Many business analysts lack a clear strategy to improve their abilities and increase the value they deliver to their organizations. They don't spend any time considering performance goals and envisioning strategies to achieve them, and as a result, they miss opportunities to continue to evolve and grow their role and responsibilities over time.
Fortunately, there are some steps that any BA interested in becoming a star performer can take to close competence gaps and learn new behaviors and strategies capable of increasing their productivity and the quality of their work. In this article, I will address one of the most effective ones: setting clear and measurable performance goals, and finding opportunities to practice the related skills that can produce the desired performance improvement.
As explained in the book Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, by Kerry Patterson et al.,
“Influence masters have long known the importance of setting clear and achievable goals. First, they understand the importance of setting specific goals. People say that they understand the concept, but few actually put the concept into practice. For example, average volleyball players set goals to improve their concentration (exactly what is that?), whereas top performers decide they need to practice tossing the ball correctly -- and they understand each of the elements in the toss.”
The idea of focused, deliberate practice as means to quickly enhance performance, common among athletes, is frequently overlooked in the BA profession. The negative consequences of this omission is well summarized by Robert E. Kelley in his book How to Be a Star at Work: 9 Breakthrough Strategies You Need to Succeed:
For too many people, ten years of work experience is merely the first year's experience repeated ten times; there is no learning to move in and out of the basic environment, no leap to the perspective ability that defines expertise.
To make sure they don't become mediocre performers who only accumulates hours of experience without actually increasing your proficiency levels, BAs should have at least one improvement priority that they are working on in any given period. The process starts from selecting one domain (for example, Requirements Management), and then choosing a specific improvement area to focus on (for example, developing accurate estimates for business analysis tasks). In Part I of the ebook collection The Promotable Business Analyst (an excellent resource for BAs interested in developing new skills and creating career advancement opportunities), Laura Brandenburg suggests many useful strategies that can be used to solidify knowledge and enhance analytical skills in the selected improvement area, including:
asking one's manager for related assignments, and finding opportunities outside of work (e.g., within professional associations that offer opportunities in a leadership or volunteering capacity) to practice the desired skills;
shadowing peers to build competencies that involve multiple facets (e.g., working alongside more experienced BAs to learn how to facilitate requirements workshops, which require both technical knowledge and strong interpersonal skills).
The right performance measures can help BAs confirm which competencies they have developed, identify what strategies did and did not work to improve their performance, and indicate how far they are from achieving their goals. When an organization doesn't have a well-defined performance measurement system, business analysts can start developing their own. As an example, for the goal of producing better time estimates, a BA could measure his/her progress using schedule variance as an indicator, calculated as (actual duration - planned duration) / planned duration.
Gradually, a BA practice regime should introduce tasks that require increased effort and persistence, to make sure his/her abilities are continuing to grow. Performance measures can be adapted or replaced to continue to provide rapid feedback about one's progress.
Many of the persistent business analysis and requirements definition problems that are the cause of project failures stem from a lack of skill on the part of business analysts. Similar to what happen with athletes, self-discipline and the willingness to engage in deliberate practice of clearly defined skills can help business analysts master the various competencies required to achieve high performance in the various aspects of the business analysis activities, and increase the value BAs add to their organizations.
Author: Adriana Beal has a B. Sc. in electronic engineering and an MBA in strategic management of information systems. For the past 10 years, she has been identifying business needs and determining solutions for business problems for a diverse client base that includes IT, telecom, and major U.S. financial institutions. Adriana offers executive-level, management consulting on technology and process solutions and expertise in business analysis and business-side IT operational functions and processes. She recently launched an ebook on measuring the performance of business analysts that can be found at Beal Projects.
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