Scale

Measuring the Analysis Process

I’ve previously written about measuring requirements and business analysts. I am concluding the series with my current thoughts on measuring the analysis process.

What_gets_measured_gets_done

This quote is a truism is because it’s how we work. Measurements help us identify areas we should focus on or improve. Measurements let us know when we succeeded, or not. I love the idea of measuring BAs and yet, I have spent years balking at the idea of measuring requirements and BAs. It doesn’t work very well in practice.* I had cause to rethink the how to measure BAs when one team I worked on took down the following action item, “Decide (if,) how and what BA velocity to track.”

dealwithit

Is Agile Just for Developers?

Are you a scrum master, coordinating with another team? You might be told, “Why isn’t that done? It should be ready by now.” 

Are you a business analyst, talking about a change that doesn’t impact today’s stories? You might be told, “Don’t mention it during the stand-up meeting.” 

Are you QA, trying to determine if this is a bug or not? You might be told, “Don’t you see the developers are busy? Why did you interrupt them while they were coding?”

And so on.

It’s an epidemic. Agile developers treat their non-dev teammates as part of their personal fiefdom, there to serve. Preferably quietly, so you don’t interrupt their thinking while they are developing. And woe unto those who are not present when called upon.

Developers are the gravitational center of the team. Everyone and everything revolves around them. For the last 5 years I’ve been saying, “Agile is methodology by developers, for developers.” I’ve been watching this behavior for years. It’s irritated me for years. But is it wrong? Should developers be the center of a team’s universe?

Picture of Andromeda Galaxy taken by Hubble Telescope

 

Where’s the value? 

First, we need to agree on a basic metric. The only time software is valuable is after it has been delivered to the users. Software sitting in on personal workstation doesn’t add value to a business or consumer. Software waiting for the next release cycle isn’t providing anyone any value. It might be “done,” but it’s not giving anyone any benefits until it’s used.

I’m a business analyst. It’s incredibly important to understand the business goals when you’re building software. A good scope document doesn’t add value. Detailed specifications don’t add value. Designs and tests and servers do not add value, either. Only working software—working in the hands of users—has a chance to deliver value.

 

Theory of Constraints (link)

If working software is the primary measure of how we add value (See Agile Manifesto Principles), then we need to organize the software development process to get more software out the door. How do we do that?

Eliyahu Goldratt, a physicist who became a management guru, noticed manufacturing lines were organized to maximize the use of all the machines. This was making accountants happy, but it caused problems with extra work, waste, and a growing warehouse full of partially completed products. Goldratt determined manufacturers can make more money by organizing their production lines for consistent throughput around the bottlenecks (constraints).

The same problems, and solution, affect software development. Agile provides a set of tools for software projects, optimizing for the bottleneck, developers. Keeping developers focused leads to a more productive team. Optimizing for developer throughput (for example, having BAs and QAs nearby to answer their questions) means working software is delivered sooner. Optimizing for developers means you increase the chance real value will be delivered. Because the real value of software comes only after it’s delivered, it makes sense to be organized around developers.

 

What about other bottlenecks? 

The truth is, processes have more than one bottleneck. After you optimize for the first bottleneck, you need to be ready to discover the next one. It takes diligent focus to watch the process and work on the next bottleneck. You cannot stop at the first one; bottlenecks are everywhere and you need to continue to watch and optimize.

Developers, because of their role, have a huge number of bottlenecks. They need the right level of requirements, properly configured workstations, the right tools, a good environment for checking in their code, time to understand the technology stack, available test systems and data bases, automated tests, and so on. If you are on a project long enough, you may find this list whittled down. I have never seen it eradicated, but I have seen it get pretty small.

 

What’s right?

Unfortunately, and I think this was part of my ongoing frustration, teams are not good at optimizing for other parts of the process. I’ve been parts of teams where the biggest bottleneck isn’t with supporting the developers, it’s with the testing or requirements supporting development. It’s not that teams cannot say, “I see you need help over there.” Rather, they seem to acknowledge the problem and then think it will go away.

Agile is right. Organizing your team for consistent throughput of working software provides the most value to customers. Supporting developers leads to better software, quicker. It’s the teams that are failing the process. When your team has a problem, discuss it. Work on it. Eliminate it.

Agile isn’t just for developers, but it will be if you don’t pay attention.

 

Do you agree, is this the right way to develop software?
Do you think it’s a problem? Why? Please leave your comment below.

TW-in-circle

Why I Work @ ThoughtWorks – my version

Aaron Erickson is a co-worker I’ve not yet met. As the New Year turned over he wrote a great post, Why I Work At ThoughtWorks (and why you should too…). I do not disagree with anything Aaron wrote, but I want to add some amplification based on some very personal opinions.

Pretty much every company says they care about their employees. I’ve worked in companies that said they cared about me. One of my first jobs was in fast food; they proved they cared by giving me a discount on food & a 2% annual bonus. My next job in fast food gave me even less.

All too often (in almost every case), companies put the employee high on the list of priorities, but not high on the list of investments. I worked for a company that made a profit each and every quarter, but it wasn’t enough. In order to improve company profits, the training budget was cut to ZERO for 3 years in a row!

ThoughtWorks isn’t like that. Here’s how I know.

1. They let me take care of my family. My daughter recently caught E. coli O157:H3. The doctor told me this in the same breath she said, “Your daughter’s kidneys are failing and we cannot help you. We have already called the transport unit to take you to another hospital.” It the kind of thing you watch about on the evening news. It’s fast, it’s serious, it’s every parent’s nightmare. When your family member gets this, and it usually strikes children or the very elderly, it takes weeks to recover.

As a father, there isn’t a choice. You take care of your family. Nothing else is an option. So I sent an email to a few folks, “My daughter’s sick. I’m taking all my vacation and sick time for the year. Effective immediately.” I didn’t put it in nice terms. I was too wrapped up in our family to care about nice.

And the response I got back was, “Do you need anything else?”

ThoughtWorks didn’t say, “What about the stories your team needs?” “Where is the presentation you were going to give to extend our client business?” Or even, “What about the huge project you’ve been working on for 13 months?”

Nope, they offered to bring dinner for my wife and me. They sent a nice gift, immediately. But other than gently asking how my daughter was doing, they let me have my time and space. (post script: My daughter is doing much better now.)

1 (continued). The insurance rocks. I don’t know how much treating a child for four weeks in a children’s hospital costs, but the price has got to be huge. More than I make in many years, even though I’d gladly pay it if I had to. I’d pay anything for my daughter’s life.

When the administrative staff asked for our credit card, the amount was closer to $100 dollars than it was to $500. Read that again. Our bill was far less than $500 because ThoughtWorks offers great insurance. And in a time of crisis, I needed it. You have no idea how grateful my family feels about their foresight.

2. Employees can (and do) lead initiatives. I want to grow the Business Analyst skills at ThoughtWorks. We hire the very brightest candidates, but business analysis has never received the same focus our world-class developers have experienced. I want to change that. So, I talked to some folks and we started working on somethings last year, but clients and projects and life got in the way; it petered out. But this year I’ve picked up the ball and I’m running with it. I didn’t ask anyone for permission. I didn’t beg for time. I just said, “I’m starting this thing over here. I’m doing this action. I’m planning this other event. Let’s make this happen.”

You know what? It’s happening. We’re starting to meet more often as a community. I’m really excited about the upcoming annual meeting where I’m pushing a track of BA topics. I’ve got experts who are planning to fly across the globe to share with us. All because I said, “Let’s make this happen.”

And the official response from ThoughtWorks? “Good job, Jeffrey. Do you need anything else?”

This is not the only example I have where employees take a bit of time and effort and it ends up shifting the company. Don’t you want to work in a place where you can make a difference?

3. We might just change how people work. Seriously, we are starting an initiative I think is revolutionary. It’s got a silly name, but the Continuous Development & Performance has got some real meat behind it. I love this thing so much, I wrote an internal response to it.

Some firms, a few of them, claim to let employees develop a personal career path, but mostly they just abandon their workers to chance. A small number of corporations do a good job of developing their employees, but typically only for a very select minority tapped to be future leaders. Most companies don’t do a damn thing to really help their employees.

This plan—combining encouragement to own your own career AND giving you the tools and opportunity to act AND supporting this with the review process—is unheard of. I don’t know any models for us to follow and it doesn’t sound like anyone else does either.

Wow, what a bold and audacious undertaking!

And with our boldness, stepping into what no one else is doing, I want to offer my own encouragement. If you are an employee reading this and thinking, “What does this mean for my next review?,” then I want you to ask two more questions. Ask yourself, “What have I done to grow professionally?” and “What have I done to help my peers reach their goals?”

For this new plan to take hold and take root, we have to invest our time and effort in more than just a process change. We need to invest in changing ourselves, our people, and our culture. Changes like this take time, small changes can take 1-1/2 years, this could take us 3 years or more. But can you imagine how cool it will be when we achieve this? When all of us are equipped to own our own career development? When every ThoughtWorker is working to grow and help each other grow?

This is big. This can change someone’s life. This is something everyone needs. Not every ThoughtWorker. Everyone. My sister, your cousin, and the kids down the block, figuring out whether to ditch class or not. Everyone can get something from this. This is change that can make a difference not only at ThoughtWorks, but in the world of work.

If we make it work . . . If you figure out how to grow yourself and help others do the same . . . If you embrace this change . . . We can change the world, again.

Jeez, I love this job.

If you want to read the reasons why a technical person should check out ThoughtWorks, then read Aaron’s post. And if you care about equality, using technology to help social problems, and positively impacting society and community for future generations, then check out ThoughtWorks’ website.

Join ThoughtWorks

And if you’re someone who wants to work for a transnational employer that knows how to care for you, then checkout join.thoughtworks.com. It’s not easy to get hired here and the job isn’t for everyone, but I struggle to think of a company that’s better.

Jeez, I love this job. 

Managing_BA-3

IIBA Chapters Should Care About BA Managers

The primary mission for most IIBA chapters is serving the local members. We serve our members with chapter meetings, training on tools and techniques, and networking events. Many chapters offer help preparing for CBAP certification, online discussion forums (Nice example here [IIBA Dallas]), information about local BA jobs, and more.

But what are we offering Business Analysis Managers? In the first post of this series, I talked about how BA Managers are underserved and need a network of peers. It’s not surprising; the BA discipline is rather new and only becoming organized in the last decade. Historically, the folks who supervise BAs have a background in development, project management, or were part of the business operations. When your profession is new, you can reasonably expect the management around the profession to be similarly inexperienced with subtleties of the work.

I mentioned the networking luncheon for them, but this is the first event for BA Managers I’ve ever heard of. We have not even held the event yet and already people have asked if this is being held or repeated in other cities. So far, the answer is no, but I certainly hope others will pick up this torch and carry it on. The need is too great to limit this to just one city.

Also, Managing Business Analysts was just published by the IIBA, another good step to give some support to this audience. Lastly, many chapters also offer an annual moderated panel discussion where BA Managers and IT executives answer questions from BAs, but this is pretty directly related to BA needs, not their leaders.

In the second post, I listed many reasons why BA Managers should care about local IIBA Chapters. The list isn’t complete and focused on BA Manager goals, but this isn’t bad. It’s just recognition we all act, on most levels [link to Maslow’s Hierarchy here], in a self-serving manner. Let’s acknowledge this point and move on.

In this final post, it is time to talk about why local IIBA chapters should be working overtime to get BA Managers involved. It’s in their best interest!

Relationships Increase Attendance

One of the biggest reasons people stay, or leave, their job is due to relationships with coworkers [http://www.apa.org/monitor/apr07/social.aspx]. Relationships are key to a happy working environment. The same is true for organizations. Relationships are key to a happy and growing a IIBA Chapter.

You should accept as a given co-workers and bosses will influence how many and how often BAs will attend your meetings. If you own a restaurant and upset your customers, they won’t come back. When you build a good relationship with customers, they are more likely to return. Building a positive relationship with supervisors forms the basis for a strong relationship with their staff.

Building Your Membership

Let’s talk about the most obvious and overarching reason you, the local IIBA chapter, should focus on satisfying BA Managers; their employees are Business Analysts! Talk with BA Managers in your area and let them know how you are working to improve the discipline of business analysis.

Good managers should understand you are helping them when you help the profession. Employers want to work with you when are helping their staff. Employers are often willing share the areas you can help their staff grow in preparation for upcoming challenges. Maybe the managers know about upcoming projects, projects needing more facilitation skills, or presentation ability, or how to document for that new Scrum style they are about to adopt. Building the skills of individual BAs helps not only the individual, but their employer.

When you are partnering to improve the skills of BAs, you are helping local employers. What company or manager turns down a partnership that improves their staff?! When bosses and employers understand your goals include building relevant skills; BA Managers will encourage their staff to attend your meetings.

Finding Good/Great Members

In general, there are two kinds of folks who will attend IIBA meetings because their managers attend or suggest the staff attend. The first kind is a “suck up.” (I was going to type something a bit meaner, but you get the drift.) These people will attend and, at best, fake involvement to win some brownie points. So what? Give them a reason to get involved and maybe you can win them over! If not, it doesn’t hurt you to have them attend your functions, does it?

The second type is the Business Analyst who wants to get better. These are the mother load! This is the stuff you really want to find. BAs who care about their job? Coming to your chapter meetings and functions? Learning more about their professions? PLEASE, SEND ME MORE!

The truth still is, many BAs are unaware of IIBA and how the chapters can help them grow professionally. Building relationships with BA Managers in your community will give you a pipeline to BAs who want and need what chapters have to offer! You may never find these folks without an insider in their organization. Why wait for an IIBA member to be hired into Acme Rocket Co? Just go talk to the relevant manager and show them what you can do for their employees. Let them do the recruiting for you.

 

Other articles in this series on BA Managers: 
Part I—The Hidden Problem of BA Managers
Part II—BA Managers Should Care About IIBA Chapters

A special thanks to Neil Bazley, IIBA Vice President of Chapters (@neilbazley) for his early review and advice on this series.

 

[editorial update] After posting this article, I realized I missed a key reason why IIBA Chapters want local Business Analysis Managers to attend. If you are the first person to list the reason I thought of in the comments below, I will send you a copy of Managing Business Analysts. Contest ends Feb 16. Good luck!

Managing_BA-2

BA Managers Should Care About IIBA Chapters

I have met BA Managers who attend IIBA meetings, but it’s never been very many or very consistent. Most of them were active BAs and really enjoyed the profession. A few come announcing a job opening and often leave following their pitch.

This is a serious mistake, one of the biggest mistakes you can make as a BA Manager.1

I’ve already written about how BAs are growing professionally because they are setting their own expectations (see Part 1). Implicit in this is the need for BA Managers to learn more about the role, and then take this understanding to set a high performance bar. Setting high expectations is key to your team’s success and an important reason why you should become involved in your local chapter. But it goes far beyond this.

I typically learn something at every chapter meeting. Sometimes it’s from the presenter, a new tool to try out or a variation on a technique to increase its effectiveness. Sometimes it is from someone who has gone through a similar situation, or can give an outsider’s opinion on my problem. Whatever it is, I often learn something new and bring it back to the team, encouraging them through today’s challenge; something to make our lives back in the office just a bit easier. It also shows my team that I am always trying to grow, setting an example of how I want them to pursue self-improvement.

Beyond setting the right expectations and example, I recommend involvement as an investment; an investment in building, finding, and selecting your future staff. Here are some of my key reasons and rationale for being involved.

Participating improves the community. Whether I am presenting to the chapter, or asking a serious question about how to apply the speaker’s tool in the workplace, participating helps improve the skills of local BAs. Because I will one day have to hire from the pool of local BAs, helping to improve their skills today is helping myself tomorrow.

Attending meetings says, “I get it.” BAs are still a bit skittish. Many have struggled to receive recognition of what they do and why, so a little encouragement typically goes a long way. This is one of the few times where just showing up can make a difference, because merely by attending you are showing the community you care about it, you want it to succeed. Being personable at the local chapter meetings is a quick way to become the favorite BA Manager in town.

Knowing BAs gives me early insight. One of the biggest challenges for BA Managers is hiring the right personnel. Being an active participant in the local chapter gives you a network of connected BAs who will take your phone call and give you honest feedback on their current and former peers. Understanding a candidates strengths and weaknesses before you make a job offer is a huge advantage.

Preferred bosses get more candidates. Finding the perfect job, or candidate, is often about being part of the right network. I love job boards, and good recruiting firms are worth their fees and more, but neither one gives you the right network. If you are going to hire a BA, doesn’t it make sense to know them? When I am hiring I want to get more to find qualified candidates right away, something I do not get by depending on others to post my open position.

You may be able to pay competitive wages, but do you pay the most in your area? You might like what your company sells or stands for, but how does it compete with the cool start-up across town? These areas are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to things you cannot control about your company and the offer you can make. One thing you can do, a deciding factor for many job seekers, is offer an environment where you are known as a good boss. Attending your local IIBA meeting is a small thing, but it’s something a bad boss wouldn’t do.

Why don’t you set yourself apart and attend a local chapter meeting? I’m guessing they’ve got an upcoming meeting and would love to see you.

Post script: Ramit Sethi has a good article on building Natural Networks. His audience is different, but his argument is strong and reinforces my points.

Top performers build their network BEFORE they need it. That’s how they can get laid off on a Monday and have a better job lined up by Friday. Read that sentence again, please — it means that top performers are comfortable meeting people and cultivating relationships with no specific purpose. In fact, it’s almost always to help the other person!

The same is true when you occupy the hiring side of the desk, top performers build their network before they need it.

 

1: I don’t care if your title is Business Analysis Manager, Development Supervisor, Director of Business Analysis, or Janitor. If you have a staff of people, dedicated to understanding the business needs & defining software / system requirements, and your role involves, hiring, reviewing, and growing them to meet the needs of the business, then you’re a BA Manager.

 

Other articles in this series on BA Managers: 
Part I—The Hidden Problem of BA Managers
Part III—IIBA Chapters Should Care About Business Analysis Managers

A special thanks to Neil Bazley, IIBA Vice President of Chapters (@neilbazley) for his early review and advice on this series.

Managing_BA-1

The Hidden Problem of BA Managers

As a profession, business analysis has come a huge distance in the last decade. Most Business Analysts now understand how to elicit good requirements, want a defined project scope, can write a good requirement, understand and use either User Stories or Use Cases, know how to negotiate agreement between business and technical partners, and so on. What the profession takes for granted today was hard to find 10 years ago.

During this time it was easy to find me arguing about how poor the business analysis profession was practiced. Far too many BAs did not have the right background, competencies, techniques, tools, or training. We were floundering as a discipline because we did not know what we were doing. Tony Chen heard me one day and said it was all about poor expectations [from supervisors and management]. I’ve thought about this over the last few years and I think he hit the nail on the head.

The International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) is a central reason why the profession has improved so very much. They have provided a number of great things for Business Analysts. We now have a Business Analysis Book of Knowledge (BABoK) and a competency model, a great repository defining the scope of our role and tool for understanding the strengths & weaknesses of a practitioner, respectively. They provide webinars, a monthly newsletter, certify training firms, promote conferences, and even offer certification. The most valuable offering that we, as a professional organization, might have, however, is the opportunity to meet and exchange ideas in person through our local chapters.

It is this networking between BAs making the biggest impact. Even though I can read the details about some technique or tool in a book, being able to ask a peer how it works for them makes all the difference in the world. I still learn from articles and white papers, but discussing this with other BA accelerates my learning far more than reading a second article ever could. It is the connection we have between our peers that has led to the professional revolution.

This combination—a central body providing guidance and the network between people in the BA role—is the primary reason we have improved. We have given ourselves a better definition of who we are and we have been improving to meet our definition. We have set our own expectations and we are growing because of it.

But we are still missing something. While a small few managers do have great expectations, most do not have a strong enough understanding of the discipline and the benefits to have well-defined expectations. One of the most common conversations I have with BAs is about explaining our role to those who would manage us.

Part of my standard rant mentioned BAs being managed by supervisors who did not understand the function or how to supervise it1, which just underscores Tony’s point. The poor expectations started with leadership.

As much as we have improved our profession in the last 10 years, especially the last 5, we still have a long way to go and I think one of our biggest hurdles is helping BA Managers2 understand their function.

Many BAs have been busy learning about their profession and sometimes arguing for more resources to continue their self-improvement. A few have done a good job explaining their role and what the expectations should be for BAs. Not everyone feels so equipped. Not every boss wants to listen to employees explain what the role is and isn’t. Not every boss has the time to figure this out; they already have a full plate.

The IIBA has recently recognized the need to help BA Managers in their new compilation, Managing Business Analysts. Published last fall, it is the first resource I know of to help our supervisors.

A few years ago, Allan Dunn asked me if he could buy me lunch and introduce me to another BA Manager. I had spent much more time in my role than she and he thought we might benefit from a conversation. Our lunch was one of the best meetings I had that year. I grew from both learning about her experience and sharing my own.

I soon realized this was a missing part of what every BA Manager needed; a network of peers. All of which leads me to say I am very happy to announce we are building a network of BA Managers here in Dallas, TX.

As the new president of the IIBA Dallas Chapter, one of the very first things I have done is organize a networking event solely for BA Managers. Our chapter’s premier sponsor, MDI was happy to to sponsor a very nice luncheon, paying for 15 managers to come together and network with each other.

As part of this networking luncheon, we are restricting all vendors and anyone who does not manage BA from attending. This is an event for peers to come together and help each other. It’s not about BAs directly, though we’ll benefit. It’s about giving BA Managers a chance to accelerate their personal learning, from someone who is living with the same sorts of issues.

A nice bonus for the inaugural event attendees is our special guest, Kevin Brennan (@BAKevin). Kevin is Chief Business Analyst & EVP for IIBA and a contributing author to Managing Business Analysts.  He’s agreed to speak for a few minutes, take questions from participants, and offered to give everyone their own copy of Managing Business Analysts.

If you manage BAs in Dallas, then please drop me a line. I cannot promise a seat at our first event, but I can certainly place you on the invite list for our next one.

 

1: I don’t care if you have performed the BA role. I believe the best managers are found in those who care about their team, not in those who once did a specific job.

2: I also don’t care if your title is Business Analysis Manager, Development Supervisor, Director of Business Analysis, or Janitor. If you have a staff of people, dedicated to understanding the business & defining software / system requirements, and your role involves, hiring, reviewing, and growing them to meet the needs of the business, then you’re a BA Manager.

 

Other parts in this series on BA Managers: 
Part II—Business Analysis Managers Should Care About IIBA Chapters
Part III—IIBA Chapters Should Care About Business Analysis Managers

A special thanks to Neil Bazley, IIBA Vice President of Chapters (@neilbazley) for his early review and advice on this series.

our_community

Community Building

I work hard at participating, being a good Community Member, but I am not a natural Community Builder. There are folks out there who reach out and organize better, who remember names with greater facility, who build stronger connections than me. For all my shortcomings, I have found myself in a position where I can make a difference in most of my professional communities. In pretty much every case where I am involved with a community, I want it to be stronger. But how?

After thinking for a bit, here are some useful tips I will be applying over the coming year:

  1. Define your community / membership. This is the step where you say, “This is who we are.” I think you should get detailed with this one. An example: When talking about your community at work, I recommend building Lominger competency model. This is advanced thinking about who and what you want your community to be. Also, make the effort to define what you are not.
  2. Paint and share a vision. The future is exciting and carries huge possibilities, it always has, but someone has to build the image of what we can and will be. This step is all about describing that dream and getting others to understand and buy into the future. This is not the place to develop an average vision, but the place to develop a grand vision. I firmly believe we are more excited, more connected, more alive when we are working to new visions, not maintaining the status quo or sitting on the sofa. (Transformational Leadership)
  3. Provide value. It’s all about “What’s in it for me?” If you are not providing a service people value, they will tune out. The first step is to understand what your community needs, the second is to provide it. A good next step is to communicate this, but if you doing very well, members will do this for the community without being asked. (See the Member Benefits Matrix)
  4. Strengthen the ties between members. Build relationships, not numbers. As you build relationships between members, you will find they are the backbone that keeps the community going forward when everything else is going wrong. (Bowling Alone)
  5. Expect great things. If you have build a grand vision, one requiring the organization to stretch and grow, one needing buy-in and participation from the entire community, then you must also expect your individual members to act on the all the steps required to reach the vision. This means you are enabling and empowering them to act. You are trusting them to carry the vision forward. And you must communicate this so everyone is clear on how they help build the future. (Quotations)
  6. Shower them with fanfare and praise. It’s hard work to build something great and you will not reach your community’s grand vision without significant effort. As you move towards reaching the goals and fulfilling the vision, you will find people contributing and giving in ways large and small. Don’t forget to acknowledge and reward the actions that make everyday, every project, every task a success. The people are heroes and you must lift them up and treat them as deserve, with fanfare and praise. And please be genuine. (Say Thank You)

In addition to the above links, I recommend checking out the following resources: