The Samurai Business Analyst

My Lineage
I am a Senior Business Analyst by trade and recently took the opportunity to set up my own company after a 33 year career with a major financial insurance company in the UK. In the time I worked ‘for the Man’ I undertook many major projects and whilst I have some formal qualification as a BA I have mostly developed my skills via experience, training with several leading companies and learning from others. I have also learnt a huge amount from participating in and speaking at conferences, most notably the European BA Conference held in London every September. These activities gave me the confidence to find my voice as a BA and share my experiences. 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.


The Power of Quotes

I like a good quote, as anyone who’s seen one of my presentations will know. I have several books of quotes that I refer to when in need of inspiration and there’s always something that can be taken from a nugget of external wisdom. Here’s a selection of quotes that have relevance (in my humble opinion) to not only life itself but the everyday work of a Business Analyst.

The following quotes are a selection that are relevant to the way a business analyst should think. We begin with an old favourite of mine:

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.”

Shunryu Suzuki

Suzuki was on one of the first exponents of Zen who came to the West to spread its lessons and this is one of his most well known quotes. I take it to mean that a BA doesn’t have to be a subject matter expert on the area they are working on; more that they have to keep an open mind in order to get to the real problem they are trying to solve. This is reinforced by the following instruction from a learned Chinese Sage…

“Do not seek for the truth, only stop having an opinion.”

Seng T’san

Once opinions as to the right way or wrong way of doing something are discarded, room is made for an unbiased discussion as to the optimum solution.     

“Much learning does not teach someone to have intelligence.”


I interpret Heraclitus’ words as a caution about assumptions. You should never assume that something learned in an academic setting can be applied exactly as it was taught to you, or that because you have been taught something you are an ‘expert’. (See above). Life has a habit of catching you out……..  

“A person must have a certain amount of intelligent ignorance to get anywhere.”

Charles Kettering

This quote by the American inventor suggests to me that it’s ok to not know something; that to be comfortable with ambiguity is a skill to be forged and it is the ability to navigate those ambiguous waters that is important.

“Let us train our minds to desire what the situation demands.”


Here is an admonition by the Roman Stoic Seneca to remain focussed on the desired outcome of a particular situation and not to get side tracked by louder yet less consequential voices; something only too relevant for a business analyst. Seneca has further advice on outcome-based thinking here. “Our plans miscarry because they have no aim. When a person does not know what harbour they are making for, no wind is the right wind.” Further reinforcement of the fact that everything you attempt should have a clearly recognisable outcome.

“It is not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about?”

Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau, the American naturalist and philosopher, wades into the same waters with this observation on activity being mistaken for achievement. This is particularly prevalent in times of crisis where people start paddling (to perhaps stretch our water-based analogy beyond breaking point) without clear thought about direction. This is the point that BAs can become leaders by asking clarifying questions that help people to understand the problem they are facing, rather than just following the shoal. (OK, enough of the watery metaphors now!)        

“There are three essentials to leadership: humility, clarity and courage”

Fushan Yuan

Continuing the theme of BA as Leader the Chinese philosopher Fushan Yuan lists three qualities a great leader should have and they suit the Business Analyst role very well. To elaborate: BAs demonstrate humility by facilitating positive outcomes rather than dictating the direction. They should strive for clarity in everything they attempt which in turn takes courage to be comfortable with not knowing all the answers.

“Think not so much of what thou hast not, as of what thou hast.”

Marcus Aurelius

The Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher wades in with a quote ostensibly about positive thinking but something that can also be applied to a seemingly intractable problem. You must always be aware of the resources at your disposal when faced with difficult situations, whether it be books, mentors, colleagues or people from your contact network. No matter what the situation there’s always somebody/something that can help you solve it.

“Practice is the best of all instructions.”


This statement from the Greek philosopher is so true. The more you practice something the better you will get at it, so if you’ve learned a new technique actively search out opportunities to apply it. Put yourself in different situations that are positively challenging in order to get better at dealing with them and you will get better at dealing with them!  

Finally, advice that is vital to maintaining equilibrium in the sometimes stressful work environment and something well worth bearing in mind…….        

“Rest satisfied with doing well, and leave others to talk of you as they will.”


Happy New Year! (And you can quote me on that….!)

BA2022 in retrospect

Well BA2022 is over and what an action packed event it was! It was great to see people ‘non-virtually’ at last; some old acquaintances who I hadn’t seen face to face since 2019 and some new ones who I met during the pandemic through the online world. Apologies if there was anyone I didn’t get to say hello to but it was a busy couple of days!
Highlights for me were (in no fixed order):
The conference sessions – rather than single out anyone in particular, let me just say that all the sessions I attended were great; well thought out and presented with wit, professionalism and skill. One thing that this conference can be proud of is the care it takes to not only attract experienced speakers but to encourage and nurture less experienced or first-time participants too. As an ‘old-timer’ and self-confessed ‘presentation nerd’ it gives me great joy to see people taking their first steps on the presenting path. Speaking at the Conference for the last nine odd years has given me a lot of pleasure and self-belief and it’s nice to think it will do the same for others as well. The other thing worth commenting on was the sheer breadth of choice regarding topics; it was hard sometimes to pick a session from the sheer variety on offer.
The keynotes – another set of thought-provoking and in some cases, edgy, keynotes were presented by accomplished speakers on both days. The balance of subjects was good and the material heartfelt and delivered with enthusiasm. As a keynote speaker myself I know the responsibility involved in delivering one so congrats to all involved for getting us delegates engaged!
The food – a great variety on the menu from Etc Venues that hit the spot during every break!
The take-aways – there seemed to be a number of themes that emerged from the event that I took away to ponder. Again, in no particular order:
• The need to provide a coherent, structured professional service that allows BAs to justify their existence when challenged by non-BAs. What is it that BAs offer? Indeed what do we do? These are questions that seem to universally challenge the BA Profession and whilst I don’t see (or have) any concrete answers at least the question is being asked.
• The tension between the world of certification and/or accreditation vs the world of on-the-job experience. Should everyone be accredited formally? Who does this benefit ultimately? Will it favour the BAs working in big corporates with correspondingly big training budgets or should everyone have to pay for their own learning? Could this push some BAs into ‘qualification poverty’? #JustAsking!
• The need to expand our knowledge into areas that are less often associated with traditional business analysis and get radical about something globally important. Someone has to ask the difficult questions about climate, ethics and wellbeing on many levels and BAs have always been known as the people to do this so pick a cause and get invested!
The BA Community – the profession is wonderfully diverse, brilliantly inclusive and always open to innovation and should be proud of itself for its achievements so far. Thanks to all at IRM UK and the Conference Advisory Board and roll on BA2023!

Reflection on Reflecting

Another fact-oid about George Lucas that I’d like to share* is that when confronted by a situation that was described as impossible or unworkable, he’d simply say to the person “Just think about it”. Almost invariably after a time reflecting on the problem the person would identify a solution to the seemingly unsolvable challenge. This isn’t a technique unique to Lucas; it’s a well-known ploy by creative thinkers from past and present who have come to realise and rely on the power of the subconscious mind when problem solving. Whilst the conscious mind may not be able to see a potential solution and gives up, the subconscious mind keeps on turning the problem over in the background and quite often turns up the answer, seemingly ‘out of the blue’. It’s a bit like an anti-virus programme running in the background of your brain, except it’s an anti-fail programme, piecing together a puzzle without your direct awareness. It’s not an infallible process but it exists nonetheless. Chances of success can be greatly improved by giving the subconscious space to play; taking a break to read, create or even take a nap! By changing the rhythm and softening the focus of your thoughts you free up the subconscious to do its magic. Not for nothing did Archimedes have his ‘Eureka moment’ whilst taking a bath……..                      

This is important for a Business Analyst to realise as there are times when working with a group that the group will get stuck. Maybe it’ll be whilst working through a ‘to-be’ process model or whilst trying to develop a brand-new user journey; whatever the situation it will be recognisable as a sticking point and the group will get frustrated and argumentative with each other. It is at that point that the experienced BA Facilitator will suggest a break, or a different activity, or in some circumstances a complete halt to proceedings allowing the groups subconscious to work the problem. It is vital to change the collective focus completely in order to allow the subconscious aspect of the groups intellect to manifest. As mentioned before it’s not a nailed on certainty that a solution will be found but the odds are greatly improved.

The final thing I would mention is the effectiveness of Lucas’ communication. By simply saying “Just think about it” he wasn’t giving an order such as “You’ve got to fix this”, which can be counter-productive in these situations. Nor was he giving a mandatory deadline. “Think about it and get back to me by tomorrow”, which can be equally unproductive. In effect he was asserting his trust and faith in his colleague and leaving them room to go through the reflective process in their own time. Maybe he was encouraging them to put their trust in The Force!

So next time you encounter an apparently insolvable problem, switch off your targeting computer and just take a moment (or several) to let your subconscious mind look for an answer. You may be surprised at what comes up!        

*I’ve been watching ‘Light and Magic’ on Disney+ which is the story of Industrial Light and Magic, the ground-breaking special effects shop that Lucas set up to do the special effects for Star Wars. These guys didn’t just break the mould, they invented new ones………….

May The Ripples Be With You Always…

I learnt something last night that really shocked me; George Lucas survived a horrific car crash when he was in his late teens. It gave him a sense of purpose and a desire to do the things that were important to him and so he became a film director, who after a while decided to write and direct a space opera styled movie that was known as The Star Wars. The rest as they say, is history…. But in this case it’s not just impersonal history, it’s my history as well. I saw Star Wars when I was ten years old and as discussed elsewhere on this blog it changed my life. Without Star Wars I wouldn’t have had my childhood imagination kindled that led to my lifelong enjoyment and stimulation of the cinema, which led to my enjoyment of drawing, which has stayed with me to this day and has been a great source of pride, learning and fun over the years. Without Star Wars my interest in mythology wouldn’t have been kicked off and I would never have heard of Joseph Campbell and his model of the ‘Hero’s Journey’ that has sustained me in times of trouble and prompted a satisfying secondary career as a conference speaker, in particular my keynote speech on the Power of Change and living with Parkinson’s disease wouldn’t exist without this knowledge. Based on feedback I have received if the speech didn’t exist the help it has given many other people in their personal journey wouldn’t either. And this is just one life that Lucas has influenced; but it would have never happened if that crash had been worse (or maybe hadn’t happened at all – Lucas could have continued working in his Dad’s store). The world would be markedly different for many people even though Lucas has never met 1% of them.

So what’s the point I’m trying to make here? Well I’m reinforcing my ‘ripple effect’ belief. i.e. the belief that we make ripples in life that effect many others, even though we are unaware of them. There are two ways by which we can do this, in my opinion.

Firstly by what we do i.e. our day job. We Business Analysts are so lucky here in that there are numerous ways to make a difference for people both within the requirements we facilitate and the questions we ask. We can influence the way a process flows so that it is more efficient for the processor, or the way a user journey flows so that it is easier for a differently-abled person (a subject close to my heart), or influence the way that personal data is held on a system to make fraud harder. Whatever way is relevant we have any number of opportunities to make a difference to someone every day.*  

The second way is by who we are. Our manner, beliefs and attitude as we go through our everyday lives also make a big difference on those around us and although harder to discern may be the most important measure of the difference we make. It may be in the most surprising way but it is happening to us all, even if we are unaware of it.

So, what ripples have you made today?!?  

*this isn’t limited to the Business Analyst role – everyone has opportunities for helping others in their job in some way, shape or form. It may take a bit of imagination but they are there.                                    

Breathe Like A Leader*

I was watching an interview with Eoin Morgan, the former England Cricket Captain on Sky the other day and was fascinated by the amount of thought which he put into his captaincy and leadership of the team during his tenure. One of the insights I got from him was the value of breathing correctly; but not as you’d expect, during his time when he was batting, but during the time when he was communicating with his team-mates whilst England were fielding.

Before talking to any of his players he would read the match scoreboard aloud to himself because he realised that if he was breathless whilst doing it he was in the incorrect breathing state to communicate clearly. To remedy this situation he would take a few deep mindful breaths in order to ensure he was in a calm and present state whilst communicating. This method ensures that the communication is not rushed or incomplete. ‘High’ breathing (i.e. breath that starts high in the chest and is of a short cycle) means that you can run out of breath before you have imparted your message and human-nature being what it is, allows the listener to reload and reply in the middle of your sentence without understanding your purpose. ‘Low’ breathing which starts in the lower lungs/diaphragm or navel/abdomen area automatically assumes a more grounded delivery rhythm, leaving less time for interruptions.

He would also position himself on the field of play so he didn’t have to run over to the bowler if he wanted to talk to him; thus increasing the chance of his communication being clearer and not hurried and breathless. If it’s worth saying, it’s worth taking the time to do so.

He would also be conscious of his posture and make good eye contact whilst talking, making sure he was open in his body language and not obscuring his mouth or face with his hands. (This is one I must consciously work on as I have a habit of obscuring my mouth by putting my hand to my face a la Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’ when talking, which is particularly obstructive when using video technology. I am eliminating a good percentage chance of my communication being successful every time I do this).   

These insights are particularly timely for me as a weak voice is a symptom of Parkinson’s Disease and one that I have started to suffer from. It particularly affects me when I am nervous and/or sitting down; which is more the case these days in this time of virtual working so I need to work more consciously on keeping my breathing ‘low and slow’, not ‘high and fast’. Although I have medical reasons for heeding this advice, I believe these insights can help anyone who is a regular communicator and let’s be honest, who isn’t these days!            

*for some reason I kept thinking of the ‘Killers’ lyric “Smile like you mean it” when typing this title, probably because the cadence matches. The principle is the same when you think about it…..

“Because they just are……”

The above statement is not the answer to the question “Why are BAs like Pirates…?” but is the answer that I would sometimes like to give when asked “Why are BAs important?”. It is a question that has reared its head many times during my career and continues to do so now that I am mentoring and training other BAs as part of my own business. I suspect it is a question which many BA Practice/Community Leaders are asked regularly by their colleagues, particularly those that hold the budget for change initiatives and are figuring out what to spend it on. I know it was a question that plagued me when I was acting as a Practice Lead, so why is it such a difficult one to answer to the satisfaction of those bearing the funding? Here are a few observations based on my experience and opinions developed during a 25-year career as a BA:

What’s in a name? The role title of Business Analyst is more ambiguous than others based in the Change arena. It’s pretty obvious what a Project Manager does; the answer’s in the title. Likewise for Solution Designer, Test Manager etc but Business Analyst? What are you analysing a business for? And why? It’s hard to give a concise answer that takes less than fifteen minutes to explain….. so it’s not immediately obvious to the questioner, which in these days of soundbites and info-bursts can be a problem.

Show Me The Money. How do you monetise what BAs do? It’s a real problem because much of what we do is subjective as it involves facilitation and collaboration. And lots of questions…. How do you put a value on those things? I suppose if a BA asks a question like “Is this project really necessary?” and the ultimate answer turns out to be “No” then you could theoretically chalk up any monetary amount the business subsequently saves directly to the BA involved. But the answer is more than likely to be derived through collaboration and facilitated enquiry rather than a unilateral decision by the BA so this is a tenuous idea at best. The activities that are most objective are pivotal to the BA role but are not everything to it. I’ve touched on this topic before so I won’t go into it any further here lest I burst a blood vessel.

Environmental Issues. Sometimes BAs exist in an environment which (either actively or passively) prevents the full capabilities of the BA from being brought into play. A typical example from my experience is any agile oriented delivery method where BAs are kept rigorously within the boundaries of a scrum team and become ‘backlog wranglers’ rather than being allowed to roam amongst Discovery/inception activities or high-level transformation initiatives where their more subjective skills can come into their own. It may be a little unfair to pick on Agile as an example here but seeing as when I was first exposed to that particular method I was told that “there isn’t a role of Business Analyst in Agile delivery” I figure they started it. (This may have been a miscommunication/ misapprehension between the trainer and myself but it has stuck with me; which shows something about how communication is important and how long I can bear a grudge!)

The Truth? You Can’t Handle the Truth!! Sometimes organisations simply don’t like ‘difficult’ questions. Enquiry = discussion = time + cost = “time and money we just don’t have..!!” It’s a simplistic view but an unfortunately common one. Sometimes organisations just want to get things done and anyone with ‘analysis’ in their job title may not be welcomed. Activity can be, and often is, mistaken for achievement in these types of situations and it’s a frustrating place to be, particularly if asking questions is what you do.

So what’s the answer to these challenges to the worth of the Business Analyst? Well, in my opinion there’s no easy one apart from having a fact-based discussion about the subject with those who are asking the questions. Sometimes you must prove that you know what you’re talking about, even if that means confronting some of the stereotypical situations discussed above. Above all, you will need to have faith in the value of the role of a Business Analyst and keep demonstrating the key behaviours of a BA which include courage, comfort with ambiguity and clear communication. Oh and not forgetting courtesy!

Finally, in a bid to demonstrate another key behaviour, creativity, I have knocked the following two by two grid up in an attempt to model the areas where a BA can add expertise and experience, if they are given the opportunity. It’s not perfect but it’s intended to provoke thought on the subject…..

You might choose to add in the techniques or skills that are appropriate to each block or map the amount fo time you spend working in each quadrant during your assignments. Which ever way you use it, be creative!*

*Yes, you guessed it… that’s another key behaviour!

A Little Perspective

This morning we found that our upstairs taps had stopped working, which came as a surprise as they’d been fine the night before. After several attempts to quantify the problem (is it an external supply problem? Yes, no, maybe, I don’t know, ring the water company, get in a queue, ask for ring back, advised they will ring back in two minutes, wait ten minutes, get ring back, put in queue with hold music anyway until operator is ready, report issue, get allocated issue number, then find out it’s not external supply issue but internal plumbing one) I now find myself in call-back limbo after leaving a voice mail for our regular plumber. (Is he on holiday, how long do I leave it before ringing him again/ calling another plumber? Etc). Now, you might well expect that this post will develop into a rant about processes that don’t work etc and it very nearly has, were it not for the other facts about today.
Exactly twelve months ago, June 28th 2021, I was in Addenbrookes Hospital, Cambridge about to undergo brain surgery. I find that reading that sentence brings a little perspective to my thinking. As regular readers may know, this was in response to my co-habiting with Parkinson’s Disease and my sudden and quite radical deterioration. This time last year I would have struggled to get out of bed and get dressed by myself, let alone call various people about our upstairs plumbing. So whilst today’s problem is stressful, it’s not a patch on the stress I was able to manage last year. Thankfully I had fantastic support from my wife, family and friends and all the staff at Addenbrookes Neurology Ward without which the experience would have been a lot more stress filled but I/we coped with a situation that was pretty traumatic. And it had a positive outcome in that my symptoms have been reduced (not cured completely) to a level where some non-functioning plumbing is a thing I can deal with.
So this is something I shall remember the next time I get stressed about something; is it as significant as brain surgery? A little perspective may help ease the strain of the situation although I wouldn’t recommend surgical procedures as a benchmark for everybody! Comparing the immediate crisis with something else gives you valuable time for reflection and a pause for the brain preventing it from over-thinking and projecting its own fears onto the problem, thus amplifying it un-necessarily. Our brains are hard-wired to emphasise threats; it’s a survival mechanism that we have evolved with so it’s very hard to prevent it happening. But it’s important to take time to think about a problem* as this gives you a real chance to get that much needed perspective and put the whole thing into a context that makes it more manageable. Dealing with problems doesn’t have to need brain surgery after all!

*unless you are faced with a real and immediately life-threatening situation; then I’d advise you don’t hang about and instead just go with your instincts…!

Finding Nemo – Business Analysts and Depth Perception

I’ve been lucky enough to present to several different groups of BAs recently on the topic of Business Analysis as a profession and it’s got me thinking about several topics. As is my wont I’ve let the questions percolate until something in my brain delivers a metaphor or analogy that fits what I’m trying to say. I’ve just had the following come to me during a mentoring conversation so I thought I’d get it down before it fades. Being a BA can be like being a reef dwelling fish. By that I mean that it’s sometimes easier (and safer) to hang out in the depths of detailed coral reefs than swim in the wide ambiguous (and correspondingly scarier) waters of the open ocean. Quite often you’ll find BAs huddled around the flip chart shaped coral of requirements development techniques than flitting through the vast expanse of open water that is the way of change delivery; puzzling through the minutiae of a website redesign rather than asking whether a website is the answer to the business problem in the first place. Why does this happen? Well, for me there are numerous analogies that coral-late* with my experience of the role of a Business Analyst and they can be summed up in the picture below:

The open ocean above a reef tends to have more light, which can be a good thing as it means you can see better but you can also be seen by others. Also, it may be lighter but there’s fewer immediate landmarks to navigate by, although this can be mitigated by being able to look down on the reef below you and see the big picture. Those operating in the depths do not have that advantage and can only see things that are close to them, although they do see them close up. The dark cosiness can be comforting compared to the scary wide-open vista above or the opposite can be true; some people get claustrophobic in small spaces and need large horizons to thrive.   

In the detail there’s less distance from one point to the next so there’s less room/time for errors to be made. Detail dense activities that provide this sheltering level of depth can include process modelling, data modelling, backlog maintenance and other binary outcome** activities; proficiency comes easier after many repetitions. Once you are swimming in more open waters it leaves room for error, or more freedom for creative expression or intellectual enquiry, depending on your preference. Mastering ambiguity takes longer because you’re operating in a fluid environment!

I personally find this sort of thought experiment quite enlightening and there’s probably all sorts of angles that I’ve missed so please think about it for yourself. There’s no right or wrong answers as each habitat has it’s pro’s and con’s for a Business Analyst; ideally the reality is that we move from one to the other during an assignment, swimming in the wide open ocean of options and possibilities at the start of a project, periodically dipping down into the detailed depths where required, whilst occasionally coming back up for another wider view. However taking this oceanic analogy a cautionary step further, BAs should never become performing seals; doing tricks for the Boss in the hope of getting rewarded should not be cultivated. BAs don’t just do what they’re told, we find our way to the most effective outcome. I prefer to liken the BA role to that of the Dolphin; curious, clever, collaborative, experimental and with a permanent grin on their face!       

*see what I did there?

** by binary outcome I mean they are easily judged right or wrong               

And… We’re back in the room….

On the 15th June I shall be delivering the closing Keynote speech at the Business Change and Transformation Conference in London. Hosted by IRM UK it will be the first face-to-face Conference I have attended in quite a while, let alone spoken at and truth be told Dear Reader, I am more than a little apprehensive. Over the course of the last two years I have spoken at various events but the vast majority of them (all bar one) have been remotely via Zoom or Teams or some such software which has several pros and cons to it but the most pertinent for the topic at hand are:
• The audience can see me!
• I can see the audience!
From a position of self-imposed isolation I will suddenly go into full exhibition mode and be expected to look professional and sound believable! No more can I wear flip-flops, comfortable lounge pants and a Star Wars T-shirt whilst delivering my presentation*; I will be expected to move and emote like an actual person rather than a disembodied head in the corner of the screen. It’s a skill I will have to re-learn.

Not only that but I will also be able to see my audience and gauge exactly how my words are being received. No longer will I be relying on emoticons in the chat window, now I will be able to see if my audience is drifting off into oblivion, or worst case scenario, not actually laughing at my jokes.

It’s a daunting prospect.

Now it would be easy for me to default to flashy animations and over the top transitions and make the error of “putting slides before self” as someone once told me, but I need to resist that urge. I need to keep my slides readable, understandable and clear enough so they don’t interfere with the message I’m trying to impart, yet interesting enough to enhance my story for the audience; Less is more, more or less. But not too minimalist that the audience (or myself for that matter) can’t follow my thread. It’s a question of balance; like facts vs emotion. Too many facts and a presentation can seem like you’re reading off a list; too many emotive quotes and imagery and it can feel completely unstructured instead. In general I prefer to keep my slides as the window frame whilst I describe the actual view. Or the picture frame whilst I paint inside it…. There are many analogies that can be employed here but remember the most important mantra about powerpoint decks first uttered by someone much wiser that me… “If you and your slides are saying the same thing, one of you doesn’t have to be there”.

There’s another trick to making your presentation believable. Believe in it. Make it personal through the use of anecdotes to allow people to share in your experiences. If you tell your personal story it adds authenticity and seeing as I’m telling the story of my life with Parkinson’s Disease I’ve certainly got the experience of that to draw on. My keynote centres around my recent experiences of brain surgery in an attempt to mitigate the symptoms and the mental techniques I adopted to help my apprehension and anxiety about the procedure so it’s certainly personal! In fact, some of those techniques will help me get through the anxiety of actually presenting it. Ah, the irony…..
It’s fair to say that actually writing this article has helped me by reminding me exactly how much I enjoy this stuff and that in reality, I’m not that bad at it. Let’s hope the audience in a couple of weeks agrees!

*Ok I never actually did that but you get the point I am making

Curiouser and curiouser….

“Don’t listen to what they say; Go see.”

Chinese Proverb

I saw this proverb recently and it resonated with me as I’ve been considering what I believe to be the key BA Behaviours and coming in high on the list is curiosity. In my opinion a Business Analyst has to have more than an average dose of “Iwundamine” in their bloodstream* in order to do their day job. They must have the ability to think about systems, processes and people with a sense of enquiry that drives them toward understanding how something works, for if they can’t understand it then it will be difficult to change it. Also, if the BA can’t understand something it’s a fair bet that other people can’t either (although they may not feel like admitting it to anyone). People may not even have considered questioning the process as it has just “always been that way” and therefore haven’t felt empowered enough to ask any awkward questions about it. I call these types of situations ‘traditional’ processes, where the way of doing things has been handed down over generations of users without any form of sense check until the original reason is obscured behind layers of “That’s the way it is round here” thinking. This might be just at local level i.e. the particular team you are working with, at middle management level (“That’s the way my Boss likes it done”) to corporate levels (“This comes straight from the top”). The latter level of institutionalised processes can be exceptionally dangerous and can lead to corporate disaster if unchecked. As a BA it’s our job to be the one to ask the WTP question** and it can be a daunting situation to do it in. One way of doing this successfully is to make sure your questioning language is positive, subjective and inclusive. For instance, instead of saying “This looks wrong” or “This process makes no sense” you could try, “It seems to me (subjective) that this process could be improved. (positive) How could we do that?” (Inclusive). You are much more likely to open up debate with this kind of language, although it takes a bit of practice and effort to do it as our brain tends to be hard wired with a pessimistic survival bias, i.e. our ancient reptilian brain finds faults in things and then is eager to point them out to the other members of the tribe. This takes effort to stop but it pays dividends if you can do it.

The other facet of the proverb that I like is that it advocates personal experience as a key component of curiosity and consequently learning. In other words, to really understand something you should actively participate in it. This has several different aspects to it. The obvious meaning is that you can learn about something most effectively by actually doing it or at least observing someone doing it which again is a key point for a BA. There’s no substitute for actually listening in to real customer calls when you’re on a call centre project or undertaking an actual customer journey for yourself when on a web-based assignment in terms of really learning what it’s all about.

There’s also something in the proverb about not taking things at face value without checking your own understanding of it first. As BAs we work with people who may have the title of Subject Matter Expert and we can tend to rely on their opinion or input without question. I’m not saying you should challenge everything your SME tells you as this will soon become both tiresome and irksome in equal measure but you should not necessarily blindly follow their advice either. If you build a good working relationship with your SME and explain that you may have more questions if you need more clarity then it shouldn’t be a problem in the long term.

In addition to this there’s the suggestion within the proverb that experience trumps academic learning. There’s a lot of material out there about being a BA, written by many different people with good intentions, most of whom would advocate that you question for yourself the effectiveness of their advice. I certainly hope you don’t take any of my writings without a pinch of reflection, as they may be out of date or inappropriate for the situation you are in; I offer my experience as advice not doctrine.

Finally, there’s something in the proverb about the very nature of life itself. If the last two years have taught us anything it’s that life is meant to be experienced in full and in person, not remotely. So maybe it’s time to go see what’s out there and start living it again!  


*this may or may not be a chemical that generates curiosity in the brain – honest, look it up, get curious……!

** “What’s The Point?” (not WTF which is a completely different situation altogether)