There are hundreds of traits that make up a good manager, but here are the top 9 skills we recommend for a business analysis leader - or any leader in general.
1. See Design as a Differentiator
Anyone can design but not everyone designs well. Who cares? Frustrated users care. Seeing design as important sets you apart from all other business analysts that don’t’ give it a second thought. Build interfaces that are practical and good looking. Don’t see design as something someone else does – it something you as a business analyst can do.
2. Build the Vision – Be Adaptable to the Approach
Build consensus and a strong vision for the outcome. Share the vision of the outcome for the project far and wide to gain a common understanding within your organization on the vision. Share frequently and share often. Implementing the vision can take a thousand paths. Be adaptable. The way to realize your vision isn’t going to be on a clear cut path – there will be many forks in the road. Understand that planning is important in elicitation of requirements and design, but it’s volatile and subject to frequent changes. Create a planning approach the ensure your path forward is well understood, but balanced against overly complex and detailed planning.
3. Understand Your Customers & Users
At the heart of the vision lays the core user. These are the users that interact with your applications, systems, and processes every day. Without them everything just fades away or collapses. Identify your core users then profile them to build meaningful interfaces and processes targeted directly at them. Target your communications and marketing strategies for your vision and product to them very specifically. Knowing how to turn the heads of your core users and get them to support your vision is critical to your success. Once the core users are on board all the other types of users will fall into place. Build a fan base. Even an accounting application can have a fan base. Fans support you and give you new ideas to build your vision. Treat your fans well and they will support you through thick and thin.
4. Don’t Plan More Than 18 Months Out
Long term planning past 18 months is impossible. Markets and organizations change too rapidly to have road maps or long term planning past 18 months. The second you produce that 5-year plan it’s obsolete. Keep fluid in your planning to reach your vision. You may need to re-group or re-think your approach several times over. It’s better to be aware that you need to change your approach and planning frequently than to forge ahead thinking it will be set in concrete.
5. Plan, Perform, Evaluate, Adjust
We talked about planning above. Here’s a cycle that works:
A. Plan It Out – choose your path to reach your vision. Keep a Requirements Work Plan (RWP). Build the consensus and understanding on the tasks you are performing for the project.
B. Perform the Plan – don’t let the RWP sit idle. Work to carry out the tasks outlined and meet the dates you assigned yourself. This builds trust.
C. Evaluate continuously – be aware your best-laid task list could change in an instant. Be aware of other activities or projects that are pulling you away from meeting your plan. Check your progress against the plan and know when things are going off plan.
D. Re-Plan Proactively – get yourself back on track and re-plan frequently. Keep your team aware of the re-planning process and why re-planning was needed. Frequently re-planning is better than falling too far away from the plan and missing expected dates. There are no hard and fast dates no matter what the project manager tells you.
6. Don’t Rely on One Method of Communication
Email is tried and true but not the only way to communicate out your status, projects success or potential changes to users. Everyone is overloaded with email. Find a new channel of communication to keep your project’s vision and potential organizational impacts visible. Personal notes, open houses where anyone can swing by during a 2-hour period to ask questions, and even hallway meetings are a great way to communicate.
7. Focus on Opportunities – Destroy Problems
Only focusing on problems takes your eye away from opportunities that will bring better results. Choose the bright side and be optimistic in your attitude. New opportunities will present themselves. Be prepared to take advantage of them. Find problems and get to the root cause – then destroy them. Don’t focus on trimming a problem’s branches or cutting it down instead, kill at the roots. Don’t let the problem linger around or give it the ability to grow back.
8. Carefully Build the Team – Build Strong Relationships
If you get the chance to choose team members, then choose carefully. Listen to your gut feeling and don’t bring on board resources that you don’t or can’t trust – even if you can’t explain why. It’s hard to put into words sometimes why you don’t trust. Choosing the right members for the team will make or break the vision. Maintaining a team is equally important. Spend time every week celebrating or gathering the team informally outside of the daily stand-ups or weekly status meetings. Try to hold that meeting somewhere different and fun. Even moving to a different conference room will oddly change the team’s perspective – especially if they are trapped in the same war room every day. Always be grateful and reach out to say “Thank You”. Remember those different communication channels? Don’t always email – try a hand written thank you card or just ask them out for a coffee to say thanks for their help. Building the strong relationships get you through the tough times in a project.
9. Know Your Strengths – Outsource Your Weaknesses
You are not everything to everyone. Figure out your strengths and what you are good at. Personality tests give you a hint but ask around. Listen to what your colleagues, friends, and family believe your strengths are. Play to your strengths – you're strong at certain things for a reason. Know your weaknesses – then outsource them or engage someone to help you overcome them. Ask for help. For extra credit build the project team knowing the strengths and weaknesses of everyone on the team to balance them out.
So here’s the truth. As leaders and contributors in the Business Analysis field, these are the skills we need every day. They are also the skills that founders of companies hold. Read more on this topic from Mitchell Harper. Family man & company builder (6 so far). Mitchell shows company founders how to grow their businesses faster, with less stress: http://www.mitchellharper.me