#008 - Are you on the right path?
Welcome to Issue #008 of The Forcing Function - your guide to delivering the right outcomes for your projects and your users.
✍️ Insights: The path you chose to take might not be the path you should still be taking.
🤔 Made me think: Another way to look at your career.
👨💻 Worth checking out: Mads Mikkelsen on his life philosophy + Elizabeth Gilbert on the differences between hobbies, jobs, careers, & your vocation.
The path you chose to take might not be the path you should still be taking.
I never set out to be a business analyst.
That career choice came from attending a university in Scotland. Because of their undergraduate system, I could try out different subjects in my first two years. Then, choose my major to graduate in for my final two years.
One of those subjects happened to be business analysis.
It wasn't a very considered choice. Being honest, it happened because I wanted independence from my parents and I lucked out with this career in that subject.
Since then, I've learnt not to rely solely on being lucky.
Nowadays, I take a considered approach with my career choices. That way, I'm better prepared to take advantage of those pivotal moments in my career. Both those moments which are obvious and those which pass me by, silently.
Career Choices Framework
That starts with understanding what choices I have.
At any given point of my career, I have four broad pathways I can follow which are driven by these two dimensions.
Industry Insights: This represents the business sector I want to work in as a business analyst.
Subject Expertise: This represents the set of skills I want to prioritise building up expertise and experience in.
Across all four pathways, I regularly ask myself these questions:
Should I commit to my current course by following the "Double Down" path?
Should I move to a different organisation to broaden my domain experience by following the "Employ Expertise" path?
Should I move to a different role to expand my skills by following the "Invoke Insights" path?
Should I change course significantly by moving to a different role in a different organisation by following the "Evolve & Expand" path?
How I've used this framework
In 2017, halfway through my 10 year plan for contracting as a lead business analyst (BA), I was debating where to take my career next. At that point, I had these four choices open to me:
Double Down: In this path, I would continue doing what I was doing by staying in financial services as a lead BA for my clients.
Employ Expertise: In this path, I would move across from the private sector to the UK financial services regulator as I enjoyed the high-level impact of their projects. This would allow me to apply my BA skills and experience in a different but related industry.
Invoke Insights: In this path, I would stay in the financial services sector. However, instead of being an all-purpose lead BA, I'd start specialising in Salesforce - a customer relationship management platform - to additionally become an expert business analyst in that technology stack.
Evolve & Expand: In this path, I would pursue a product manager role for a software company, such as Salesforce. Product management is closely related to business analysis with similar techniques and methodologies. Whilst, given all the IT software projects I've delivered, directing the software itself would be a different but related challenge.
The key to deciding which path I should follow came down to my desire to continue with contracting. Primarily because it gave me so much flexibility in time and income.
This effectively ruled out going to the UK financial services regulator or to a product manager role. Both, realistically, would need me to go permanent. As for "doubling down", I had been doing that for 5 years already and it was time for a change.
So, I ventured down the "Invoke Insights" path and started to specialise in Salesforce. Not just earning the relevant certifications but also being strategic about which clients and projects I took. That way, I could gain experience across the full Salesforce lifecycle and be more valuable to future clients.
Review repeatedly and regularly
It has been helpful using this framework at the obvious inflection points in my career. Such as when my contract comes to an end.
It is invaluable because I re-visit this framework regularly throughout the year. Typically once a quarter. It's how I try to realise and act upon those moments in my career that were pivotal but passed me by at the time.
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
Maya Angelou | Writer
Now, a quick exercise for you:
For each of the four pathways, what options do you have?
For the pathway that resonates with you the most: explore those options further and decide how best to action the most pertinent.
🤔 Made me think
Another way to look at your career - through the lens of how you create your wealth and the skills needed to do that.
Developed by Nathan Barry, founder of ConvertKit, it illustrates his view of the different ladders you can climb for higher potential earnings. However, each ladder (left to right) requires different skills and increases in difficulty. So this can be a key factor in the shape of your career which, turn, influences what subject(s) you want to commit or change to.
Looking at the pivotal moments in my career:
Prior to 2012: I was primarily on the "Time For Money" ladder working in various permanent business analyst roles.
2012 to 2022: I stepped up to the "Your Own Service Business" ladder to set up my company, contract with clients, and charge a day rate for project work.
2022 onwards: Although I still do contracting, I'm now learning the skills I need to move to the next ladder. That includes writing publicly on this very newsletter you're reading.
Importantly, the idea isn't that you must get to the last ladder and sell products. Whilst you can mimic Ali Abdaal and generate wealth by selling courses, you can also work for a company for a high salary and generate wealth by investing it wisely.
Neither is wrong. Both are right for the people involved. The key is to make a considered choice as to which ladder you want to be on - or somewhere else entirely.
🧑💻Worth checking out
🔗 Mads Mikkelsen in conversation (Vulture): "My approach to what I do in my job ... is that everything I do is the most important thing I do ... But if I make everything important, then eventually it will become a career. Big or small, we don’t know. But at least everything was important." A life philosophy that I get behind.
📺 Elizabeth Gilbert on Distinguishing Between Hobbies, Jobs, Careers, & Vocation (Acumen Academy): Found her rubric helpful in realising that it's ok for my photography to be a hobby rather than a vocation.
🖖Until next Thursday ...
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For now, thank you so much for reading this week's issue of The Forcing Function and I hope that you have a great day.
PS: Thanks to P for reading drafts for me.