Sara Rankin has always loved asking questions and solving problems, and only recently learned that there is a profession and a job title for doing just that! I love Sara’s story of self-realization and self-actualization, from the bigger ideals of doing work that truly leverages her innate gifts with more clarity and confidence and shifting more of her day-to-day work to business analysis, to the smaller (but just as important) win of gaining “street cred” with developers by demonstrating her new data modeling skills.
In Sara’s words:
“I can do, I can be, I am a business analyst.”
Tune in to hear Sara’s full story, or read through the transcript below.
Connect with Sara Rankin on LinkedIn
For those who like to read instead of listen, here’s the full text of the audio:
Laura Brandenburg: Hello, and welcome. This is Laura Brandenburg from Bridging the Gap, and I’m here today with Sara Rankin. Hi, Sara.
Sara: Hi, everybody.
Laura: Sara has been part of our 2018, our first session in 2018 of The Business Analyst Blueprint®, and she just has been an awesome positive contributor in our community and agreed to share a little bit about her experience. Thank you so much for being here and for all that you’ve done to contribute so far. We really appreciate you, Sara.
Sara: Thanks for this opportunity, and for everyone out there, thanks for joining along. Yeah, so here we go.
Laura: Awesome, awesome. It’s middle of May now, but we started working together towards the end of January of this year. Could you tell me, kind of think back, where were you at in your career at that time before you started The Blueprint?
Sara: Sure. Actually, I came across Bridging the Gap, actually last fall. I was working with my supervisor on looking at some online courses or some training related to business analysts and just looked at all these different options and came across Bridging the Gap and signed up for emails.
I think I signed up for all these different things. I know I was getting emails all the time, but I just didn’t want to miss anything. And then, The BA Blueprint came along and looking at it and looking at the topics and the requirements and also just the time frame, it just seemed to work out really, really well given the current season of life.
In terms of from a professional development point of view, how I came to be a BA is kind of a long and sordid story, but I’ll give you the five-second version. I’ve always looked at things differently, like, either asked questions or just kind of looked at “How does this work, or how does that work?”
I’ve had that kind of mentality for a long time and come to find out, “Wow, you can actually build your skills in this area and get paid for it, and there’s actually a title to it.” That came about with working with my supervisor in professional development in the fall, and it’s been pretty exciting.
It was also just kind of a leap of faith in many ways because, given, it’s been a while since I’ve been in an online course or classroom type of thing with homework and assignments, but I just really enjoyed it, and it worked well with my schedule and with my current season of life. Yeah, it just worked out great.
Laura: You were in a business analyst role at the time, right? And I think you were also doing some training?
Sara: Correct. Yes. I feel, as well as my supervisor, that the two go hand in hand, the beginning and then the back end part of it. And what I found as a trainer is that being a business analyst and understanding their business process and their day-to-day, and I think what they do from a day-to-day experience, really helps me as a trainer to understand, “What are they looking for? What wins are they looking for to help them do their job even better?” I’m just enjoying and seeing the benefits of marrying those two halves together, so to speak.
Laura: You mentioned the topics and the requirements fit well with what you were looking for. What were some of your expectations going into the program?
Sara: When I start something new, I am just like, “Okay. Whatever comes…” I don’t want to say that I had low expectations, but I had open expectations. I was just open to learning whatever was offered, and based off the topics, and I really liked how the modules were broken out into different topics, like business process and data modeling. And, you’re going to laugh, but the second one I had to, I worked through it. Doug will attest to that. But I’m blanking on it right now. It just scarred me. No, it hasn’t scarred me. It’s all good.
Laura: The use cases and wireframes?
Sara: Yes, the use cases and wireframes. Thanks, Laura. Yeah, I just liked how they were chunked out. It made sense to me, logically, and I was just open to learning some of the things I had already done or been exposed to. But, I was really just open to learning whatever the course was going to provide. I don’t want to say I had low expectations. I definitely had expectations, but I like to call them “open expectations.” Like, open for anything.
Laura: Now, was there a specific reason, though, that you were looking for training in the first place? Because it sounds like you evaluated a lot of different programs.
Sara: I did, yeah. Working with my supervisor, and especially on professional development, we had some really good conversations about the direction of, not just my career or my role at the current organization that I’m at, but kind of looking at it as a whole for my career, whether I remain at the organization or whether I would move on.
But we were looking, I was looking specifically for… And I think what also drew me to this course was that you offered the additional resume and, “What do I do now? What is the next step? Should I go for my certification? Should I not go for my certification?” I felt that it wasn’t just “Here’s some information. I’ll learn a few things.”
But where I was at the time and just the timing of everything, it just really worked out to how those additional courses and really think about, for me, basically changing careers. For me, all of the pieces came together.
Laura: You were really looking to go, I mean, you were doing business analyst, but see this as part of a bigger career path and career change that you’re starting to step into?
Laura: That makes sense.
Sara: I had been doing it along. Primarily, I’m a trainer doing business analyst work, like learning processes and workflows, but more as a support role to the trainer. And now things are kind of, I’m still a trainer, but now, if I use the analogy of a dinner plate, I would probably say my BA work is going to be now shifted more 60/40 with training, as well.
Laura: It’s expanding on the plate?
Laura: Awesome, awesome. Talking through your experience with the program, I know it sounds like the use cases module was a rough point, but the first one, the business process, how did that go? Because I know you kept up with the pace. You did business process in February while we were focusing on that, correct?
Sara: Sure. I think the first module was probably the most familiar that I was with because I deal with that on a regular basis. I did learn a lot of things. It was just nice to have another set of eyes who was also from a business analyst perspective.
That really just, I think, helped me to tighten up the documentation or what I was trying to communicate within the processes. I found that example, even though it seemed like, “I kind of know this already,” I just really found invaluable, the feedback from the instructor just to be valuable in terms that she was looking at it from a BA perspective and not just from an end user perspective of, “Oh this makes sense. I understand this.
But from a BA, how can you say this more clearly? Or did you mean this, or did you mean this?” Just really helping me to be much more clear in the process documentation.
Laura: Was there a specific… I know one of the wins you shared was that you had a point of exception flows. Did you share that in the group?
Sara: I did, yeah. Yeah, the exception flows. It’s like the fly in the ointment type of thing. You have to deal with it, but there are so many different ways to deal with exceptions, and I think people just kind of, naturally, want to handle exceptions or document exceptions, or maybe not even document them at all, just ignore them, which is not a good thing.
But I did share a win in the Facebook group how I was in a meeting, and basically, the conversation was, “We need to document these exceptions, but our forum is already so cluttered, and we need to make this simple for the end user who has never dealt with process documentation before and they’re already overwhelmed by this coming. How can we simplify this?”
I think just working off the template and just, I think, from the training video and hearing other people’s feedback, just very simply like, “Hey, let’s document the exceptions this way. How does this work?” And, I think, it was a home run for that meeting.
I think it just helped to ease the stakeholders because they’re the ones presenting this information to the end user. I think just using that template really helped to ease their concerns.
Laura: It sounds like you were able to step into a training role and start sharing best practices of how to do some of this stuff within your organization.
Sara: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the organization that I work with, this is all very new to them. Documentation is very much a tribal knowledge mindset here, and we have a lot of people who are going to be retiring with that knowledge in the next five years, so, now the push is to document, document, document.
Part of my role is to help those individuals get the information down so that it is documented for the next individual. We always say around here, “Well, if so-and-so wins the lottery, what happens? Will someone be able to step in and be able to seamlessly continue the organization’s mission?”
It’s a change; it’s a change for the good moving toward some good things. But yeah, it’s change.
Laura: Do you want to talk about use cases a little bit? Was there a win there, or just still a frustration point? That’s fair, too.
Sara: No, no, no. I’ve got to give a shout out to Doug. I can’t do this case study interview without a shout out to Doug, who, seriously, was just very helpful for me in clarifying alternate flows and, what’s the other term? Exceptions.
Sara: Alternate flows and exceptions, yeah. He was very kind. We actually had a 20-minute phone call at one point to kind of just talk through each of those and just helping me to differentiate them because I think, in my mind, I had them backwards. That can always pose a problem.
Doug was great to work through with that, and we had some fun using examples of trolls in the forest and “which path should I take?” And yeah, it was good times.
I really did like use cases and wireframes. I think at one point in the Facebook group, I asked, “Did someone just get hired to do wireframes? Because this is a lot of fun.”
It really sparked my creativity. I’m a very visual person, to visually see something and to plot out a user interface or even just a form on a web or a mobile app just really brings home… It’s that textual description turned into a visual, so I enjoyed that. Use cases definitely did stretch me, but in a great way. I definitely want to use those more and get more comfortable and stronger in use cases.
Laura: Well, good. Doug has that mix of setting a standard and also, then, being there to support you through it. I think it’s really great to handle it that way.
Sara: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. That’s a great way to describe his teaching/training method.
Laura: Anything you’d like to share about the data modeling piece?
Sara: Data modeling, yeah. I thought it was great. It was nice. For me, I think it was a nice end, like a capstone to finish off the course. I was actually going through data modeling at work on a much larger scale project, so, it was really interesting to use the techniques, the… I’m probably not going to say this right because I call them “little feet,” the arrows that go back and forth on the data modeling. I was like, “Oh, they look like little feet.”
Laura: I think they’re called “Crow’s foot.” I get those mixed up. They are actual feet.
Sara: Right. It was interesting. I mocked up data. I mocked up the diagram using Crow’s feet and showed it to a developer, and he just kind of looked at me.
He was like, “How’d you know how to do that?”
I’m like, “I’m taking a course, buddy! There you go!”
Then he was like, “Do you want to do all of mine?”
I’m like, “No, you can do yours. I just wanted to show you that.”
Laura: “I’m on to you now. I know what it takes.”
Sara: Yeah. I just wanted to show I have some street cred with the developer. Like, “I know what you’re talking about. Not everything, but I get some things.”
Laura: Awesome. What would you consider, looking back, your biggest win from, obviously, you did the work, and you showed up, and you engaged with your instructors and sent things in and asked questions along the way.
Out of all of that when you’re looking back, what was your biggest win, professionally, as a result of doing that work and making that investment in yourself?
Sara: I think the biggest win for me professionally was this just really built my confidence. Like, I said before I would look at things differently or I would ask questions or I would just walk through with a person, “How does this work? How does this look like in your day-to-day stuff? What are you trying to improve? What are your pain points?”
And I was definitely doing that kind of haphazardly, not in a formalized or contextual, well thought out, you know, “Here’s this and this and that,” and kind of doing all these different things to paint the complete picture.
You know, when it comes to basically change management, or helping to improve business process, or just working through a data integration, or data mapping, or upgrades or anything that somebody’s going from one thing to another thing.
I would definitely say that the course has built my confidence, and I think it really has been a great stepping stool to step off in terms of, “I can do, I can be, I am a business analyst.” And there are so many more things to strengthen and skills to grow in, as well as skills that I have right now that I’m currently using that’s going to benefit the organization that I work for. I would definitely say, overall, confidence. It’s been a confidence-builder.
I think it’s been great to meet other like-minded business analysts, as well. Just knowing that there’s a community of people out there. I’m the only business analyst at my organization and many times, throughout the week, I have to, I feel like I’m constantly explaining, in a good way, what my new role is because it is so new for them.
And when I’ve had conversations with them, when I have shown, “Okay, we took that conversation that we had, that 20-minute conversation and here’s a workflow, or here’s an idea about how to improve something.” It just really builds those relationships with your coworkers, with other people, with stakeholders.
And, overall, I think it just really shows that you care or that you are making an investment in them for them to do their job better. And I think that’s what everybody wants, is other people helping them, investing in them to do better.
I’m just so grateful for the course, and I’m grateful for the people that I met, and I’m just excited for the next steps and what comes.
Laura: That’s beautiful. Thank you. Now, that you’ve got this confidence and these wins, and you’re starting to position the role in your organization, you mentioned that your career path was a big piece for you. Where do you see yourself now, say, three years down the road?
Sara: Well, three years… I can never answer those questions.
Laura: They’re hard.
Sara: They are hard because I’m sure if somebody asked me five years ago, I am absolutely sure if someone asked me five years ago if I’d be a trainer, I’d be working as a business analyst and working toward that, I would’ve looked at them and been like, “You’re crazy. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
I think the next step for me, I think, definitely, I want to work toward certification from IIBA. I have some ideas, I have some thoughts out there. I definitely want to continue with the organization that I’m currently at. I think there’s, definitely, a lot of opportunity here to help them, like I said before, with getting their documentation down and helping them to move as an organization toward being more process-oriented, in some respects. I think there’s definitely a lot of opportunity here for me.
But I also just want to be open to other opportunities that are out there. My background and what I’m working towards is more in the technology field, so, I think there are, definitely, lots of opportunities out there to help with integrating mobile apps or websites or just what other, the Internet of things.
All these new technologies that are coming out, it’s going to take business analysts to help people understand how these things can help them in their lives, as well as other things, like security, making sure things are secure, as well as working for them. There are lots of opportunities out there. We’ll see. I’m open.
Laura: That seems to be one of your themes. I like it. Open to learning new things and trying new things and to kind of see where things go for you. I can see you, already you started to share best practices in your organization, and that could be the start of leading a business analyst practice, too, if you decided to take your career in that direction. That’s what I could see for you three to five years down the road, if that’s where you decide to land. Lots of opportunity.
Sara: Yeah, definitely.
Laura: Just one final question for you, Sara. Thank you so much for your time. If you hadn’t made the decision to invest in The Blueprint a few months back, where do you think you would be today?
Sara: Well, I don’t think, and I know you’re going to laugh at my response, Laura, so that’s okay. I don’t think I would get to use my GIF that I used in the Facebook group. You know I had to put that in there, how I love a good GIF.
Laura: Oh, I thought you said “gift” first because your gifts are so strong, but you mean your G-I-F.
Sara: Oh! Yes, my G-I-F. My GIFs. I’ve heard some people call them “Jiff’s,” but I love a good GIF or meme. That’s my funny response from… I had to put that in there, I had to put that in there. No, seriously. The question again, what would have happened if I didn’t take this course, basically?
Sara: I think I’d be not as confident. I think I’d be struggling. I think I’d be questioning, “Could I be a business analyst? Could I use these things that I feel are innate in my personality or my skills or my gifts? Are these things that are needed, or am I just kind of ‘Okay, that’s Sara. She’s asking another question.’”
Which is good, but how can we use those skills? I’m just thankful for my supervisor who recognized that in me, and then to have open conversations about what I am thinking, professionally, career-wise. So, yeah, I think definitely I would not be as confident, and I’d be struggling. I’m glad I’m not.
Laura: Thank you. And how awesome that you have a supervisor who’s helping facilitate that, too. It’s such a gift. Like, not a GIF, a gift.
Laura: I’m glad you joined because we would’ve missed your GIFs in the group, for sure, in both senses of the word.
Well, thank you so, so much. Any last piece of tidbit you want to share or advice for those following before we close out today?
Sara: Yeah. Don’t be afraid to use GIFs, G-I-F’s. They are fun, and they will help you get through the challenging, whatever challenges you have. Just on another note, I just want to encourage other people to put in the work.
I know it can seem very daunting, and it’s a long process, but it’s definitely worth your time. It’s definitely worth the effort, and you will get a lot of good things out of it. I just encourage everyone to put in the work and see what happens because only good things will come out of it.
Laura: Awesome. Well, thank you, Sara.