4 Strategies to Manage Information Overload as a New Business Analyst

Business analysts will often find themselves in “information overload” mode. On a new project, with new stakeholders, in a new business domain, it’s not uncommon to be on the receiving end of new terminology, new tasks, and new information about everything from business processes to how a specific system works.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed. And it’s easy to allow the overwhelm to keep you from contributing value to your organization.

To be effective, it’s absolutely necessary that you have a process to manage this information and be productive at defining the requirements sooner rather than later.

Specifically, Sheryl asked:

I am looking for work in the Salesforce BA/Admin area/domain.  I have been accepted by 3 non-profit groups that need Salesforce assistance.  My questions to you would be:

Help!  I have been assigned to a number of juicy projects and I have a lot of information coming in.  How would you organize or set up the process to manage all of this info?

In today’s video, I share 4 strategies to manage information overload as a business analyst – we cover getting your files set up, the key documents to create, how to manage your time between projects, and finally, moving from reactive to proactive mode by creating models and specifications for review.

(As an aside, you can get templates for many of the documents I mention in this video when you download our Business Analyst Template Toolkit.)

 

For those who like to read instead of watch, here’s the full text of the video:

Today we’re going to talk about a common problem for BAs: what to do when you are overloaded with information and are a bit overwhelmed.

Specifically, Sheryl emailed us a question and she said,

“I just got assigned to three different non-profit groups as a Salesforce.com BA.”

First, congratulations, Sheryl, that’s awesome! A great way to be building some new business analysis experience.

“But, what do I do?” “How do I manage all this information that’s coming as part of these juicy projects.”

We’re going to talk, in this video about specific strategies for handling information overwhelm. Let’s dive right in.

Information Overload Strategy #1 – Create Folders

The first thing is simple. Just go out and create yourself some folders for each client and each project. Whatever the main categories of work you do right now, create folders. Do this both in your document management system, most likely just the file system on your computer, and in your email software so that as you get emails from people about a project or with information about a project, you can file them into those folders.

As you do that, you’ll probably create some subfolders for different areas so you can find them again more easily if you need to. But just make sure you’re filing those away into the appropriate folders. It also helps to take that overwhelm out of your email box. When I stop doing my filing, I look at my email and it’s crazy instead of just having to deal with the new emails that have come in. As you get important attachments in your email, also be sure to save them over to that appropriate folder. It’s a lot easier to find that way instead of having to sift through your email every time you’re looking for a document. Basic organization strategy.

Information Overload Strategy #2 – Key Documents

The next thing is looking at a couple of key documents that are going to help you manage the information. These are documents you can create.

You want a stakeholder list for each project. Who’s who, what do they know about, what department are they in, what’s their email address? That’s probably going to be in your email software, but it’s their contact information, how to get in touch with them, their communication preferences (if you know), and what kind of areas they’re responsible for on the project.

Meeting notes. As you go into meetings, don’t just scribble down your notes. Type up your notes and store them away. That will help you solidify what you learned in any given meeting. It will also help keep a record of what you learned, what you found out, what issues you have to manage, or what is going on with that project.

Another document you might want to start creating right away is called a glossary. A glossary is just a key list of terms, especially, if you’re dealing with three different clients. They might all have a different definition of customer. You’re going to need to keep that straight in your head. So, go ahead and create a glossary for each organization so that you can stay clear on what the different terms mean for each organization.

Finally, you’re going to want to start some sort of a features list or request list. Why are they having a Salesforce.com BA? That’s exciting. They probably have some changes they want. Start keeping a list of those changes as they come up in those early meetings and that will help you get proactive, into proactive mode, which we’re going to talk about in a bit.

Information Overload Strategy #3 – Time and Priority Management

The next piece, before we talk about getting in proactive mode, and the way that you turn information overwhelm into structure, clarity, and organized information as a business analysis, is your time management system. Your need to be thinking about three projects is a lot to juggle at a time. Some BAs juggle more than that. They have a bunch of little projects, which is challenging to manage as well. But even three big projects, that’s a lot to manage and it’s going to be natural to be pulled from one to the other and feel like, “Oh, I dropped the ball on this one while I was working on this juicy thing on this other one.”

You want to get a system down where you’re looking at what are the key milestones for each of your projects.

  • What are things that you need to be working on to set those projects up for success?
  • What are the key meetings?
  • Get your calendar organized, your schedule organized. What are your next steps?

You want to be revisiting your to-do list weekly and looking at each of those projects, probably, having a part of your to-do list, making sure you’re making consistent progress on each of those projects, whether it’s scheduling the next week’s meeting, preparing a requirements document, or typing of notes from the last meeting.

Just make sure you consistently have those action items captured and you’re looking week to week about how to keep each of those moving forward.

Information Overload Strategy #4 – Create Models and Specs for Review

Now, let’s talk about taking ownership of all this information. The thing is information overload isn’t productive. You individually learning stuff as a business analyst is super fun. It’s energizing to be like, “I get now how all this fit together.” It’s not delivering value.

You don’t deliver value until you create something that helps that project take the next step. You, as quickly as possible, want to get into a proactive mode and a creative mode. Taking all this information that’s coming in to you and saying, “Okay, here is a nice neat and organized requirements document.” Or … “Here is a nice, neat and organized model that is going to help describe it and help us take the next step on that project.”

Some of the examples might be:

  • A systems context diagram – a very simple visual model showing how Salesforce.com integrates or will integrate with the other systems in place in that organization.
  • A business process flow. What are the steps that they go through to manage an account today, or convert a lead to a customer? What are their key sales processes and how do those flow? That would be a process document that you could now review and say, “Have I understood this correctly?” or “How do we fill in these gaps?” (You can actually download this template for free.)
  • Another one would be a scope statement. If there’s a specific change that they want to make or a specific initiative, an enhancement they want to make, getting some scope of what that looks like.

Those are the three documents that you want to be thinking of first in a project. It’s going to depend on what problem are you there to solve as the BA, what’s the first step that you will take, and what are your responsibilities? You can drill into more detail if needed but usually, those three documents are three of the very first ones that you would create.

Again, that’s system context diagram, scope statement, and business process model to show that you understand their current state business process and set them up for changes, adjustments, and improvements to that business process, which is probably why you’re there.

I hope that helps you get out of overwhelm, Sheryl. I’m excited to hear about your projects and how these all go. I’m sure you’re going to do a fantastic job at helping those organizations create positive change.

>>Why Start From Scratch? Save Time….

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Comments

  1. Absolutely love this, Laura. Thank you so much.

  2. This is absolutely word to word true and that’s how I manage my 3 major projects simultaneously!

  3. I really got a lot out of reading this article Laura. It let me step back and evaluate what I’m doing and the habits that I’ve formed over the years. I’m happy to say I’m right in line with everything you suggest and already using it, though in different flavors of the same basic solution.

    One alternate suggestion on the Creating Folders part that I would like to offer is the use of OneNote (or a similar utility). I started using this tool to capture everything (notes, thoughts, minutes, decisions,etc. and basically construct a Project notebook and then section tabs for meeting minutes, scratchpad thoughts, etc. What I like most about this is that OneNote indexes EVERYTHING and I can search a year’s worth of contextual content in seconds to look up what we said, what we decided, who was present, and anything else I’ve captured in the heat of consuming information. It will even embed those critical models, like context diagrams, into a page so I can have conversations and capture notes about what others think or wish to contribute. So the Folders concepts becomes enhanced with the ability to communicate around these categories. Cannot tell you how many times I’ve gone back to old notes to reset my brain or provide evidence of decisions.

    Again….great post on a great question!

    Doug

    • This is a great article Laura! Doug, I think your suggestion makes a ton of sense. The ability to easily refer back to lessons learned from past projects helps us from having to “reinvent the wheel”.

      If I can continue to build on Tip #1 (Create Folders), it’s that in a project-oriented environment, your top-level folders should be identical to facilitate findability, discovery, and reuse-ability at a future date. Not only does this make it easier for Sheryl to find what she’s looking for regardless the client, but if she’s sharing this content with a group of co-workers, having a degree of consistency in the folder naming convention will pay time-saving dividends for everyone else involved with the project(s). There’s more detail in a blog I wrote on Information Overload, for anyone who’s interested: http://blog.shelf.io/2017/09/07/7-ways-to-fight-information-overload-and-save-10-hours-per-month/

      Thanks again for the insight!

      Colin

    • Love the OneNote suggestion Doug. And also your suggestion Colin for using similar structures across different projects. That can really help inside one organization as well – your stakeholders will even get used to it across projects.

      Thank you!

      • Thanks Laura! Yes, using a consistent structure breeds familiarity, which pays time saving dividends for everyone involved. To steal a line from my friend Patrick, who is a library scientist and expert on all things related to the organization of information…

        “Your system of organizing documents should aim to help Someone Who Is Not You At This Very Moment find what they need. This could be another person, or just You at a future date and time.”

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