How Do I Keep My BA Skills Sharp While on Maternity Leave?

Reader question:

I’m on a one year maternity leave from a mid level BA position and wish to keep my skills sharp. Any suggestions/comments?

Laura’s follow-up question: Can you give us a sense of how much time you have to invest in your professional development and what your constraints are?

I’m looking for activities I could do primarily from home.  I’m looking to devote approximately 30 minutes a day/wk or  a concentrated 1-2 hours a few days a week.  However, if there are groups of women in my area that are looking to do the same, I could meet with them part time, outside of the home.

Laura’s answer:

Well, first of all, I really applaud your efforts to stay engaged professionally during what must be such a wonderful personal time. It’s important to realize, as you obviously do, that staying fresh and current takes active effort.

I find this a very interesting question and I do have a few ideas.

  • Volunteer to mentor a local business analyst. With the limited time you have, mentoring others in business analysis can test your competencies more strongly than doing actual business analysis work. As you mentor another individual, you’ll find yourself calling out stories from your career history to help your mentee address current challenges. You’ll also stay abreast of current trends by learning about the challenges they face. This is truly a win-win and my top suggestion.
  • Apply “systems thinking” and “problem solving” in your household life. The activities of business analysis are not limited to an organizational or corporate environment. If you are creative, you can find many opportunities to draft a quick use case, problem statement, visual model, or requirements list for everyday household decisions. As a new mother, I’m sure there will be plenty of new product purchases in your future. Why not list and prioritize your requirements and use the list to compare products? While these activities might not apply directly as career experiences, they will keep your awareness of the techniques you used as a business analyst present.
  • Attend local professional meetings. If you can, attend your local IIBA or other relevant professional meetings. Even one meeting / month, if you actively engage in networking and soaking in the information, will help keep your skills sharp.

(And if you are thinking that returning to work after maternity leave is not going to happen, you might want to explore creating an online business that enables you to nurture your creative spirit while creating more flexible work circumstances. I share more about my online business strategies, and building what I call Momstyle Business, over at http://laurabrandenburg.com.)

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Comments

  1. PassionateBA says

    Good for you for wanting to keep learning! While I was off from work I used several tools to keep in the loop.

    The IIBA website offers free webinars – http://www.theiiba.org/am/ to those who are members
    The IIBA also has recorded all of their webinars so you could listen in when you want
    If you have a chapter of the IIBA in your area – they often have learning evenings/events/net working
    Which leads into your great idea of networking with women in your area – contact the IIBA for starters and also see who is in your area on Linkedin and set up your own group
    Read some good books – Laura recommends good ones on her website and what she is reading now
    I also found a lot of free webinars available – one that I receive regular invitations from is PMCentersUS for webinars that count towards your PDUs http://www.pmcentersusa.com/
    Linkedin is a really good networking site for business people
    Make a project out of something to do with your baby – set it up from beginning to end with documentation and mapping and all – have fun!
    That should get you started, I would love to hear back to see what ideas you came up with.

    Michelle Swoboda

  2. While I was on maternity leave I took advantage of Keeping In Touch Days and worked 1 day a week for a couple of months in my existing job. I was able to do some value-add work that didn’t have pressured timelines over this period. And when I returned from maternity leave, not only was it like I’d never been away, I had loads of new ideas and saw many new opportunities. It felt like I’d had a sabbatical and I came back to work mentally refreshed. Maybe your work could give you a similar opportunity.

  3. Read! If you are a member of the IIBA, dive into the Online Library. Find an area of BA activities that you may need to work on and find a book on the subject and read. As the reader wished to have something to do from home, this will fit perfectly into her daily activities.

    As suggested earlier by Mark and Linda, study for your CBAP or CCBA, or help others study for the exam. Others may also need help with the application process. Free webinars are also a great activity during this time.

  4. Mark, Bruce, and Linda. Thanks for your wonderful suggestions! This is exactly the kind of discussion I’m hoping to inspire with this Help a BA! series — all of these make great sense to me and did not immediately come to my mind. It’s wonderful to be able to leverage the power of the BA community here at BTG!

    Thank you!
    Laura

  5. Being a stay at home mother or on maternity leave is a challenging time for any professional woman. As BA, most of our jobs require a lot of contact time with stakeholders and it can be difficult to keep our skills up-to-date while caring for a child. The first thing I had to do was to accept the limitations of my situation and embrace the possibility that was being offered to me.
    I was fortunate to go on maternity leave and become a stay at home mother after receiving my CBAP designation. This limitation and opportunity allowed me to focus on helping others study and pass the CBAP certification. I was able to start my training company (www.thebamentor.com) from this situation. I am currently working on helping those looking to sit for the CCBA as well.
    It is very important that you take this time to self train or take courses to gain more knowledge. As Mark said, there are many free webinars that can help you keep up with what is going on with the BA discipline. If you are a member of IIBA (www.theiiba.org), they offer access to business analysis book to their members. This could be a great time for you to gain theoretical knowledge.
    Another thing I do is to look for non-profits organizations who offer volunteering opportunities (www.volunteermatch.com) for PM or Development efforts. I would contact them to offer my time for any business analysis activities they may have the need for. I’ve learned not to be too picky with what I am asked to do. I had to do a little selling of my skills as some of those organizations do not really understand what BAs do, and in order to align the activities that I accept with my profession. I wouldn’t take a QA activity for example but I would not mind performing their requirement documentations or helping them understand what their business do by modeling a few processes. Or I would simply mentor some of their employees. My time is very limited for these activities but you may be able to dedicate more time toward this.
    As Laura mentioned, there is a big need to help other BAs. Determine the tasks or technique of business analysis that you are very comfortable with. Use this knowledge to mentor other Business Analysts.
    You can also find volunteering/paid part time positions with small organizations as Bruce suggested. If you are not demanding a big salary, small organizations are willing to talk to you and accommodate you to get things done. Focus on one particular task of Business Analysis to keep your skills current.
    Some tasks that you can do from home are: (you can perform these tasks while communicating via phone or going in office for a short period of time)
    – Documenting elicitation results from interview sessions (given elicitation occurs via phone)
    – Maintaining a traceability matrix
    – Putting together requirement package
    – Writing the business case (may need to collaborate with another BA)
    – Organizing and modeling requirements

  6. Mark Jenkins says

    Firstly, I second Laura’s comments. I often use household tasks as training scenarios for my team. The obvious thing that springs to mind is training. There are always free webinars each week and you could also use the time to work towards your CBAP or the new CCBA.

  7. There are a lot of small business around that cannot afford a full-time business analyst. This may be an ideal time start a part-time consultancy to these small businesses and keep up your skills at the same time.

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