Today we meet Alison Whitwood, an ACBA and Technical Business Analyst from Sydney, Australia, who recently gained the confidence she needed to succeed in her new role.
What we love about Alison’s story is how The Business Analysis Blueprint® certification program equipped her with hands-on experience going beyond the theory-based knowledge she had prior to the program.
In this interview, you’ll discover how:
● The Blueprint® showed Alison to recognize what she didn’t know and to fill in the gaps in her business analysis knowledge.
● Alison’s confidence has grown allowing her to no longer second guess her decision, but rather to move forward with certainty.
● Alison was able to find instant success at work through the activities she completed throughout the workbook exercises.
● The Blueprint® took the theory Alison already knew and made it practical and useful for every day application.
ANDREA WILSON: Fantastic. Well, hello and welcome. I am Andrea Wilson with Bridging the Gap and I am here with Alison Whitwood, a participant from the Spring 2022 Blueprint program. Welcome, Allison. So good to see you.
ALISON WHITWOOD: Thank you.
ANDREA WILSON: I’m excited to have you here. I have some questions. We want to hear about you. It’s a great time with you, so I’d like to get into a little bit of detail about your experience.
Before we get into that, I’d like to know about where you were, where you started before The Blueprint program.
ALISON WHITWOOD: Okay. Thanks. Thanks, Andrea. So yeah, I’m Alison. I live in Sydney Australia and I’ve been in IT for forever, for 30 years or so in my IT career. It started off a lot of years was technical and then in the last kind of 10, 15 years or so, I noticed that really for me, I didn’t want to go down the full on techy jobs. They seemed a little bit kind of boring, I thought. I think I was just expanding myself as a person and just was more interested in people and what they wanted and just having those conversations. Also the technology that I was working with that I was an expert in was dying. Nobody was using it anymore and I needed something different and I didn’t want to relearn something more, again, I didn’t want to go down another technical avenue. I kind of realized that being a business analyst and a technical business analyst, in particular, was something I kind of wanted to do.
I ended up, actually, getting a job with that title without really knowing what I was doing. A contract had come to an end and I’d been working with some with partners and they asked if I wanted to come and work with them. “Yeah, actually I do.” My job career was usually one job somehow led to another job which somehow led to another job. I haven’t had an interview for a long time. This job ended up being a, they said, “What do you want as your job title?” “I don’t know, Technical Business Analyst actually.” And that’s what it was, but I don’t know if I was actually doing it. What I ended up doing was some technical support, but a lot of talking to the clients that we had to find out what their problems were, what their pain points were, what they were trying to achieve, and then either bringing it back to our technical lead, or if I could do the technical stuff myself. I felt like I was the bit in the middle, that if it was too technical, we get what I call techie Steve, our technical lead, involved. If I could do it myself, I would, but it was more like, “Hey, what are you trying to do?” And, “What would that give you?” “How would that help your business?” Those kinds of questions. That kind of became what I really fancy doing, what I was really enjoying.
Then I got my redundant, got retrench, whatever that’s called. Again, I jumped from where I’d been to working with the people I’d been working with in the previous, like external people that I’d had in that previous job. I said, “Look, sorry, I can’t continue your project. I’ve just been made redundant.” And they said, “Oh, well, that’s their loss. Why don’t you come work for us?” So, yeah. That’s what I did. That was about a year ago. I’ve just had a contract extended again for another year in that organization. That’s where I am.
What I am now, a technical business analyst, and it’s quite varied. It’s quite a varied job. It’s for a mining company in Western Australia. So I’m working remotely. So I’m in Sydney, which is on the east side of Australia. The rest of the company is in Western Australia, in Perth, right at the other side of the country a few thousand miles away. They are two hours behind. My working day is just a little bit further on than there’s. I work kind of 9:30 until 6:30, and it’s a whole mixture. It’s discovery. I’ll listen, go and find out how these guys use data, what their pain points are, where is the data, how do these applications go away, and give a PowerPoint present. I’ve done that. I’m working on that at the moment.
Or it might be, put together some approvals matrix for a backup policy. Okay. So, no idea how to do that, so I go and talk to some people to find out what’s involved in that. It’s varied. And the other part of it is still a bit of technical working on a software asset management platform that I kind of know inside out. Doing a bit of techy stuff as well. That’s what I do.
ANDREA WILSON: Nice. Okay. So technical, I hear technical and I’m hearing the IT. You’re working with an IT domain. You’re doing some technical work, but I’m hearing so many business analyst things. Right. Tell me how you got to the Blueprint and what brought you to that program?
ALISON WHITWOOD: That’s a great question. That’s easy to answer. I was in this technical business analyst role going, actually, I don’t think I know what I’m doing here, and it was quite scary because I’d asked for a salary and they gave it to me. I was like, “Oh my God. I feel like such an imposter.” I’ve got massive imposter syndrome. I didn’t know that I knew what I was doing. That’s what made me want to come to the Blueprint.
I actually did the self-study one first. I think it was called The BA Essentials. I did the self-study one, which was helpful, but it also showed me all the things I actually wasn’t comfortable with and didn’t know about. I actually wanted a live interactive course where I could talk to people, get feedback and get something. I needed something practical. I didn’t want any more theory. I’d done some theory business analysis courses in the past, I needed hands on. Like, what do you do? What do you do? How do you do these things? That’s what got me to the Blueprint. I didn’t just launch into this program on a whim. It was, okay, I’ve seen some articles. I’ve done the self-study. I’m starting to understand over a few months these are the gaps in my knowledge. This is where I need more experience. This Blueprint’s going to going to fill those gaps. So I signed up.
ANDREA WILSON: Nice. Okay. We are there and you were motivated to do the program. Was the ACBA certification kind of the cherry on the top or what you were looking for, or was that just kind of the extra thing, since you knew that you wanted to do this practical application?
ALISON WHITWOOD: If it wasn’t part of it, would I have still done it? Yeah, maybe. But it was the clincher, I think. Having the certification is nice. It’s nice because I can show all the people, even if they don’t understand what it is I’ve got, I’ve got something. It was probably the clincher. It wasn’t the only thing. I needed the practical experience and information and feedback. I needed that, but having the certification that says, yeah, you’ve got this, that was nice.
ANDREA WILSON: Nice. I saw some celebrations out on LinkedIn for you. So definitely it worked and served for that. So congratulations.
I want to talk a little bit about your experience in the program. I hear you mentioned earlier about what you were doing before you started the program, and I hear all these BA things. Then I heard you say, “I wanted to know what I didn’t know,” or that, “I saw some things and I learned that these are things I needed to know. I was already doing some of them. I wanted to hone that skill.” So I want to look at that. And let’s talk about that a little bit about some of your experiences. Was there a particular module that really stood out for you or something that you really honed in on?
ALISON WHITWOOD: I’ll tell you the one that I’m using the most is the first one on process flow diagrams. I seem to be doing the process flow diagram every day at the moment. I don’t know why I’ve gravitated towards that. It’s something I’d done before, but I didn’t feel very good at it. I didn’t really own it. I could do them, but I didn’t know whether they were right or whether what people needed, but now I seem to be knocking out process flow diagrams easily, and they are well received. That’s probably the one that I’ve gravitated to most since doing it.
That’s not the one I thought I would. I thought I’d be most interested in data, the data modeling. I’ve not really used that yet. It’s been process flows.
ANDREA WILSON: Sweet, process flows. What’s different about it now? You were doing this before and now you’ve really started exploding with it, right. What’s different about before and now that makes you lean towards that business process?
ALISON WHITWOOD: I think it’s because I know that I know what I’m doing, whereas I didn’t…this is maybe just my confidence levels. They’re now much higher. But before, when I was doing a process flow, I had this weird idea that everybody else knew how to do that and I was pretending. And they don’t, and they didn’t, they really didn’t. I was just a bit scared of doing something and having it, I don’t know. It’s probably just my confidence. I was scared of doing something and having somebody else say, “Oh, that’s rubbish.” I don’t know, just confidence, just simply confidence in that area at all.
Now I know what I’m doing. I can tweak, I think this is maybe the difference; now I know the ins and outs of it. I can tweak it and change it and know that it’s still useful. Whereas before the course, I didn’t know what I could easily change. I don’t know if that makes any sense.
ANDREA WILSON: It makes perfect sense. I’m hearing confidence. I’m hearing my confidence level changed. I could do it. I wasn’t sure I was doing the right thing. And now I know that I’m doing the right thing and I know that making changes to it going back, there’s going to be iterations. It’s okay. That is something that’s normal.
And it’s funny. Because I think I had kind of the same experience, right. I would do this and I could make a diagram. I can make a diagram. Right. I think I know what I’m doing. But once you get in there and you start to apply and you go back and forth through the program and you recognize those nuances, right. There are iterations and that’s expected and you’re not going to get it right the first time, and how to have that dialogue. We walk through in business process analysis, the discovery. We had that meeting agenda. We talk with folks and we help them to map out their process and help them to own their process. The confidence, for me, changed drastically. So it makes perfect sense what you’re saying.
I’m glad to hear that. I’m glad to hear you have that confidence and you’re owning it.
ALISON WHITWOOD: Yeah. I’m owning that rather than having to own their process, which you can’t. I mean, you can’t do that and it’s nice to be able to.
I’ve been doing with my boss this last week; he’s been wanting me to map out the whole project management process. I can go into his head and pull out bits that I don’t need to know, but I can extract them out of his head. Then we get this absolute mess of a brainstorm. There are lines and boxes everywhere. Then a couple of days later, I’m going, “So, is this what you do?” And he goes, “Yeah, that looks good.”
ANDREA WILSON: Listen to you. I’m hearing you talk about techniques and brainstorming and pulling those things out. That’s awesome. It sounds like you are definitely using some of the skills that are taught and that you’re feeling very confident about that.
Did you face any challenges in the program? Was there anything that you just kind of hit a wall?
ALISON WHITWOOD: Well, I don’t think there was. I really enjoyed the course. The timelines, sometimes, I think. There were four modules. I think every single module is a two or three module lesson, and then you get a week or two weeks to hand in the coursework. Pretty much every time, I’m getting to a week out from you’ve got to hand this coursework in. I’m going, “Oh my God, I’ve got no idea what I’m doing. I’m never going to do it. I’m going to fail.” And then it’s like a few days later, “Oh, oh yeah, I’ve got this.” And I turn something in. I think it happened every time. I think by the fourth time it happened, I was just going, “Oh yeah, this is just what I do. It’s all good.” The time pressure was one thing.
The content, I didn’t struggle with the content and really enjoyed the content. There were a couple of times, maybe, in that final module, the BA Essentials one where I didn’t quite relate to what was going on in my workplace. I can’t think of any examples off the top of my head, but just sometimes in the course works, in all of the modules, it was like, yeah, I’m doing this, but what I’d do in reality is just a little bit different, but that’s okay. I just need to do the coursework. Sometimes reality and coursework were a little bit, only a little bit out, but not a huge amount out.
ANDREA WILSON: Awesome. That’s one thing about business analysis. Not everybody’s going to do it the same. Even if they’re working on the same thing, they will do it differently and each time it might be done differently, and that’s okay. That’s one of the takeaways from the course. It sounds like you worked towards managing your time well and got through each module and figured out how to manage your time. And you got in sort of a cadence about getting your workbooks completed. That’s good stuff. I had a chance to work with you there and I really enjoyed it.
ALISON WHITWOOD: Yeah, you did. Your feedback was awesome by the way. I’ve said this a few times. I want to say it again. Your feedback was awesome. It was so useful for the coursework, but it was useful for my BA career. It’s probably the best thing about the course because of that interaction with instructors like you. Having that feedback, it was probably the absolute gold of the course.
ANDREA WILSON: Awesome. You just answered my next question. I was going to ask what was your biggest takeaway from the experience.
ALISON WHITWOOD: That was the biggest.
ANDREA WILSON: The feedback, the way it’s sewn into the entire course and the practical application is phenomenal. And having that opportunity to talk with the participants via instructor hours, the webinars, with them being able to get back through the coursework and have those conversations, and then through the email. There’s a lot of support that’s built into the program. It’s nice to hear that was a big takeaway for you.
ALISON WHITWOOD: That’s good. Actually, can I just rewind back to one of your previous questions about what did I find difficult in the course? And it’s not a bad thing. It’s just the way I think the cost, this is my interpretation of how the module unfolds. You don’t get all the information and you’re meant to put things together without all the information and then your next lesson, there’s more information. I wasn’t good at that. And I think in my BA career, that’s the biggest lesson I need to learn, personally. I don’t feel comfortable with gaps in my knowledge. This is why I waited till about a week before the module coursework was due, because I’m going, I need to wait for lesson three until I’ve got all the bigger picture and then I can put a workbook together. And that’s probably what I did. It might not be the best way of doing it, but that’s what I did. I think it was an intentional teaching tool to say, “Hey, you can still do BA work without knowing all the information.” And that’s something I personally struggle with.
I am techy at heart. I kind of like to know stuff before I do something. That was my biggest struggle, I think, with the program and in my career, and I’m getting better at it.
ANDREA WILSON: Good point. What you’re referencing is that the content that comes to you comes in what we call a drip. You might get your module one materials and you’ll get part one the first week and you’ll get part two the next week and part three the following week. That’s to keep folks from being overwhelmed. That’s to help you to stay focused on this little piece at a time.
But I am also in my major domain as IT and I like to have the whole picture. But as a business analyst, you don’t get it right off. Oftentimes, you’re just kind of dropped in the middle of things and go figure it out. You only get a little bit at a time. That is also kind of a teachable moment as you mentioned that you’ll get these parts of things and you get just enough and you work on what you’ve got and you get your questions together. You start building your questions for the next piece, and then you get that next bit of information and you can sew those things together. Now you’re ready to build your next piece. You’ve got more questions. You sound like you were hungry for that last bit. And okay, now I’ve got all parts of it. I can bang out this workbook and submit this workbook in. And I feel that way in projects all the time.
I am that techie. I want it all. I want all the information. I want to flip through the whole book and get it all before I start working build in that time so it’s not so overwhelming for everybody to get all the information at once.
ALISON WHITWOOD: Thank you. That’s really well put. And, for me, if I think that’s the tech in me that I don’t want to produce something where if there’s a gap in my knowledge, what I’ve done is somehow not right, because when I get more information, it’s going to make what I’ve done somehow wrong. And that’s something that I’ve just got to learn more to just go more with the flow of things. Because there isn’t a black and white, right or wrong. This is business analysis. Things morph and change and evolve and that’s great. Actually is good. And it’s okay. That’s just my little fear. “If I do this and it’s wrong, what’s going to happen?”
ANDREA WILSON: That whole perfectionist. I do that all the time. That’s what helps to make us feel like imposters but sounds like you’ve gotten over a lot of it.
ALISON WHITWOOD: I’m aware of it. I’m aware. I wouldn’t say I’m over it yet, but I’m certainly aware. I’ve got awareness on this.
ANDREA WILSON: Well, I’m glad to hear that the program did give you that and help you to feel like you’re ready and that you can apply what you know, and you’re comfortable with going to say, okay, there are some gaps here. We need to fill these gaps. And that you feel confident in your questioning, asking so that you can say, okay, here’s what I need to know. Here’s where the gaps are. I’ve identified them through things that we need to talk about. Let’s fill these gaps. Let’s redo this diagram. Let’s redo this process flow and make sure that we’ve included everything. I think that’s a major win for you and I’m so glad to hear that you’ve kind of put that together and that you’re using that.
I don’t want to hold you much longer. I do want to kind of talk about where you are, professionally, since you started the program, or since you finished the program. It sounds like you’re super lucky and you’ve gone from position to position just because of your skillset. Where are things and what’s next for Alison?
ALISON WHITWOOD: Thanks. Well, the course finished at the end of June and my contract was up at the end of June. I think mostly because of doing this course my contract has been extended for 12 months. And if anyone’s in the contracting world, a 12 month contract is gold. That’s where I am currently. I’m in the same job as I’ve been in for the last year. And now with a security of a 12 month contract. So that’s where I am. And I keep looking. I keep looking. I’m just looking. I’m just looking to see what else is out there, but nothing. I really enjoy where I am. That’s me. I’m staying where I am, but with more confidence and I think this is probably what’s different. I’m kind of owning the BA because there’s nobody else who’s officially a BA in my organization. It’s not a big organization at all. There are not that many other people doing that work. Sometimes I wonder if there’s actually a gap in the organization, because there hasn’t been any BAs officially there. Sometimes I think there’s not really a gap for that work. It gets kind of done-ish by other people, by project managers, by, or just, I don’t know. It doesn’t really get done. But now there’s a bit more space for that business analysis work to be recognized, which is nice. So that’s where I am.
ANDREA WILSON: All right. That’s awesome. Hey, maybe they’ll bring on some more and you’ll be training those folks. It’s great to hear that you are growing and you’re flourishing and what you’re doing that you’re feeling confident. Super-duper takeaways from your opportunity or what you created as opportunity.
Congratulations on your additional 12 months. That’s exciting. Maybe the next 12 months will fall right there for you. That will be great to hear. Please do let us know if that happens.
I do have one final question for you and that’s anything you’d have to say to anyone who might want to follow in your footsteps? What would you say to them?
ALISON WHITWOOD: If they were thinking of taking on the Blueprint course, I would say absolutely do it. I think even if you are a seasoned business analyst, do it anyway, because then there are so many extra things you’d learn. And also you would know that you know it. That was the biggest takeaway for me was knowing that I know it. So yeah, just do it really. I don’t think there’s much of a reason not to. I’ve done quite a few training courses over the years. Some technical, some professional, some personal, and I’ll tell you, this has been the most useful. It really has. If anyone’s questioning, just do it really.
ANDREA WILSON: Do you think that’s from the practical application? I know you mentioned earlier and I meant to ask you about this with the theory versus the practical application. Any comments that you’d like to leave for anybody about the difference between the two and how has it impacted you?
ALISON WHITWOOD: Yeah, it’s the practical thing that makes it so valuable. The theory you can read books. I mean there are books on business analysis. You can easily learn the theory, but it’s the practical that makes this course so valuable. Each of the modules I related to my job, which meant my job got the value immediately of the learning. It’s practical. It’s useful. It’s instantly useful. That’s the biggest element of the course that makes it so powerful is the practical.
ANDREA WILSON: Sweet. That’s an amazing compliment to Bridging the Gap. I can’t wait to share that with the team. I can’t wait for folks to be able to see this. I thank you so much for your time. It was wonderful having you as a participant and then being able to follow up this way. I do look forward to hearing an additional 12 months or something new that you set out to do and how you conquer that.
Thank you so much for being with us today. Okay.
ALISON WHITWOOD: Thanks, Andrea. Thank you. It’s a pleasure. Thanks.
How to Learn the Foundational Business Analyst Skills (And Build Your Body of Formal Work Samples)
When you join The Business Analyst Blueprint® certification program, you’ll gain real-world experience in the industry-standard techniques and business analysis processes. You’ll create work samples vetted by experienced instructors and have the opportunity to become a credentialed business analyst as a recipient of the Applied Certification in Business Analysis™ (ACBA).