Are you just a glorified factory worker or do you focus on enhancing Skills/Experience?

Times have changed and along with it the expectation of the Business Analyst role.

There was a time when Business Analysts were hard to find and the skills of the role were high. Now however, a lot of roles are getting labeled as Business Analysts which is causing confusion since the people in these roles feel they are Business Analysts. In other cases, skilled Business Analysts are finding their roles not what they expected.

I make an analogy to the “Factory Worker” to state that if your skills are not unique then what value do you personally have to differentiate yourself from the competition for work? Factory workers are tied to the factory they work at. Certainly some of them may be skilled in operations of machines that can transfer to other factories but overall, the focus of the role is:
– turning up on time to work
– being efficient at the task.
– being able to complete a shift.
– skills required of the task are low.

If the above describes your current role, you may need to start questioning your future since now your success is tied to the metaphorical factory which can always move or have your role taken over by a cheaper resource. Just ask any US factory worker of the past 30 years if they are aware of this happening.

Focusing on the phrase of “skills required of the task are low”, think about the fact this means the person can be replaced by another easily. It would not take much to train a person to do their job. Now ask yourself if in your present role you are using skills/experience that could quickly be picked up by another?

If you are not careful and you take on a role or end up in a role that has low skills you are putting your future career at risk.

Time and time again, I see Business Analysts putting in long hours thinking that this will guarantee their future without looking at learning skills/gaining experience that will bring uniqueness to their personal skill set. End result for the ignorant Business Analyst is a future drop in salary and probable unemployment.

Lead Business Analysts need to maintain authority in communication

When working with clients, it is important that your role as a Business Analyst is not degraded.

In my last post, I talked about how Business Analysts are involved with negotiation. Part of negotiation is maintaining a tight control on communication so that mixed messages are not communicated that can lead to misunderstandings of roles / responsibilities.

Never allow someone on the development / production team (builders of solutions / project managers etc.) to contradict a statement that you have made to the users of your products / lines of business that you are doing the analysis for. It is fine for the development / production team to make suggestions on changes with you personally so that you can craft a response to share with your users / lines of business that does not alter your perceived position.

If the communication is not managed, then the users / lines of business can start to wonder if you are the person they need to be talking with since others can present statements that make them seem as if they have the final say on what is analyzed. Nobody wants to waste time talking to the assistant. If others can contradict you, it makes your role seem like the assistant role. You will then find that people will make themselves less available to talk with you or will question your ability to do your job because they perceive someone else as being the lead.

Make sure therefore that all understand the rules of communication after you have presented information to your users / lines of business.

3 ways to stay employed in times of large Tech layoffs

With Microsoft announcing 18k being let go because of merger with Nokia, it makes people wonder how to stay employed in the Tech industry.

The sad fact is that with the power of the internet, employees no longer need to be local to the employer which has lead to price competition for work. Mergers also cause duplication of work leading to downsizing. Finally there is also changing technology which leads to skill sets being outdated for the current role.

To stay employable you have to be monitoring your current skill set and be flexible:

1 – Ability to change geographical location

Sometimes the work dries up in your current location leaving no option but to move. To stay would either mean a salary cut or even a change in career.

2 – Willing to accept a salary cut

This is a very bitter pill to swallow. To be paid less to do the same work is like a punch in the gut (on a daily basis). If you do not truly enjoy what you do, you will probably be miserable in a year or less.

3 – New certifications

IT employees are like NFL stars at the pay of regular Joes, meaning that we have a short career in the lime light. In reality, the days of getting a good 20 years out of your skills is long gone. I would say 5 years is about it. After 5 years you are considered old and worthless. Once upon a time employers did value experience over specific skills in that they were willing to train you on the missing parts but now if you are missing a component from your resume, you become like a square peg trying to fit in a round hole. Keep an eye on what is in demand by checking the job boards and make sure that you are getting the certifications / training to pad out your resume. Remember that you are competing against every college kid that just got the new skills while at college and are willing to start for less than you are currently paid.

 

Should you buy or rent your house when working as a Business Analyst?

I saw an article about the fact that millennials are still living at home with parents or renting. There is an expectation that eventually they will move into the home ownership market. Given this expectation, I wanted to give my 2 cents of advice.

Pre off shoring of white collar work, I would have not worried about buying a home and staying in it for my working life. However, times have changed and employers will consider not only local resources but also resources off shore.

Given that local resources are no longer a premium this also means there is less of a guarantee that you will be able to find work continually in the place where you live. Additionally the days of employers paying the cost of low level employee moving expenses more or less went away with the 90’s.

So what should you consider if thinking of buying a home?

1 – If you have to sell and use a relator it will cost you 6% of the sale price of the home.

2 – The first 10+ years of a mortgage, you are primarily paying interest on the loan. Unless you are in a fast appreciating market (which also carries the risk of a bubble) you basically are just paying the equivalent of rent. Can you expect today to be able to stay working in the same area 10 years later.

3 – If the job market dies where you have your home, then it will be very hard to sell.

4 – How hard is it to find a rental? If it is relatively easy to find a rental then that may be the way to go.

Benefits of renting.

1 – No sale costs when moving. Best also if the move is done near the end of the lease so that no lease breakage fee encountered.

2 – No issue with trying to find a buyer for your property.

3 – If your family grows, you can upsize your rental.

4 – When your work moves, you can as well.

In conclusion, think carefully before purchasing a property in the area where you are currently working as it may end up costing you money or limit your ability to find work.

 

Take a pay cut for future benefits.

This week’s subject is on when to take a pay cut.

If you stay in the consulting world for long enough as a Business Analyst, eventually you will find your pay stagnates. It is like hitting a brick wall. If you keep hitting it hard enough, eventually you may break through but there are easier ways if you are willing to take a cut in salary for up to a year.

Why would you take a pay drop?

Let’s first look at the reason why you would not want to take a pay cut. If the job on offer is not going to benefit you in anyway – such as: closer location, new experience, work life balance, really need some cash – then walk away. If you can’t find any benefit then as soon as a better option comes along you will leave anyway and possibly burn a bridge in the process by your short stay.

As for the future benefit reasons to take a pay cut in the short term:

  1. Offers new experience that will make your more marketable to current trends.
  2. Closer to home so less time wasted on commute allowing you to build up skills, attend training after work. This also includes going part-time.

Point 1 – New Experience

As Business Analysts we are supposed to keep our eyes on trends in the market for our business clients. We need to also remember to do it for ourselves. This may mean as a Web Business Analyst you may need to take on a Mobile Project, as a Sales Business Process Analyst you may need to learn about Human Resources etc.. Search the job boards for your location and see what is in demand and aim to get experience in the subject.

Point 2 – Closer to home / Part-time

Anytime you can free up time that leaves the opportunity to expand your skills. The extra time can be used to start new personal projects, formal studies, make yourself available to other clients etc.. Expanding your skill set will ensure a future stable income.

When is the UI too simple? A study of www.mojomotors.com

Today I will tackle the subject of when the User Interface is simplified to improved the user experience at the expense of other users.

I was reading an article about car buying that suggested that existing sites like www.AutoTrader.com and www.Cars.com were cluttered sites and that people considering buying a used or new car should try www.MojoMotors.com. Since I buy used cars on a fairly regular basis, I was intrigued and decided to give it a look.

Unfortunately I found the site a disappointment after reading the hyped up article but I do not think it all bad, just that I was not one of the “Personas” of users that was considered.

In User Interface and User Experience, we have to consider who are the people that are likely to be using our product. We then group people with like attributes together to create various personas. To go further, we would tie the personas into market research to see which group is likely to make our product the most successful by identifying some agreed upon measure that could be applied across the different personas – could be number of users, amount of income created by the product etc… This would then be used to justify the strategic investment in the development of the solution. Unfortunately it is cost prohibitive to develop a solution for all personas identified.

As I landed on the site I was not greeted by some open white space as I expected from reading the article – think early Google – but instead by a top navigation bar, data entry line, lots of stuff about the company, links to how wonderful it is and of course a picture that has nothing to do with cars but rather a person – at least Cars.com has a car in their picture. So strike one. However please note that it is lighter in look than AutoTrader.com  – as it has the large banner advert at the top – but Cars.com looks a lot more inviting to use.

The icons in the top navigation bar, I could guess at what they mean but I could not see a help option to walk me through them above the fold. In today’s world, I would expect a video welcome to walk me through the benefits of this web site – above the fold or at the very least some help icon. By the way if you click on “Reviews” in the bottom navigation – you lose the icons at the top and no matter how often you click on the top “Mojo” icon it does not bring them back – Strike 2.

Now that I have the site at 2 strikes, let me explain why I strike out completely for my use. I buy used cars regularly every couple of years but at the time of my purchase I do not know what make or model of car I am going to buy because car availability varies by time of year, geographic location, fuel costs etc.. I have a budget and I look for cars that have features – such as 4 doors, pick up, convertible etc.  With the results of my search I narrow my search down to specific models that come within my price range for the location I live in. MojoMotors does not seem to allow me to do the initial search. www.cars.com, www.autotrader.com and even somewhat www.craigslist.org all allow me to get in there and do a generic or advanced search. www.mojomotors.com is therefore by itself useless for my user persona. Strike 3.

What is the saving grace for www.mojomotors.com? For people that know exactly what model/s they are looking for (but you can’t specify year – another issue) , I think it is possibly a good site because they can let the site keep an eye on the market for them and let them know when a car price drops. I presume it also allows the dealers to track what cars are being watched/purchased the most so that they can steer their inventory in that direction and be aware of what price they are selling for.

Looking back at the original article I read on MojoMotors.com, it made me visit the site but the site failed to come close to my expectations. In its current form I would be very unlikely to use it to purchase my next used car. Simplicity of site that was inferred by the article did not fit my user persona at all. I do however wish them luck as they grow and develop. If you come back to that site in a year, I am sure it will have some of the changes that make it not work for me in its current form.

If I have missed or misrepresented something on the web sites mentioned by writing this article, I will gladly correct it once it is brought to my attention. My purpose is not to harm the owners of the web sites represented but to explain why a particular web site does not always work for everyone.

 

 

 

Business Analysts are a waste of money

Today I wanted to rock the boat a bit and state that Business Analysts are a waste of money and how employers should avoid the waste.

Why you may ask am I saying this?

I am saying this because too often a Business Analyst is seen as the solution to any problem with a project.

Short a project manager or tester, hire a Business Analyst to do the job.

Last release was a mess, hire a Business Analyst to fix it.

Need some documentation done, hire a Business Analyst to write it.

Business strategy not getting implemented quickly enough, hire a Business Analyst to implement.

For centuries, the world existed without the Business Analyst job title. Now the market is flooded with people claiming to be a Business Analyst of some sort along with managers thinking they know what a Business Analyst is.

This has led to employers hiring someone to fill a job because they meet the requirement of the Business Analyst title. In the best case the Business Analyst will adapt to the role. In the worst, they will fail miserably because the role is not a fit for their experience. In other cases the employer keeps the Business Analyst in their position long after the role has changed to something else just because they have a good working relationship.

So how should employers fix it?

Employers have to think about:

  1. What their perceived skills of a Business Analyst are and how does that relate to what the industry thinks a Business Analyst does? For example, Business Analysts can write but they do more than Technical Writing so if the role is purely for writing, hire a writer.
  2. What skills they need in the role?
  3. When do they need the skills and for how long? Take a development project for example, at some point the requirements will be 99% complete and then it is off to testing. So at some point the employer goes from a shortage of Business Analyst skills to QA skills.
  4. How structured and large is the environment? No point in hiring a fortune 500 Business Analyst if you are a mom and pop shop that is looking for someone to maintain your web site.

The above is not an exhaustive list but just rather something to make employers think.

Personally I will be one of the first to tell a client if I feel they don’t need my skill set at the time of hiring or later in a project due to role change and make suggestions as to who they should look for. It is always in my interest to make sure that the relationship between client and consultant is a win win for both parties. I know this is contrary to large consulting practice and has cost me work. I however feel much happier for it and so do my clients.

 

Business Analyst Salary – United States

What is the Business Analyst Salary? Anytime you are considering a career it is good to know what the salary expectations that go with it are.

This post is based on what I have seen (not necessarily earned) in the Business Analyst field in terms of salary and usually what goes along with the higher salaries.

Numbers presented in this post are in US dollars along with the assumption that at the high to very high end, the person would be working as a consultant rather than a permanent employee of a company and the company is US based.

The salary range for Business Analysts is large but not vast – you don’t get into the millions doing this. At your lower end, the starting pay can be in the low 30’s per year. In the middle you might expect anywhere from 50-80k. Once you get into the Senior Business Analyst role you might expect anywhere from 80- 130k. At the very high end, you might be able to bring in as much as 140k – 200k but those opportunities are few and far between, usually involve travel, being located in an expensive part of the country and specialized knowledge.

One thing I have to mention is that not all Business Analyst roles are the same and depending on what the Business Analyst is working on / responsible for can have a great impact of their dollar value to a company. At the same time not all Business Analysts are cut out to work in the high dollar roles because of the specialized knowledge and people interaction skills required. Eventually I will put together a questionnaire to enable BA’s to sense what direction they are being called in.

Looking at the numbers above, you may consider that being a Business Analyst is a great opportunity, however if your motivation is making money there are more lucrative careers out there in sales, marketing, investing. Eventually you will hit a plateau with the Business Analyst salary and may even see the salary shrink from time to time as companies merge or outsource opportunities. Most people that have been doing the Business Analyst role for more than 10 years have all reached a point where the salary raises have hit a wall. This means that sometimes the next role for these people can be a bit of a cut from the previous or involve taking time off while waiting for the right role to come along.

Some similar  types of roles that pay more than the Business Analyst salary:

  • Trainer for a specialized training company as long as companies are hiring training companies. When times get hard, training is usually cut back. I have known people to make in excess of 250k in those roles but it does involve travel.
  • Project Manager / Program Manager – I have seen these salaries get into the 200+k bracket
  • Product Manager – These roles offer more growth than the BA which leads to larger salaries.

To get into the higher Business Analyst salary bracket it usually requires:

  • Years of experience. Once you break the 5 years you are well on your way to being a Senior Business Analyst and generally anybody with 10 years is considered senior by default.
  • Specific software application skills. Knowledge of certain SAP software modules or Personnel software such as PeopleSoft goes along way here to raising your value. There are other software packages out there, so the best way to find out what is in demand is to search the job sites. Note that with the larger software packages such as SAP, salary is dependent on specific modules not just knowing any SAP module. Additionally the experience needs to be current to get the best dollar offer.
  • Data warehousing / business intelligence. This area is growing rapidly and Business Analysts with the skills to define data, access (write SQL) and report on it, are in big demand which has raised the salaries accordingly.
  • Specialized knowledge in a business process can take you into higher amounts of money, in some cases in excess of 200k. I have seen from my own experience that specific business knowledge makes you more desirable in the market place. However it boils down to supply and demand combined with a willingness to travel to the location where the demand is. Some samples of in demand business skills – Basel Compliance, Capital Markets (The various desks / trading products), ecommerce. This is only a small sample, the job sites can show you more. The demand can also be very temporary as corporations wish to respond rapidly to business change and then once it is over they have no desire to maintain the relationship with the Business Analyst because of the cost.
  • Specialized Certifications. I am not talking here about a Business Analyst certification but rather certifications that go along with specialized business knowledge. Examples would be a Business Analyst that at some point has held or still holds brokerage certifications. These certifications guarantee the Business Analyst understands the trading floor and states they can talk the same language.
  • Having a MBA helps open doors. It is however not a necessary requirement as companies will value relevant experience over a MBA.

I left Business Analyst certification off of the above list because it has only been around for a few years. This has most value for two types of people in the Business Analyst role. Trainers use it to prove their credentials to train. BA’s with only a limited amount of experience use it to get in the door on their next role as it supposedly states to the employer that they know how to be a Business Analyst.

Business Analysts are catalysts to success

People outside of IT often wonder what a Business Analyst does and that includes our business partners who we work with. Their is great concern that we do not provide “Value Add” services.

 in the BA times recently wrote an article about BA’s thinking of themselves as bridges and how that is wrong.

I have seen the bridge thinking BA’s in action, and they are no more than note takers and usually midway through a project nobody is happy with the results.

As Business Analysts, we are there to act as one of the catalysts that make the project successful. However that does not mean a BA that does well in one project will do well in another if they do not have the skills.

If you look at the job search engines you will see that BA skills required for roles can vary from company to company and department to department.

Examples:

  • Data Warehousing BA’s are expected to understand database structures and know SQL.
  • Business intelligence BA’s can need some of the skills of the Data Warehousing BA along with reporting tools and statistics.
  • Front end BA’s are expected to understand UI/UX, use cases.
  • BA’s that specialize in Business Process are expected to understand the business they are working with.

What we can see from the desired experience is that companies want a BA that can mentor and guide. Having the ability to just gather requirements is not enough. There is an expectation that a BA will bring knowledge and experience to the table along with other soft skills such as negotiation.

It should be noted though, that some companies are not prepared to let the BA mentor them because of their thought of the BA being just a bridge between IT and Business. It is up to the Business Analyst to break down this stereotype to make them realize the “Value Add” that a BA can bring to the table.

Lead Business Analyst – what do they do?

For your next role as a Business Analyst, you may be approached to be the Lead BA . This post is about some of the skills you may have to use in the role.

1 – Project estimates of BA involvement – Identifying how much time and resources it would take to complete a project. I have had to estimate the hours, the duration and how many BA’s I would require to complete a project.

2 – Interviewing of BA candidates – presumably you will have lots of experience in this from the interviews you have been at yourself.

3 – Peer review of work – You should be familiar with this from your time of service as a Senior BA.

4 – Mentoring of junior BA’s – I have sat in on junior BA’s requirement gathering sessions, reviewed their work and provided constructive criticism where needed.

5 – Delegation of work – As the lead you will be expected to monitor the work load of your team and adjust the assignments accordingly to best meet the need of the overall group. This could mean taking work away from one BA to free them up for a project they are more suited too.

6 – Client relationships – Part of the role will be to check that the client is happy with the work of the BA’s assigned to them. If problems are encountered, then the Lead BA will be expected to propose a solution.

7 – Handling of problems – In general if something is going wrong, the Lead BA is expected to help resolve it. This is where your negotiation skills come to play.

 

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