How to Use a Project Journal to Keep Track of Your BA Work

As Business Analysts, we are professional change practitioners.  We are experts in the field of “change” and should expect to add maximum value to the organisations we work for.  To be effective in this role I believe we must manage change in our own professional development and take every opportunity to reflect on our experiences, and crystallise the knowledge we gain whilst working on projects.

It is important to have a conscious professional development strategy and this is likely to involve a number of activities.  However, it is good practice to build in professional development to your weekly and monthly schedules.  Professional development doesn’t have to be costly or time consuming, and it’s important not to overlook the experience we gain in our project work.

One of the single biggest ways we develop as BAs is through the work that we carry out day-to-day, and I have found that keeping a project journal is an incredibly useful professional development tool.  It can be tempting to move straight from project to project without taking any time to reflect on what has been learned, but consciously recording relevant information in a journal (acronyms, terminology, lessons learned etc) can be an effective way of crystallising knowledge and storing it for future use.   This can become excellent reference material if you work on a similar project in the future.  The act of reflecting on your progress and recording it, is useful in itself, as it helps you to consolidate your knowledge and consider what you might do differently in future. It can also be useful to review the journal periodically, to reflect on previous projects and ensure any knowledge is carried forward.

You can spend as much or as little time on this activity as you like.  It would be valuable even if you only spent 15 minutes writing a summary after every project engagement.

A very light-weight journal might include:

  • Project name
  • Date started/date completed
  • Techniques used
  • Stakeholders worked with
  • 3 things that worked well
  • 3 things you’d do differently next time
  • Biggest learning point
  • Acronyms & terminology
  • Other relevant information

You can tailor your journal to your particular needs and preferences.  I keep an incredibly light-weight journal.  By keeping the journal short, this makes it very quick to update (which means I am much more likely to do it!).

A project journal can also form a useful part of your stakeholder management strategy.  For example, you might learn that a particular stakeholder likes to receive information in a particular way (perhaps they prefer diagrams, or value telephone calls over e-mails).  It can be incredibly useful to record these preferences, so that you can keep this in mind for any future engagements.

The journal itself can be kept in any format you like.  You could keep it on paper, electronically or even on your iPhone.  I personally keep mine in Excel, as it is easy to sort, search and update. The important thing is to get into the habit of updating it, and allowing time to reflect on your progress.  Why not put a monthly reminder in your calendar, blocking out 15 minutes for reflection?

One final benefit of a project journal is that it provides an excellent repository of information which you can use to periodically update your CV or resume. It will also help you if you decide to apply to become Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP ®) qualified, as you will need to provide evidence of your project experience.

However you address your professional development strategy, I hope that you have found this article useful, and I hope that you consider reflecting on your experiences and keeping a project journal.

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Comments

  1. Celal Murat PARLAK says

    You are welcome, miss. I am quite a newfie, i hope i will have more to share in the future.

  2. Michelle Swoboda says

    Celal, all of this sharing helps. Thank you very much – I really appreciate it.

  3. Celal Murat PARLAK says

    Hello Michelle,

    Our company’s policy doesn’t allow me to upload any documents from workplace, but i can share how it is created. It is just your another spreadsheet.

    We have these columns:
    Priority, Department, Project ID, Status, Start Date, Finish Date, Subject Summary, Notes to Self.

    In Priority, you define the projects prioties in any manner of system so it helps you with what to look at first. (Helps with deciding what to work on if you are juggling many projects)

    In Department, it gives you ability to filter projects related to any department. Also you bridge it to respective folder so you can go right to department’s projects’ folders.

    In Project ID, We have a system here that gives IDs to projects. So every project has an unique numeric name. It helps me with filtering the projects i work on, also i bridge them with projects’ folders. So I can revert to any finished project later on when a rework or improvement pops up without trying to find a hell dozen of folders.

    In Status, It tells me where the project is in the waterfall. A for Analysis, T for test, F for finished. I also make it conditioned coloring so i can easily keep a track of what is where.

    I guess Start Date and Finish Date is obvious..

    In Subject Summary, I create a sentence that defines the project clearly without any mumbo jumbo.

    In Notes to Self, I create a log based on date. After every task (Not job or phase) i fill up a memo. So when i return next day, i can continue right away without having to remember what i have done or what i have to do.

    I hope this helps!

    Best Regards,

  4. Michelle Swoboda says

    Would you be willing to share?

  5. Celal Murat PARLAK says

    I invented her, miss.

  6. Michelle Swoboda says

    Hi Celal, where did you find the tracker? This sounds very interesting.

  7. Celal Murat PARLAK says

    Hey there,

    I got a “tracker” over here. We are working in a waterfall environment here and with many departments. We do a lot of small projects involving change and upgrades of older projects. So in earlier days of my BA life, I discovered myself “The Tracker” that helps me keep track of my projects.

    My tracker includes projects’ identifier number in our system, its start date, its state in the waterfall and most importantly in which department and notes. All identifiers have bridges to the respective folders of the projects and all deparment names are bridged to department folders. I take notes based on dates so Notes are seperated by time which enables me keep a track of them too.. Example: “20112011 – Bla bla bla 19112011 – Bla Bla @#%&!! ”

    Maintaining this file helps me go home and spend my weekends with a clear head… I update it daily with less then 10 minutes of work and I predict it frees up my time multiples of it.

    Take care folks..

  8. Such a simple and great idea! Unfortunately the link for download is not valid anymore. Can it be updated?

  9. Katie Metcalfe says

    How useful!! Thanks for sharing the link Adrian.

    I keep a professional journal where I log all the courses (and PDU#’s) I have taken and how they map to BA competencies and BABOK KA’s. It helps me identify gaps in knowledge for training planning as well as assists me in keeping on track with certificate goals.

  10. Hi Brendon, I’m really glad that you liked the article, and I’m glad to hear that you found the idea of keeping a project journal useful. It is so useful for reflecting on challenges and successes, as well as preparing for annual reviews, as you have quite rightly pointed out!

  11. I happened to have found this article through a similar post, and I fell in love with it. I have been wondering on ways to monitor my own professional development as well as preparation for annual reviews.

  12. I can not agree more on this. I also liked this idea and would start keeping my journal from now on. Whatever I have learnt till now, is just into my memory. But I feel that I can take atleast 70 % of it on paper. Better late then never.
    Adrian , thanks for the great tip , it will surely help us in becoming better by each passing day. It gets you more refined/focussed approach. It’s also fun to revisit the lessons in past , as Many a times I can’t help smiling for my first project goofups. 🙂
    I believe , Business Analysis is like a craft and the more you get involved and the more you try to get into the skin of it , the more refined you become.
    So ideally would have a look at the template first and then start getting aligned to this method. It will definitely help in professional development strategy as well as CV / interview preparation. In my view, worst thing I have ever come across is like not able to present/demonstrate your work in that specified timeframe – be it interview, higher Management review or anythinng of that sort. I surely don’t want to get into that anytime in my career 🙂
    Thanks everyone for sharing such valuable insight /comments / experiences.

  13. Michelle Swoboda says

    I agree with both of you, and I downloaded the excel spreadsheet, saved it at home and sent it to work to use. Thank you very much for sharing this valuable tool. Adriana, well put “a BA with 10 years of experience” – I love that and it is so true.

  14. Adrian, I’m writing just to agree with what the others said: great tip for new and experienced BAs alike.

    Writing down “3 things that worked well”, “3 things you’d do differently next time”, and “biggest learning point” is an excellent way to ensure that you become “a BA with 10 years of experience” instead of just a BA who only repeated the experience of his/her first year 10 times (which sadly I’ve seen happen with some professionals).

    I’m glad you were able to offer a fictional example–I think it will be very useful for many BAs. I’m saving the link to recommend to analysts I mentor as well.

  15. Many thanks for all your comments, I’m glad that you have found this article useful. A number of people have contacted me to ask whether I have an example journal that I can share. I have uploaded a template (complete with an example fictional entry) to my blog, it can be downloaded from the following page:

    http://adrianreed.wordpress.com/downloads/

    I hope that you find this useful!

  16. Michelle Swoboda says

    I love this idea!. I have to report every week to my boss what I have accomplished, any risks etc so I keep that up to date but this takes it one step further. It is difficult to remember everything at review time. This is an excellent resource for promoting yourself, detailing info for your CBAP prep and application.

  17. I dont keep a project journal but sounds like a great idea.

    I have an ‘achievements matrix’ in a spreadsheet with the following columns:
    1. Year
    2. Project description
    3. What was the situation?
    4. What did I do?
    5. What impact did this have (e.g. cost savings etc)?

    These can then be reflected on your CV and provide examples at interview

  18. This was extremely useful and an excellent thing to maintain a journal….I started keeping a journal for myself as soon as i read this post..thanks a lot Adrain and look forward for more such tips..

  19. Susan Diederichs says

    This is an excellent idea. Updating or creating a log of the project after the fact allows for critical items to be missed or forgotten. Keeping an on going journal is very useful for a contract BA in the event of a discrepancy or for establishing future billing rates. I suggest including a description of the project at start and a description of the solution upon implementation. Thanks Adrian, great article.

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