“If you want to be a good BA, be comfortable talking to people a lot and take the time to genuinely understand what they want.”
Last week I had the opportunity to speak with Adam Feldman, founder of Bright Green Projects. Adam has over 10 years of BA consulting and freelance contracting experience. He has led teams, forged paths toward structured requirements processes, and recently embarked on a new career as an entrepreneur, building an agile project management and requirements capturing tool.
Adam was gracious enough to share some of what he’s learned about succeeding as a business analyst professional.
BA learning opportunities
Laura: What learning opportunities have you found most valuable in your career?
Adam: I started my career as a Deloitte consultant and we went through a 2-3 month training program. This was a great way to learn how to be a consultant. It also gave me a structured process to work within and apply. But I really learned on the job. I learned a lot by working with more experienced people and by trial and error. As I advanced my career and took on BA team lead responsibilities, I found myself learning even more. As you have people working for you and you explain what needs to be done and why, you become more aware of what makes you successful.
Laura: You mentioned that you learned day-to-day at Deloitte but also that their consulting program had a very structured process. Can you elaborate on how these two aspects of your work inter-related?
In any structured project, the methodology hangs at the top level of the project structure. But your success on the project is established in the low-level relationships. It’s about how do you best get what you need out of your stakeholders so you can build the best possible product. Trial and error happened on a day-to-day basis because that’s where I was establishing relationships with other people. As I would speak to stakeholders, I’d think, maybe there is a better way. Over time I developed new ways of working with people that helped me become a better business analyst.
Laura: What is your best career habit?
Adam: Talking to people and genuinely being interested in people’s jobs. I try to not just focus on requirements, but “what is the purpose of their job and what do they enjoy about it.” Especially when you are a new business analyst you can be quite focused on the immediate project. It’s important to gain a broader perspective and understand what motivates people.
Agile business analysis
Laura: Many BAs are facing a transition to more agile development processes. What makes business analysis different in an agile environment?
Adam: Traditionally the BA has been focused on finishing a functional specification and obtaining sign-off. This creates a lot of stress around the change request process and leads to finger-pointing when a change is discovered. The project team blames the business for not being complete or the business analyst for not asking the right questions. In agile environments, rather than focusing on sign-off you can iterate through the chunks of functionality.
Laura: How do you see business analysts leveraging requirements tools on an agile team?
Adam: It really depends on the person and the team. When we are talking about a new piece of functionality we will white board and use other unstructured forms of communication. Once you’ve got a list of high level requirements together, then it can makes sense to capture these in the tool. A tool like Bright Green Projects will enable you to capture the requirements at a high-level and then build out a hierarchical set of requirements as you elaborate specific features. Especially if there are multiple stakeholders, early documentation helps solidify the requirements and supports ongoing communication.
Starting a new business analyst position
Laura: How do you approach new positions where you need to learn about a new business, new project, and new people all at once?
Adam: As a consultant and freelance contractor, I’ve done a lot of this. I really enjoy working with new businesses because you can learn a lot. But this can also be a stressful process, especially at the start of a new engagement or early in your career.
In the first few weeks you have the right to ask as many questions as you can. Be sure you are meeting with stakeholders and trying to understand the business. Understand what drives the business and how your stakeholders help drive the business. Don’t focus just on your particular project. Once you understand the business then ask questions around what’s driving the project.
Editor’s Note: Bright Green Projects has recently launched a “freemium” version of their Agile Project Management Tool allowing one person access to one project. Consider checking it out.