I’ve noticed from the logs that some folks never seem to make it past the blog part so I am sticking this at the top of the blog as a gentle reminder on where most of the “good” stuff is. 🙂
Excel. The multi-tool in every BA’s tool-belt. Or if it’s not, it should be.
From capturing user stories, calculating cost basis, data analytics, metrics tracking, management dashboards, and it’s default use as the table-creation-tool du-jour; it does it all. It may not be the BEST tool for any of those but it’s the tool you can count on almost everyone in an office environment having and being at least somewhat familiar with.
It’s also the tool that most people I know turn to when you get one or more data dumps of some sort and you need to try and make sense of the information, or just make it more accessible for further analysis.
In this post I am going to discuss a specific problem I encountered with a data extract in the form of an Excel file. That problem was that:
- Out of about 25 data elements in the file, only about 10 were in distinct columns
- The rest of the data elements were concatenated together into one string in a single column
- There were nearly a thousand rows of data and I would be getting a new file every month, meaning a manual solution was not desirable
- The discreet data values in the string were not always consistently present (e.g. a value might be present in one row but not another)
- The data values in the strings were not always in the same order
So in this post I am going to go through the logic and eventual Excel functions that were created to solve this problem. Hopefully you find it useful.
2017 was a busy year personally. I wrapped up a 3-year enterprise-level project; which led to me accepting a management position (managing a very small team of business analysts); I bought a house; and generally dealt with a number of the curve-balls that life throws at you. All of which unfortunately meant that this site did not get nearly the attention I hoped.
On a positive note, my goal of writing content that has a longer shelf life and having this site act as a sort of reference resource seems to be working even with a bit of inattention. 2017 saw the following improvements in site metrics over 2016 (as measured by Google Analytics):
- Individual users were up just under 16% to roughly 56,000
- Individual sessions were up a bit over 17% to 67,000
- The bounce rate dropped 12% from 52% to 40%
- The % of visitors who spent at least 5 minutes on the site was up 14%
Other interesting statistics include:
- Over 82% of site visitors are using desktops, with 15% on mobile.
- The U.S., U.K, India, Canada and Germany are the top 5 sources of traffic
- And the following site pages remain the most visited:
- RASCI Matrix
- Context Diagram
- Stakeholder Onion Diagram
- VMOST Analysis
- Stakeholder Communications Matrix
I am hoping in 2018 to get back to regular writing for this site and finally finishing some of the longer articles I have had in progress for a while.
Thank you again to all those who visit and find something of use here. I remain committed to having no advertising on this site, so my only reward is your attention and the occasional positive comment. 🙂
May your 2018 be a story of success, both personal and professional.
Every once in a while I come across an article that discusses some subject in an incredibly clear and thoughtful way. Issue 2017-02 of IREB’s Requirements Engineering Magazine online contains just such an article. It’s titled “The goal is to solve the problem” and it’s an article that I recommend any Business Analyst or Requirements Engineer read. And if you are relatively new to the field I recommend it even more.
This article is full of highly quotable text and I have included some quotes below to give you a sampling, but it’s just that. You really need to read the whole article to gain the full value.
As the authors state in the opening paragraph, they use to the article to:
“… critically explore the concepts and look into the relation between problems and goals through solutions. We will also pay attention to their recursive nature. We will end up with several (slightly provocative) thoughts on the subject, including practical implications for the work of the requirements engineer.”
If you haven’t read it yet, last month Modern Analyst published an article by Adrian Reed titled The Crucial Art of Pre-Project Problem Analysis that I really, really, really recommend you read.
The article talks about how BA’s can add value both inside and outside of the project environment. It’s relatively short but it speaks to issues I have seen over and over again; and that other BA’s I have spoken to have mentioned many times as well. So it really speaks to issues that I think are important to all BA’s whether you are a “project” BA or not.
The four main sections of the article give you a good idea of what it covers. Those are:
- The ‘First Solution Trap’
- What problem are we trying to solve?
- What Are the desired outcomes
- What is the current state? Understanding the problem (and its root causes)
So if you have a bit of time to spare, give it a read. In my opinion, it’s definitely worth your time.
This site has been offline occasionally for at least the last 2 days with messages such as “Internal Server Error” and similar messages. It turns out this is a server issue with my hosting provider and they are working to get it fixed.
So if you have trouble accessing the site, please check back later in the day. Thanks!
It’s been a few months since I posted something new, but I haven’t abandoned the site or my work on it.
The lack of updates has been been due to a combination of factors including my having started a new job, some family requirements, a need to focus on other things, a lack of content elsewhere that I thought warranted a “Recommended Reading” post here, and the fact that the articles I have in the works are all ones that require quite a bit more time than I originally expected to research and write.
So things may slow down for a while longer with blog and wiki articles coming more infrequently, but they will come.
If you have never watched one of Gojka Adzic’s presentations, you really should. This one is about 3 months old and in the first part is one of the best discussions I have seen on why so many projects and requirements efforts, including those that are “Agile”, fail to deliver value. He also some valid comments on Business Analysis at around the 32 minute mark, and provides some suggestions on addressing some common pitfalls with Impact Mapping starting at around the 37 minute mark.
In my opinion, this one video has more value to Business Analysts than any webinar I ever attended. If you have the time, give it a watch.
Back in January I was interviewed by Dave Saboe for his Mastering Business Analysis podcast. The interview came about as a result of the LinkedIn discussion that resulted from my “The Role of the Business Analyst – It’s Time for a New Perspective” article that I had posted on this site.
The podcast episode has some discussion of that article, this site, and my own background (briefly). If you are interested, the Mastering Business Analysis link above leads directly to the episode page on Dave’s website, as does the image below. Or you can download the episode via iTunes. This was episode 114 of Dave’s excellent podcast, so there are lots of back episodes for you to listen to as well.
Feedback and comments are always appreciated. 🙂
Just a couple of quick news bits from the world of Business Analysis certification that I came across recently and which I thought worth sharing here:
- First, the International Requirements Engineering Board (IREB) announced that they were merging with the Requirements Engineering Qualifications Board (REQB). With both organizations continuing under the IREB banner and with some options for those with REQB certifications to migrate over to the IREB certification scheme.
- Second, the IREB also announced that they were joining forces with 3 other certification organizations to launch a ‘Shaping the Future of IT’ initiative “whose aim is to create an interdisciplinary body of knowledge fit for the challenges of software development in digital society”. Most of the organizations seem to be European-based, but you might want to keep an eye out for whatever they produce in the future.
- Third, one of the qualification boards that was part of the ‘Shaping the Future of IT’ initiative was new to me. This was the International Usability and UX Qualification Board (UXQB). It’s made up of organizations in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, and the UK and they seem to be building out what looks like a decent certification program for UX practitioners. Therefore I added information on this certification program to the Certification page of the wiki.
If you want to know more, just follow the links above.
I use mind-maps in my day-to-day business analysis work, and I use them more often when exploring subjects I want to write about in a blog post. So it should come as no surprise that I built a mind-map for my recent article The Role of the Business Analyst – It’s Time for a New Perspective. And I have continued to expand on it and I continue to think about my perspective on the subject.
Given that, I figured some of you who are not as familiar with mind-maps might find it interesting to see the mind-map I have been working with (updated as of today) and maybe get some ideas how you might use them for your own needs (either professional or personal). I am currently using the MindMaple ‘Lite’ software, but you can find links to it and several other mind-mapping packages on the Mind-Mapping Software page of the wiki.
Here is the mind-map. Click the image to see a larger version.
As always, comments and feedback are appreciated.
The conceptual role of the business analyst has evolved over the years. Unfortunately, in my opinion it has not evolved enough in either the minds of most business analysts or in the minds of those who employ them. For far too many the role of Business Analyst is still one that is focused only on project work and for most of those it is one that begins and ends with requirements.
But that concept of the role of the Business Analyst is one that I emphatically disagree with. I believe that it inhibits the application of business analysis skills to situations where they could benefit the organization and which thus reduces the value the business analyst can provide to an organization.
While the IIBA has attempted to change this view with the new definition of what a Business Analyst does in BABOK v3.0, I think that definition also misunderstands and short-changes the role that the business analyst can play in an organization. I believe that even the newest IIBA definition continues to tie business analysis (as both a function and a job) too closely with the project environment. And that this close conceptual tie to project work is holding back the profession and limiting its value.
So with this article I want to build on the concepts I started putting forward in April 2016 with my post “Have we mis-identified the core purpose and value proposition of Business Analysis?” I want to put forward for discussion a new perspective of business analysis that I hope will both broaden and clarify the concept of what a business analyst does, and how it can provide value to organizations.
I want to do this not only because I believe it represents a needed change for the field, but because I feel that that the recent entry of the PMI into the business analysis arena, and especially their role definition for business analysis, threatens all of the progress made over the last decade in moving the concept of business analysis away from a requirements focus. And that if those of us who practice business analysis can’t make a broader, clearer, and more robust definition of business analysis the default understanding of the field; we may soon be back to being thought of as just “those people who write software requirements”.
Due to work and other commitments I ended up taking December 2016 off as far as new material for this website goes. But I have several articles and wiki pages in progress and hope to get the new material coming soon. In the meantime, here are some quick statistics for the website for the 2016 calendar year vs. the 2015 calendar year:
- Unique site visitors were up over 45% to roughly 48,400
- Returning visitors increased from 13.1% of site visitors in 2015 to 15.5% of site visitors in 2016
- Mobile traffic was up over 100%, but still made up under 15% of visitors (no surprise)
- The top countries that visitors to the site came from were:
- United States (27.0%)
- United Kingdom (9.8%)
- India (6.7%)
- Australia (6.6%)
- Canada (6.1%)
- Germany (4.0%)
- Netherlands (2.4%)
- France (2.0%)
- South Africa (2.0%)
- Philippines (1.6%)
- The most popular pages on the site in terms of page views (other than the home page) were:
- Responsibility Matrix wiki page
- Context Diagram wiki page
- My blog post on Why I Chose not to Renew my IIBA Membership
- Decomposition wiki page
- Stakeholder Onion Diagram wiki page
- My blog post on using OneNote for Meeting Notes
- Stakeholder Communications Matrix wiki page
- Benchmarking wiki page
- Stakeholder Salience Diagram wiki page
- Data Dictionary wiki page
- But the pages that people spent the largest average time actually reading were:
- Interviews wiki page
- My blog post “Better Business Analysis through Problem Statements”
- Decomposition wiki page
- VMOST Analysis wiki page
- Observation wiki page
- Unified Process wiki page
- Stakeholder Salience Diagram wiki page
- Data Dictionary wiki page
- Kano Model Prioritization wiki page
- My blog post “We are not Business Analysts”
For a web site that I work on during my personal time, without earning any money from and as a way of giving back to the community, this was a tremendously successful year. The increase in returning site visitors to over 15% of unique traffic is extremely gratifying given that most users find this site through search sites like Google and DuckDuckGo. That means that people are finding the material I write valuable enough to come back. I am also very happy that several of my posts are attracting attention and being read. It’s good to know I’m not just spouting off into the wind. At least some of the time. 🙂
But honestly two of the things in the list above that I really appreciate is that the wiki pages for VMOST Analysis and Kano Model Prioritization are among the articles people spend the most time reading. Both of those pages are (in my opinion) probably the best references on those subjects you will find on the internet. The fact that they are there tell me that there is an audience who appreciates the occasionally months of work I put into researching some of these topics.
So to all of you who come here and find value in what I have put together with this site, I thank you. Especially those of you who continue to come back, and those who take to the time to read some of the very long pages I put together when I try to make an exhaustive resource. You can get a quick summary in a lot of places, but I hope that this will be where you come when you want detailed information. And that continues to be my goal for the site.
I hope you all enjoy nothing but success and happiness in this new year.
I made a few minor updates to the wiki Certification page, just in case you haven’t visited it in a while. They were:
- Added new IIBA Level 1 (ECBA) and Level 4 (CBATL) certifications
- Updated links for all of the IIBA certifications to go to the new pages
- Added the PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) to the Agile group
- Added the forthcoming [email protected] certifications from the IREB
- Added the Certified Business Architect from the Business Architecture Guild to the Business Architecture group
- Cleaned up the IREB certifications and updated the links to the new page URL’s
As always, if you are aware of a BA-related certification that I have not identified please add a comment to that page or send me an email (see the ‘About’ page) with info on the certification and I will think about adding it.
The November/December 2016 issue of CrossTalk is up and the subject of the issue is “Beyond the Agile Manifesto”. CrossTalk is “The Journal of Defense Software Engineering” and as a U.S. Government publication is freely available.
Of the six major articles in the issue, five of them are focused on Agile in one way or another. And one specific article I recommend everyone read is “The Heart of Agile” by Alistair Cockburn.
CrossTalk often has very good articles in it, and this issue in particular seems worth reading.
Ron Ross recently had an excellent article on Modern Analyst titled “The Story of Al’s Spreadsheet and Absent Brains” in which he makes several very valuable points. Those include:
- “Around the globe there is extensive core operational business knowledge running businesses day-to-day that is highly inaccessible. Just putting your fingers on it, much less revising it, consumes vast amounts of vital resources. We live in a service provider’s dreamscape. It makes you wonder how brittle (read not agile) many companies’ operations really are today.”
- “To ensure the continuity of operational business knowledge, no organization should ever depend on absent brains – or even on brains that could (and eventually always will) become absent in the future. To say it differently, your operational business knowledge should be encoded explicitly in a form that workers you have never even met yet can understand.”
- “Operational business knowledge can be either tacit or explicit (read ‘accessible’). The classic test for when knowledge is tacit is ‘lose the person, lose the knowledge’.”
The closing paragraph of his article is, “So make sure when you lose your Al, he doesn’t walk out the door with the day-to-day knowledge you need to run your business. Encode it as business rules!”
Of course, business rules are Ron’s normal answer to many problems (often validly). But I think in this case he is drastically cutting short the type of information you need to make explicit. It needs to be more than just business rules. It needs to include:
- business processes
- reference and training guides
- descriptive materials on what different units within the organization do and how they do it
- what applications are used by the organization, for what purpose, and by whom
- business rules
- regulatory rules and interpretations
- and a whole lot more
My test would be, “Can a new hire come into your organization and with nothing more than access to your knowledge repository figure out your work vocabulary, organization structure, what different units do, what tools are used, and how to do their job at a basic level?”
But having this information captured in an explicit form (preferably structured and searchable) isn’t just of value for business continuity and ensuring critical knowledge doesn’t walk out the door with departing employees; it’s of tremendous value for projects. This information helps with scoping a project, acts as a continuously updated “current state” of the organization that can be leveraged, and allows critical subject matter experts to only have to devote project time for difficult-to-answer questions that require greater expertise.
In my experience (and yours may differ) the time spent by the project team gathering, synthesizing, and analyzing this information is among the most critical efforts of the project as well as being among the most likely to be cut short or skipped in an effort to “deliver something tangible” or “get going” or “show progress”. Not doing this well or at all is in my experience the single greatest cause of scope creep, missed requirements, and missing stakeholders.
Unfortunately, creating and maintaining an accurate business knowledge repository requires organizational commitment and constant encouragement and support from management. It can’t be done as a project, or an initiative, or any other temporary activity. It has to become a constant act that is integrated into the entire organizations day-to-day activities. It requires a commitment of time and effort from ALL employee’s. And that is why it is so hard to do even an initial attempt, let alone keep it up.
But if you want to improve your projects; as well as your training, onboarding, and many other activities; keep Ron’s article in mind. Just make sure you look at capturing more than just business rules.
Agree. Disagree. Or have thoughts of your own to share? Please comment!