Starting a Requirements Engineering Community of Practice: Interview with Anthony Oden, Business Systems Analyst at Dell

Anthony Oden Business Systems AnalystEditor’s Note: I had the opportunity to speak with Anthony Oden, Business Systems Analyst at Dell, Inc. It turns out that BAs at Dell read Bridging the Gap on a regular basis and Anthony went out of his way to send me a thank you note. I asked if I could learn more about how business analysis worked at Dell and Anthony was kind enough to spend an hour or so on the phone sharing his BA story with me.

When you are in a big organization like Dell, networking within the organization can be very important. I think what Anthony has done to connect BAs within his organization is a great example of a BA being a leader, and one that we can all learn from.

Laura: Tell me a bit about what you do at Dell.

Anthony: There are three parts to my role at Dell. My primary role is as the business systems analyst for the Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC) team that defines the process used by Dell Services IT to develop software. As the BSA on this team, I help elicit and manage requirements for refining the SDLC and fill a business systems analyst role to define the software changes needed to support the business process changes.

I am also what I call the “tool jockey”. I’ve mapped the tools we use to our software development process and became an expert on our latest tool sets. I help our development tools group with enhancements, customize reports, and do all the things that need to be done to help people effectively use the tools we have day-to-day.

Finally, I when I rejoined Dell in 2007, I re-initiated the Requirements Engineering Community of Practice and consistently invest effort to continue building and evolving the group.

Laura: What was it like to start a group like that?

Anthony: To help revitalize the group, I started out by contacting the analysts I had worked with before. The relationships I had built during my first tenure really helped. I started by asking each person I met what problems they faced with respect to requirements management and if they had a solution for one of them. After these interviews, I was able to identify some common trends across the organization that supported the need to build a community of practice to help solve the problems. I started a monthly meeting for the community of practice and formally chartered the CoP a few months later.

I am drawn to networking and finding a commonality, so a lot of this was natural to me.

Laura: What’s the Community of Practice like today?

Anthony:  The CoP has 50 folks spanning the enterprise. The monthly meetings regularly have 13-14 attendees, which is not bad for a grass roots effort. After awhile, I noticed some of the same people coming to meetings and tapped into them to form a leadership team. The leadership team is responsible for establishing the scope of the CoP, coming up with content for meetings, posting content to our intranet page, writing or posting white papers, and posting interesting articles. The CoP leadership team is the foundation for continued success of the CoP effort.

Laura: What are some of the keys to keeping people engaged?

Anthony: I keep a running list of who attends and contributes. At the end of the year, I send an email to each individual’s manager outlining the value that individual added to the Community of Practice. This is time consuming but necessary to help managers across the organization see the value and to continue to provide support for these activities.

Laura: What is the mission of the Community of Practice?

Anthony: The Requirements Engineering Community of Practice is a broad-based collaborative volunteer community working to improve project delivery by enabling business analysis practices at Dell. We service our customers by:

  • Educating and enabling individuals & teams to manage customer, business, product and application requirements.
  • Promoting and improving the value the Business Analyst brings to project delivery and application development.
  • Establishing a portal to assist all areas of Dell to achieve requirements engineering self-sufficiency through promoting, educating, training, mentoring and coaching of Industry & Dell standards and best practices.

Laura: What are some of the challenges the Community of Practice faces?

Anthony:  We are all very focused on delivering value to the customers in our primary roles. We are looking to improve senior-level support this year, so there are certain limitations on how much we can achieve. At the moment, the CoP doesn’t have access to funds to fully support itself. I’m confident we can further improve this effort by helping CoP members reach out to their management teams as well as tapping our own senior management for support.

Also, we have an opportunity to grow the Community of Practice outside the boundaries of the BSA role. This will help validate we are getting feedback from everyone and that we make surgical improvements for those who either consume or create requirements.

Laura: In light of that constraint, what motivates you to continue to dedicate the effort?

Anthony: My grandparents owned their own upholstery business. They were very vocal about “you do what you can to help people out.” I feel that through building the Community of Practice at Dell we are helping other business analysts and providing forums for continuous learning and professional development. This is obviously something that is needed and I’m not going to shy away from the challenge.

Laura: Thank you so much for your time today. And thank you for your support of Bridging the Gap.

Anthony: Keep  up the good work!

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