How to Use Learning Opportunities to Move Your Career Forward: Interview with Ellen Gottesdiener

Editor’s Note: I’m excited to bring you a summary of a recent conversation I had with Ellen Gottesdiener, someone I personally respect greatly, both in what she has achieved in her career and what she has given to the business analyst community, including the wealth of free requirements resources on EBG Consulting’s website. Ellen had so many inspiring insights to share, that I’ll be presenting this interview in multiple pieces. We start today with Ellen’s thoughts on professional development and learning in business analysis.

Laura: What learning opportunities have you found most valuable in your career?

Ellen: As a professional and a person, I feel like I am always a work in progress. I have had so many learning opportunities throughout my career, some formal and some coming from reflections on career experiences that did not work out so well. Let’s start there. One such experience was when I was a project manager with a development team. I took on facilitating my first workshop and it flopped. While the workshop brought some clarity, it did not create positive relationships between the development and business teams. In retrospect, I realized I had not been neutral. The reality I learned from this experience is that neutrality and preparation are absolutely necessary for successful workshop facilitation.

Laura: What did you do as a result of that insight?

Ellen: I learned from this experience that I needed to work on me. And not just focus on the technical mechanics of workshop facilitation but also on my soft skills, such as being fully present. I needed the whole group to be my client. It’s been a journey.

I started going to International Association of Facilitators (IAF) conferences and learned from professional facilitators who had nothing to do with software. I set out to meet specific people in the industry and sought out training, coaching, and mentoring from them. I discovered people I wanted to learn from and emulate. I became purposeful about my learning. I set a goal of being able to plan and design a workshop for any type of project in any domain (under the right preconditions) and I set out to achieve that goal.

Along the way, I’ve had the opportunity to learn by collaborating with trusted colleagues. I truly value these experiences and opportunities. By sharing experiences, asking for advice on challenges, shadowing each other, and providing peer reviews, we have been able to learn together and help each other.

Laura: What an inspiring story. You mentioned the IAF and I find it interesting that you pursued many learning opportunities outside of software development. Is that something you’d recommend to others in business analysis?

Ellen: Once you are a mid or senior-level business analyst, it’s important to go outside your immediate profession for learning opportunities. As business analysts, we are coaches and consultants. We need to be able to draw on multiple disciplines to meet the needs of our organizations and our people. Sometimes you need to go in multiple different directions to get the full picture. You might need to step back and understand the problem domain or dig deep into the systems architecture to fully understand a system constraint. Pulling in resources and practices from multiple domains creates new opportunities for you to solve challenging problems.

Laura: Back on the topic of being purposeful in your learning, one opportunity we’re collaborating to offer Bridging the Gap readers is Roadmap to Success, an eLearning platform about requirements development and management. How would you suggest a business analyst be purposeful in leveraging this learning opportunity?

Ellen: Before starting the program, set some personal goals about what you want to achieve. Find someone that you can talk to as you move through the course and have them hold you accountable for understanding the material and applying what you learned. As you go through the learning, identify some activities that are new to you or that may not be new but scare you. For example, many organizations and business analysts side step Quality Attributes because they can be a bit scary. These types of activities are untapped territory for you to improve and expand your skill set.

The most important thing you can do is take action. Put it in front of yourself as a reminder. Find one way to apply what you learned. As adults we learn mostly through our experience, so taking action and practicing what you learn is key to retaining the information and truly building a new skill.

Also, we highly recommend you complement your eLearning with a copy of The Software Requirements Memory Jogger. Many business analysts report that The Jogger becomes a guidebook they refer to over and over again throughout their career.

Laura: Thanks so much for your input and advice Ellen. Are there any other comments you have for business analysts advancing their career?

Ellen: Take personal responsibility for your business analyst career path. You need to have a personal vision and then you need to understand where your organization’s vision is. Adjust your vision if necessary. And then be purposeful about your learning and professional development. You have to be true to you. Reflect honestly on your strengths and weaknesses and select opportunities that fit who you are. If you are an introvert, you might choose to journal about your career experiences. Real learning can occur through writing and reflection. If you are more extroverted you might seek out a mentor to help you talk through your experiences and help you learn from them.

Laura: I couldn’t agree more. Thanks so much for your time today.

>>Learn More From Ellen

Becoming a Great BA: Consulting Lessons from Ellen Gottesdiener

The Secrets of Successful Agile Analysis: How to Make Your Business Analysis Skills Indispensible

 

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Comments

  1. To be a business analyst requires a lot of soft skills and facilitation, he should really be some one empathetic and agile, understanding both sides of the team – project and client side..
    Nice discussion here

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