#029 - So you want to be a business analyst?
Welcome to Issue #029 of The Forcing Function - your guide to delivering the right outcomes for your projects and your users.
✍️ Insights: Make better decisions by defining where you need to be to minimise your opportunity costs - both seen and unseen.
🤔 Made me think: Interview versus reality.
👨💻 Worth checking out: Get out of a creative rut and reignite your creativity.
Make better decisions by defining where you need to be to minimise your opportunity costs - both seen and unseen.
Recently, an ex-colleague of mine reached out to ask me about a potential career switch from working as a Compliance partner to contracting as a business analyst (BA).
We talked in depth, covering the situation he was in and who was seeking guidance from. I quickly highlighted to him that he obviously wanted to change his current situation but hadn’t defined where he needed to be. But at the end, he was puzzled.
Why did I give him all this life coaching advice? Why didn't I just extol the virtues of business analysis?
Amused, I revealed to him that what I’d just taken him through was business analysis in action to make him realise that he firstly had to understand his real underlying issue. Not if business analysis is the right move for him, but where does he need to be?
Without knowing where you’re headed, how do you know if an option will get you closer or take you further away?
Business analysis and opportunity cost
One way that I explain what I’ve been doing in 20+ year BA career is that I help my clients manage and minimise opportunity costs in projects.
Whilst some of these costs are obvious to my clients, there are always other costs that they are blind to. That’s where my role comes in, typically at the start of the project to try to ensure the project starts in the right direction. Some of the opportunity costs I often deal with include:
Mistaking the root cause: Without understanding the true underlying problem, the project is more likely to be racing to solve the wrong problem. That defeats the potential benefits of the project, limits its expected return on investment, and will require more resources to fix the right problem. Or worse, a fudge that satisfies no-one and add problems for the future.
Mis-allocating resources: Without defining requirements, their relative priority, and their dependencies, it’s unclear what needs to be built or when. That runs the high risk that teams waste precious time building what’s not needed. Even worse, building in the wrong order is costly if it causes prior work to be redone, re-tested, and re-deployed.
End-user rejection: Without being the voice of the end-users to the technical teams, requirements may be technically met but not in a way that the end-users need to experience it. Without close engagement with the end-users to manage their engagement and ensure their continued buy-in, they may not fully adopt the solution. And, without any users, any solution is worthless.
These are all avoidable yet I still see clients willingly take the risk of not needing a BA - either because they think they can cope anyways or because they underestimate our value.
Applying business analysis to career choices
Just as business analysis is critical to software implementation projects, it’s also useful when applied to other problems. Such as my ex-colleague’s dilemma of what to do with his career. After all, if you don’t know where you’re going, then how do you know which is the right way to go?
And whilst you'll likely survive a bad delivery in your project, your career is a whole other challenge. To coin an arcade game: “you’ve only got the one life with no saves.” Here, opportunity costs can be painful, perhaps even non-survivable, if you make the wrong choice and you didn’t even do it for the right reasons.
Here then is a brief guide of what I ran my ex-colleague through using this classic business analysis framework - focusing on the first 3 stages:
In business analysis, the first stage is about assessing the as-is. It’s about taking stock of the situation - not just what’s presented but the wider context. All to uncover the hidden issues and problems first rather than jumping into the first solution that comes to mind.
So, Instead of assessing whether he should switch into business analysis or something else, I challenged him to investigate:
What are your top 3 drivers for considering a career switch?
His included a dread of Monday mornings and overall lack of motivation / joy in his current career.
What do you value and what matters to you?
His included the flexibility of primarily working from home having moved 1.5 hours outside of London to afford a house.
What’s the ultimate outcome that you’re striving for?
His included spending more time with his wife and young kids .
What constraints do you have to work with?
His included maintaining his current salary so that he could keep paying down his mortgage and providing for his kids.
What capabilities do you have today and where do you want to grow?
His included a strong knowledge of financial regulation, having worked at the financial regulator, and an eye for detail and risks that came from a career in ensuring compliance.
Whilst he doesn’t have stakeholders to manage in the traditional sense of projects, he does still have a variety of people to engage with to understand their views on his dilemma.
Starting with his family and his close friends who can surface his strengths and his weaknesses. As they know him well, they can also shed light on what’s more likely to work for him and what won’t. Without their knowledge, he’ll be blind to what he’s not aware of and won’t be anchored to reality.
Next, those in his LinkedIn network that would be willing to help. They include previous managers, mentors, and those who’ve gone through something similar. All can provide relevant and robust advice and guidance without being too weighed down by personal considerations that you get with friends and family.
Armed with his insights from the earlier stages, he can then systematically look at the gap between where he is now and where he’d needs to be. He can start breaking down how to close the gap into the steps needed. Then, looking at each step, identifying what’s needed to overcome it.
It’s this step that will give him what he needs and why he needs it.
For him, one of his realisations is the trade-off from switching careers is that he’ll likely be less junior than he is now. And being junior comes with less pay which conflicts with his financial constraints. So, one of his core requirements is to maintain (or improve) his monthly income.
Notice that his initial ask about “contracting as a BA” hasn’t yet come up. Back then, it was a solution looking for a possible problem. If he was willing and able to sustain a lower standard of living, then the risks of contracting may not be needed or even warranted.
By going through these three stages, he’s identified that maintaining his income is needed. Thus contracting is now a potential option. One of many that he can now confidently invest time in exploring knowing what he needs and why.
Thus, setting himself up for success - not just for the remaining three stages for why he started this in the first place.
To navigate his career into a better place that’s better aligned to where he needs to be.
It’s how you start that matters
Those of you who have had life coaching may notice some parallels.
Whilst I’m definitely not a life coach and don’t have much inclination to be one, there are similarities between what we each do. As a BA, my focus is on achieving specific project objectives for my client in a given timeframe. They focus more broadly on their client’s personal growth and fulfilment on an on-going basis.
Both of us emphasise the importance of our clients answering this question: “where are you today and where do you need to be?”
And we both have seen the opportunity costs from not doing this foundational work up front - some costly, some non-survivable, all painful.
So take a problem that you have before doing anything else, especially jumping to a solution, frame it with that question and see where that actually leads you.
🤔 Made me think
Interview versus reality.
The grass may appear greener on the other side and it may be tempting to switch over.
And even if you’ve done your due diligence, it may even be greener. But, the reality may be very different to the rose-tinted glasses that you’re looking through in your desperation to leave what you have now. You may end up going from the proverbial frying pan into the fire and only then realised what you did have where you were before.
I’m not advocating to stay where you and that due diligence isn’t worth doing. It’s to remind you to question what’s not been revealed to you. And, if it does goes sideways, what would be the cost to you in missed opportunities, lost time, and additional costs - both financial and mental.
PS: For a great issue on how to actually do due diligence on corporate culture, check out Issue 20 of Engineer’s Gate by Jen Widerberg.
🧑💻Worth checking out
🔗 Get out of a creative rut and reignite your creativity.
Akin to feeling stuck at work, I was stuck for quite awhile with my photography.
At one point I gave up and sold off or gave away all my gear. Drastic I know but I felt that I needed a clean break - not knowing if I was going to pick up a camera again or move onto other things. Completely by chance, my timing was fortuitous as it was just before the pandemic hit and we were locked down with very limited opportunities to go out and shoot anyways.
Even better, it forced me to break my negative patterns - which I wrote about in last week’s issue (#028). I ended up appreciating photography in a different way by processing photos that I had on my to do list for years and publishing them on my website. Mainly for myself and my family rather than seeking any fame or glory on social media.
There wasn’t that much good from being locked down but I will say that was one of them. I’ve now restarted making photographs and am enjoying rediscovering my love for it. It’s slow going but deliberately so that I don’t lose my motivation.
You can read more about the other techniques for getting yourself out of a rut - not necessarily a photographic or creative one - on Mikko’s blog.
🖖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.
> The grass may appear greener on the other side and it may be tempting to switch over.
This hits home for me. I'm quite happy where I am right now, but there are times I wonder if I could land an even better position. I probably could, but I've also worked for enough companies over the years that I've seen enough crap to know that there's a lot of risk in jumping to another ship. Things could be better, but they could also be worse.