30 June 2008

Are you 'On Strategy'?

Businesses have strategies.



Most of these strategies are implemented by projects.  If you are doing something that is contrary to, or not aligned with the organisation's strategy, we could say your project is a waste of resources.



Depending on how far off strategy you are probably has some relation to the amount of waste you are potentially creating.



How on target is your project?
















27 June 2008

How to get the mentoring you need



In this post, Craig talks about how mentoring helps in learning to be a great Business Analyst (BA) or Project Manager (PM). A master-apprentice style relationship is very helpful but if you can't find a mentor, what are the other options?



I think that Craig has hit on a good point. In order to improve as a BA or PM, one needs to see a senior professional in action. The problem is that it isn't always possible to work directly with a mentor. Even in organizations with multiple BAs or PMs there are rarely more than one assigned to a given project. So how does one get quality mentoring when on-site help isn't an option?



The first resource I have found is professional conferences. If you can convince your employer to send you to one of the excellent business conferences out there, you can use the opportunity to make connections with other professionals. I have found at every conference I have attended the speakers are more than willing to talk about what they do. I have never had a single person turn me away during a networking event at a conference and there is a huge amount of information sharing that occurs. I have also had the luck to meet several professionals whom I have been able to stay in contact with for advice when needed.



If you aren't lucky enough to have an employer who will send you to a conference, then you can turn to the internet. Social networking isn't just for teenagers anymore. Better projects is just one of the many excellent resources available on-line to mentor business analaysts. Even a straight up networking site like LinkedIn can offer useful business networking information if you take advantage of their forums. There are yahoo groups that are focussed on specific areas of interest that you can access by email. These resources require a more proactive approach by the individual but if you put forth the effort you can definitely find people to mentor you (or at least commiserate with you on your problems).



While the ideal situation is to have a mentor available to you in a one-on-one situation where they are familiar with your work environment and the people you deal with, participating in conferences and online communities is a not insignificant replacement.







26 June 2008

Toward Agile Systems Engineering Processes

I have been referred to this article by Joy at Seilevel. (Care of this blog post.)

Thanks for sharing Joy! I want to read it, but am too busy right now. So I'll put up a link here for you to read.

Let me know if you like it, and if there is anything in particular that grabs your attention.

25 June 2008

Petri-Net

Analysts,

Do you know about the Petri-net? I came across it in a recent article and rememberrred it vaguely from the past.

It's a tool you can use in workflow analysis, for example. It identifies issues around transitions from place to place and from processes or sub-processes to other processes.

For details you can go to Wikipedia



24 June 2008

Project Management 2.0

I named a tongue in cheek post a while back “Project Management 2.0.” It was simply a joke post riffing on the power of a good acronym.

But one of your fellow readers challenged me to say what I really thought about Project Management 2.0 as a concept.

My first thoughts were that the whole 2.0 think is in the post hype dip, and I didn’t want to go there, and my second thought was “that would be Agile project management” because of the increased focus on collaboration - which is the hook-up to the 2.0 spin.

And then, in the car this evening, I came up with a diagram that I wanted to share with you that might just be “What I Think” about PM2.0 (if there really is such a thing.)

And it fits neatly and conveniently into one of my four box grids that I like to use.

Over the last decade or three many organisations have learned to trust their experts. Not all are there yet, but the trend is clear; decentralised decision making means more adaptable and viable organisations.

At the same time the Project Management profession has evolved from a focus on WBS, network diagrams and gannt charts into an ever increasing awareness of the business and social contexts that projects operate in.

In both instances it seems to me that we are currently in the middle of the adoption cycle of these two ideas. Most (large) enterprises are aware of these issues and are accommodating them to some degree. And many leading organisations have fully exploited the benefits from them.

(Am I being overly optimistic here? What is your employer like on these dimensions?)

Anyway, without really believing in a 2.0, Project Management and it's context is evolving, and my job is different to the previous generation, just the next generation's will be different from ours.

Viva la evolution.

23 June 2008

This month's reader survey

This mohth's reader survey is about how you plan your work. The survey form is over to the right of this page.

Share your experiences and knowledge with us.

And of course comments are always welcome!

22 June 2008

Dear Bas - Coversations with the Project Shrink on Training and Accreditation

Bas and I are regular readers of each other’s sites and now we are having a conversation from site to site. Feel free to join in.

Context, purpose and capability. Nice framework Bas. I agree. This is where we think training and education should be focused today for PMs.

And what training is out there for business analysts? There are three flavours of training that I can see;

  1. “Tool based” eg - learn modelling in MS Visio in 2 hours
  2. “All about modelling” – knowing your DFDs from your ERDs and your Use Cases from your State Diagrams
  3. And more recently the more generalist approach of the IIBA – looking at the work in a context of requirements management as part of a system development process

(There are local variations of the IIBA accreditation, but IIBA seem to have the momentum that PMI had a few years ago and so my money is all on that horse.)

The first two scenarios address capability to some degree, and the third addresses the whole shebang, albeit in an uneven tenor. And like the PMBOK and PRINCE2 models the IIBA fails to seriously address the vitally interpersonal nature of the work.

There is another way people learn to be a good BA, and it’s just like the way people learn to be good project managers; they find a master practitioner-mentor and work with them.

In my work life there have been several excellent project managers (some of which were also BAs) who taught me a great deal about what is important and how to make sure you get to the important work (and I still struggle at it.)

Just like the PM role, the BA role seems to call for a master-apprentice model. But this can be rough if you don’t have access to an excellent ‘master.’ It seems people really need to be proactive about getting their hands on a high calibre mentor.

Other industries also use this model, and generally it seems to be popular with professions that sell knowledge. Interestingly studies from the 90’s in the legal industry show that unless you really do have one of the rare excellent mentors out there your baseline competency is likely to pretty much stay flat-lined throughout your whole career.

Maybe the difference between project professionals and the lawyers is that lawyers are basically given their mentor via whoever hires them for their first job, whereas we go from company to company and project to project and have plenty of opportunity to discover excellent practitioner mentors.

Although, as a project manager you tend not to observe many other project managers in action unless you report to them as part of a broader project or programme.

So, what else can we do?

You and I both have master’s degrees in project management. My master’s degree pretty much addressed the content of the PMBOK in the first subject (of twelve.) For the rest of the course work a wide variety of topics were covered including finance, people management and in depth investigation into things like risk management and project planning. It’s roots come from the MBA. I felt the degree really elevated my knowledge and was a worthwhile investment.

I’ve also been teaching project management recently as subject in a master’s degree in IT and one thing I particularly like about the course is it’s focus on the many human aspects to project management.

I really don’t think there is anything out there like this for BAs at the moment. I think it is all very focused on the technical capabilities. And that’s a shame because the best thing a BA can do on a project (in my opinion) is lead and motivate people towards a product vision. (In the Agile project approach I see the BA as the product owner.)

In fact I don’t think a BA has to have any modelling training to be effective in the role if they have some of the other people skills in place.

Maybe I need to put a training course together...

Hmmm. I appear to be ranting a bit too long. I also think I am being heretical about the BA role (Any BAs out there care to pitch in on this subject?)

So, some more questions for you, BAS
Is there more to the job than these three areas? In particular is there something special that BAs or PMs need that is unique compared to other jobs? What do you think about the master-apprentice model, particularly in this web 2.0 era?

And can a project shrink really help me?

(On that last question - My preference is for the role of a project strategist to emerge by the way. I think it’s a flavour of the BA role, but it could evolve out of the PM role also. Today the role is being delivered by people wearing both these badges, but they are battling the environment to deliver the results.)

Bas and Craig have a weekly conversation, back and forth on their respective blogs, Project Shrink and Better Projects. With blog titles like that, you don't have to guess what the topic will be.





19 June 2008

Estimating work effort for BAs

Another vigorous Modern Analyst discussion triggered today’s post.

How do you go about estimating the time you, the business analyst, need to do the work. Well, it all depends doesn’t it.

How complex is the project, how are we running the project, what technologies are in play, how is the system being implemented, and into what environment.

Maybe it is complex. But once you have some experience behind you much of the estimating becomes easier.

For example; during the software development phase of a traditional waterfall style project a BA is acting as a subject matter expert to the development team, going back to the business clarifying issues and managing workaround. And you know the developers are going to be doing their thing for three months because that’s what they have estimated.

And the there is the testing and implementation phases. You can apply the same sort of concept.

The real hard part to estimate up front is the requirements gathering and documentation part. After all – how big are the requirements going to be?

To be able to estimate this well, the primary thing you need to know is the number and availability of the key stakeholders. Once you have this you can apply your requirements gathering techniques, and you should be able to estimate the duration of these techniques reasonably well.

(Keep reading for an example in a few days.)

15 June 2008

Rapid Project Inception

This presentation is by our blogger friend Raj Singh, from Thoughtworks. In it he proposes a structured, rapid, project initiation process (3 weeks.)

This closely aligns to approaches I use, although I tend to take longer but be less intensive.

Intensive? Yep; this model hopes for a full time three week commitment from key stakeholders.

I hope you find this slideshow informative.





13 June 2008

How was your Friday?

How was your Friday?

8.59 Walk onto the floor

9.00 Park at my desk and eavesdrop on developer team not-scrum next to me

9.15 Have a BA advise me on a scope doc for a work package – sign it

9.30 Check with dba on his data cleansing tool; it involves a lite-app with an ugly user screen where they’ll check and modify some dodgy data – I suggest he puts a pretty picture on the screen (nature, dolphins, no, even beter puppies. ) I don't think he buys into the idea.

9.40 Go get coffee for me and lead BA.

10.00 Sit at my desk and wonder what to do with all the emails hat have accrued since lunch yesterday.

10.10 Go for a walk around the floor and say hi to a few of the team members.

10.30 Call three of the team into a room and deal with a boundary dispute – people are disgruntled because of the way the work is playing out. Part of it is my fault for (a) not having published a detailed plan for them to references and (b) for not providing enough oversight – keeping an eye on the big picture. There has been some scope creep. A hard thing to manage as there was no structured goal setting or requirements statement when I joined just a few weeks ago.

11.00 Remind one of the attendees at our little conference they have a meeting with our leading dysfunctional vendor.

11.30 Wrap up the unresolved meeting; more coffee.

12.00 Sit at emails and start filing them- saving a bunch of files to a folder for part of a project review (An 'As is' organisational analysis.)

12.30 Lunch with wife and baby in the park.

1.00 More execution of soft skills, remind people they are valued and loved

2.00 Database design meeting; Agenda: who are the external stakeholders, what design principles should we be applying. Instead we identify trouble rolling versions out to through the various dev and testing environments and try to tackle this issue. We are uilding two applications and have a backlog of versions we can't roll out because of our leading dysfunctional vendor. We also talk about setting up an environment for production support.

3.00 Read over some emails about our leading dysfunctional vendor. Think about what can be done. Have a look at my calendar for next week and wonder how I’ll get the required work done. (There is no plan yet.)

3.40 Take a walk with a develop team leader; talk about what we plan for two new staff who are staring next week.

4.10 Get another call from a key stakeholder for the project review meeting. They don’t have Monday’s session in Outlook and definitely won’t be there. They are one of several with this issue. I try to reschedule. I find a likely time on Tuesday but there are no meeting rooms. I check nearby buildings for rooms. I can book a 200 person room across the road – with coffee and cakes.
4.57 Sure why not. There are 12 of us. It’s booked.

5.05 Leave the building (Friday)

5.30 Get home, dinner, play with child, etc

8.15 Draft a blog post

8.30 Remember my steering committee action for today was to draft a letter detailing our leading dysfunctional vendor’s failures to date

8.45 Save draft blog post. Good night.

Based on a true story!


Picture pinched from Pinky Rocco's blog

Useability testing in an Agile world



Slides for the presentation are below.


11 June 2008

Scrum, Plans, Slack and Contracts (via Wegner's Lemma)

Today I have a question for Josh Milane, author of the MIT Technical blog.

Josh,

(I wish I could post comments to your blog. I really do. Somehow I have to log in and my existing wordpress account won’t do the job… I guess we have to communicate the old fashioned way; via trackbacks and RSS feeds.)

Anyway,

Thanks for another interesting post on your always entertaining blog. I did have better things to do, you know than start browsing Wikipedia and associated links and learn more about maths and philosophy. No bad thing usually, but I have deadlines I am supposed to be focusing on.

Anyway, some comments for you.

1.
I agree with you that slack, while a very useful thing on software projects has a significant brand problem. So do synonyms like contingency which says ‘we aren’t sure, even though we are experts.’

2.
What can we do about managing uncertainty beyond padding a schedule and budget with slack time? Call upon Wegner’s lemma I hear you say.

But that creates its own challenges which you only partly address in your post. Sure, of course you want a collaborative approach with your development partners, but often the client wants certainty, and is driven not by the desire to do best, but by a fear of doing badly.

(You might find a recent article by our blogger friend Bas de Baar interesting. It addresses this last point at in his recent post about reputations.)

3.
Is your model of contracting systems simply a new term for time and materials (aka ‘cost plus’) contracts?

As always, a pleasure to read your informative blog.

Regards always
Craig


Picture care of Daniel Guip and
Creative Commons at Flickr

9 June 2008

Carnival of Business Analysts # 8 - Enterprise Analysis


Previously in the Carnival of Business Analysts we have investigated several of the knowledge areas described in the BABOK (v1.6)
This month we are looking at Enterprise Analysis area of BABOK(v1.6).

The BABOK defines Enterprise Analysis as:
"Enterprise Analysis is the Knowledge Area of the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BA BoK) that describes the Business Analysis activities that take place for organizations to (1) identify business opportunities, (2) build their Business Architecture framework, and (3) determine the optimum project investment path for the enterprise, including implementation of new business and technical system solutions."

There is a great chart (Table 1.0 in Chapter 2 of the BA BoK) that shows the activities involved in Enterprise Analysis and what the role of the Business Analyst is in each of them. An enterprise level view is needed to ensure that the business value of projects meet the needs of the entire organization.

When looking for good articles on Enterprise Analysis, there are some resources out there that can be leveraged. Now that Enterprise Architecture is beginning to mature as a field, there are more and more resources available to help you improve your skills or give you ideas on what to do to be successful.

In his blog, Andy Blumenthal has an article called The Business Analyst and Enterprise Architecture. This article is a great description of how the Business Analyst relates to the Enterprise Architect. I don't agree with every word, but I think he gets pretty close to the crux of the matter.

In the article The rise of the enterprise architect Daljit Roy Banger talks about what a good enterprise architect needs to know. He also takes a stab at describing how to choose someone as an enterprise architect. Once you've decided that you need more Enterprise Analysis this is a good piece to get you started on what makes a good Enterprise Architect. It is heavily tilted toward the technical side of EA which is both good and bad depending on your organization.

At Agile EA, there are several whitepapers that address doing Enterprise Architecture in an Agile manner. The first two are about how to do Enterprise Analysis using an Agile methodology. They're a good idea for how to go about the process of Enterprise Analysis. The crosswalk between the two sets of activities needs to be done, but the Agile methodology works well for collaborative efforts - I'm sure it can bring some value to the Enterprise Analysis area as well.

The “Building a case for Agile Enterprise Architecture pt. 1” whitepaper at Agile EA references The Open Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF) quite a bit. Definitely a group worth reviewing when implementing the Enterprise Analysis practice area.

At BA Insight, there is an article from May of last year that still has value today. On Enterprise Analysis and Strategic Thinking talks about how Enterprise Analysis should be performed by BAs but is quite often ignored.

And of course, we can't forget our own with this great post by Craig which includes a link to some EA community blogs.

Enterprise Analysis is a key part of any business so it is the best interest of every business analyst to understand how to do it.

8 June 2008

Requirements Re-use - Myth or reality?

Years ago, back when RM tools were in their infancy, (are they mature yet?) I advocated to my employer that a database of requirements would be a great idea.

It would save time in eliciting requirements, socialising them across management and stakeholder team and constructing requirements documents

The database, if implemented, would create a more consistent approach to requirements which would in turn make solution design faster and cheaper and provide a platform for better solution architecture and better requirements (through review and continual improvement activities.)

I understand they have now implemented such a database, but it doesn’t look what I had in mind, and it doesn’t come with the management processes (above) that I had wrapped around the database.

That experience and my other experiences in large enterprises lead me to conclude that capacity for requirements re-use is a rare talent, and that, for most businesses there are a lot of other investment priorities ahead in the queue.

The development of the BA and Enterprise Architecture professions are steps towards capability for re-use of requirements, but really, it’s not effectively happening anywhere I have worked.

It’s coming, but… it’s a rare enterprise that has it organised at this stage.


Have a look at this model I put together and think about the issues involved in requirements re-use. Are your requirements re-useable for other projects for the same system? Will they be useable on other system developments within your existing programme? Will they be re-useable on totally new projects?

Overlay the ideas against the People, Process and Technology lenses and have a think about the issues you could face.

What’s re-useable on your project?


7 June 2008

Dear Bas Conversations with the Project Shrink

Bas de Baar is an Author of two books on Project Management. He also writes a blog at www.softwareprojects.org. Bas and I are regular readers of each other’s sites and now we are having a conversation from site to site. Feel free to join in.
  1. That people jumping to solution mode too early is a result of a person’s past experience with less complex problems; they jump to it and are rewarded for their quick action.
  2. That the issue of conflicting requirements is driven out of multiple stakeholder environments and is related to people’s alignment with the overall organisational strategy, which is again related to training and education.
  3. And thirdly, that project management and requirements management are not really seen as true professions by many in the corporate workforce, and as a result any old person is given the title and the related responsibilities. If only they were trained and educated…

Broadly, you are picking out two streams of training; one for project workers and one for project stakeholders (or participants.)

Obviously PRINCE2 and PMP training is available for PMs (and now a bunch of accreditations is coming onto the market for BAs) – how god is it? Does it fit the need you are talking about?

And what do we do about project stakeholders? How do we get them on board? (There is the CAPM accreditation from PMI, but does it hit this need?)

Bas and Craig have a weekly conversation, back and forth on their respective blogs, Project Shrink and Better Projects. With blog titles like that, you don't have to guess what the topic will be.

6 June 2008

Business Analysis Life Cycles

Maria at BA Rocks has (is) put (ing) together a Business Analysis lifecycle model for her employer (a client) and has come up with the following 6 stages.

1. Initiation and Scoping
2. Research and Analysis
3. Requirements Specification
4. Design
5. Development and Implementation
6. Evaluation and Conclusion

This list doesn’t sufficiently represent Maria’s ideas. You can read her post on this topic here.

One of her objectives is to build a model that is able to accommodate the dynamic and iterative nature of many of today’s projects. To adequately represent this I have presented this list diagrammatically.

(Maria, what do you think? Am I on the right track?)

Now, the model raises a number of questions. The first is why raise a new model when the IIBA’s model is there for the using?


Or, as an Australian BA, she could turn to the AABA’s framework. What is it that’s missing so that a new model needs to be constructed?


Rather than write another 500 words on the topic I’d rather hear what you have to say.

  • Do the industry frameworks provide sufficient guidance to you?
  • How do you customise your work to fit the client?
  • Do you have your own model?

4 June 2008

Online Business Analyst Communities

Sixty five analysts completed the May 08 survey on this site about which online community sites are being used.


(Several respondents visit more than once site.)



Here are the results;





Modern Analyst 39 (60%)

BA Times 22 (33%)

MyCatalyze 15 (23%)

Requirements Networking Group 12 (18%)

Other 5 (7%)

None 2 (3%)


If you were one of the people who answered “Other” let me know in the comments which site you are visiting and I’ll take a look myself.



What are my thoughts on this?



Well, I have to say I have been pretty active at the MA forums for a while, but I stayed quiet there during May. I also went to all sites listed and peppered their forums with comments and questions so that there was a reasonable even spread during the survey period.



Overwhelmingly MA came out ahead.



It’s not surprising. When you have a look at the discussion forums you’ll see that there is an active community asking questions and sharing knowledge.



MyCatalyze and RQNG forums are sparse but live and BA Times was as quiet as a ghost town. RQNG and BATimes do have active discussions attached to their blogs and articles. My Catalyse also runs well attended webinars.



That’s not to say these other sites are not worth visiting.



For example RQNG has a very active series of discussions attached to their blogs, MyCatalyze runs a regular series of online events and BA times publishes regular articles. Each have their own style and strengths.



They also have their own niche in the BA community.



Modern Analyst has a wide range of participants, but is particular friendly for junior BAs seeking support and help in their roles. MA might also be seen as the more IT centric of these sites.



RQNG has serious discussions about what I would call advanced topics and is more targeted at the seasoned professional. RQNG is also biased towards agile style developments whereas the other sites are a bit more neutral, towards methodology.



MyCatalyze has a strong web and design element, as it also caters for usability professionals.



BA Times has some interesting stuff, but seems to suffer from a lack of focus on any particular niche.



All of these sites are built on off-the-shelf community platforms and include basic features like membership, newsletters, blogs for members, feature articles, libraries of many, many articles, and discussion forums. I personally gauge a site’s by the activity on the forums, and MA definitely beats out the others on this front. (I already said that, didn’t I?)



So, what to do? Don’t take my recommendation. Go look at them all. Subscribe to their RSS feeds for a while and see what comes through.



The one thing I think you should do is join at least one and “share, learn, network.” (Thanks for the tagline, Tom)



One last thing: Click on the picture for a larger version to read the sign.




















Picture by Skip the Filler (CC) at Flickr

3 June 2008

Net Present Value in Excel

If you are like me, doing financial calculations is one of the less fun parts of the job. NPV often trips me up, even though I know what it is and how to calculate it.

Luckily I usually have a finance person double check my spreadsheets before I do anything silly with them (and they always find errors.)

Possibly it isn't me; it's Microsoft who are the culprits.

See this article on NPV calculations in Excel for a breakdown of the way to do it right.

(More on NPV soon.)
Photocare of K8 and

1 June 2008

Aligning projects with strategy

Executing to strategy is important. Executing non-strategic tasks is wasteful.

Projects are about execution. If you are lucky the project you are working on is aligned to the business strategy. If you are unlucky it isn't.

And if it isn't you should be asking yourself "Why am I doing this?"

After all, when you are done, is anyone going to care?

If you have been reading this site for a while you realise I have a preference for top down planning (and of course, acknowledging the benegits of bottom up analysis into the current state of play.) A top down approach helps you make sure you are staying aligned with the top tier goals of the organisaton.

And of course project professionals need to be able to speak the language of strategy. One tool you might like is a strategy blog I recently discoverred. It's called The Glue and it hs some great insights into strategy from an executon perspective.

Go take a look. I'm sure you'll enjoy it.