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#035 - Understanding my options
Welcome to Issue #035 of The Forcing Function - your guide to delivering the right outcomes for your projects and your users.
🤔 Made me think: Options (or perhaps not).
👨💻 Worth checking out: Don’t specialise, hybridise.
Parallels between my undergraduate degree and my business analysis career.
This a continuation of a mini-series as I consider what certification(s) I want to achieve in 2023 and where do I want to go next in my business analysis career. If you missed it, here’s Part 1 in Issue #034.
I still remember the look of consternation on my careers advisor’s face when I told him which university I had chosen for my undergraduate degree.
To this today, I’m still not sure what shocked him more. That I had rejected an offer to attend the prestigious London School of Economics (LSE) or any English university. Or, that I’d be the first student from my school to go to a university in Scotland.
But there was method in my madness.
Undoubtedly, I was rebelliousness in my university choice. I absolutely wanted to get away from London and have some space from my parents. As much as I loved them, I also wanted to take a break from doing their admin as their eldest son.
But, there was also a degree of practicality as I didn’t know what I wanted to study at university. I didn’t want to commit to 3 years to a specific subject, like Economics, only to find that I hated it. I didn’t want the unenviable choice of having to quit or transfer mid-course. Nor did I want to end up with a degree in a subject I didn’t want to do as a career.
As an aside: being able to appreciate these risks was an unexpected benefit of working part-time whilst I was in secondary school. It exposed me to people from all walks of life and, valuably, their experiences and their regrets. And, all thanks to my parents who insisted that, in addition to wanting me to excel academically, I also needed the practical experience of paid work.
One of the key differences between getting a degree from a Scottish university versus an English university is that the former typically takes 4 years whilst the latter takes 3 years.
This meant my Scottish course was structured like a funnel where, in my first year, I got to choose which 4 subjects to study. Then, in my 2nd and 3rd years, I got to select which 2 out of those 4 to focus on. And, for my 4th and final year, I could pick which one of those 2 subjects to earn my Single Honours degree in.
So, if a subject didn’t resonate with me in my 1st year, the penalty of dropping it in my 2nd year was negligible. For example, one of the two subjects I dropped was, in fact, Economics as it didn't resonate with me at university even though I enjoyed it at school. The very subject I would’ve been taking for 3 years if I had gone to LSE.
By avoiding that near-miss, I graduated with 1st Class Honours in a subject that I enjoyed and which turned out to be the foundational pillar of my business analysis career.
Interestingly, there are parallels with how I was funnelled through my degree course and how I’ve worked my way through the different types of business analyst (BA) roles.
Visualising the various types of business analysts
Like most roles, once you peel back the surface, you’ll find that they aren’t a single homogeneous monolith. They come in all sorts of different nuances, flavours, and types. Each with a different focus and each with a different pathway to get there or to excel at it.
Here’s a visual of my mental model of the various BA types.
Conceptually, I categorise BA types along these two dimensions:
Scope: Whether the BA is doing a generalist jack of all trades role. Or, if they are a subject matter expert that’s mastered an area (or a few).
Domain Preference: Whether the BA either comes from or leans towards a business-first approach to their work. Or, if they come from or leans towards a more technical / data first approach.
There are a myriad of terms, labels, and names used for each type of BA so feel free to substitute your own if that makes more sense for you.
For clarity, one BA type is no better (or worse) than another. It depends on the outcome required and where you are in your career. Not to mention what type best suits your personality, your interests, and your career goals today. All of which may not be in the same in 10 years hence.
Also, the quadrants are not mutually exclusive and nor are they unforgiving if you move from one quadrant to another. In fact, think of them as jigsaw pieces that you can combine elements of in order to deliver the right mix of scope and domain preference that meets your client’s needs.
After all, being a BA is about being fluid to the needs of your client and your project rather than dogmatically sticking to a forced categorisation of what a BA type does and doesn’t do.
My journey through the BA types
Relating this back to my own career and how I’ve ended up funnelling through these various types:
Starting my BA career, via Accenture’s graduate training programme, I was in the Process quadrant for several years as I honed my expertise.
When I quit being a consultant and went in-house, I started to move more into the Enterprise quadrant. That was purely by working for a series of financial services companies where I built up industry experience in private banking and asset management.
In crossing over from permanent work to contracting, I also started gravitating into the Functional quadrant. Firstly with SharePoint, as that was what I delivered in my last permanent job and then, Salesforce, following a series of projects in that ecosystem. With each project enhancing my existing expertise by increasing my experience with this technology platform.
Reflecting on this:
I started both my undergraduate course and my BA career as a generalist in both. Then, as the years went by, became more of a specialist. With my course, going from those initial 4 subjects to a single subject. With my career, becoming a specialist BA in a business domain (i.e. financial services); then in a technical domain (i.e. Salesforce).
Even though I did a Masters in Information Systems & Technology, I’ve never really been in nor focused on the Systems quadrant. My Domain Preference has always been business-orientated and I don’t come from a developer / coding / system vendor background.
Tying this back to my certifications “Tube map”
From the “Tube map” of my certifications I shared in Issue #034, my journey through each BA type quadrant is mirrored by the certifications that I’ve done.
So, when I was “starting out” in the Process quadrant, I heavily emphasised earning the certifications associated with the Methods Competence capability group - such as getting my BCS Diploma in Business Analysis.
In my time in the Enterprise quadrant, I switched to developing my skillset in the Domain Expertise capability group by proving my financial services knowledge with that tough Investment Management Certificate certification.
And, with my continued specialisation with Salesforce, that has driven my focus towards the Tooling Dexterity capability group and my most recent certifications in that technology platform.
None of which has surprised me as I’ve always believed that it’s only worth doing a certification if I also have practical real-world experience to back it up. Otherwise, I feel that I’m just doing certifications as an academic exercise. Which, with my practical bias, seems somewhat pointless.
Knowing how to apply what’s been learnt is very different to simply being tested on it.
So what’s next then for me?
In next week’s issue (#036), having reflected enough on my as-is situation, I’ll take a look ahead to where I want to go next and why.
If you have any thoughts or questions, I’d love to hear them. Just add a comment and I’ll reply.
🤔 Made me think
Options (or perhaps not).
Whilst you should listen to what your line manager advises you to do with your career, make sure that you don’t fall into these two traps:
Delegating all your career decisions to them and their whims.
Being railroaded into a BA type that you’re not comfortable or sure about.
You’d hope that they have your best interests at heart. But, at the end of the day, it’s you that will have to live with the consequences of both the actions taken as well as the inaction.
Very few people will have your best interests more at heart than you - as I wrote about in Issue #005.
🧑💻Worth checking out
🔗 Don’t specialise, hybridise | Stephan Ango
Am intrigued by Stephan’s advice to go for the U-shaped “hybrid” career path.
For me, it’s about getting to a T-shape where I develop related and complementary skills that not only logically fit together but also mutually support each other. Akin to Aristotle’s “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” idea.
However, I do appreciate his argument that developing completely unrelated skills can lead to very different insights that most don’t see. Mainly because I’m trying to do a similar thing by colliding different topics, thoughts, and tales that I consume to generate new ideas for this very newsletter.
You can read more on Stephan’s blog post.
🖖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.