While core business analysis techniques work irrespective of the industry or organization you’re working in and working in a new area can be an effective way of broadening your experience, exposure, and expertise, moving between domains can seem daunting—particularly if you’ve been working in a specific industry for a while. Even moving within the same domain can be disorientating. Knowledge and terminology you’ve taken for granted for years may suddenly be less relevant, and there may be a new lexicon of jargon, acronyms and abbreviations.
1. You don’t need to be an SME
There’s a really important distinction between the Subject Matter Expert (SME) and the Business Analyst (BA) role. Whilst a BA needs to have an awareness and a broad knowledge of the domain they are working in, at the outset they don’t need to know the detail. Good quality requirements elicitation techniques will help you to get to the detail.
Remember: As a BA, the aim is to know “just enough”, it’s not (normally) necessary to know everything about the systems and processes.
2. Utilize your professional network
If you’re walking into an unknown company or a new domain, it’s important to get up to speed quickly. You can often get a head start by utilizing your network. For example:
- Has anyone you know worked with or for the organisation you’re joining?
- Do you have any contacts in the same or similar industry?
If the answer is yes, then it’s well worth getting in touch with them. A quick chat over coffee or lunch can often help you gain a broad context and help you to avoid some of the hidden landmines. If you are in contact with someone who has worked with similar stakeholders all the better, they can give you some stakeholder management tips too.
3. Background research
It goes without saying that it’s worth doing background research before you start work in the new domain. I find the following sources really useful:
- Check out the company’s website and annual company reports. What is their strategy?
- Check out competing companies’ websites and annual company reports. How does this organization differ?
- Look in the news (e.g. news.google.com). What are the issues faced within this domain?
- Search for white-papers, research articles and information in trade-papers. What “jargon” is used? (Though make sure you understand the jargon before you use it!)
- What online industry forums are available?
- What industry bodies/professional bodies are available?
- What do customers and commentators in this domain say? Are they generally happy, and if not, what issues do they report? (Twitter can be useful for this, if there’s a relevant hashtag, or if there are industry ‘thought leaders’ you can follow.)
These sources are a starting point, but provide you with a rich source of information on which to build.
4. Keep a glossary
It might sound old fashioned, but whenever I start work with a new client, in a new organization or in a new domain, I keep a glossary. One thing I find particularly useful is to also include synonyms. This is particularly relevant working with multiple stakeholder groups who might use different terminology to mean the same thing.
5. BAs create permission to ask “stupid” questions
A final thought:
As BAs, we’re often able to ask probing questions to uncover unstated assumptions. When new to an organization or domain, particularly if you’re new into the BA role, it can be tempting to suppress questions for fear of the questions being considered “stupid” or “basic”.
However—as a BAs we create the permission to ask “stupid” questions. And it’s the “stupid” questions that often leave stakeholders silent… and when they are silent it’s normally because they are considering something for the first time (something that hadn’t been considered previously!)
I hope you find the tips above useful, and I’d love to hear your views and experiences. How do you get up to speed when moving between organizations and/or domains? Please go ahead and leave a comment below.
Editor’s Note: Interested in exploring how to use essential elicitation techniques to quickly get up to speed in a new domain? Check out Essential Elicitation Skills, a virtual, instructor-led course that provides templates, work samples, instruction, and individual feedback on your elicitation plans.