A software business analyst (BA) has one simple mission: Maximize software value to the customer.
This breaks down into smaller goals, of course, like conducting interviews, writing clear requirements, communication, facilitation, etc. The BA heartbeat, however, needs to be crystal clear so that we don’t get lost in all the project noise: Represent the customer.
Developers want to write great software, testers want to deliver quality products, and project managers want to hit deadlines and budgets. Others surrounding the project have their own missions and motivations, but they are all different from the BA. Sure, you can argue that the entire team should be focused on the same goal, but that’s corporate speak that doesn’t reflect the nuances of how team roles differ.
Every day the BA shoulders the responsibility of translating customer pain and desire into prioritized actionable requests that a software team can efficiently understand, design and deliver.
We patiently endure hours of meetings, ubiquitous customer desires to design things and the tedious writing of feature definitions. We counsel and cajole and pry into the mysteries of our customer’s business until we can nearly run it for them, so familiar are we with the functional operations.
We forge a bond with our customer that both we and they depend on. Through the laughter, the frustration and the smell of dry erase markers we carefully stitch together a relationship that becomes a conduit connecting need with capacity.
When someone on our team suggests that the customer does not need something that we have painstakingly defined, we suffer the setback emotionally, buffering the customer from this techno-rejection and we fight for them, wielding the best business case we can make so that they can prevail in absentia.
We bring perspective and balance to the tug-of-war that is software development. We strive for the ideal solution while staying rooted in the reality of our constraints.
We track every change flowing from the customer’s dynamic world into the tower of the software genius, minimizing the impact of change where possible and accelerating understanding through diagrams, narrative, emails, knowledgebase updates and *gasp* meetings.
In the end, when the bug lists are clean and the stress of the rollout is a distant memory, we take satisfaction in having delivered on the trust our customer and our development team placed in us — a charge to deliver the most valuable software we could, given limited time and money.
If you recognized your own heartbeat in the description above and you are not working as a business analyst, maybe you are carrying the wrong title.
You’re a smart person. You made good grades. You get all the jokes and you generally understand what’s going on. Good for you.
Now you’re a manager. If you avoided the temptation to hire people dumber than you, your staff is at least as smart as you are. Now what?
People want to feel valued. They want to help others and to solve problems. Warning: Don’t solve the problems for them. You’ll ruin their job. If you solve all the problems and then tell people how to implement the solution, your staff will rightly conclude that you don’t need problem-solvers; you need minions. They will go work for someone who needs a problem-solver, leaving you with an open seat to hire a drone.
Showing confidence in your people requires that you leave some problems unsolved. Put the need on the table in its raw form and let your smart people suggest alternatives; then give guidance. Don’t reject all the solutions and solve the problem yourself. That’s worse than giving them the answer in the first place because now you’ve not only reminded them of your employee-as-drone expectation, but you’ve wasted their time as well.
Letting go of being the chief problem solver requires humility. If you feel insecure outside of being the alpha dog engineer, you’ll struggle as a manager. Hopefully, you are finding new satisfaction in learning management skills like envisioning, planning, mentoring, encouragement, team building and other skills required by a growing organization. As you empower your people to be valued problem solvers, the organization can grow and pick up speed.
I have been a long time fan of Gmail. When I got the chance to use Google Apps mail for my company and keep the great features of Gmail, I made the leap.
For the most part, everything works as expected. It’s fast, available almost every time I need it, and it the user experience is smooth. Until it’s not.
Today, for example, I wanted to update my Services for the domain. I logged in, turned on a service and turned off another… then hit the Save buttton. Here’s the highly informative message I got:
Naturally, since these apps are always available, I translated “later” as “5 seconds later” and tried it again. Same result. Generously expanding my notion of later to five minutes, I tried again. You know the answer already.
So the question is, when will I be able to do perform a function that I cannot do now? In two minutes? An hour from now? Tomorrow?
The issue is not that services go down. No one believes that computers never have problems. The issue is one of setting expectations properly so that people who are using your service don’t waste their time. If you tell me, for example, that “The server is too busy. Please wait 30 minutes and try again.“, I might not be happy, but I know what to do next: Pop into the break room and refresh my coffee, chat with the new employee for a few minutes, and come back (or, perhaps, do some real work). What I know NOT to do is keep trying the same function in my linear-progress-zealot fashion, hoping that I can check it off my list in the next 10 minutes.
Well, that was a lot of words for me. I hope the blog server is working when I hit the Save button on this!
When the project is over, it is the people I worked with that get remembered, not the project.
I don’t remember who won the methodology argument (if it was won at all), but I do remember the tone of the discussion and how team members treated each other.
I don’t remember who said what in various meetings, but I remember who was wise, kind, helpful.
I remember the Julia Roberts laugh of one and the thoughtful gifts of another.
I remember the creative puns of the architect and the good-natured banter of the QAs.
I remember the cheerful morning hello and the warm smile that lights up a room.
Projects are never about technology. They are always about how a group of people can use every tool at their disposal to help others be successful. Projects come and go. The people are what matters. Always the people.
The answer to “who” is: Michael Wilkes. This pie chart is the answer to “what.” How the core skills, developed over 28 years, break down to create a unique software project asset.
- Business Analyst – Passion to get it right, prevent rework
- Developer – Decades as a coder, problem solver
- Designer – Practical UI design based on real-world experience
- Project Manager – Focused on delivering, time-to-market
As a former chapter president of the Independent Computer Consultants Association (ICCA), I contributed time, organization, and consensus building to our merry little band of technical do-gooders.
The ICCA, however, is where I first learned how to be specific in my verbal marketing (a.k.a. Info-Minute, elevator speech). At our chapter meetings, person after person would stand up during intro time and say something like, “My name is Bob the geek and I’ve been doing computers for about 5 years. I can handle about anything that people need with computers.” Snore-fest.
Then one day, a fellow named Mark stood up and pulled a credit card out of his pocket and said, “I program smart cards,” and sat down. I will never forget Mark or the lesson learned: In a room that seemed full of competitors who all did the same thing (when expressed generically), Mark stood out by having a specific niche and, by doing so, created a room full of referral partners.
Like Zig Ziglar says… it’s much better to be a Meaningful Specific than a Wandering Generality.
Our Best of 2010 post included DimDim, our favorite free online screen sharing software at the time. Within days, SalesForce.com announced the purchase of DimDim. Suddenly our free account had a notice that soon it would no longer be free. Welcome to life on the internet!
So… a fresh round of research later, we have a new list for you. Each of these products has a free version and requires no installation of software. In other words, you can jump right in and create an account — then use it to share your screen within minutes.
Free online live meetings. Share documents, make your pitch or collaborate with partners. Dimdim’s simple user interface lets you focus on holding great meetings.
Google Docs (http://docs.google.com)
Documents, Spreadsheets, Presentations, Drawings and more. All online. All free. What’s better than free?
Like the name says — this site is chock full of things that are actually useful. Unlike some sites that only try to wow you with what is cool and hip, this site focuses on sites, services, software and more that you can use to save time, save money, and just plain execute better or faster. I have many sites bookmarked in my Google reader, but I return to this site again and again for practical stuff that I can use and/or pass along to others.
Sure, they sell books. But did you know they sell tons of other things in twenty-eight categories from Automotive to Watches? I bought nearly all of my Christmas gifts online this year. Can you imagine all the time (and dents) I saved by NOT getting near a mall? If you value your time as much as I do, you’ll keep a running wishlist on Amazon and order from them whenever you can get the free shipping. It’s a breeze.
Sometimes words are just not enough, especially for your friends and prospects that are visually oriented. When you can’t get your point across verbally, toss them a custom link from this site and draw a diagram together — right now — without even signing up! Brilliant.
Need an article written? Site promoted? Video testimonial created? Poem written? Get it done here — where everything is $5.00. Are there strange people here? Yes. But also the gifted and creative. Sometimes their boredom is your opportunity. Troll for some good deals but buyer beware.
Is your website clear on its purpose? Take a moment to review our massive list of goals that your website can have. If your site is not producing material results for your business, perhaps 2011 is the year to refine its focus and breathe new life into your online presence.