IT Staff reductions – QA Business Analyst

As companies in America seek to cut back on staffing levels in IT to save costs there is more expectation for multiple role Business Analysts. It was well known that BAs would often have one foot in project management and another in the BA world as it was seen as a possible natural progression that that the BA would eventually become full time Project Manager. Now the expectation has extended in a different direction.

The latest trend is to expect the Business Analyst to own the Quality Assurance (QA) part of the SDLC. Understand that this is beyond knowing how to write a test case or how to manually test and capture the result as a BA would be called on to do in the past. BAs are now expected to know how to setup and configure the current automated QA testing tools appropriate for the area they are working in. Basically the BA should be able to perform high volume testing post development rather than individual tests. Think of the BA having to know how to setup / configure / automate load tests, data validation tests, web site tests, mobile app tests etc..

This is great news if you are a Quality Assurance person wanting to move into Business Analysis. It sucks however if you are a pure BA that has focused on efficient and accurate requirement gathering or someone who has avoided becoming a QA expert because of the limited human interaction.

Moving into QA experience is also not a leg up on the career path like moving into Project Management. At best it is a sideways move that gives you access to two types of jobs (QA / BA). Personality of a good BA also does not tie in well with heavy QA work as the experts in the QA world like the fact that they deal less with the business and can focus on testing for results without interruption (think basically a lot of alone time).

This move is purely and simply about companies removing a role from the development lifecycle to save costs. Ironically, hiring companies complain about finding good testers that fail to understand the business / capture good requirements or good BAs that do not know how to setup high volume tests. It is a situation that the companies have created themselves.

If you are a seasoned BA of many years, this change is more of a push to move out of the BA role and seek more of the product owner roles as the traditional BA role dies away.

If you are just starting out as a BA or have limited experience, now would be the time to get QA experience to make yourself more marketable for BA roles.

Process improvement through nudging

As business analysts, we are called in often to look at ways to improve the current process. Measurable improvements desired by the business to justify the process improvement could be in:

  • Quality
  • Reductions in costs
  • Increase in processing per hour

Any process to be improved has a certain amount of dynamic variability to it. From a high level math perspective, the processes are looked at as “dynamic resource allocation” because of the variability factor. By controlling the variability with nudges we can improve the process.

  • NOTE: With the advent of stronger AI, in the future we will see more reliance on AI to advise as to the best way to improve a process and it will be left up to the Business Analyst to help put AI advice in place.

What is “nudging” and how is it used to improve a process?

Nudging is where we don’t force a change of process or add new processes to improve process but instead nudge the behavior of the participants in a the current processes to get the results desired. A current example of this is where financial institutions offer rewards to customers if they go paperless for their statements. Going paperless improves:

  • Percentage of outstanding statements processed per hour as smaller printing backlog.
  • Speed of delivery as they are delivered in hours instead of days.
  • Quality in the sense that the statement does not get delivered to the wrong address, does not get damaged in printing etc.
  • Cost reduction as less mailing costs.

You can see from the 4 bullet points above, that a lot can be achieved by just nudging the customer in the statement process to no longer expect a paper statement.

So the next time you are looking at improving a current set of business processes, ask yourself if you can make improvements by “nudging” the current users of the business process in a direction that would support measurable improvements for less cost than force implementing changes or building solutions that have to manage many variables.

What kind of business are you in?

The question “what kind of business are you in?” seems simple enough and is a standard question that businesses ask themselves to stay relevant and not lose sight of their market. However as we know, the answers to simple open questions can end up being complicated. Looking at an example of a wrong answer for this question: railroad company thinks of themselves as a company in the railroad business, not realizing they are in the transportation business. An extreme example of bad decision making was Kodak not realizing they were in the memory / emotion capture business and instead they focused on providing film and print material because it had made them money for over 100 years. By the time they realized what business they were in, it was too late.

You might be wondering what direction I am taking this in. I want you to consider how you would answer this question in relation to your current career as a business analyst.

As a business analysts, I consider we are there to help generate improvement of profit and or reduction of costs for the companies we work at. However most employers (who are actually our customers) don’t see that in our role but instead look upon us to be specific in what we provide them in terms of knowledge and experience. Examples would be:

  • Payment handling
  • Healthcare data processing
  • General data analytics
  • Anti money laundering
  • Utilities
  • Mobile applications development
  • etc..

This narrow role definition by our customers puts us back into the mental mode of thinking that we are in the railroad business and not in transportation. Basically our customers are not going to tell us that they plan to make us obsolete with a new solution to their business needs or that they are losing market share in their industry (leading to job losses). We have to think beyond what we immediately provide to the customer and consider at least two things in our careers.

  1. Industry trends
  2. Tools we use

Industry Trends:

  • Is the Industry that we are working in shrinking or growing in our geographic location of work? Example – think of factories that get closed or corporate mergers either of which would reduce people needed in the industry.
    • To overcome, you would either need to gain experience / knowledge in a new industry or move location to where the work is (if that is an option).
  • Are there current or future disruptions to the way the work is being done in our industry that we need to be aware of? Example – looking at the railroad, the rails, trains and railcars are just a tool used in transportation. Certainly they help the railway business make money but as the railway companies found out in America after the interstate roads were built, new options for transportation by road upset the apple cart. Money invested in trains and railcars was lost because these tools did not work on the road. Basically being only in the railroad business was going to cause a loss of market share, decline in profits and decline in employment opportunities.
    • To overcome, you need to stay aware of advancements in technology / process that could impact your industry and seek knowledge / experience with the new and even considering changing industry if the new will make your industry obsolete and or reduce its market share causing a reduction in employment.

Tools We Use

  • Are the tools required to do your job changing? Example – with the move to more Agile IT work we are expected to have used formal tools for managing user stories, backlogs etc.. Reporting is another area where tools are continually evolving.
    • To overcome, you need to monitor the tools specified in job postings prior to your next job, have a budget set aside for training, get the training and if possible work out how to get experience with the tool/s.

In summary, don’t let your current success with customers blind you to the market. Stay current with what industries are doing (growing or shrinking) and what tools you need to do your job. That way you will continue to help companies improve their profits and reduce their expenses. Plan to budget for time and money to be spent to keep yourself marketable to customers. Be prepared to ditch an industry if the future looks grim. Don’t focus on pure profit, invest in yourself to stay in line with the market otherwise you may become the next Kodak.

3 Generic Certifications that help you get IT BA interviews!

There is no getting past it that the IT BA market has become saturated. It is no longer enough to be someone who has worked as a BA for years as the market is full of that experience. So the question becomes how do you make it to the interview pile instead of the reject pile?

Today I want to focus on 3 generic IT certifications that are not tied to an industry or solution that can help move your resume into the pile to be interviewed.

#3 Certified Business Analyst Professional or equivalent: This one has been around for quite a few years now. If you have been doing BA work as long as I have, it really does not bring much value in terms of knowledge. If you have less than 10 years of experience, this one is good to add onto your resume. However its value has somewhat diminished with Agile development.

Pros:

  • Shows that you have at least been educated as a BA.
  • Great for when you have limited real world experience.

Cons:

  • Has not become a job requirement like A+ certification (for pc repair).
  • BA roles differ from company to company so some companies add more or less weight to the certification.
  • Does not carry as much weight in the Agile development world.

#2 Certified Scrum Master: You can look on this certification as selling yourself to the client as two for the price of one. For the longest time, clients have liked to put their BA’s in the role of backup Project Manager, being a Scrum Master is the new flavor that Agile development has brought to us.

Pros:

  • Shows that you understand Agile development.
  • Makes you more appealing to the client as you can now fill two roles.
  • Could increase your salary as Scrum Masters can make more money than ordinary BAs.

Cons:

  • You may end up doing more Scrum Master work than BA work.
  • Could make your life busy as you juggle two roles.
  • You may not like being a Scrum Master.
  • Only applicable to Agile development. For non Agile, you could look to taking Project Management certifications instead.

#1 Certified Product Owner: You can look on this certification as being the natural career progression of the BA involved with Agile development. Any BA that wants to stay more in the BA world should look to get this certification sooner or later. It shows a client that you understand Agile and that you understand the BA role through the Product Owner viewpoint. With the advent of the Product Owner role, certain tasks normally performed by the BA have moved to the Product Owner and this is why it is not a large step for a BA to move into this role.

Pros:

  • Shows that you understand Agile development.
  • Makes you more appealing to the client as it shows you should be able to represent what the business wants.
  • Could increase your salary as Product Owners are more involved with the money making side of the business.

Cons:

  • More applicable to Agile development but does carry over into other types of development methods.
  • May not pay as well

In summary, if you are wondering how to get more interviews as an Information Technology BA, getting at least one of these generic certifications can help you move forward. What school or method you choose to get these certifications is not as important as actually having a certification that you can add to your resume.

From a long term perspective with these certifications, you will need to decide if you want to go more on the high paying Scrum Master side (which is more like the old Project Management) or look to move into Product Ownership which is the natural next step for Business Analysts.

Business Analysts who want to become Product Owners should know these two things.

As the market changes for business analysts and more consider the move into the product owner world, the question becomes, what is the difference between the role? Product owners can sometimes just be business analysts with a new job title and in other cases they are really product owners with full authority to make decisions.

Agile development has driven the growth of the product owner role. No longer do business partners have to wait months for development to implement new features / functions, instead they can be delivered in weeks. Since business partners usually have to run the business they don’t have time to spend on agile work so they delegate business representation to the product owner.

Now, let us consider two of the key differences in the product owner role vs business analyst:

  1. Industry knowledge – with the traditional BA role, there is usually time to get up to speed in the industry being worked in (Retail, Utility, Finance, Health, Transportation etc..) as the requirements are gathered. This means that having industry knowledge is not a deal breaker to being hired. In the product owner world, you had better know the industry as decisions have to be made quickly to keep the development moving. For example glass devices are not allowed in food processing plants, so developing a product solution that uses cell phone applications would be a bad decision for any industry that goes inside food processing plants because of the glass touch screen.
  2. Metrics / research – product owners need to make decisions on the priority of features / functions to be developed. As a product owner, you need to know how to justify the decision based on real world facts. This requires an understanding of the research options / data available and metrics desired in new development. Think Google Analytics, combined with any restrictions on data that can be collected / solutions that can be delivered. Business analysts on the other hand normally get this information and direction from their business partners.

How to get the skills needed to be a product owner?

  • Industry knowledge can be gained by either working as a business analyst in the industry for a period of time or getting a job on the business side. Both options will be good to getting the necessary experience.
  • Knowing research options / metrics to justify decisions is not always needed as not all companies expect this of their product owners. However for those product owners that do need to know the information, joining external groups in the industry, reading trade publications, staying on top of trends, working on the business side etc.. can all help to build up the knowledge required to justify decisions.