday – run a newly devised development session for a valued colleague group (This was important to me, a first run through of material I had compiled from various sources and I wasn’t completely sure if it was what the customer wanted. Also I had a mentoring call with a colleague and I wanted to add value in that but was worried I’d have brain melt-down….

Wednesday – travel to London to speak/host an internal team event. New material and a bit of uncertainty as to whether I could magic the conclusion, which depended on collating responses, comments and thoughts from the delegates and crafting them into a powerpoint deck (Pre-prepared) that should provide a powerful and emotive climax to proceedings. It felt a bit worrying as I wasn’t quite sure if I could pull the rabbit out of the hat.

Thursday – A morning call with Parkinson’s UK to discuss their involvement in this year’s European BA Conference, then running one of my regular bi-weekly coaching groups, then finishing the day with another call to the Department of Work & Pensions to discuss the Aviva Mid-life MOT pilot that I had been involved in.

Friday – working from home with just one  1:1 coaching call

All in all it was looking to be a demanding week and one that from in front looked quite daunting; almost like a large wave approaching. However, looking at the wave receding away from me today, it turned out to be a very positive one. Here’s how things panned out.

Monday – training session went well; got time wrong for haircut so had to re-schedule for Tuesday. This seemed quite annoying at the time as I knew Tuesday was going to be busy……

Tuesday – new session was really good fun and felt like it added value. Was on a ‘high’ as a result and felt ‘on’ for most of the day. Got haircut.

Wednesday – woke early and despite being a bit late leaving made the 0800 train in good time. Had a good trip down to London with very amiable conversation with a colleague regarding Napoleon, history and other interesting topics. I personally believe that every conversation is an opportunity to learn something and this proved no exception. The event went very well even though I was a bit off for the start, but in some ways this makes it more memorable for the delegates. My presentation was all about the qualities of effective of powerful teams and the importance of a mutual and desirable purpose underlying the team’s activities. I used a historical example for this, in this case the NASA Moon landings in the 1960s and ran several break-out exercises during the day. I greatly believe that people get more out of life if they can engage their own beliefs with that of the group purpose; or bring their personal beliefs into their work in some way. Too often, people put on the ‘corporate coat’ when they walk into the office; feeling that they have to conform in some way to what the company culture expects from then. In my world I feel that as long as your belief system can co-exist within the corporate culture and values then you should feel free to let it inform what you do.

I was also surprised and delighted when one of the other speakers revealed during her talk that her recent change of career into systems thinking and coaching had in part been inspired by seeing my ‘Power of Change’ presentation a year or so ago. She explained that she no longer defined herself as a project manager but more as a facilitator of change and a life coach. I was really touched by the fact that I had assisted with this, as it is something I passionately believe in and feel is my main purpose. If I have helped someone to develop then it has been a good day…..

In terms of the rest of the day I shouldn’t have worried. With the help of a couple of valued BA  colleagues I gained more than enough content for the final slide deck and it proved a very fitting finale. I now know I can run this session in different circumstances and get the same positive and powerful results.

Then it was back on the train in the company of another close colleague for more good conversation about leadership, presentation skills, films and American football (we are both Redskins fans). All in all, a very good day and not nearly as bad as I had worried about. The kindness of people in assisting with my Parkinson’s is always heart-warming and a lesson in the fact that I can be vulnerable and honest without feeling awkward about it.

Thursday – commenced with a great conversation with Parkinson’s UK in which they offered a great deal more than I’d been expecting. I put their proposal to the Advisory Committee and it was met with wide approval plus one of the committee forwarded a very touching video clip of a BBC show where they created some tech to help someone with a strong tremor who was an artist. This rang very true with me as I like to draw and it is occasionally impossible with my symptoms but it was nice to think that people were aware of my difficulties.

The afternoon coaching session went well; in fact, it was co-hosted by two of the attendees so all I had to do was listen! It’s great when people step up and take the reigns and I also was pleased that one of the delegates participated with some great ideas for the first time so I took a moment after the call to feed that back to her.

The day finished with a very positive call to the DWP which hopefully will help them with their implementation of mid-life MOTs to their staff.

Friday – and relax….

So, in reality the week that I was worried about turned out to be a week of blessings in the end, providing me with plenty of food for thought for future blog posts, articles and presentations plus some new contacts in my network. So I’ve learnt that the next time I see a big wave coming to remember and visualise the feeling of satisfaction as it recedes gracefully away from me…..

Oh, and Branston’s feeling a lot better now and is curled up on my lap as I type this!

“I do hereby resolve……”

Yes, it’s that time of year when bloggers everywhere turn their thoughts to “How can I get a blog post out of the new year experience?” I admit to having a case of blogger’s-block over the week or so but hopefully this post will clear the post-festive doldrums. You may read these and think “these have nothing to do with business analysis” and maybe they don’t; but maybe they do…. Being a Business Analyst is all about thinking and observing so I’ll hope you do that once you’ve read them. So, here we go on the roller-coaster that is 2019…. Buckle in, hold on tight and as a great philosopher once commented keep your hands inside the carriage at all times….

Dave’s resolutions in no particular order….

Keep it real

This is a reminder to keep a level head and not to give in to stress, confusion or anxiety no matter how tempting it can seem. Stress and pressure build up without necessarily being noticed in much the same way as dust does until all of a sudden you find yourself with no time, in a constant state of anxiety, tired and below par at your job (and your life). This resolution hopefully will serve to remind me of the reality of the situation rather than my imagining a host of problems that don’t exist. I often refer to dealing with change (and indirectly, stress) as “shining a light on the change monster”. Sometimes by examining the problem thoroughly i.e. “bringing it into the light” you diminish it and reveal it for what it really is. A cinematic example would be the shark from the film ‘Jaws’, which whilst invisible beneath the water was significantly more terrifying than when it was revealed to be a large mechanical rubber shark! So when, as a business analyst or simply as a human being you find yourself stressed or over-anxious take a breath, get out the torch and shine a light on that change monster!

Be good to myself

Next we have a reminder to make sure I have time for me. It is incredibly easy not to take that lunch break, to accept those back-to-back meetings, to not get round to going for a walk all morning etc. As a person who suffers from variable mobility and motor function as a result of Parkinson’s disease I have come to learn it is very important me to be aware of my physical state and take necessary action to nurture it, whether this is done by going for a walk, having a stretch, having a brief chat with a colleague if they have the time, reading something different or just generally mentally getting myself away from the workspace. Without this it is easy for the stress monster to creep under the bed! We all need to take time to look after ourselves, particularly in our line of work as it is high-energy output when running meetings, working with teams, solving problems, devising strategies etc and we shouldn’t lose sight of this. If we work in an organisation we may be lucky enough to have corporate initiatives that provide some well-being activity; but if we work on our own as a contractor the obligation to look after ourselves is down to ourselves. This is a big responsibility and one that is easy to put second place after “doing the day job” but if we do not take responsibility for our own well-being then we soon won’t be able to do the day job.

This also means taking time to develop myself, either through networking, training courses, mentoring or other means. My current role is all about developing other people and it would be easy for me to forget that I also need to feel the achievement of learning something new. One area I am going to be concentrating on in the early part of this year is improving my mentoring skills; both in terms of the process and the actual way I do it. I am getting more requests to be a mentor and I owe it to the people that are engaging me to do the best job I can for them. So therefore I am making sure I do some remote learning or reading on the topic at least once a week over the next few months. Not only does this give me the satisfaction of learning something new it also breaks the rhythm of the day as mentioned earlier in this section. So, it’s a win – win situation!

Serve

No, I haven’t taken up tennis……  this is a reminder for me of something I have realised over the last year or so. There is a huge amount of satisfaction to be gained on a personal level from “doing service”, in other words helping others. But the trick with this is not to do it for recognition; in fact, the real trick is to do it without being noticed! There is a great sense of achievement when you have done something for someone else and nobody else notices; it may sound paradoxical but it’s true. Random acts of kindness really do make a difference and ripple outwards. So if during a day you can take some time to help somebody surreptitiously but genuinely it is well worth doing. There is a caveat with this though, in the sense that this activity should not lead to less time on being good to myself!

Communicate well and encourage it in others

Although I am a regular speaker at conferences and events etc I am still learning and always on the look-out for ways to improve. I am currently reading ‘TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking’ by Chris Anderson and it’s proving both rewarding and inspirational in terms of how to craft an engaging presentation. I have given my keynote ‘Power of Change’ presentation at numerous events over the last few years and I want to continue to do so. To do this I need to keep abreast of techniques that will keep things fresh for both the audience and myself and I am always updating or (hopefully) improving the look and feel of the deck and occasionally changing the content. The latter does not happen that often as I have pared it down over the years into 45 minutes of content that I totally believe in. This is the important facet of communication for me; for a message to be absorbed by an audience they need to see/feel the belief that the presenter has in their material. There is a lovely definition of communication that I read recently which says something like “communication is the ability to re-wire another person’s brain without the need for a surgical procedure”. For this to happen the message must be clear and believable to the recipient, otherwise why should they invest their time and energy in it?!? Our brains are packed with huge amounts of info already and when you propose an idea to someone you are effectively asking them to make room on the groaning shelves of their mental library for your message so there’s always a natural resistance that you need to overcome.* If something you say carries conviction it will subconsciously resonate with the brain’s constant scan for information that helps it survive/evolve and a big factor in that scanning is bias towards information that appears genuine**. We have probably all been in situations where we instinctively know someone has little or no belief in the words they are saying and as a consequence we subsequently hold little store in them ourselves. But when you hear someone speak who is genuinely invested in their subject then the reverse holds true and you take that message in and retain it for a long time; possibly even incorporating it into your own way of life. Which on reflection is the highest compliment to the originator.

On a professional level, as a business analyst you can sometimes be influencing very important outcomes and thus it is imperative that you can communicate clearly and effectively both via written media and verbal delivery. If your stakeholders can’t understand you then it will be very difficult to persuade them into any course of action! Clear communication is also vital if you are trying to build, or are leading a team as it builds confidence and common purpose, which are pretty vital in any team culture!

So there you go; a quick run-through my ambitions for the year. I’m not guaranteeing I’ll achieve them though!!

* E.g. The Homer Simpson Theory of Data Balance. “I’ve only got a limited amount of room for new stuff…. Last week I learned French and forgot how to drive….”

** which may go some way to explain why posts which acquire many ‘likes’ on social media tend to be believed no matter how outlandish the content!!

Xmas Ramblings

Buckle in Dear Reader, this is going to be an eclectic bunch of musings to mark the yuletide period, I’ve no idea where this will end up but hopefully it’ll be a enjoyable visit to the festive buffet!
We are so lucky
I was thinking recently how lucky we BAs really are. Beyond the constraints of our job title (more on that below) we have the opportunity to get involved in a multitude of activities and disciplines; whether it be data-modelling, process definition, shaping strategy, scoping project impact, facilitating workshops, working together with front-colleagues, presenting possible solutions to problems (which we’ve already analysed) or defining the way a business actually works, there are numerous ways we get involved in delivering change. Does this exist in other roles? Well, no, not in my opinion, certainly not in IT anyway. I think one of the most important things I have learned over the few years is that the role of BA is both sufficiently flexible and/or ambiguous to allow me to perform a huge variety of positive stuff that hopefully adds value and nourishes my soul. For those of you just embarking on your BA career journey I urge you to be un-fettered in the imagination you bring to your job and hope that it becomes a vocation.
Some Resolutions…..
One of my new year’s resolutions is to be less concerned about the title of Business Analyst. It’s time to stop worrying about it not really doing justice to what we do because it’s actually what we do that’s important!
Another resolution is to spend more time considering the ways business analysts use language. I believe that the way we use our language in our interactions with our colleagues and customers shapes the way they perceive both our professionalism and our confidence and leadership. One particular example of this is something that I have been guilty of over a period of many years. In fact, I have quite often suggested this particularly poor use of language whilst training other business analysts. The example I refer to is the term “this may be a stupid question”. I have frequently alluded to this as being an example of soft questioning skills but recently a respected senior manager said “if you keep telling me it’s a stupid question eventually I will believe you”. This made me think seriously about all aspects of professional language and I now advocate the use of phrases such as “can I get some clarity here?” This is a better use of language as it uses positive terms and does not suggest a lack of confidence or knowledge on behalf of the speaker. Our tone of language sets the scene for our entire range of relationships with our colleagues; even the way we approach somebody can be done well or not so well. Consider these two opening gambits; first, “I’m sorry to be a pain but can I just interrupt with a silly question?” Second, “hi, can you help me to understand something please?” In my opinion, the second line is a much more positive, inclusive and confidence building way of approaching a colleague; it may appear a trivial difference but your interactions with your colleagues begin with the first sentence. In martial arts, particularly karate, once the black belt is obtained practitioners can still advance through means of the ‘Dan’ system and the exam normally takes place in a training hall. In many cases the candidates are covertly observed as soon as they enter the premises; rather than from the start of their exam in the training hall. This is because traditional practitioners of karate believe that a true student of the karate techniques manifest the right attitudes at all times, not just when they know they’re being watched. I believe the same principle holds true for business analysts. You are not just being a BA when you start running a workshop or facilitating a meeting you are under scrutiny the moment you walk in the room. We should never underestimate the potential for people to misinterpret what we are saying. This is quite easily demonstrated for me as I am using voice activated software to dictate this post as right now I am a bit off as a result of my Parkinson’s symptoms. It is amazing how watching your words appearing on the screen really illustrates the amount of clarity you are expressing verbally. Even a sniff can confuse the software, so it pays to be aware of what you’re saying or even sniffing!
Start a meme
This year I seem to have inadvertently started a meme. Whilst briefing Sir Clive Woodward prior to the BA Conference I described the BA role as “leading from the middle”. He then re-used this in his presentation and was careful to reference me as the originator. Amusingly I then heard several other presenters use it with the prefix “Sir Clive Woodward says BAs lead from the middle”. Please note I am not writing this from a position of ‘outraged from Norwich’ more as a covert pleasure that I have to coin a phrase, coined a phrase! It seems to be grabbing the imagination though and that is what I want to happen and imitation is indeed the nicest form of flattery! There are a few other ones that I am looking at for 2019, particularly around my concept of the middle way….. watch the skies Dear Reader… the memes are coming!!
Leave a Legacy
At the moment my organisation is taking on more business analyst roles and for the most part mentoring and coaching these people falls to me; particularly concerning non-accredited informal training. I really enjoy this aspect of my role and I’m looking forward to assist in the birth of a brand new generation of BAs who I sincerely hope become better at the job than me and as a result have more opportunities than me. Walt Whitman once said “He most honors my style who learns under it to destroy the teacher.”
Well that’s it for now folks….. Hope you enjoyed the ponderings and please accept my bset wishes for Xmas and the New Year. Thanks for reading!!

Innovation Chat

I recently had a very pleasant conversation with Cecilia Thirlway around innovation, the future of the BA role and many other topics. Cecilia has a great site that’s well worth a visit. And she does a phenomenal job in turning my vague ramblings into a coherent article! If you want to read more click here    

What’s in my Prestige Shop?

In my spare moments I occasionally indulge in a bit X-Box activity. Somewhat awkwardly as a man co-habiting with Parkinsons’s induced tremors my preferred type of game is first person shooters of the Call Of Duty variety, in which I am a sniper by choice. Yes, I am that gamer who sneaks around the map, finds the best spot for a bit of camping and waits and waits and waits before taking out another player from long range just as they are about to gain that kill-streak. (If you have no idea what I am talking about Dear Reader never fear; I am about to wander my way over to the point).
In these types of games one you have risen through the experience levels to the maximum allowed you can either remain there, highly experienced, with all the best gear; or you can ‘prestige’ in which you level up beyond the normal limits, gaining specialist items but forfeiting all your hard earned gadgets and skills. In effect you are starting again but with a shinier badge. You do have various options when you prestige including things like a certain period of game-time where you earn double experience points or an extra weapon etc but one of the options is to choose to retain one particular skill or item that will stay with you after all the others have been reset. This is the subject (“At last!” you cry) of this post….. which BA skills or knowledge would I like to retain if I was ‘reset’ back to the beginning. Here they are for your consideration:
The Change Curve (SARAH Model)
This is a vital model for me and I wish I’d had knowledge of it earlier in my career as it would have helped explain why, despite all my best efforts, people just didn’t seem to like the changes I was trying to define. It would have allowed me to plan my communication and supporting activities much more carefully, rather than just expecting people to get on with it.

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Myers-Briggs Testing
Whilst in no way definitive in identifying personality types (and in fact quite hotly contested in some areas, such as junior education) I remember the first time I did this test, getting the results and going “Oh….. I see…” Personally I would recommend having a go; it can’t hurt to know a little bit more about yourself or how others might perceive you….

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Tuckman’s Team Development Model
If you ever wondered why your project team spent the first few weeks arguing with each other then started performing better and better then this is for you! Invaluable help for guiding teams through the actual process of being a team and an oft over-looked capability that a BA can add great value by having!

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CRUD – Create, Read, Update, Delete

Yes, I know it’s very IT but this little acronym has helped me no end in projects where data has been involved because it taught me that whenever you have created something, you need to be able to store it, update it and eventually get rid of it. Something that applies not just to data but also documents, processes and lots of other stuff. More questions to ask when defining those requirements!!
Finally, here’s a list of books I wish I’d have read earlier….. in case you wish to delve into the way my mind works!
• Resonate – Nancy Duarte
• Legacy – James Kerr
• The Power of Myth – Joseph Campbell
• Feel The Fear: Then Do It Anyway – Susan Jeffers
• The Book Of Five Rings – Miyamoto Musashi