The Agile SCRUM software development framework aims to improve IT project success. Since it’s inception around the world, it has gained much support from IT practitioners.
I’ve had experience in performing a business analysis role inside an Agile SCRUM project. Here are the three main aspects I like about the framework. They are not the only things I like but the ones I appreciate the most.
Enforced communication and feedback loops
The Agile framework requires daily stand up meetings where each member of the team discusses the main achievements of the day before, what work they will focus for that day and if there are any impediments to their work. This allows for everyone to know what the team is working on and what issues exist. I found this to be really important as oftentimes, a problem which is identified by one person could also impact the work of other team members.
I also find that sharing what everyone is working on is a subtle way to keep everyone honest. In the workplace, it’s not hard to establish whether everyone is pulling their own weight and in Scrum, this becomes more obvious.
The ability to identify problems early and re-adjust
Agile SCRUM divides the work of the entire project into bite sized chunks called Sprints. These sprint cycles generally range from two weeks to four weeks however, different lengths of time can also be used. If the design of the software solution has any flaws or if the client change their minds, then this can be managed with limited impact. Sometimes an entire sprint cycle of work will be wasted but this cost is much less than changing requirements under a traditional model.
The simplicity of requirements definition through User Stories
User stories are a simple and practical format with which to convey the context and rationale for functional requirements.
The general layout of a user story is something like: As a user, I want to … so that I can …
I find that this relates the requirement in an easy to understand format while giving a rationale as to why it’s important. Each user story also has accompanying acceptance criteria. The use of the acceptance criteria further helps the creation of test cases.
There are many other aspects of Scrum that also assist in improving project success which I haven’t mentioned in this post. From a business analysis standpoint, I believe Scrum has several advantages related to communication, change and conveying meaning among the delivery team.
My university degree didn’t automatically grant me a job. It didn’t give me a career nor did it earn me a promotion in my job once I graduated. To be completely honest, in my first professional job, people with less qualifications and experience got further in their careers than I did! I sometimes had to reflect on what advantages I achieved from attending university. So in the end was it worth it? What did I get out of finishing a university degree?
How to Think
Firstly, university taught me how to think. Thanks to my degree, I can now express my thoughts on many subjects. During this time, I had to research publications that align with my thoughts and present those findings in a coherent way. Even in my tutorial classes, I had to express ideas and defend them in an impromptu manner. It also helped me appreciate the views that were different to mine and understand how this actually enriches discussion on any topic.
Deal with Pressure
The degree I studied put me in situations of pressure and stress and I am grateful. This was of course more apparent during the assessment periods of each semester and heightened at exam time. Outside of university, I have also been through periods of pressure in various jobs and it makes it easier to withstand because I’ve been through this before.
Build a Network
The other benefit is that university allowed me to meet some great people. Three of my best friends that I have today I met while studying my undergraduate degree.
Strengthen Communication Skills
University strengthened my communication skills. The way I interacted with lecturers, tutors and class mates have helped me develop a productive communication style which serves me well today. Apart from day to day interactions, I learned how to improve my presentation skills. It’s thanks to the many group assignments that I learned how to collate a group effort and share the responsibilities of a joined presentation.
A university degree means something different to each person. The journey is quite unique and personal. All of which I’ve mentioned above can be accomplished without going through university. This happens to be the journey that I went through and what I came away with. I am grateful for my experience but a university degree isn’t everything. I found this out in the years after graduating. I wouldn’t change anything given a second chance though.
Life can be quite ironic at times. When it seems that people are not helping you or even working against you, it can be a blessing in disguise. When you are receiving help and support, it could even be to your detriment in the long term.
Let me give you some context. I was once told that I wouldn’t be able to achieve one of my career goals for some time. That I was years off achieving this goal. Instead of discourage me, this comment served as a challenge. As vain as it sounds, I wanted to prove this person wrong as a silent personal victory. At the time, I had a lot of friends and peers who were encouraging me yet their support did not motivate me as much as this person’s doubt.
This is why it is sometimes useful to use criticisms and judgement to help motivate you. A challenge – a task or situation that tests someone’s abilities – is healthy as it gives you an opportunity to prove yourself.
On the topic of proving oneself, I think that deeds are greater than words. I came across a quote that read “words betray, actions don’t”.
This is why my philosophy is to use criticism to make you better. I also think that praise or criticism should be welcome as external opinions can be more objective than our own perspective.
Working in the business analysis field requires certain skills and adherence to some methods or frameworks to organise the work. What isn’t apparent until you’ve worked on several projects are the challenges involved in the BA field. This article will describe just some of those challenges that BAs should be weary of when delivering BA services.
Education of stakeholders and superiors of planning work required
Whilst not realistic, some stakeholders sometimes think that because you are hired as a business analyst, that they can expect to see some BA artefacts as soon as one week after the commencement of your assignment. Whilst BA artefacts can be done inside one week, such as a communications plan, a stakeholder chart and a BA activities plan, we shouldn’t be ready to deliver parts of a business requirements specification this early. One way to manage expectations that may not be realistic is to inform your stakeholders of the process that you will follow. If you can show a high level view of how your analysis is done then this will help others readjust any unrealistic expectations that may have been made. Even a simple process of: elicitation; analysis; management; will help inform others of your method and expected time frames.
Creating productive workplace relations
To be an effective business analyst, you need to work well with other people regardless of their personality or profession. In the workplace, it is easy to start stereotyping other functional teams, however the BA doesn’t have the luxury of sitting back and making anthropological assessments. The business analyst must be willing to work productively with all groups that are involved. This doesn’t mean that you must befriend all your work colleagues. It’s important to establish relationships built on trust and respect. Eliciting information is a two way street. One can ask all the questions but the other party must be willing to cooperate and provide the information. Trust is an issue because in order to analyse a business, the stakeholders must trust you enough to give you accurate information.
Delivering bad news
No one wants to deliver bad news so it’s understandable that the first few times, you might hesitate to pass on the news immediately. If the issue is something that you can’t solve on your own then you should notify project stakeholders as early as possible. In fact, even if you have resolved the issue on your own, you should still notify the relevant stakeholders of the interruption. At the very least, you can show your superiors and peers that you can be depended on to proactively address issues.
Keeping everyone informed (as appropriate)
Similar to the point above about communicating bad news, it’s also crucial to keep all relevant stakeholders informed about any news or progress. As a business analyst, you are the central point of information. It’s very easy to forget that there will be stakeholder groups that will be kept in the dark unless you keep all teams informed. This also serves to uncover any risks that haven’t yet been identified. In my experience, there is often a vital piece of information that is held with one or more stakeholders that would not have come to light if it weren’t for the dissemination of information.
The issues mentioned here are not the only challenges that can be encountered in business analysis. Depending on the complexity of the work, there may be several other considerations to address and balance. Being mindful of these challenges will help to deliver good business analysis outputs.
So as we develop our careers, we tend to do two things, acquire vast experience, and make acquaintances. When we write our resumes, we put a lot of emphasis on the years spent on a project or in a role. We demonstrate the amount of experiences we’ve had but what about the relationships?
We don’t tend to disclose how many people we are friends with. How many industry peers we network with or how many mentors we’ve had along the way.
When I look back on all the jobs I’ve had, I cherish the people I met and worked with more so than the experiences they gave me. Sure, I value the maturity and confidence that experience has afforded me but I tend to value the relationships even more.
On LinkedIn, it’s possible to get a glimpse of how well connected and regarded someone is. This is the benefit of having social media enhance your CV rather than just publish it. Firstly you can observe how many contacts a person has. You could also note the number of recommendations the person has received. Lastly, whilst it has received a lot of criticisms for not being validated, the endorsements someone has received can also be an indication. I understand that endorsements are easy to achieve and most of them are “thank you” gestures for having endorsed someone else but quantity can still be still indicate confidence in someone. I have been endorsed for one skill by 45 other connections. Whilst other more connected people might be endorsed by hundreds, it’s worth noting that 45 people who know me, acknowledge the skill I declare to have.
Returning back to my original topic; human relations are unique. You could be working alongside the same people however, each team member will develop relationships differently to everyone else. Whilst I am grateful for all the jobs I’ve had in the past, the most rewarding aspect has been to know the many people I’ve met along the way.
I look forward to meeting so many more people whom I can build relationships with far more than the great experiences that await me.