Today we meet Karl Wiegers, author of 11 books (including Successful Business Analysis Consulting) and he shares loads of wisdom with us from his 30+ years as a business analyst consultant.
Watch or read to learn:
- How Karl made the shift from corporate to consultant.
- The differences between being a corporate employee and a consultant.
- The different types of consulting engagement, and how industry expertise factors in to your success.
- The limiting beliefs that can hold you back from success as a consultant.
- Ideas for how to make money while you sleep!
For those who like to read instead of watch, here’s the full text of the video:
Laura Brandenburg: Hello and welcome everyone, I am here with Karl Wiegers today. Hi, Karl.
Karl Wiegers: Hi Laura, thanks for inviting me.
Laura Brandenburg: I am so excited to be interviewing you. I learned that you are the author of 11 books, including this recent one, Successful Business Analysis Consulting, so congratulations. I remember when I was starting out in the business analyst space and learned about you and your work and got to meet you at an event. Just the contribution that you have made to our profession is just over the top. It is really an honor to have you here and share some of your wisdom with our community, so thank you.
Karl Wiegers: Well thank you, that’s very kind of you, Laura. It was fun to meet you at that event as well. One of the things I miss about not doing conferences too much anymore is that I don’t get to meet some of the people who are in the industry and see some of my old friends too. But it’s nice to get to meet folks once in a while.
Laura Brandenburg: Yeah and I am in a similar position, I don’t do a lot of conferences. I think that is the one time that we managed to connect.
Karl Wiegers: Right.
Karl’s Start Into the Requirements Space
Laura Brandenburg: Well anyways, kind of a little bit about you. So, you have been writing and talking about software requirements for a long time. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got started in that space?
Karl Wiegers: Sure, I realized recently and kind of shocked to realize that I started learning how to program almost 49 years ago in college. It hardly seems possible. That is scary close to half a century. Back then when we were programming you didn’t really talk much about requirements, you got an assignment from the professor or you had some other project you were working on, you had an idea of what you wanted to do and maybe write up some notes or some screen sketches and off you go.
Time passed, I got out of grad school and in fact, one-third of my Ph.D. thesis in Organic Chemistry was code. So, I have been doing this for quite a while. I went to work at Kodak after I finished my post doc. After a while, I started doing a fair amount of programming there as well. Also about that same time, I got into home computing. Back then we had what were called microcomputers — Atari’s and Apple’s and things like that — and I was very active in that kind of space.
So, I did a lot of programming at home and did a lot of programming at work, and every once in a while, I felt like that my project was out of control. Not the project, just the program I was working on, felt like I was out of control. I didn’t quite know what I was doing, I was fumbling around and maybe I would even start to panic.
What I realized when I thought about it, is that I just hadn’t spent enough time thinking through what I was supposed to have when I was done. So that led me to start thinking about requirements a little bit more and learning about them and what they are and how you represent them and why it’s a good idea. After I started doing that, I never again felt like a project was out of control and that was a much better feeling.
Laura Brandenburg: So, you started doing that first, the requirements first?
Karl Wiegers: Right, if I spend some time thinking about requirements and understanding where I’m heading, before I dive in and start driving somewhere, then I pretty much, usually, get to where I am going.
The group I was in at the time, a software group supporting photographic research labs at Kodak, I started learning a lot about better ways to approach requirements and we learned about and applied techniques, like close customer involvement. In fact, we came up with an idea we called the product champion approach, which was basically the same idea that agile has said, “Oh, hey why don’t we work closely with our customers?” That’s a pretty good idea, in any case, I would think.
Laura Brandenburg: Yeah.
Karl Wiegers: And we started doing that around 1985. We were maybe a bit ahead of the curve in some of those things. We learned about prototyping, visual modeling, use cases, testing and reviews of requirements and things like that. Once we learned how to make those techniques work for us, we found our projects went a lot more smoothly. I found myself kind of taking a lead role as a requirements analyst on some projects throughout the company and that felt natural to me. I think requirements engineering was kind of a good fit for my skills and my interests and my personality.
As you probably know, over time, the idea of a requirements analyst kind of morphed into a business analyst. We don’t talk much about requirements engineers or requirements analysts anymore; everybody is BA. I think a lot of chunks of BA work go well beyond requirements, but that’s still, I think, a core function that most BAs perform. Do you think that is still true?
Laura Brandenburg: For sure, for sure and the pieces that go beyond are the interaction with people, but it’s all about what are the requirements? What is the problem we are solving, what do the people want, how do we collaborate with them? It all comes down to how do we actually figure out what are we going to do here?
Karl Wiegers: Yeah. How do we know when we are done? I mean without requirements I don’t know how you answer the question, “Are we done yet?” So, this is still a strong interest of mine and I began writing and speaking about what we learned and what we’d accomplished and trying to share whatever I learned about how to do a better job on requirements through speaking and writing.
I figured why should everybody have to climb the same learning curves that we did? So, that’s a common challenge and that’s kind of how I got into this. It wasn’t really a plan, but it turns out there was a need and it was an interest of mine, so here I am.
Laura Brandenburg: Well we are all grateful for that.
Karl Wiegers: Thanks.
Starting a Consulting Career
Laura Brandenburg: I know that we want to talk a lot about your consulting career today and kind of give a flavor to that. Can you kind of take us forward to when you decided to leave corporate and become an independent consultant? What did that transition look like?
Karl Wiegers: Well I was pretty well ensconced at Kodak, I worked there for 18 ½ years, mostly in the research labs and then in some product software development areas doing process improvement work for the end of my career. I moved into software, even though I started out as a research scientist, I moved into software after about 4 years there.
Like I said, I started writing articles about what we learned, and I started speaking at conferences and it turned out this visibility that I got from having a public face that started leading to invitations from other companies and organizations to speak at them. Well, that was kind of a surprise, so I said well that sounds alright. That kind of snowballed. I ended up writing my first book, Creating a Software Engineering Culture, in 1996, while I was still working full-time at Kodak. Which was a lot of work, doing a real job and writing a pretty good-sized book.
I had an agreement with my management all along — I was very upfront about this — I had an agreement with my management that I could speak at other companies, teach classes, speak at conferences and cash the checks so long as there was no business conflict of interests. They wouldn’t want me speaking at another photography company for example.
I was at a conference once, probably around ‘97 and the conference producer, the manager of the conference, was a well-known software consultant whose work I have known literature for quite a while. He said, “Well, looks like your speaking career is going pretty well, when are you going to leave Kodak and hang out a shingle as a consultant?” Frankly, I had not thought about doing that for a job. My first reaction was that sounds like a scary idea to me, I like to eat every day. Why would I do that? There is a comfort level within a corporate womb. There is a predictable paycheck showing up in your checking account every two weeks and you have vacation time sometimes and all of that, just kind of comfortable, benefits even.
But then I thought about it, and I said, you know, I don’t like being managed or don’t need to be managed. I don’t like being a manager. Maybe I can work by myself. Maybe I could make a living as a consultant. I figured, well, maybe self-employment would work and if not, I could probably go back to a regular job.
So, I started Process Impact, my consultant company, in late 1997 and I left Kodak just a few months later. As it turned out, I was always fortunate to get plenty of work. You know that’s a scary thing too, as you know, being self-employed. Is the phone ever going to ring? Turned out the phone rang, and I enjoyed the flexibility, the freedom, the diversity of activities that came along with being an independent consultant and it worked out better than I thought it might. So, I said, well I think I will do that for twenty years or so.
Laura Brandenburg: Just like that?
What It’s Like to Be a Consultant
Karl Wiegers: Well, you just don’t know, you know. There were aspects of it that were surprising to me, but overall it suited me well and I never, really, had the temptation to go back to work for another company. Now, I don’t know that I could.
Laura Brandenburg: I can sympathize with that because I started Bridging the Gap, kind of thinking it was going to be this “fill this space in for me” and it was an experiment and I’ll go back at some point when my kids get a little older. And then you get hooked into the consultant role. My business is much different from yours. You get hooked into the freedom and the opportunity to have an impact like you do across multiple organizations. Then I think why would I go back. I am my own boss.
So, but tell us a little bit about what you experienced as the differences between being in that corporate setting and being in more of a consulting setting. Just a little bit to some of being your own boss is the big question.
Karl Wiegers: Yeah, it’s a very different kind of working environment and you mentioned something important, Laura, which is the opportunity to have an impact on other people. You can do that to a certain extent inside a company, but a lot of times it’s just your local work group, or maybe if you have some visibility and reputation, and I did develop that at Kodak. Other people would sometimes call me and say, “Hey, we are having problems with this project, can you come help us out a little bit?” But still it’s limited in scope and that’s why I got a lot of satisfaction from the writing and the speaking and feeling like you are sharing things that are useful to others.
But you know, it is very different being on your own. I went from a company of well over 100,000 people, to a company with one. The thing I found first is that when you are an independent like that, you have full responsibility for everything that happens in the company.
We talked about this, you and I, a few weeks ago and I mentioned that absolutely everything that has come out of Process Impact, every piece of writing, with the exception of a collaboration on a book that I did; every training course, every presentation, every product, I’ve done all of those myself. I think one of the things that came out of that message is that the kinds of people who are suited for this sort of work, and you’re probably one of these, are self-starters who can chart your own career path and work on your own, you don’t need other people to point you in the right direction. You can figure out a direction.
Laura Brandenburg: Right.
Karl Wiegers: Another thing I found out is that unless you are working through an agency or third-party contract company, you are going to have to find your own work. And so it takes some initiative, some patience and some creativity in how you present yourself to potential clients. You have to become a little bit of a marketer, an accountant, a salesman, a writer, an office administrator. Whether you are out of notepads, coffee or jobs, it’s your problem. That’s the big difference. You don’t have to worry about that in a company.
Laura Brandenburg: Yeah, and you know one of the things I realized as you were saying that is that you do. You take on all these hats and we are still business analysts. But sometimes I feel like that is the hat that gets dropped in my own company because you are wearing so many hats. To know how to do business analysis, and you are like, I know how to do business analysis. Have you had that similar experience? Do you do business analysis in your own company as well?
Karl Wiegers: Well in a company of one, I do everything. So yes, I actually have written requirements. This is, perhaps, interesting. I have created a number of products over the years – a bunch of E-Learning courseware and other things like that. I’ve written requirements for them. So I actually do try to apply what I have learned.
And, again, I found that taking the time to think through this, to write it down to remind myself, because you know your memories aren’t’ perfect, they never are; just the act of working through what we know about business analysis and writing requirements is worth every second you spend on that, because it pays off with everything else going smoother. Yeah, I do that, but in a different way you would with a large software development project.
Laura Brandenburg: Yeah, exactly. We end up having a lot of checklists and a lot of process flows. A lot of things that help hold the team together, for sure.
Karl Wiegers: Yeah, another thing that I found out was really different about going out on my own, and I noticed this immediately, is that there was a lack of daily opportunities to kick ideas around with other people. I felt kind of isolated at first. You are used to having people all around to either have some social interactions and to scribble on a whiteboard and get feedback on something you have created and point you in the right direction. I really felt that as kind of a jarring transition from corporate life, both for the professional and the social interactions.
Eventually, I closed that gap. I bridged that gap by building this network with other consultants and other professionals and practitioners, many of whom I’d never met face to face, but you can do that virtually.
Laura Brandenburg: So, an online community?
Karl Wiegers: Yeah, you do. Another really huge difference in working alone, is that your finances are completely different. You might go weeks or months without getting any income, so you need financial stability to even jump into that pool. It’s nice to know if there is water in the pool before you dive in. You need a comfort level with that erratic income, so that you can get through those periods where you might not have much money.
For example, you might deliberately decide to have a period where you don’t have much income because you are spending time writing a book or doing something else. So that requires trade-offs. You have to save some money for the leaner times, for your future, and very importantly for retirement. You are fully responsible for all those things now too, nobody’s putting money into your 401k. Nobody is funding a pension program for you. You want to have money when you are 70-years old? You better put it in the bank.
Another thing that gets complicated is your tax returns and the way you handle taxes. Instead of having a little chunk taking out every paycheck, you have to pay quarterly estimated taxes. Your tax returns get a little more complicated, and that kind of depends on how you structured your business. How are you structured? Are you an LLC or S-corp?
Laura Brandenburg: We are an LLC filing as an S-corp.
Karl Wiegers: Okay, LLC filing as an S-corp. That one — I don’t even know about that one.
Laura Brandenburg: I might be, don’t hold me to that. We figured it out with the CPA and then the CPA made that happen. That’s not my area of expertise.
Karl Wiegers: Nor mine. And that’s one thing you are going to do when you become self-employed. You are going to need an accountant, if you haven’t already got one. You are probably going to need a lawyer. One of the things that my lawyer and accountant suggested to me when I started out was, both of them said, “Get QuickBooks.” Well, I don’t know anything about accounting, and I don’t really need to. I have used QuickBooks all this time and it works fine.
There are different ways you can structure your company. I have always been a sole-proprietor. I’m not incorporated, but many people are, or they have a limited liability company and LLC. All of those things have some pluses and minuses regarding the finances and that sort of thing. Some of the things I talked about here may be the rude surprises when you go out on your own. It’s like, “Gee I didn’t know that.”
Laura Brandenburg: Some of those are like the overwhelm. What would you say is the best part? Like what kept you doing this, because you had to go through all of these challenges. What kept you in the consultant realm?
Karl Wiegers: Well once you learn about those other things, like the finances the variability and stuff; once you figure that out, it’s like, “Oh okay, now I know how that works,” and I can move on. But what I have found as big pluses of being self-employed in this field were the huge amount of flexibility in the kind of work that you do. You can steer your career in pretty much any direction you want to, assuming of course, there is some market for it. You can decide which job opportunities that come along that you are going to accept, which ones you don’t want to do for whatever reason, could be for a lot of reasons. You can spend as much time or as little time as you wish enhancing your own professional skills, branching out into other areas as your career evolves, and developing the kinds of expertise and clients that you find most rewarding.
Another real big plus is that you can make a whole lot more money as a consultant than you can in corporate America. You can also make zero money depending on how things go. Just kind of depends on how you shape things.
One message that I think is really important that I figured out pretty early on, is that it doesn’t matter how good you are if no one knows you are there. That’s a big, big difference when you are self-employed. You have to do all of your marketing. You can do it actively, you can advertise, there’s always the social media and websites and stuff like that. I have chosen to do all of my marketing passively through my writings and presentations.
People have to know that you are around, what you do, and that you have something useful to share, otherwise the phone will never ring. I have been lucky because nearly all of my clients have come to me; I don’t have to go out hunting for them. Sometimes people may have to do cold calling or warm calling to follow up and that’s uncomfortable for a lot of people. You know, just calling someone and say, “Hey you got any work for me?”
Laura Brandenburg: You say passively, and all of your clients have come to you, but it’s not that you were waiting for that. You mentioned writing and speaking. There were things you were doing to get your name out. Obviously, writing books. Those were bringing clients to you even though you weren’t specifically doing maybe active outreach.
Karl Wiegers: Exactly.
The Critical Role of Marketing Your Consulting Practice
Laura Brandenburg: I think this is really important people. When they talk about my business. I spend most of my time marketing now that we’ve got a course model. It’s a big part of the business.
Karl Wiegers: Yeah and some people don’t seem to understand that. I know, in particular, one consultant who has tried to be independent from time to time. Very smart guy; just hasn’t figured out some of these basic lessons and has never gotten enough work to get traction it and didn’t do some of the things you need to do to get the visibility to let people know that you are there.
One thing I would suggest that worked for me, at least, if you are thinking about going out on your own and you are in a company right now, I would suggest trying to do some of those things to spread your face and your name and your knowledge around and try to line up some clients first before you take the big leap to see if anybody cares that you are there. Or you could work through and agency, another company, there are several companies that do business analysis. You might end of working though one of those companies instead of being completely independent.
I have really enjoyed being self-employed. It suited my professional goals, my personality well. Like I said, I just don’t think I can go back to a real company.
But there are some things that I found, even in a one-person company. Management is unreasonable and uninformed. The staff; they’re all lazy and they have a bad attitude. So, I guess there is no way to get around that.
We have a company slogan, though. Would you like to hear my company slogan?
Laura Brandenburg: I would.
Karl Wiegers: Our employee is our greatest asset. We really believe that. It’s true. Undeniable.
The Types of Consulting Engagements
Laura Brandenburg: So, let’s talk a little bit about what this actually looks like. There are lots of ways you can go as a consultant, right. We talked about a few weeks ago when we talked, that you do a lot of training, but there have also been times where they hire you to sit in a room for a day and people came in and asked you questions. Like just different ways that those engagements played out and kind of giving people of flavor for what can they actually sell. How can they sell their services to people? What would that look like?
Karl Wiegers: Well, there are a lot of different kinds of things you can do. Even though I have called myself a consultant for more than 20 years now, frankly, most of the work I’ve done has been training. That’s just what the phone rang for. I mean I have done a real wide cross-section of things.
One thing I have not done is gone into a company and worked side by side on a project as like a lead BA or pair of hands BA working with, maybe, the company staff when they have wanted some augmentation. I haven’t done that kind of extended project, but of course, a lot of BA consultants or contractors do that sort of work.
Some of the areas that I have worked in span, well they span a huge variety of companies as well. I have worked for maybe over 130 different clients over my career in a wide range of industries, all levels of government, state, county, federal and even federal in other countries. I have worked for people from very small companies, maybe 30 people up to companies of over 100,000 people. You know people sometimes have this debate, like how important is domain knowledge, if you are going to be a consultant?
I think it is always valuable to have industry experience in a certain field, because it helps you get up to speed quicker, it helps you understand the client’s terminology and their business practices. You can ask more insightful questions if you know something about the business, than if you didn’t.
But, I think as a consultant it is risky to specialize in particular business areas, because that reduces your potential market. And so I haven’t done that; I haven’t said okay I am going to specialize in the financial industry and just deal with, you know, banks and the financial services industry. I haven’t’ done that because I don’t want to rule out any sort of work opportunities that might come along.
Laura Brandenburg: It seems like it would be much more volatile, too.
Karl Wiegers: Sure.
Laura Brandenburg: Different industries have trends and if you are focusing on an industry that’s in a down swing that’s going to affect your income.
Karl Wiegers: Oh yeah. I can give you a great example of that. The client I have done the most work for over my entire career is a wonderful guy and his name is Bill. He works in a big company with many, many divisions worldwide and I have worked with a lot of those divisions as well as with him. He’s a director of a software center of excellence in the company, which is very forward thinking in itself, I think, that they have one. He would give me pretty much as much work as I wanted to do, but a few years ago his budget just basically dried up and the reason for that was because a lot of their revenue came from the oil industry.
At that particular time the oil industry wasn’t doing that well, so they were tightening their belts. So, if I had specialized in the kind of work that client does or if I had just one client who was my money source, I would have been in pretty sorry shape. I do know some people who that happened to. They had one great client for years, the client went away, and they had no work. That was pretty scary. No work at all.
Laura Brandenburg: How did you make that decision? The decision you made is that this client could keep me busy, but I am going to choose — you almost, like, had to say no to them to create some diversity. How did that work?
Karl Wiegers: Well I was lucky that I had enough different inquiries coming in from different kinds of companies that I could be selective at that time. Bill is great. He would respect whenever I’d say no, but he’d come to me with interesting things or stuff that he knew I was a good fit for. We had a really nice, and still do, both personal and professional relationship. In fact, I’m going to go do a talk for them in St. Louis in July, which will be the first talk I have done for a little while and it will be good to see all those guys again.
But I think you do have to decide to do you want to specialize or not. I have never found that domain knowledge is really necessary for the process-related kind of things I do like teaching classes or developing procedures and templates and stuff. Those span lots of domains, lots of projects, lots of industries because what we do as business analysts is pretty global, I think. Have you seen that in the kind of clients that you?
Laura Brandenburg: I mean sure, we’ve had the same thing happen in our training. It’s multiple industries across the globe. It’s the same core frameworks that we’re teaching again and again and again. So, we get to see how they apply across…a business a process is a business process. How to write a use case is how to write use case.
Karl Wiegers: It really is, and I think when I am teaching classes, I will definitely try to build in examples or tell stories that are relevant to that audience, compared to say another audience. But I don’t maintain 10 different versions of my training classes with different exercises and things to specialize. And I don’t think it makes any difference. I think most of the people who take our classes are smart enough to sort of adapt the idea and intent behind a practice to their reality. So, I try to localize it, but I think most BA practices can be applied with just little thoughtful adaptation to a very wide range of situations.
Laura Brandenburg: This actually, when we talked about impact, that’s a service to people in those companies as well. I know what we see happen in our training is that people do have this assumption that what they do is unique to their company and they can see it’s actually not as unique to my company as I thought and with these little adjustments I can take this skill I have an make it very transferable in other industries and domains as well. So you are helping them make that connection.
Karl Wiegers: Yeah and that’s really valuable for people because they may not be in that company, in that job, in that industry for their whole career. And so realizing that they’ve got a lot of portable knowledge, I think, helps them look beyond whatever hole they are in at the moment.
Another place you see that, really, is when you do a public class that has people from random places come to some public class you’re doing, maybe 25 students from all sorts of backgrounds. You get a little cross-fertilization. You realize that everybody is wrestling with the same kinds of issues. You’ve got the same kinds of frustrations and same kinds of challenges, so I think that helps people appreciate that, well yeah, these are pretty common situations.
Laura Brandenburg: Yeah, and is public training, then, part of your model as well?
Karl Wiegers: To a much more limited extent. Almost all the work I’ve done has been for individual clients. I’ve never put on my own public classes just because I’ve never needed to, so I didn’t need to take the risk of arranging room facilities, marketing, see if anybody shows up. I’ve done public classes through third-party entities, periodically, such as probably around 2000. Year 2000, I did a two-week European seminar tour through a tour vendor, a requirements management tool vendor. I gave the same class six times over the course of two weeks in six different cities in Europe. Which sounds very exotic and, in fact, is very tiring and very boring.
Laura Brandenburg: Yeah, so there’s that double-edged sword of the consulting again. All these amazing places and…
Karl Wiegers: But you’re working.
Laura Brandenburg: Yeah.
Karl Wiegers: I did have a few days off, so that was kind of fun to do a little sight-seeing in London and Paris and a few other places.
Laura Brandenburg: You talked about that in your book, too. Like now, in kind of a more mature state of your consulting, you would frame that a lot differently and make sure you had a couple of days, maybe, in each area to explore. You talked about putting those breaks into the engagement.
Karl Wiegers: Well, yeah. That’s another thing that kind of touches on another thing that I learned as I went along in my consulting career is over time I accrued a number of policies. These aren’t written down in a book somewhere, although they easily could be. Well, actually, now they are written down.
Laura Brandenburg: I thought they were here.
Karl Wiegers: That’s right. They weren’t written in a book at my company, but they’re definitely in my new book about successful business analysis consulting. But I did adopt policies like teaching a two-day class is fine. I’ve done many two-day classes, they are tiring but you can get through it. Three days is harder, and I just don’t like to teach on my feet talking for four days in a row. So, if someone wants to bring me in to do two two-day classes, I take Wednesday off. I don’t charge anybody for that. That’s my decision, but I need the downtime. I recover quickly from being tired, but I need the downtime. I need to rest my voice because I have a lot of allergies that makes it hard to talk for a long time.
So, I found that I did develop checklists, I develop policies that just, you know my life easier if I do these things than if I don’t. I think every consultant is going to have to develop their own set of practices like that, that helps them work in an optimal way for them. For example, you have to choose what sort of work you need to do or that you like to do.
There are kind of three consulting modes that I have found that you might find yourself working in. One is as an expert. Client has a problem, wants you to come in and fix it. You might do some training or deliver a process assessment. You might review some product deliverables and give them some feedback.
An organization might hire an outside expert to come in and lead the BA efforts on a project or do some coaching maybe help bring their BAs up to speed and recommend better practices. Maybe help establish a business analysis center of excellence. I actually did one job as an expert witness, which is something else you might get hired to do as a consultant in a lawsuit. Fortunately, I didn’t have to testify, and I think it was because I concluded that the client who hired me, their lawyer who hired me, their client was responsible for most of the problems. So, he said thank you and sent me a check and that was that, I didn’t have to testify. But those are some of the kinds of things you might end up doing as an expert.
But another kind of mode you might work in as a consultant is as a pair of hands, just a practitioner where you are providing some service like routine business analysis that the client company might be able to perform itself, but they just don’t have the staff or the time. Maybe they don’t have the internal expertise yet and they want to bring someone in who can just do BA stuff for them, because we don’t really have any BAs yet. So, then the client defines the need, sets the project expectations and boundaries and the consultant kind of just does the work on their own.
But the third mode, which I think I favor the most, is a collaborative consultant mode. There’s a case where you are joining forces as a consultant with members of the client organization to work on a project or solve the problem together. That kind of helps get you past some of the gap of interactions that I had mentioned early on.
So, what I found out as working as a collaborator, you might work on some same deliverables passing them back and forth just like you would in a normal job til you complete the project. Their domain knowledge can be really valuable, but it depends on what part you are doing. So, for example, I got a job a few years ago; a financial services company called me and said “Hey, we’re doing our architectural governance process.” I don’t even know what that means. “We want to build in peer reviews for that. If you know something about peer reviews can you help us do some training and process for that?” Well I don’t know anything about architectural governments. I don’t know much about financial services. But I know a lot about peer reviews. I wrote a book on that topic as well.
So we collaborated. I worked with one of their people or two of them, one primarily. And he did parts and I did parts. I did the parts that I was good at so I didn’t have to know about the domain of the business to do my part. It was a fun collaboration. I think we came out with a nice product which is just what they were looking for.
So basically, the diversity of consulting experiences for BAs, project managers, and really anybody in IT, just kind of depends on the diversity of activities that somebody might perform in any of those disciplines, it’s lots of different kinds of jobs.
Laura Brandenburg: Really what I am taking away from this is like there’s more; there’s not a framework, and so there’s this flexible nature of it and it’s about finding the overlap between what that client needs and the expertise and the skills that you offer in really creating that win, win scenario. It could look a lot different from what you think. I know one of the mistakes I made starting out, was I had created this whole package as to what my consulting was going to look like, and I see other people do this to. “Well, I’ve got to figure out what my services are going to be before I can go start trying to find a client.” What I hear you say is, no just start like talking and sharing what you know, let the clients come to you and figure out what that win/win might look like.
Karl Wiegers: Yeah, I think that can work and a lot of what I have created have been driven by clients. For example, years and years ago somebody wrote me; one of the things that happens, as I am sure you’ve experienced this as well, when you get some public visibility you get random emails and phone calls from people who have some questions or want some help or do you have something…
Laura Brandenburg: Everyday.
Karl Wiegers: Sure. And I always enjoy talking to people like that. I always try to provide a substantive response, you know, to the extent that we have time. One time somebody got in touch and said, “Hey, we’re trying to figure out how to deal with the requirements change request. Do you have any checklists or anything that can help us assess proposed changes before we say sure no problem, we can do that?” Well, I didn’t, but I said, “Oh I think I can do that.”
So, I came up with some checklists and a planning worksheet and stuff to help people think through the impacts of a change request so they can decide if is this a sensible business thing to do or not. Because of that just random inquiry, I spent a few hours creating stuff that I have then incorporated in books and articles and resources that I have sold or given away and to my training. So, a lot of what I have done is not just stuff I invented and said here is the perfect class so let me go out and see if anybody wants it. It was in response to an inquiry or a need or a question that I had got, that said, oh, I can do some of that. That helped me grow my body of resources and my own body of knowledge, too, by looking into these things.
Laura Brandenburg: And it gives you the confidence that what you’re creating is what somebody needs and would want and really helps grow the business.
Karl Wiegers: Yeah, reduce it to speculation.
Laura Brandenburg: Yes, for sure. Get this out of analysis paralysis, another problem that we have a lot as BAs.
So, this is a good segue, because one of the things that I wanted to ask you about is mindset. Because this has been a new area that we talk about at Bridging the Gap is the mindset of success and limiting beliefs. Were there limiting beliefs that you had that came up as you started growing this practice and how did you reframe them to get through that?
Karl Wiegers: Well, I was probably more struck my limited knowledge than limiting beliefs, but I didn’t quite know what I was getting into. But there are some things that I think do apply there.
For example, you might think you need to be a world-class expert in some area before you dare call yourself a consultant and go out and try to help other people, but you don’t. This takes me back. I’ve been writing articles about software about for, I don’t know, 35 years or something, since about 1983 which hardly seems possible. Around 1989, I wrote a little article, kind of tongue and cheek with Wiegers Laws of Computing.
I had about 14 laws of computing and one of them was, if you are one week ahead of the next guy, you are a wizard. And you know, I think that is still true. You don’t have to be the world’s expert in something, you just have to know more or have seen more, or have more ideas than the person who you are trying to help. It doesn’t have to be world class knowledge; it just has to be more knowledge than they currently have.
So, a lot of us have that kind of expertise. You could end up limiting yourself by saying, “No, I can’t do this yet because I need to take another class, get another certification, you know read another book.” Maybe not.
Another thing that would certainly be a limiting belief, and this came up at the very beginning when I said to my colleagues at Kodak, “Okay, I’m going to leave in a few months. I’m going to go become a consultant and will see what happens.” Somebody asked a very insightful question that I had not considered, they said, “Well, how are you going to stay current if you don’t work on projects anymore?” Interesting question. You know at a company you are working on projects all the time and so you are learning whatever you need to do to do the project.
What I realized, very quickly, is I don’t have to work on projects to learn things because as a consultant I stay in touch with lots of clients; I get a chance to reach out and touch clients so I can collect experiences from clients that enrich my portfolio of knowledge without having to do it all myself. I don’t have to work on a slow multiple month or year project and gather knowledge and do lots of the same things over and over. Instead, I look over people’s shoulders. I see what they are struggling with, I see how they do things and then I can collect that and pass that wisdom along to other clients for a very reasonable price, of course. That was not obvious to me. You might think, well I have to work on projects or I won’t grow. That wasn’t true at all. There are lots of ways to grow without having to suffer it all yourself.
Laura Brandenburg: I just crossed that limiting belief a couple of years ago, because that was part of me like, oh, I will do this for a certain amount of time. Then I need to go back if I am going to stay relevant. Then I realized that no; just like you are looking over the shoulder of your consultant companies, I’m looking over the shoulder of our trainers, our instructors, our participants, and I am seeing what’s happening. Do that and add a few conferences in the mix.
Karl Wiegers: Right, see good ideas. That’s something you’re pretty good at, is seeing what other people do that seem like good ideas and say, oh I think I’ll do that for now on. Maybe just the way somebody; one of them was just the way somebody dealt with flip cards at a conference. I said that’s better than what I do. I will do that from now on, and I have ever since and that was many years ago.
Laura Brandenburg: Yeah.
Karl Wiegers: So, I think you can, if you are paying attention, which is a key point here, you’re paying attention and actively looking for ways to actively to do what you do better tomorrow than you did it yesterday. You don’t have to do projects all yourself. You don’t even have to do the work all yourself.
Like in my books, I have got some books on software requirements, there are lots of stories in there; lots of anecdotes. Every single one of them is true. They are not necessarily things I did, personally, but they are all things either I’ve done, personally, or I have seen other people personally do. So, they are all real experiences that we can all learn from.
Karl’s Book: Successful Business Analysis Consulting
Laura Brandenburg: So, let’s talk about your book, because I want to make sure we are making good use of your time and you have just authored this new book, Successful Business Analysis Consulting. I’m just curious why you decided to write it and what somebody can hope to gain from, what a reader can hope to get out of it. Obviously, you shared a lot of gems with us today about consulting. I’m sure there is a lot more in here as well.
Karl Wiegers: I think so. I think one point is that the things that are in the book even though the title says, Successful Business Analysis Consulting, they apply to project managers and any kind of IT consultant and, really, just anybody who wants to be self-employed and kind of go out and try to provide services to clients on their own. It’s not really limited to BAs, but this fits nicely in a line that the publisher have a series of BA analysis books, so this was kind of the piece to go in the catalog.
But, you know, when I started out more than 20 years ago, I didn’t know much about being self-employed or being an independent consultant and there weren’t a lot of resources available for me to learn from. But I have figured out how to make it work. I was lucky to be more successful than I had expected. One thing I have done all along my career is say, “Hey, I’ve learned something. Maybe someone else would like to know this. Is there a way I can share that?”
Again, I don’t think we should all have to climb the same painful learning curves. So, I like to share what I have learned to make other people’s lives easier, and I wrote the Successful Business Analysis Consulting book, which contains pretty much everything I have learned in my consulting career. Every once in a while, I’ll remember something else that’s not in the book and will say, oh yeah, I’ve learned that too. I sort of internalized them all.
Also, I got a number of other experienced consultants to contribute chapters. So the reader will benefit from multiple perspectives, not just my personal experience and background. This is really the book that I wish that I had available before I decided to go out on my own and just see what happens.
There is a lot of stuff in there. There are 35 chapters grouped into six parts. I start by trying to help you lay the foundation; this idea of letting the world know you’re open for business. How do you even do that?
But another thing that we have not talked about yet is that, and you’ve probably seen this, if you are self-employed, working out of your house maybe, there are going to be some different impacts on your life and on your family’s life and you probably have to consider those. Someone who is used to having the house to themselves during the day, all of a sudden has you around also and that might change the way you do things.
In that first part of the book, I also talk about working with professional organizations such like the IIBA, and that’s a really good way to get some visibility. You can start giving talks at local chapters of your various professional organizations and people will say, “Oh, this is a useful person across town to know.”
Another thing I talk a lot about is things that I’ve learned; realities about this kind of a job, mostly through trial and error and, you know, the errors really weren’t that much fun. So, if I can save someone else from having to make some of the mistakes I did, I think that’s a good thing. So that’s why I talk about checklists and techniques used for engaging with clients. I describe a couple of ideal clients I’ve had, that just have been dreams to work with, but also a bunch of warnings about some of the headaches clients can give you; ways to look for them and ways to avoid them.
A lot of what I talk about is very practical. I’m a pragmatist. I’m not a theorist or methodologist. I’ve got some very practical stuff in there about the things any new consultant has to face. Like what do I charge? How do you set your rates? How do you manage your finances? How do you negotiate written agreements with clients to be both to your advantage and being fair? Because I think that win/win is a very important outcome that you mentioned earlier.
Mentioned the idea of establishing business policies and something that people, sometimes, either don’t think about or obsess about is insurance. Your company is not buying insurance for you anymore. You have to do that and there are different kinds of insurance you need if you are self-employed as well as things that you are already familiar with.
You probably want to grow your business, right? I mean you have done that. You start by yourself and you’ve got all sorts of people doing things with you now. Though you find ways to grow it, one of the things that I found was ways to develop multiple revenue streams. There ‘s a whole chapter that talks about ways you can earn a living while you are asleep. That’s my favorite part that became my goal. Some years ago, I said, how can I earn a living while I am asleep? And I thought of several ways to do that which actually worked surprisingly well. How do you land new business and repeat business? And one of the chapters talks about remote consulting and that’s something that you might do if you’re independent. You might end up working with somebody either a client or a colleague at a distance. Kind of what we are doing right now.
Laura Brandenburg: Yes, the internet is amazing. I am grateful for it every day.
Karl Wiegers: So, two other areas that I think are really important to consultants, and I have alluded to those before talking about my own background. One is giving presentations. That’s pretty scary for lots of people and very understandably. But BAs and consultants often are called upon to give presentations of various kinds, you might do that to enhance your visibility or share what you know at conferences or teach classes. I have got a lot of tips about how to give effective presentations with confidence and those alone, I think, can make almost anybody feel better about standing in front of an audience.
You are going to develop intellectual property. You’ve got a lot and I’ve got a lot and we have to protect that. We want to find ways to leverage it so that you can, again, maximize your revenue with minimal work, and I’ve found some ways that worked for me to do that.
There’s a big section in the book about writing for publication. That can really enhance your consulting career as we were talking about. You’ve got a book. I’ve got books and people call us because they saw our books and said, oh, this looks like a useful person. Maybe we can get him to come teach us a class, or maybe we can send a bunch of people to their class or something.
So publishing’s a great way to share your knowledge and to promote yourself and your business, whether you’re writing for websites, blogs or magazines or books. I’ve got a lot of information in there that you don’t see most places, about how do you work with editors, what are the different kinds of editing? How do you put together a book proposal if you’ve got a book story that you want to try to sell to a publisher? What goes into a publication contract? What should you watch out for? How do you self-publish if you decided to go that route? I’ve done that a couple of times and I learned a little bit about that.
Finally, I’ve got a section, a whole chapter on co-authoring a book with other people because Joy Beatty and I worked together on the third edition of my Software Requirements book. That was a fun project. It was a huge project and she was just an absolute dream to work with and I am happy with that book. There is a lot of stuff in the book there.
Laura Brandenburg: Yes, I feel, like, to sum up, you’ve covered it all. It’s not just the one little piece of how to be a consultant or what the engagement looks like, it’s really the how do you build this as a business and as a potentially career long lifelong business. That’s invaluable.
Karl Wiegers: I tried to share pretty much everything that I found both good and bad about it. I have got some good input from some of the other consultants who contributed chapters. We all have had different sets of experiences, so getting some different angles helps a reader figure out what parts of this are most useful to the kind of work that I think I want to do.
Laura Brandenburg: Well, thank you so much. And people can find that. We’ll leave a link below. Is there a quick link, I kind of forgot that piece, that they can go to if they are just listening in?
Karl Wiegers: There are several places you can go. The best place is probably my website, ProcessImpact.com. I also have a personal site KarlWiegers.com and that’s I before E except after C. At KarlWiegers.com, you can find out about both my technical and non-technical books and you can also hear 17 songs that I wrote and recorded just for fun, plus a lot of covers I have recorded. I am no professional musician and thank you for noticing that I already know I can’t sing, but I don’t let that stop me.
Laura Brandenburg: Love it. Someday we’ll have to get back together and talk about the other things that you are doing outside of consulting. I’m sure you can find it on Amazon and major retailers as well.
Karl Wiegers: Yes, that is all true and it is readily available and there is a landing page at my ProcessImpact.com website that gives some sample chapters and a lot of very kind reviews. And I want to thank you, Laura, for your very nice foreword that you wrote for the book. That was a very nice plus and I appreciate it.
Laura Brandenburg: I was honored, thank you. We will leave a link to that below as well so anybody can get to that goodies too.
Karl Wiegers: Great.
Laura Brandenburg: So, one final question for you. You have been so generous with your knowledge and your sharing today. What does success look like to you, Karl?
Karl Wiegers: Well, you know I had to think about that, a few years ago when I was contemplating making a career change, I had to think about where do I get a lot of satisfaction. I concluded that I derive a lot of satisfaction from helping people do a better job with my help than they might have done otherwise. I get more pleasure from that than I do from inventing new schemes or models or anything like that.
So that led me to do work in the general area of process improvement. I think of that as a very broad thing of training and consulting and I’m pretty good and finding ways to improve things, whatever people are doing. It’s hard for me not to spot, something that could be done better.
So, success to me is mostly hearing from people who have taken my classes or read my books or articles who tell me how helpful my material has been to them. They relate stories about how things have improved in their company since they started applying some of the techniques I advocate. That really means a lot to me. And anytime I hear that people find my work to be useful I feel like I have done something helpful.
Laura Brandenburg: That’s awesome. That’s the impact in Process Impact. Right?
Karl Wiegers: That’s the impact, exactly. That name was carefully chosen.
Laura Brandenburg: I’m sure, I’m sure it was. Alright, well thank you, so much.
Karl Wiegers: Thank you, Laura.
Laura Brandenburg: Again, you shared so many awesome tips and ideas and I think probably convinced a lot of BAs that they might want to be a consultant someday, or given them a really good reason to stay in corporate, right, one or the other. Which either way is totally fine.
Karl Wiegers: Well, so long as people can reach a conclusion and say I’m pretty comfortable with what I’ve decided, that’s what important.
Laura Brandenburg: Awesome, well thank you, Karl.
Karl Wiegers: My pleasure, thank you very much, Laura.
Laura Brandenburg: You’re welcome.