Annette Richards: From Senior BA Lead to BA Manager, By Gaining Confidence in Her Skills

Today we meet Annette Richards, who was in a senior business analyst lead role when she joined The Business Analyst Blueprint®. And, as she says, she knew more than she thought she knew. But it didn’t matter because she felt like she had a “gap” that was holding her back.

With the increased confidence that came from going through the program, and receiving instructor feedback on her business analysis work, she was ready to take the leap into a management position setting up a new business analysis framework and mentoring new business analysts.

In this case study, Annette reveals:

  • How to fall into new opportunities to take your career to the next level.
  • How to build up your confidence as a new manager, and overcome the perfectionist’s tendency to jump in and do the work for your team.
  • How to take on more responsibility, even before a management or lead responsibility is presented to you.

 

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

Laura Brandenburg: Hello. Welcome. Today, I’m here with Annette Richards. Hi, Annette.

Annette Richards: Hello. How are you?

Laura Brandenburg: Good. I’m so grateful to be meeting with you today. Annette participated in our 2018 session of The Business Analyst Blueprint® and has had a lot of success in her career. We’re going to talk a little bit about what that was like. She’s just agreed to share her experience with us today, so, thank you.

Annette Richards: Sure, no problem.

Laura Brandenburg: Annette, if you could just tell us a little bit about where you were at the beginning of the year and a little bit about your role. I know you’re near Toronto, right. So, just a snapshot.

Annette Richards: At the beginning of this year or last year?

Laura Brandenburg: Beginning of last year when we started working together.

Annette Richards: Okay, sure. At the beginning of last year, I was in a senior business analyst role. I was leading a group of about four BAs. Essentially, I was managing the resources and assigning all the tasks and things like that. That’s something that I kind of grew into. At first it was just me. I was the only business analyst. I was business analyst, I was PM, I was assistant developer, I was kind of everything. I did that for a couple of years, actually. At some point in time, management thought that it would be nice if I had a couple of other hands to help me move through the initiatives. So, I was a lead business analyst role at the beginning of 2017.

Laura Brandenburg: What prompted you to join The Blueprint?

Annette Richards: I have been fortunate in that a lot of my career moves just kind of, I don’t know if you want to say happened. I kind of grew into them. I am that kind of person.

First of all, I like to do the very best at whatever role I’m in. I also like to seek out growth and professional development opportunities. Those just kind of always seem to open doors for me. The same thing happened with this role. It came up. I applied. And because of my previous relevant experience and knowledge, I got the role.

However, I did not have any certification as a business analyst. I thought that I needed to tool up. Essentially, it was just my own personal aspirations, the level up, in the role that I know have. I was seeking out opportunities. I joined the local IIBA Chapters and I attended a lot of their workshops. Any training that I could get. I attended the project management/BA conferences. Essentially, I did some online training. Anything that was going to help me level up in a business analyst role, I was seeking it out.

I stumbled across Bridging the Gap. And I thought, yay! Bridging the Gap was perfect because, #1, I’m very good at self-directed learning. I didn’t mind if there was nobody else to talk to. The fact that there was a connection with instructors and/or community, and all that hands-on work and some accountability, I really liked that because I just thought that would make it much easier for me.

Laura Brandenburg: Yeah, and that is one of the advantages of joining The Blueprint over some of our more standalone programs is that we have that structure, accountability.

Were there any challenges that you were facing when you joined? Because you were seeking out a lot of learning. Any challenges in your role?

Annette Richards: This is going to sound really corny, but it’s really the truth. I was looking for…okay; based on the scenario that I just presented, I felt that, personally, there was a “gap,” and I was looking for something that would bridge the gap and give me the assurance that all the personal self-directed learning that I had done and the knowledge that I had amassed, I just wanted confirmation that it was all industry best practice. I wanted a situation where an authoritative source could confirm to me that I knew what I knew and confirmed what I didn’t know. And, essentially, literally, just that bridges that gap. I know it sounds corny, but it’s the truth.

Laura Brandenburg: No, I mean doesn’t it all. Because that holds you back. You think you know what you’re doing, but is it really right?

Annette Richards: Exactly.

Laura Brandenburg: You look, is it really right? Am I really doing this right? I think a lot of people come into the program with that.

Annette Richards: I came with a lot of experience. I think I came with knowing a lot more than I thought that I knew. But it didn’t matter because, for me, all that confirmation and those filling the holes and learning from different people, it was priceless for me.

Laura Brandenburg: Oh, awesome. That’s always good to hear.

Is there any module that stands out for you in particular? We’ve got the three – The Business Process, Use Cases, Data Modeling – one where you found that kind of validation?

Annette Richards: The Data Modeling. First of all, the first module, once I went through that, that was like, okay, check. That was good. But in the data modeling, I got to demonstrate what I felt that I knew because sometimes what I felt that I knew, the scenario and/or the environment didn’t warrant that, so I didn’t need to use it. But any given “homework” and “assignment,” I just took some of the things that I was doing and just used the data modeling approach to demonstrate or to depict it, or to communicate that in a different way.

I really like the lingo, or the language, that was used throughout the course, about how you’re going to communicate to your stakeholders; communicate, essentially, the same thing in a different way. It’s a language that I use now with my current staff at, essentially, you’re telling the same story to a different audience, in a different way, in a different view, a different perspective.

Laura Brandenburg: Because you’ve come a long way. You were leading a team of four, then, and you’ve come a long way over the course of the year as well.

Annette Richards: That was crazy. Crazy good.

Laura Brandenburg: Tell us a little bit about what that was like.

Annette Richards: What happened was in my role as a senior business analyst, I pursued this opportunity to level up, as I was saying. It just so happened that I felt, I would say, kind of like the sun, the moon, and the stars, and everything, was aligned. The good thing that the course did for me was it raised my confidence level through the roof. I think that whatever came my way after that, I was confident that I knew what I thought I had knew, and I came away knowing a lot more. That was good.

And then this opportunity came for a management position to, essentially, lead a group of individuals that I was going to take and, essentially, make them into a business analyst/process review specialist. Essentially, just teaching them the regular business analysis. And you could imagine that having coming from my background, and just having jumped off your course, to do that, that was like I don’t think I could have had a better opportunity. Just, essentially, I got to flex my muscle and demonstrate all the things that were confirmed through your course.

Laura Brandenburg: I often feel like teaching is the best way to learn. There’s the level of doing, which you have been doing for a while and got that validation. Then you start to teach it to others. It’s a whole other level of appreciation.

Annette Richards: Yes, exactly. This is actually another test of your knowledge as well because in the doing aspect, you kind of amass your own tools and your own way of doing something. But when you’re teaching, you have to be cognizant of industry’s best practice and you have to make sure that you communicate that as well because these people, you don’t want them just to be mini you. You want that they are putting this stipulation where they have to stand on their own. They can defend themselves as well; that they learned something. They learned it the right way.

Yes, there are nuances and they will add other tricks. But you can be confident that they are going to be speaking the same language as other business analysts in whichever role they are, and they can apply that skill wherever they are.

Laura Brandenburg: Tell me a little bit more. I know your confidence is a big part of it, but people always love to hear how those opportunities came about. And I know you said the stars align and it just kind of appeared. But there’s always something that you did to make that happen.

Annette Richards: When I found you, I went to my management and I told them. I said, I’m at that stage in my career that I think I have room and the capacity for more, and I’m looking for more challenges. I told them that I found this course that I think would help me and set me up for that. They agreed to sponsor me. The organization paid for that.

Immediately after I did that and went through the course, someone else came and said, “We’re looking for someone with this experience and we think that you would be a great candidate. Would you be interested?” And I’m like, “Yes, yes I would.” And when they described the job description, it just seemed like it was made for me. I did go through the interview process and all of that, but it was so easy to sell myself and/or my skills because I felt, #1; I took the initiative, first of all, just to recognize, I always own my own career development. I always own my personal development. And I’m that person that as the year begins, I’m chasing my manager down saying, “When are we going to do my performance review?” And stuff like that. Because, December, I already had my plan for 2017. I knew what I wanted to do.

I did that and, of course, got the sponsorship for your course. And then the middle of that, now, because I had the plan, then this opportunity was presented. All I had to do was just prep for the interview, sell myself, and just wait for the “Yes.”

Laura Brandenburg: Yeah, the waiting must have been the challenging part there.

Annette Richards: Yes, yes, it was.

Laura Brandenburg: You’re in an organization where those decisions move a little bit slow at times?

Annette Richards: Yes, this one went very quickly. I was surprised. After I did the interview, I went away. Of course, I told my manager. It’s just courtesy to tell them that you’re looking for other opportunities. So, I told him and he was so nice. He assured me that regardless of the outcome, especially if it was a positive one, there was going to be a gap. Again, that word “gap.” Essentially, he confirmed or affirmed my value in the work or my contribution to the organization to that point and that me leaving, even if to pursue something else, would be a lot for the organization, and it made me feel really good because I work really hard and it was good to hear somebody affirm that.

Similarly, on the other side, when I got the call, I thought the call was to say, truthfully, we’re going to give you some feedback about your interview. Little did I know that it was going to be, “You knocked it out of the park. So, when do you start?”

Laura Brandenburg: Awesome. That’s a good surprise.

Annette Richards: It was a good surprise. And, then, I had to go back to my manager, again, and tell him, “Okay, it’s for real this time.” It’s almost like a crying session for both of us because we work very well together. They know my contribution. They miss me. I miss them, but I’m happy to be where I am.

Laura Brandenburg: Any tips? Moving from business analysis to management, I know, is something a lot of people want, but also feel a bit afraid of. Did that fear come up for you? Like what’s going to happen if I’m not doing all the requirements?

Annette Richards: Yes.

Laura Brandenburg: How did you navigate that?

Annette Richards: I think I was lucky because the person that hired me, he knows my background, and he knows that I am a perfectionist, I am a recurring perfectionist. I pride myself in my work and I’m very thorough and very detailed oriented. That’s not always easy to pass on to other people. There’s no guarantee that somebody’s going to be doing something to the level or to how you want it.

When we had our orientation session, one of the things he said to me was, I mean, obviously, he knows me very well. He said to me, “I don’t want you to do the work.”

Laura Brandenburg: Right.

Annette Richards: I think that just kind of speaks volumes. Then, my task is going to be to ensure that I was going to be instructing and/or grooming. And that is a painstaking thing, sometimes, for people who like to do stuff and do it to a certain level. But my mandate was not to be doing the work. My mandate was to be teaching and/or equipping people to be able to do it in my absence. For me, the greatest test of my success is that I can be absent, and whatever the framework is, that they can carry that out competently and deliver the same results in my absence. For me, that’s the test of having done my job. That they don’t need to check and/or find me and the world is going to fall apart if I’m not there. And so I carry that on a day-to-day basis when I’m instructing my team.

Also, in this role, the only difference because, remember, I was leading a group of analysts before, and I still had to do the same thing; I had to onboard them, and I had to equip them so that they could do the job and I wouldn’t have to be doing everything like I was before. The difference now is that I have accountability in a different way. I have to prepare them so they can do the work, but I’m accountable for the work that they do. They’re, essentially, representing me and I need to make sure that that’s done well, and it can’t be done well if I don’t equip them properly.

Laura Brandenburg: It’s almost like applying everything you’ve learned as an analyst on how you structure and manage a team.

Annette Richards: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And one of the first things that we did, we spent a lot of time the first week just talking about our framework that we use for delivering. We established the framework so they know, okay, the first thing that we do in the initial consultation, setting the framework and scoping, all of that. We have the framework. But also above the rigor of a framework, and the artifacts that you deliver, and the fact that there can be varying artifacts to do certain things, but there are good ones and there are better ones, depending on the scenario. The next level or me, when I’m teaching them that, is the mindset.

Sometimes you don’t have time to do all the things the way that you would want to do them. But if you have the analysis mindset, you can still apply the technique. If you’ve got an initiative and your turnaround time is a week, you might not have the time to do the perfect little boxes, checkbox that we want, before you deliver, but the analysis mindset will still allow you to cut corners, but not cut corners. You don’t have to worry about a gap in delivery in terms of quality. You may just have to do something faster, use something else, but you’ll still have the analysis mindset, you can rest assured that you are going to be thorough in that aspect of the game because in the analysis, you need to be able to provide decision-makers with enough information to make informed decisions.

You also need to able to create organizational assets so that someone else referencing this decision down the road is not going to have to find the nest who left the organization and said, “Okay, we have to start all over.” That communication, so that they can make informed decisions and know the pros and cons and not be blindsided by a decision. And also, for future, setting the organization up for success with these organizational assets that they can be referenced. Those are two things that I harp with on my staff; the need to make sure that those things are in place.

Laura Brandenburg: You’re really able to take that structure, the confidence, everything that you had and now translate it? You’re helping them get to that same state?

Annette Richards: Yes, exactly.

Laura Brandenburg: Biggest possible, but I love that.

Any tips for those looking to follow in your footsteps?

Annette Richards: I think one of the first things is, #1, to own your career. I can’t say that more than I am now. Own your career.

It’s easy, especially in an organization like mine. I’ve been at the organization for a long time, and when you’re moving from role to role, sometimes things fall in your lap. And, also, you get comfortable. If you’re doing something really long, you get comfortable. You’re happy. You’re not challenged. You don’t have to worry. You can do it with your eyes closed. If your aspiration is beyond what you’re doing now, you have to take charge of that.

I wrote an article, I think, on Linked In. I said that you should not relegate or pass off your future to other people, even if you report to people. Because not everyone that you report to has the mindset that they’re going to be looking out for you and for your development. If they have objectives that need to be met, and if you satisfy that objective, and you’re their star, and you always guarantee their success, they may not always be thinking past the moment for you. But you need to own that and don’t be ambiguous in what your aspirations are and communicate it because, usually, with a little prompting, a good leader and/or a good manager will help you out. But if you don’t say anything, they could just take it from granted that you are happy, you’re good, and it’s cushy in my corner and I’m okay.

Laura Brandenburg: And they could be fair in assuming that if you don’t communicate that.

Annette Richards: Exactly.

Laura Brandenburg: I think that’s perfect.

I do want to go back to that because you talked about how part of what you communicated was joining the program, and part of what you communicated was that you wanted this next level role. Were there other things you were communicating there, too, in terms of taking ownership for where you wanted to be, or, are those the pieces?

Annette Richards: Yeah, those are the pieces and/or the goals. I did tell them what the trajectory was for myself. I communicated it very clearly. But, also, I took on responsibilities without being given. I made it my duty…so, for instance, I didn’t start our managing the resources or tracking our initiatives, or making sure that they’re going through the phases. But rather than having my manager having to do that, I had the capacity and the capability, and the inclination. I would present to him, okay, we have an intake process, let’s do it this way. Let’s manage it this way. Let’s do the pictures. We had everything on a Gantt chart so we could see resource utilization and see who has what, when is it coming to an end, what was our capacity so we knew when we could take on work or whatever. I just rose up and said, “Okay, I will do this for you, and on a weekly basis, I’ll share it with you so you can see where we are.” And over time, more and more, I was doing that. He could count on this report on a weekly basis that he could go to. At any point in time he knows this is where this initiative is. I was doing that. I was making it a lot easier for…making his job easier.

Laura Brandenburg: Yeah, so not only just saying, “I want this,” but here is what I can do right now to step forward towards it.

Annette Richards: Providing more value.

Laura Brandenburg: Yeah. And I will just say whether you’re listening in and you’re thinking about becoming a manager or thinking about becoming a BA. It’s sort of it’s the same thing. It’s communicating what you want and it’s starting to take that next step in advance of that role being handed to you.

Annette Richards: Exactly. To be honest, I didn’t know what the next level would look like because it’s not always a clear step. A lot of BAs are looking for project manager roles. I wasn’t, necessarily, looking for a project manager role, I just knew that I had more to give, I had capacity for more and I wanted to learn more. I would have considered almost anything as long as it was the right fit and it was in alignment with who I am, intrinsically, and also the ability for me to grow. As long as it wasn’t, “I’m going to be miserable, what’s the point, there’s never going to be any,” I would take almost anything that was a next level experience.

But I think I would really, really, I wouldn’t say lucky, but at the same time, you told me that I kind of like, I kind of put it out there into the atmosphere and I want to say the universe just kind of responded. And I think that people will find that whatever they want to call it, opportunities tend to show up when you are ready and available, or at least willing.

Laura Brandenburg: Yes. Like you created your own luck. I think that’s what I came back to. And now look at what you did because you took some classes that created this effect.

Annette Richards: Exactly.

Laura Brandenburg: The power in that is that means you can do it again. You can walk through the process, so when you’re ready for the next role, I know you’re settling in this role, but you just know the steps to go through and you don’t have to feel like, “Oh, I just got lucky back in 2018. Wasn’t that a great year.”

Annette Richards: Yeah. The joy, for me, is going to be able to watch my staff, now, do what I’m doing. I tell them the same thing. I ask them what do they see this role being for them? What does growth look like for them? Essentially, what I experienced and what I did, I’m modeling back for them and coaching them to think the same way. Don’t just think that they’ve accepted this opportunity and they have to go through it for however long, just kind of checking boxes and doing the day to day. But think of what growth looks like for them. Which is good because that gives me experience in trying to coach people to another level, and thinking about them the way that I love for my manager or my leaders to think about me and make opportunities for me as well.

Laura Brandenburg: Well, I’ve taken a lot of your time. Thank you so much.

Any final words that you’d like to share with people listening in?

Annette Richards: My pleasure. Anybody that’s looking to level up in their role as a business analyst and what, beyond that, could look like for them. They should check out Bridging the Gap.

Laura Brandenburg: Thank you.

Annette Richards: And check out the Bridging the Gap Blueprint because, remember, I came to the role not as a novice BA, but that exercise bridged the gap for me, literally. And regardless of where they are, whether new, intermediate, and/or advanced, there is value in the program for everybody because you can use, for instance, the modeling, when you’re doing the modeling, you can do that at whatever expert level you’re at vs. you can be new just learning it, or you can be an expert just trying another technique, and it still works. It accommodates people at varying levels, and I think that’s genius.

Laura Brandenburg: Yeah, and that’s where that individual attention that you get from your instructor, they’re able to meet you where you are and take you to the next level.

Annette Richards: Yeah.

Laura Brandenburg: Thank you for sharing that. I’m so glad that you enjoyed the program so much and that we were a part of this next leveling up for you. Thank you.

Annette Richards: Thank you.

Laura Brandenburg: That was awesome. Thank you.

 

Annette Richards currently holds a management position at a Crown Corporation in Canada and brings over 15+ years of strategic business knowledge and expertise to this role. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Education (Adult Ed) and holds certifications as a SAFe Agilist, Certified Scrum Master, Agile Certified Practitioner and training in ITIL Foundations and Business Analysis. Outside of her employment, Annette is a strong advocate for purposeful living and spends her time as a motivational speaker and writer, inspiring others to do the work that inspires them.
Twitter: @arichards44
Instagram: @arichards44
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