Tag Archives: Business analysis

Thinking outside the box with CPD

Rachel Drinkwater
Senior Business Analyst
Coventry University

The Business Analysis Conference Europe 2018

Following on from my earlier posts about convergence, creativity, customer focus, and empathy, this article looks at another of the themes which was prevalent throughout the Business Analysis Europe Conference 2018: Continuing Professional Development (CPD).
As the first month of the year draws to a close, with the threat of freezing temperatures and snow, many of us may find our resolve to stick to a new year programme of healthy eating, more exercise and quitting our vices of choice tested. The desire to curl up in front of the fire with a drink and some comfort food may well become harder to resist as temptation knocks on the snow-laden window.
But not all resolutions are about quitting bad habits. Many of us will have started the year with goals to learn a new skill, gain a new qualification or simply to learn something new and certainly many of the speakers at last year’s Business Analysis Conference 2018 appeared to advocate this as a personal goal.

CPD outside the box

Indeed much of the focus of Sir Clive Woodward’s inspiring keynote talk on the morning of Day 2 was on ‘relentless learning’; a lifelong practice of curiosity, seeking out new knowledge and dedicating time and energy to Continuing Professional Development (CPD). However, Sir Clive advocated thinking outside of the box with your learning as skills and knowledge which may initially seem irrelevant to your role, may give you unexpected benefits. I believe that this is particularly true today, with an unprecedented rate of technological change and new entrants to almost every industry seeking to disrupt the status quo, it is difficult to predict what skills any job role will require in the future.
Further to my earlier blog on convergence, I find it quite exciting that twelve years ago, the job roles of ‘Digital Marketing Manager’ or ‘Social Media Content Producer’ didn’t really exist. Where traditionally marketing and IT were somewhat separate entities, technological developments and the adoption of web technologies and digital marketing, have caused the two to converge. Many marketing roles require more technological knowledge and business-facing IT roles require more of an understanding of customer behaviour than perhaps ever before.
Sir Clive’s example of developing skills outside of your immediate field, was his experience of managing the England rugby team. When he took over management of the team, he bought a laptop for each team member and insisted that they learned how to use it; an unusual ask perhaps in an era where device ownership was significantly less pervasive than it is today. Facing scepticism from the team and critics alike, Woodward argued that ‘those that win at technology, tend to win’ and he was proved right.
In due course, a sophisticated sports monitoring software package arrived on the market, enabling video playback of a match, overlaid with data and analytics which could provide insight into player behaviour, strategy and tactics from both teams. With their new-found IT skills, the entire team were able to analyse, learn and understand their – and the opposing team’s – gameplay and input recommendations for improvements to tactics and strategy based upon this. Had the team constrained their skills development to the core skillset needed for playing rugby, it is likely that they would not have been able to embrace this technology, leverage its capabilities and collectively gain so much benefit and competitive advantage from its use.

Time and cost hacks for CPD

When it comes to finding ways to develop your skills, particularly when self-funding, it may seem that cost is prohibitive, but learning doesn’t need to be expensive. Platforms such as FutureLearn and the OU’s OpenLearn have a plethora of free, online courses at all levels, many of which are modules taken from current degree courses. There are also a number of free conferences and networking events for many industries and areas of interest. Jisc’s annual Digifest the Education sector is a personal favourite. Tools such as Eventbrite, Meetup or simply Google can all help you to find free events near you. Viewing videos on YouTube or TED can be another way of learning quickly and informally.
Time may be another factor that poses a barrier to CPD, but this is where digital technologies can really help. Many courses are now delivered digitally and can be consumed in bite-sized chunks at a time to suit you. This micro-learning is one of many trends towards digitisation and consumer-centred demand in learning technology and is brilliant for busy people to squeeze in some structured personal development throughout the course of the day. Do you find yourself scrolling endlessly through Facebook or LinkedIn? Why not switch one of those scrolling sessions to viewing a short training video? Better still if ‘spend less time on social media’ was one of your new year’s resolutions!
Learning doesn’t need to be structured either. The old adage ‘you learn something new every day’ is quite true, but often we don’t realise that we’re picking up new skills and learning new things. Putting aside a few minutes at the end of the day to consider what you’ve learnt and how you can apply it helps to identify these ‘on the job’ development opportunities. But what if you’re finding that you’re not learning anything new? Well, perhaps it’s time to start looking for new opportunities in or out of work to stretch, develop and grow yourself. Learning a new skill as a hobby can also open doors or show you new paths. You may enjoy your new sport, art or community hobby so much you may decide to make a career from it, or find a way to incorporate your new skillset learned from your hobby to enhance your job and career. For example, in my spare time, I perform as an actor in a theatre group. At work, I use the skills I’ve learned in my acting training when approaching public speaking or facilitating workshops. I also run training courses on this for my colleagues in order to share my somewhat unconventional skillset!
So to summarise, learning doesn’t necessarily need to be related to your day job. All new skills are valuable and as demonstrated by Sir Clive and the England rugby squad, you never know when you will use something that initially seems completely unrelated to your job. Take control of your own development by being mindful of opportunities when they present themselves to you and using digital platforms for free, quick micro learning that can fit into your life when and where it suits you.

Coming Soon…

We’re nearly at the end of my series of ‘Top Takeaways from the Business Analysis Conference 2018’, so thank you to everyone who has been following these blogs and commenting. For the final instalment on the theme of ‘Catastrophising’, I will be trying something a little different and not only creating my first vlog, but doing so from Death Valley in California and Red Rock Canyon in Nevada! Watch this space and all will become clear!
This blog first appeared on Rachel’s Linkedin blog.
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

How using empathy can help build better systems and products

Rachel Drinkwater
Senior Business Analyst
University of Coventry

The Business Analysis Conference Europe 2018

Following on from my earlier posts about convergence, creativity and customer focus, today’s article looks at another of the themes which were prevalent throughout the Business Analysis Europe Conference 2018.
There was still a hint of summer in the air even as the first of the leaves were changing when I found myself in Westminster attending the conference courtesy of UCISA’s annual personal development bursary for those working in the education sector. Sitting writing this in my festive jumper just days before Christmas, September feels like a long time ago.
Given the time of year, in the words of Charles Dickens “a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; … when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely”, it is perhaps apt that today’s subject is empathy. It seemed that the concept of empathy was touched upon explicitly or implicitly in every session I attended at the conference.

Empathy in design thinking

Given that the first stage of design thinking is ‘Empathise’ (see below) and one of the other key areas of focus at the conference was customer experience, it is perhaps not a surprise that empathy was discussed frequently and in some depth in this context.

Design thinking is defined by Gartner as a “multidisciplinary process that builds solutions … in a technically feasible, commercially sustainable and emotionally meaningful way”. Activities undertaken, particularly in this first stage, seek to understand the thoughts, emotions and feelings of a customer or user on their journey with an organisation and its digital touchpoints.
In their Digital Customer Journeys workshop, Andrej Gustin (CREA Plus) & Igor Smirnov (NETICA) presented a useful approach and template for capturing these emotions at various touchpoints of the user’s journey to identify focus areas for improvement. At a very high level, the approach can be summarised as follows:
  1. Identify key touchpoints, then for each touchpoint:
  • Understand current process and user experience
  • Identify current customer emotion/feelings
  • Identify desired customer emotion/feelings and experience
  • Prioritise processes for improvement based on a gap analysis of current to desired customer state.
  1. For prioritised processes, brainstorm improvements.
I was particularly interested in this prioritisation of focus area by customer experience, rather than a traditional quantifiable benefit, which I felt demonstrated a real paradigm shift towards customer and user-centric systems design.

Empathy as a skill of the future

Empathy was also discussed from a social perspective, as we explored the human factor in a digital society, where robots, AI and interactions driven by algorithms are fast becoming a part of our everyday lives.
It is undeniable that many jobs formerly carried out by humans are now carried out partially, if not entirely, by machines. This has been increasingly evident in the manufacturing sector with progressively more elements of manufacturing production lines being automated since the 1970s. Footage of a car manufacturing plant in the early 20th century, compared to a modern-day plant illustrate the transition from a busy factory thriving with human workers, to a rather clinical environment where robotic arms move in an eerily human manner to select and assemble components.
However, this automation is not restricted to the manufacturing sector, which has traditionally been an early adopter of automation technologies. The service industry, a sector perhaps traditionally associated with human-delivered customer service, is also automating roles. When I visit a supermarket, I often choose to use the self-scan tills, interacting with (often quite frustrating) AI rather than a human cashier. Where eight members of staff would have processed transactions and exchanged pleasantries with customers ten years ago, one member of staff can supervise the same number of self-service tills, only intervening when the somewhat rudimentary AI (inevitably) reaches its limitations. When shopping online, I am as likely to consult a chatbot or self-service customer support tool as a member of the customer service team.
Thirty years ago such sophisticated technology belonged to the fantasy world of sci-fi movies. It was unthinkable that real-life technology would progress at such a rate to replace jobs with such a key human element to them. Yet with technological advances and the rate of change at an all-time-high the media, researchers and technological commenters are now speculating about the next tranche of job roles to be replaced by robots in the coming years and decades.
So, should we be concerned that we will one day be replaced by robots, rendered redundant by such seductive promises as “a jetliner pilot who never makes a mistake, never gets tired, never shows up to work with a hangover”*?
Meryl Streep once said “the greatest gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy”. Though significant research is being undertaken to develop synthetic empathy in AI, developing facial expression recognition technology and crunching millions of data points to build increasingly intelligent algorithms and so-called learning capabilities, for now it seems that true empathy remains a uniquely human ability. Shortly before the Business Analysis Europe Conference 2018, The World Economics Forum released their ‘Future of Jobs Report 2018’. In his Day 2 opening keynote speech, the IIBA’s Nick De Voil highlighted the top ten key skills trends for today and projections for 2022. It was notable how many ‘soft’ and ‘human’ workplace skills were listed as those which would endure despite predicted technological advancements. These key skills include emotional intelligence, initiative and social influencing, all of which require empathy. This perhaps implies an expectation that our technological advancements will continue to fail to satisfactorily emulate and replace such human abilities; those intrinsic traits of human nature of relating to others, reading non-verbal cues and making ‘human’ decisions.

Empathy in wellbeing

There was also emphasis on remembering that we and our co-workers are not suit-wearing robots. We are humans, with great potential for creativity, innovation, love and resourcefulness, but we are also subject to emotions, feelings, health problems and complicated personal lives.
Oxford Dictionaries succinctly define empathy as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another”. In his exciting Stakeholder Skills for Drug Busts session, National Grid’s Charlie Payne introduced the behaviour/attitude cycle (see below) when explaining the importance of being aware of the impact a person can have on others.

He explained that an individual’s attitude is reflected in their behaviour. This behaviour then influences the attitude of others, which in turn influences their behaviour and so on. Whilst this can be used positively, it all too often can have negative consequences on relationships and communication when the individuals involved are not practising Emotional Intelligence (EI).
With the recent societal drive to remove the stigma often traditionally associated with mental health, it was encouraging to find the subject addressed and discussed openly by a number of speakers at the conference.
Craig Rollason, also of National Grid, in his inspiring The BA Bucket List keynote advocated the benefits of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) in understanding colleagues and stakeholders and the reasons for their behaviour.
Rollason also presented a challenge/support matrix model which he explained can be used to analyse and grow awareness of an individual’s current work and career state. The model indicates that the best environment for career and personal development would be one where an individual is feeling challenged but supported. Rollason was however careful to note that some individuals may be experiencing high challenge and low support in their personal lives and subsequently may be in need of what Rollason coined ‘the duvet zone’ at work (low challenge and high support).
For me this was a rather unexpected example of empathy in such a professional setting, where sometimes there is an expectation of ‘leave your personal life at the door’ and ‘always be professional’. It was a welcome recognition that in reality, as humans, it is not always possible to switch emotions and personal distractions on and off at will, particularly in the modern world where technology has blurred the lines between work and personal time and space.

Empathy as an holistic practice

In summary, my top empathy takeaways were that whilst we can use empathy as a tool to better understand our customers and users to build better systems and products, we can also use it to understand our colleagues and understand their motivations, beliefs, attitudes and the root causes behind these. This enables us to build stronger working relationships, understand how to better interact and deal with our stakeholders and how to care for our colleagues when they need extra support.
We can also exercise empathy towards ourselves, valuing and appreciating our skills, finding our place in the world, respecting and drawing on our experiences and being proud of these. When practising emotional intelligence, self-awareness is also important as we consider how our behaviour and attitude influences that of others.
So, in the words of William S. Preston and Theodore Logan, this festive season and into the new year, “be excellent to each other” (and “party on dudes”)*. A very happy Christmas to you all and your families.

*Ten points if you get the movie references – and some classic 90s movie recommendations for the holidays!
Coming Soon…
In addition to convergence, creativity, customer focus and empathy, the following concepts arose time and again at Business Analysis Europe 2018, being discussed and explored in the majority of the sessions I attended:
  • Continuous Learning
  • Catastrophising
Watch this space in the New Year for the next installment!
This blog was originally published at: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/business-analysis-conference-europe-2018-empathy-rachel-drinkwater.
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

Customer focus (and a little magic)

Rachel Drinkwater
Senior Business Analyst
Coventry University

The Business Analysis Conference Europe 2018

In September, I had the opportunity to attend the much lauded Business Analysis Conference Europe in Westminster, London, courtesy of UCISA’s personal development bursary for those working in the education sector.
Following on from my earlier posts about convergence and creativity this blog briefly looks at another of the themes which was prevalent throughout the Business Analysis Europe Conference 2018.

Customer Focus

The importance of focusing on the customer journey and customer experience of a system and indeed the wider organisation was mentioned in almost every session at #BA2018 . For a while there has been a palpable shift towards genuinely building and designing systems by solving customer problems and meeting their needs. Andrej Gustin (CREA Plus) and Igor Smirnov (NETICA) opened their excellent half-day ‘Digital Customer Journeys’ workshop by stating that in 90% of cases a customer who has had a bad experience will not return, however a customer who has had a good experience has a good chance of becoming an advocate. As such it is imperative that we get those customer touchpoints – both system and people-based – right. As Clay Shirky discusses in his book Cognitive Surplus, in a world of social media and digital communities, customer advocacy is worth its weight in gold – prospective customers are significantly more likely to buy your product or service if someone in their network recommends it.
But for us Business Analysts, it’s not just about the end customer when it comes to considering customer focus. We have other customers, namely senior sponsors, the business, our stakeholders or perhaps a client. We need to be customer-focused in the ways we deal with these individuals and groups and we also need to think about their needs and expectations when developing our products – the deliverables – for them.
A number of speakers touched on the importance of avoiding ‘analysis for analysts’. Adrian Reed, in his highly entertaining ‘And Then the Magic Happens – What BAs Can Learn from the World of Magic’ session gave an excellent analogy drawing on the magician community. To be taken seriously by their peers in the field, a magician must use Bicycle-branded playing cards and Sharpie branded pens. However, the audience almost certainly doesn’t notice, or care, what brand of materials are used during the trick. What they care about is the experience of the trick itself and the outcome – ideally the trick working smoothly and a sense of awe, wonder and entertainment. Ironically, Bicycle-branded cards are slippery and not optimal for use in tricks and as such in seeking to impress other magicians, the magician is actually reducing the odds of meeting their customer – the audience’s – needs, as there is a risk he or she will slip and accidentally shower the audience in playing cards! Mapping this to the world of Business Analysis, it is important to remember why we are doing analysis and for whom. Nottingham Trent University’s Suzi Jobe advised delegates to accept that in many cases, business stakeholders are not interested in business analysis and our various tools and techniques – they just want to see the outcome and how it affects them. As such we may need to trade ‘perfect’ analysis models and techniques in favour of producing a deliverable that is of value and use to our end customer.
Finally, Reed advised BAs to be service-focused and to aim to make customers feel understood and cared for. Although the outcome and outputs of a project are important, the lasting memory will be of how the customer felt when dealing with you. As a magician once said, “It’s not just the effect, what they see, it’s also what they experience during the trick – and the way they feel when the trick is over.”

Coming Soon…

In addition to convergence, creativity and customer focus, the following concepts arose time and again at Business Analysis Europe 2018, being discussed and explored in the majority of the sessions I attended:
  • Empathy
  • Continuous Learning
  • Catastrophizing.
I will be posting about each one of these at a high level, then looking to explore some of these areas in more detail in future articles.
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

Creativity at Business Analysis Europe

Rachel Drinkwater
Senior Business Analyst
Coventry University

The Business Analysis Conference Europe 2018

Last month I had the opportunity to attend the much lauded Business Analysis Europe Conference in Westminster, London, courtesy of UCISA’s annual personal development bursary for those working in the education sector.
Following on from my post about convergence, this article briefly looks at the second of the themes which were prevalent throughout the Business Analysis Europe Conference 2018.

Creativity

Perhaps due to the paradigm shift towards convergence, we may now be working with a different, more creative type of stakeholders: marketers, brand specialists and brand designers and within the technical fields, UX designers and app developers. Perhaps because of a focus on our customers and their journeys and experiences with our systems or the trend towards story-telling, we have a need to be more visionary in our approach to our roles as BAs. Perhaps it is a mix of the above, but it certainly seemed that exploring creative and innovative ways of eliciting requirements, solutionising and design thinking were rife across the sessions.
This was particularly illustrated in the Gamestorming session led by The Home Office’s Amy Morrell and Business Analyst Hub’s Rohela Raouf, in which delegates created concepts for systems solutions to case study problems using Lego, Playdoh and assorted craft materials. The working groups then went on to create a pitch for a branded box which represented the final system as a physical product. Whilst this was quite an extreme use of creativity for identifying areas for improvement and eliciting requirements and one that may require caution before unleashing upon more traditional business stakeholders, it certainly encouraged different, innovative and creative ways of approaching the problem. It was also an excellent opening session to energise the conference delegates and break some of the metaphorical ice!
In addition to these creative approaches, creativity in leadership, in stakeholder management and employing innovative mind-sets to disrupt your organisation and industry were discussed at length. Certainly today’s big players such as Amazon, Google, Uber and Facebook, enjoy their success in part due to the creative approach and innovative mind-set that they have applied to the industry in which they want to operate and in doing so have identified ways to exploit and disrupt the existing industry and its market environment.

Coming Soon…

In addition to convergence and creativity, the following concepts arose time and again at Business Analysis Europe 2018, being discussed and explored in the majority of the sessions I attended:
  • Customer focus
  • Empathy
  • Continuous Learning
  • Catastrophizing.
I will be posting about each one of these at a high level, then looking to explore some of these areas in more detail in future articles.
This blog was originally published at: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/business-analysis-conference-europe-2018-creativity-rachel-drinkwater/
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

The importance of convergence

Rachel Drinkwater
Senior Business Analyst
University of Coventry

The Business Analysis Conference Europe 2018

Last month I had the opportunity to attend the much lauded Business Analysis Conference Europe in Westminster, London, courtesy of UCISA’s personal development bursary for those working in the education sector.
The 2018 event marked the conference’s tenth year and having been a business analyst for approaching fifteen years now, this conference has been on my radar for some time. Over the years I have watched longingly as more senior colleagues, freelance peers and even co-workers nominated for ‘Business Analyst of the Year’, have departed for London for three days of sharing ideas, networking and learning and returned positively sparking with inspiration. This year, my turn came and I spent much of the week before preparing and planning, determined to gain the most I possibly could from this experience.
I returned, somewhat exhausted, but brimming with ideas, inspiration and a newfound pride in my profession. As a blogger, I also have inspiration for articles and blogs to keep me and my readers happy until Christmas! Over the space of the three days, I attended fifteen talks and workshops and left each one more enlightened that when I walked in, from gaining a new nugget of information, a shift in my attitude and approach towards the BA profession, to learning an entirely new technique.
More detail will follow over the coming weeks, but in this article I discuss the first of a number of key themes that seemed to permeate the conference: convergence.

Convergence

Many years ago I completed a lengthy application process for an industrial placement with a global corporation and on my application form I ticked ‘marketing’ and ‘IT’ as my two business areas of interest. In the interview stage, I was quizzed for some time on what the recruiters perceived as a most unusual juxtaposition; how could a person wanting to work in the technical discipline of IT also harbour an interest in the creative field of marketing?
Marketing has been a career-long interest for me. I chose to pursue a career in IT, but have often tended towards marketing in my personal development, attending the occasional CIM training session, self-studying related online courses and eventually undertaking a Masters which comprised at least 50% marketing modules. But why, if I had chosen a career in IT? Well, firstly because I find marketing theory and customer behaviour fascinating and secondly, perhaps because I approached IT from the field of web design and running my own business in the early 00s, I’ve always mentally linked marketing with IT.
Unfortunately, my industrial placement hirer’s attitude was not in isolation. Throughout my career, many potential employers have been perplexed and in some cases even turned off by my multi-disciplinary set of interests. Given this, it was a great reassurance to find that a significant proportion of the discussion, theory and techniques at Business Analysis Europe had roots in or strong connections to marketing.
Technological innovations and developments have disrupted almost every industry. The pervasive use of digital devices and social platforms by the majority of the populace, certainly in the Western world, has led to digital becoming a primary channel for many companies to engage with their customer base; pushing communications to them, engaging them in two-way conversations, facilitating digital communities of like-minded customers and of course ecommerce.
These digital marketing systems and platforms require IT professionals, just as with any other system and as with any other project, business analysts need to understand marketing theory and strategy if they are to design, build and successfully implement systems to support organisations’ marketing strategy.

I draw on marketing as it is an area of personal interest and because it was indeed a key area of focus at the conference, but the same applies for all areas of business; sales, operations, asset management, HR and certainly customer service and PR, as previously explored in my earlier blog article ‘Blurred Lines’.  As Mark Smalley (@MarkSmalley) stated in his The Digital BA session: “In the digital enterprise, business and IT are converging and we <as Business Analysts> need to consider the consequences of this”.

Coming Soon…

In addition to convergence, the following concepts arose time and again at Business Analysis Europe 2018, being discussed and explored in the majority of the sessions I attended:
  • Creativity
  • Customer focus
  • Empathy
  • Continuous Learning
  • Catastrophizing.
I will be posting about each one of these at a high level, then looking to explore some of these areas in more detail in future articles.
This blog originally appeared at: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/business-analysis-conference-europe-2018-rachel-drinkwater/.

Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

The 2018 Business Analysis Europe Conference – a plan is formed

Rachel Drinkwater
Business Systems Analyst
Coventry University

Creating a well-rounded agenda

Earlier this year I was granted a bursary by UCISA to attend the IRM Business Analysis Europe Conference 2018, which is to be held in Westminster, London on the 24th-26th September 2018. Having worked as a business analyst for the last fifteen years, this conference has naturally been on my radar as a ‘must do’, but the cost has been prohibitive, so I’m delighted and excited to be able to finally attend.
One of the conditions of my bursary is that I will disseminate my learning from the conference to others in the education sector. Taking this further I’m hoping to combine the knowledge and ideas that I gain from the conference with those I have from my own experience to create a blog series, instructional vlogs and infographics to share with my network both in education and wider industry.  In addition to this, I intend to devise a session to present at upcoming conferences.
I’ve pre-selected my conference sessions and rather than focusing on one of the five streams (‘BA Careers’, ‘Techniques’, ‘People’, Innovation’ and ‘The BA Conference Through the Years’), I’ve instead aimed to create a well-rounded agenda for the three days I will be attending.
Day 1 will start with a practical and energetic-sounding full-morning session on ‘Gamestorming’  (I’m hoping there will be plenty of coffee to facilitate this!). I’m intrigued by the Gamestorming concept and how it differs from the workshop facilitation and requirements elicitation techniques which form what I consider to be one of my core skill sets. Even if it transpires to be the same practice rebadged, I’m expecting to learn some new techniques that I can bring straight back into the office and perhaps include in the public speaking skills workshops that I am delivering at the moment.
My afternoon is set to keep the hands-on approach, looking at ‘Digital Customer Journeys’. As one of my personal areas of interest is digital transformation and strategy, my agenda inevitably has a little bias towards those sessions addressing new ways of working in and the challenges posed by our digitally-focused society.
As if to illustrate that point, I’m starting Day 2 with the ‘The Digital BA’ session within the ‘BA Careers’ workstream. A question that is raised time and again on BA forums and in industry at the moment is ‘What does the digital world mean to us and our practice as Business Analysts?’ I am hoping that the discussions within this session will go some way to uncovering the answer. In fact I’m feeling a blog article coming on with that exact title! The remainder of my day is split between some core BA sessions within the ‘Techniques’ and ‘Innovation’ workstreams; investigating how to approach projects where there are no clear requirements  and managing difficult agile projects and some intriguing-sounding neuro linguistic programming sessions.
My choices for Day 3 kick off with a session within the ‘BA Careers’ workstream led by fellow education Business Analysts, Ed O’Regan and Suzi Jobe, from Nottingham Trent University, entitled ‘From Analyst to Strategist’. As I have progressed from business analyst to senior business analyst in my career, I’ve found that involvement in strategic work is forming an ever-increasing part of my role and it is certainly the direction in which I’m aiming to take my career. In addition to this, at Coventry University we are moving the Business Analysis team towards being a more strategic function and as such I’m keen to hear other organisations’ experiences of this approach. This links quite nicely with the following ‘Innovation’ session in which we will look at ‘Emerging Technology and the BA of the Future’.
To conclude my choices for the conference, I will be attending the very exciting-sounding ‘Stakeholder Skills for Drug Busts – Reflections on Dealing with Difficult People in Dangerous Situations’ delivered by former Police Officer, Charlie Payne. Whilst it’s unlikely that I’ll ever encounter a Breaking Bad-style scenario in the office, conflict does happen and I’m hoping to learn some skills and techniques to defuse and handle such occurrences.
Amidst this action-packed agenda, there are some excellent keynote speakers, a number of networking opportunities and of course the obligatory first night drinks reception. I wholly expect to be catching the train home on Wednesday evening exhausted, but brimming with ideas and inspiration, that I will be distilling into some interesting and informative materials to share with you all. Watch this space and follow me on Twitter at @REDrinkwater to read about what I’ve found out and my thoughts and theories on the content from the three days.
This blog post first appeared on: https://racheldrinkwater.com/the-2018-business-analysis-europe-conference-a-plan-is-formed/
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

UCISA bursary leads to new role

Kathryn Woodroof
Business Analyst
University of York

 

 

 

Lessons from the IRM UK Business Analysis Conference Europe 2017

In September 2017, I received a UCISA bursary which enabled me to attend the annual Business Analysis Conference Europe. This conference brings together over 500 Business Analysts from a range of sectors across the continent. At that time I was one year into my first formal BA post and I was excited about an opportunity to fine tune my practice and learn from others. I came back to work with a Padlet board full of conference notes, photos, ideas and contacts. Six months later I’ve been reflecting on the benefits of receiving a UCISA bursary.
For me as an individual, I came away from the conference with a sense of pride in my profession and confidence in the skills and strengths that I can bring to any IT project. I have used new tools and techniques that I learned at the conference, such as systems thinking and prototyping. I’ve also been following my manifesto for fun at work, which I spoke about in my UCISA blog post. Ultimately, the conference motivated me to aim higher and in March 2018, I was appointed to the post of Portfolio Manager for Enterprise Systems. This new role gives me the opportunity to leverage my business analysis skills to facilitate strategic decision-making at the University.
My learning from the conference has also been shared with my immediate team and it’s enabled us to improve our BA practice. We now meet fortnightly to share knowledge and work together on problems. In particular, we’ve been focusing on how we can support agile development practices; this was a hot topic at the conference and the discussions I had with other BAs have informed our thinking here at the University. I’ve also worked with my team to improve the Business Analysis section of our project toolkit, which is a shared resource open to everyone at the University.
I’ve shared my insight from the conference with others outside of our team, for example in a presentation at YO10, our community of practice for staff interested in business change. I’ve also used my conference learning to support Sarah Peace in preparing for a workshop on IT communications with the UCISA Support Services Group.
I also presented my conference takeaways at the Higher Education Business Analyst Forum in London so that my peers in HE could benefit from my experience. I’m still in touch with some of the BAs that I met at the conference via LinkedIn and Twitter and feel that I have a bigger network to tap into than I did before the conference.
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.
UCISA welcomes blog contributions and comment responses to blog posts from all members. If you would like to contribute a new perspective or opinion on a current topic of interest, simply contact UCISA’s marketing manager Manjit Ghattaura via manjit.ghattaura@it.ox.ac.uk

 

The views expressed on UCISA blogs are the authors’ and do not necessarily reflect those of UCISA

A manifesto for fun at work

Kathryn Woodroof
Business Analyst
University of York

 

 

Lessons from the IRM UK Business Analysis Conference Europe 2017

Kathryn Woodroof was funded to attend this event as a 2017 UCISA bursary winner

This year I was able to attend the annual Business Analysis Conference Europe thanks to a bursary from UCISA.  The three day conference was held in London and brought together Business Analysts from all sectors. I expected to gain more knowledge of our practice, learn from other BAs and perhaps get a new perspective on managing change.

But what I didn’t expect was to have so much fun!  I had fun in workshops and seminars, during coffee breaks, and when listening to guest speakers such as Graeme Simsion and Miles Hilton-Barber.  Creativity and fun were everywhere you looked and the importance of having fun at work was my most valuable takeaway from the conference.

During a workshop co-facilitated by our business analysis colleague Tina Lovelock from the University of Leeds, we learned that having fun builds engagement, promotes learning and increases productivity. But we also learned that more than a third of workers had not taken part in any fun activities during the past six months. We realised that, as Business Analysts, we have more opportunity than most to have fun and be creative at work. Tina, Debra, Lawrence and Sandra led the way with a Top Trumps game for BA techniques.

Since the conference, I’ve been reflecting on how I can enable the customers, users and developers that I work with to have fun at work and realise some of those benefits. I’ve come up with a fun manifesto, which is now on the wall next to my desk. Here it is:

1.  Treat fun as a measure of success

I use a visual agenda to set the tone in workshops that I facilitate and I’ve often “have fun” as an outcome of the workshop.

2.  Create an open environment where fun and creativity can happen

Consider how to use the space that you have in a different way in order to experience different thinking. For example, designate each corner of a room to a stakeholder (e.g. student, academic) and ask people to move around the room and consider a problem from each perspective.

3.  Get physical

Move around as much as possible during the working day and especially during workshops and meetings.  Go outside.  Fun and inspiration are rarely found at your desk.

4.  Use visuals, games and activities to have fun

During the 4pm slot at a recent HE BA Forum, I used a Kahoot! quiz and imaged-based slides to keep everyone engaged.

5.  Break out the tunes

Listening to music can elevate your mood, lead your thoughts to somewhere else, and connect you to other people.  I often play background music during workshop activities – it’s also useful for keeping to time.

6.  Eat, drink and be merry

Celebrate successes, milestones and ordinary days with shared food and drink.

Of course, I can’t apply this manifesto in every situation.  But where I can, I will, because I believe that we should all be able to experience the benefits of having fun at work.

I’ll leave you with this final thought from Richard Branson. “Some 80% of your life is spent working. You want to have fun at home; why shouldn’t you have fun at work?”

Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

HE survey on business analysis and making the most of the UCISA bursary

Sarah Cockrill
Business Systems Analyst
Coventry University

Member of UCISA-PCMG

 

 

 

As business analysts, we are constantly learning how people perform their jobs roles. Gaining an understanding of how they capture, process and output information in order to achieve the desired outcomes. We capture this information so that we can identify areas of improvement. We also help to implement new ways of working, new software systems or processes that enable our organisations to achieve their strategic goals. As business analysts how often do we take a step back and analyse our own ways of working? Do we stop and benchmark ourselves against other Business Analysts working in the HE community or beyond in the corporate world?

In 2016 as part of my role on the UCISA Project and Change Management Group (PCMG) committee, I carried out a survey to measure the maturity of the business analysis community within the higher education (HE) sector. This informed our understanding of where we were as a community in terms of maturity.

The survey which was sent out to all members of the PCMG mailing list received a 32% response rate, which falls well within the expected response rate for an email survey. The survey results showed that every responding institution was undertaking business analysis activities, with over 65% having a dedicated business analysis team. This clearly shows that there is a recognised need for business analysis activities in the sector. When we looked at the average size of the business analysis teams, we found that it came in at around five members of staff on average, which shows that it is still considered a relatively small area of operations for most organisations. The majority of business analysis teams had been in existence for less than ten years, however most institutions had been undertaking analysis activities prior to the formation of a dedicated business analysis team. The question that gave us a real insight into the maturity of the business analysis function, showed us that 70% of organisations still see the business analysis function as an IT related one. In a mature organisation, we would expect to see the business analysis function sitting with and supporting the senior management team of the organisation. One may argue that just because they are located in an IT function they still may be closely aligned to senior management.  However, evidence shows that most organisations still consider them to be an IT asset with half of business analysts in the sector only working on IT change projects.

Overall, the survey results show us that as a sector we have not matured enough to be in a position to assist in driving the business strategy. As a sector, we are still working mainly on IT driven change initiatives and are based within the ITS function. The majority of business analysts are not undertaking market and competitor analysis or getting involved in pre-project work, such as feasibility studies and business case development.

In 2011 and 2012, the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) undertook a similar survey in the UK. The results showed that the average maturity levels for business analysis functions based in industry matched those found from our 2016 survey of HE institutions. However, as the IIBA survey was four years older than the HE one I carried out, we can hypothesise they have made some progress in maturing as a sector in those intervening years.

The question then arose, how do we as a community compare against business analysts working in the commercial sector?

I wanted to get an understanding of the tools and techniques they were using, to see if they were ahead of the game compared to the HE sector. Do they experience the same issues when undertaking their analysis, did they have the same frustrations as us and encounter the same blockers? What methods did they employ to attempt to overcome obstacles?

Through UCISA’s Groups and Communities of Practice, the HE community is offered an excellent platform to share knowledge, experience and good practice. To step outside this community and gain knowledge of the commercial field, the UCISA bursary scheme allows you the opportunity to attend conferences such as the IIBA conference. This gives you the opportunity to meet and hear first-hand from Business Analysts working outside of the HE sector.

In 2016, I was lucky enough to be awarded a UCISA bursary to attend the IIBA conference in London. I found the experience gave me an invaluable opportunity to gain knowledge on the role of a business analyst working in the corporate world. Listening to presentations from speakers who came from a mix of corporate backgrounds on the topics that mattered to them, gave me an insight into the issues they faced, the tools they used and solutions that had worked for them.

The main recurring theme of the conference was not one of the newest tools, or methodologies but one of the age old issues that faces every business analyst, one of capturing the requirements effectively. I saw several speakers that presented this topic in unique ways and from different angles but the message boiled down to the same fact. As analysts when capturing requirements, we must listen to what our stakeholders really want and stop trying to solutionize and jump to conclusions without capturing the real facts.

The second topic that seemed to be prevalent at the conference was of course, Agile. I know from personal experience in the HE sector many of us are only just starting to dip our toe into the world of Agile project delivery. I found that while the corporate world had been using Agile for a number of years they were still struggling with the same basic issues of trying to fit Agile into organisational structures that were not designed to support this type of delivery. For example:

  • Off shore development teams supporting project managers and analysts working in the UK.
  • Trying to fit Agile delivery into project management structures where the supporting processes were originally developed to support waterfall delivery of projects.
  • Gaining real buy in from senior management to support Agile delivery and provide the Agile teams with someone from the business that would be not only a dedicated resource to the project, but one with the authority to make the business decisions required by the development teams.

Of course, the conference providers ensured there were lots of chances to network in between sessions and this gave me the perfect opportunity to chat one-to-one with other business analysts and delve a bit deeper into their experiences.

The key learning point for me from the whole experience is that there are very little differences between our worlds. Yes, our products or services may differ but the challenges we face as business analysts remain the same. We all struggle to get recognition for the importance of the analyst’s role, we are all bought in too late to projects to have a real impact on the outcome, and we are all given too little resource to undertake the analysis effectively. The funding from the UCISA bursary to attend the conference informed my knowledge of the business analysis sector outside of the HE environment. I believe this knowledge is invaluable to business analyst working in HE as it enables us to mature and grow beyond the confines of our own sector.

Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

What kind of Business Analyst are you?

sarah-cockrill_head_jpg

 

 

Sarah Cockrill
Business Systems Analyst
Coventry University
Member of UCISA-PCMG

Day Two

The keynote speaker on day two of the Business Analysis Conference 2016 was Bjarte Bogsnes from Statoil  who gave an interesting talk titled Beyond budgeting – An Agile Management Model for the New Business and People Realities. The premise of his talk was how, if we remove the concept of budgets in the workplace and empower people with their own spending power, they would take greater ownership. Transparency was a key part of this process which encouraged people to make smarter spending decisions. While I found this an engaging talk and interesting idea I don’t feel many UK HE institutions are ready for this as yet.

Next up was Adrian Reed, President of the UK chapter of the International Instituteadrian-reed-_blog_1_image4 of Business Analysis  who gave a fun talk on what Business Analysts can learn from the world of magic. The talk even included a couple of successfully pulled off magic tricks from Adrian himself. Adrian questioned whether as Business Analysts we too often focus our efforts on reaching the end goal successfully and forget about the journey we take both ourselves and our stakeholders on to get there. He asked us to consider the whole performance and not just the “wow” of the trick at the end. If we involve our stakeholders in the journey every step of the way, then we will reach the end together, and even if the end isn’t quite as planned, the stakeholders will be comfortable with the process and come back to work with us time and time again. He reminded us of this by saying, “You can deliver the best system in the world but if you deliver it in a bad way then users will hate it forever.”

To iiba-bcs_blog_1_image5finish the morning off, I attended a talk from Allianz on the IT BA and Business BA.  The speakers discussed how, at Allianz, the IT and Business BAs successfully worked together to eliver solutions. During the lunch session Lucy Ireland from the British Computer Society and Stephen Ashworth from the IIBA gave a fireside chat on how the BCS and IIBA want to work together in the future. One of the main questions from the floor was how as Business Analysts we decide on which, out of the qualifications they both offer, we should do, and whether we see a time when they will bring the two together? The response was that they felt both offered and suited a different set of skills and experiences, that for the time being they would stay on separate paths, and that you, as a Business Analyst, would have to decide which route to take.

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Nigel Risner kicked off the afternoon session with a very lively presentation titled How to create massive impact and be an effective zookeeper.  Nigel’s presentation style was a cross between Michael McIntyre and Alan Sugar. It certainly revitalized the audience and woke us up for the last afternoon of the conference. Nigel gave two key pieces of advice:

1) If you are in the room be in the room. Give whoever you are speaking to your full attention as, for that moment in time, they are the most important person in your life.

2) You can spend all the time in the world analysing who you are and what type of person you are but in business it doesn’t really matter. What matters is walking into a room of stakeholders and quickly being able to recognise what type of person they are and how to communicate with them in a style that will suit them.

Nigel breaks people down into four categories;

  • The visionary, single-minded lion
  • The playful, extroverted monkey
  • The careful, analytical elephant
  • The caring, supportive dolphin

Next up was Ryan Folster from Britehouseryan-folster_blog_1_image7 who talked about being The indispensable BA This was another talk about how as Business Analysts we often reach for solutions without fully understanding the requirements, which just goes to show what an important topic it is for the community.

 

To finish off the conference I attended a talk by Simon Lynch from Aviva Health on Impact Mapping.  Simon’s talk was agile focused, explaining how before creating your epics and then breaking those down into stories, you should start with a session impact mapping. The impact maps should show why you want to do something, how it will impact a stakeholder and what you want to achieve. Simon explained that while this had taken them awhile to get the hang of, it has really helped them when creating the epics and user stories to consider all aspects of the impact.

And that was the end of my first ever IIBA Business Analysis conference. I have thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience of attending the conference from meeting other Business Analysts to hearing all the interesting and somewhat rather lively presentations. I can thoroughly recommend attending this conference to any fellow Business Analyst, and if you get the chance to apply for the UCISA Bursary, it is well worth the effort. I hope I will be able to attend in future years and may even pluck up the courage to speak and share a story of my own to a future audience.