When software kills due to incomplete requirements

If you are lucky, your software has not been responsible for the death of anyone to date. If you are unlucky then you know it.

When a analyst gathers requirements for a piece of software there is a tendency to focus on the happy path and ignore the surrounding paths that can lead to disaster. Unfortunately events can lead up to the identification of the missing requirements and sometimes death is a result.

To be fair, we humans can still kill ourselves without software such as with the mechanical loaded gun or the speeding car taking a bend too fast. However software seems to give people in some cases a false sense of security that does not exist. In other cases it can give them power to do something that should not have been possible if they were directly engaged with the physical which leads to disaster.

The article below refers to two cases where software enabled a pilot to do something they should not have been allowed to do with death being the end result.

Lessons from spaceship two’s crash

In the above article, the situation was different from my previous article about lack of tactile feedback. In both cases the pilots knew what they were doing, they just did it at the wrong time or too frequently for the specific vehicle to survive.

As an analyst, be it a system’s analyst or business analyst, it is not enough to think of just the happy path. Whenever you are gathering requirements you need to also think of what will keep us on the happy path. Whenever there is an interaction or a key data point, ask yourself if the event that causes this can be triggered at the wrong time or occur too many times.

Look for the ways that one can step off of the path and see if you can build either a metaphorical wall to keep us on the path or ways to get us back on the path before any damage is done.

Testers working for nothing – why you should not go into testing as a career

Often Business Analysts will see in their job description the act of testing. True heavy testing requires special skills that do not tie in well with good Business Analysts skills.

Business Analysts often need to get out and communicate with a variety of people and dig beneath the surface of conversations to find the true requirements / processes.

Testing however relies on the information presented from the Business Analyst along with other documents and  industry standards to validate the work done. Testers effectively thrive in an atmosphere where communicating with a variety of people is not required.

While small amounts of testing such as a minor enhancement can be covered by a BA, care must be taken if the BA role requires more than that as it will weaken your BA skills over time.

Maybe the above is not enough to dissuade you from heading down a testing career path from your BA role but two trends should discourage you from heading into testing as a career:

1 – Outsourcing

Recently I saw a corporation completely outsource their Testing Department. Part of the reason behind this is the theory that the size of a testing department varies according to the work being done. A vendor was considered a better solution to handling the waves of work as opposed to having staff on hand.

2 – Testing for nothing in hope of potential rewards

This is the most worrying concern for anybody involved in testing. It looks like a Silicon Valley startup has ditched paying testers a wage. Testers have to compete to win cash by being the first to identifying bugs / issues that nobody else has identified. If they are not the first then they get nothing for their efforts. The prizes are also so small that only someone living in a country overseas could justify the risk of time and effort for little to no reward.

PM versus BA – the dead discussion and why being a PM may be better than being a BA

It can be interesting to read articles on the Ideal Way that things should happen. These articles are somewhat like the ones about why all people should be debt free and happy. If you are not debt free and happy, then you personally are doing something wrong.

Focus of this website is in the reality of the workplace which is usually far from Ideal. Politics, Oligarchies, Budgets etc. can all get in the way of achieving the Ideal or “World Peace”.

If you want to read up on the debate around the fact that there is no difference between PMs and BAs but it is all about what you bring to the table (“Ideal Approach”) then check out this link – PM vs BA.

Honestly however, the whole conversation is dead one which is what the author of the article states. The author basically questions why PM versus BA is even a discussion point to which I have to agree (having had a foot in both camps (PM / BA) I see no reason why the right BA cannot do PM work and vice versa). Business Analyst term has become so watered down anyway it means many different things to people in the industry. There is no one definition (outside of the textbooks) for what a BA is. Effectively as the author of the article states, project success is based on collaboration and not on title. However in the real world, project teams (especially in larger companies) are formed based on titles / roles / budgets / deliverable dates and that is where the Ideal is left behind. The company that you are at will dictate your role to you based on their process / procedures / politics etc.. Some companies will be Ideal while others will miss the mark.

From a current trend perspective over the past 20 years, I have seen the companies go from using BAs to manage small projects as they gather requirements to the other scenario of having PMs gather requirements as they manage projects. Talk about territory wars. As the trend continues, the BA starting out might be better off to go into Project Management first since they will get better experience than trying to come up through the BA ranks where they run the risk of being no better off in experience than a secretary.

From a historical perspective (ignoring the above about collaboration approach), let us talk about the facts around the PM being different from a BA.

1 – Project Managers are brought on before Business Analyst so why bother with the BA.

– Pure Business Analysts are seen as an unnecessary expense in a lot of companies – last hire in your small companies. More and more the Project Manager is being looked at to deliver the Business Case / Requirements as part of their role to avoid the expense of having a Business Analyst. Personally I have seen two recent larger clients push to have the PM do most of the work since the rational is that they need to have a PM anyway so they might as well leverage them to do everything with the theory that the project is saving money. In these companies, the BA is getting downgraded to little more than a secretary required to document whatever the PM states and store it in the appropriate software.

2 – Project Managers can always do BA tasks or vice versa

– A project that is on a tight deadline cannot afford to have the resource distracted from requirements gathering with PM paperwork / issues. Try to gather requirements while putting together multiple project status / dashboards (and they all have the same deliverable date) and you will see what I mean. Sure this is not a problem when deadlines are not important.

– Not all BAs can do financial reporting / resource management as they have not been trained nor do they have the experience. After you have sat through a few cost center allocation discussions with Finance, you will enjoy getting back to requirements gathering

– Paperwork / Software used by PMs may be unfamiliar to BAs. MS Project and the latest tools all require some form of training / experience. Dashboards have to be designed / populated for projects which takes time away from requirements. It is the same for PMs trying to capture requirements as they may not be familiar with the software where the requirements are stored.

– Some PMs have no clue about proper requirement writing (ambiguity), business case development (what does the business really want and how to justify it) and it shows when the project moves through the phases. It is kind of like expecting a BA to be able to design databases. Some have it and some don’t.

3 – PM is the natural career progression for a BA

– NO it is not! Pure Project Management is different to Business Analysis. Even the IIBA acknowledges this when they ask you to describe the role you had in the projects you worked on. If you answer too many questions from a PM perspective they will not acknowledge that experience as being BA relevant.

 

Hopefully I got the point across that the BA versus PM debate is dead. To argue it anymore would be to ignore the trend in the industry which is downgrading / killing the Business Analyst job title making this whole discussion pointless.

As Business Analysts, we should be more concerned with making sure the role we are in ties into our skills. Remember, the BA title by itself is pretty much worthless these days as it means so many different things to different companies. Your focus should be on getting the skills / experience to be in the role you desire and not on the job title.

For a list of Business Analyst job titles, see links below:

Job Titles Job Titles

 

8 pitfalls to avoid with your job application.

1- Online Profile Check

An interesting development these days in looking for jobs compared to 15 years ago is that your online profile can haunt you years later. Remember that every time you post information about your current or previous positions it is available to others as well. When applying for jobs, be sure to make sure that any online profile you find when searching on yourself does not reveal embarrassing or contradictory information that weakens your job application.

2 – Certain level of education required

Education is not something you can fake. Employers have been burnt by this so they check applicants often and the process for validating education is becoming easier. In some cases, companies will not hire you until the education has been validated. The old trick of picking an education establishment in the middle of nowhere does not always work anymore and at the very least they will want to know why you got your education from this far off place.

Some warnings from the BBC about resume checks.

http://www.bbc.com/news/business-31594181

How to handle Education:

Compromise here is to at least be attending a course that leads to the qualification required. Employer will see that you are in the appropriate education and may let you get to the next stage of the job application. As to when you actually complete the education and how long you have been studying it, that is up to you.

3- Years of Experience more than currently experienced

If you are lying just to get a job, you don’t have the experience and are not a quick learner you can be sure it will be worked out quickly that you are not a fit. Even as a quick learner you may not be given the time to learn the job before they are onto you for lack of experience.

I read a resume once where the person had a master’s degree, was 27 years old and had 9 years of relevant work experience. Where you might ask is the problem? This person had 7 years of full time schooling with 9 years of work experience coming to a total of 16 years and they did not start college at 11 but at 18. It gets murky here. Some people will consider a working month; week or even a day in a calendar year as 1 year worth of experience and put such on their resume.

Understand that no two persons will have the same experience for the same time period. Someone who consults will have a larger variety of experience compared to someone who works in the same job / company for the same period of time. However someone who works in the same job / company for years may have more depth of experience since they have been totally focused on that role.

A lot of time, employers put years of experience required to exclude the candidates with no experience at all or based on their judgment of what experience brings to the role. As stated above, someone with one year of experience may have the equivalent of another person’s 10 years just depending on the jobs that they did. In the 80’s the rule of thumb for consulting was 2.5 years experience before you could become a consultant. The number of years has been increased significantly for job applicants due to lies that people have been putting around experience. An average of 5 years seems more like the norm these days.

How you can get caught with lack of experience:

– You go into a role where other colleagues have the experience so your lack of experience is obvious. I worked at a site where on the first day of the job I was asked to perform a simple task under the eye of the manager who hired me. Failure to have successfully performed that task would have led to a quick exit.

– You are not a quick learner. If you do not have the experience and you can’t pick it up quickly, you will end up being found out.

– During the interview, you could be asked to describe the projects that are relevant to the experience and how long you spent on each. Mistakes in duration will quickly add up to not matching your resume experience. Explaining that a project lasted for months or over a year could also trip you up if the normal experience for the role is short projects.

– When hired, you ask too many basic experience questions making it obvious you do not know your stuff.

– Employer has an acquaintance from your previous employer who states in their opinion what your work role was at your previous employer that does not tie with what you stated you did.

How to handle years of experience:

Nobody asks if you did 2000 hours in a particular role over a calendar year, they just want to know that you held a job in that role for the particular year combined with whatever else you did for the remainder of the year was related. Putting it plainly you have to look at the months/year when you did not have the role and translate the experience of the role you were in into the position you are applying for. Unless the employer has a direct acquaintance at your previous employer it is unlikely that the new employer will get the exact project by project details of what you did.

4- Job skills required are specific

I have been to interviews where specific skills were requested but that was because the employer had gap in skills that needed to be filled. Other times I have gone to employers where the skills were already present so the employer was looking for someone that would fit in with the existing team.

How you can get caught with lack of specific skills:

– Testing of your skills during the interview process.

– Monitoring of you as you put your supposed skills into action.

– Ask you to describe previous projects where the skills were used.

How to handle lack of specific skills:

If you don’t have experience in the specific skill requested you need to at least get an understanding of it. Understanding can either be obtained thru training or via reading a book on the subject. Any training you take can be easily added to your resume under training. If you only read a book, then you will need to tie the specific skills back to projects you have worked on so that the skills will at least appear on your resume. Sometimes as you learn the skill you may find that you were already using it in your job anyway, you just called it something else. In both cases (training or book reading), where appropriate, any work that you did that is relevant to the skill, you should mention.

5- Job title is not one you have held

Maybe you are trying to change career from being a Project Manager to a Business Analyst and as a Project Manager you performed Business Analyst tasks. So all your employee job titles state Project Manager. When your resume lands on the employers desk they won’t bother looking at it if you state you were a Project Manager so you change it to Business Analyst.

How you can get caught with not having job title:
– Somebody provides a reference stating that you were in a different role. Make sure you references understand the role that you are presenting yourself for.
– Old profiles of you exist on the Internet saying you were something else.

How to handle lack of job title:
Change your thinking to the “title for my job”. Ditch the words “job title” and instead say who employed you and focus on the title for the role you performed. Avoid using the words “Job Title”. If they ask what your job title was at the interview, just state the title for the job you performed as that was really your job. If part of the time you were in one job role and the rest of the time in another for the same employer, don’t break out the experience by role but instead mention you were in both roles and state the years at the employer.

6 -Gap in job years or currently unemployed

How you can get caught with  job gaps:
– You are unable to provide references for a period of time.
– The experience dates don’t add up on your resume.

How to handle gaps and unemployment:
Even if you do not have a paying job, you should be providing your relevant expertise to others. Point here is to have a 3rd party that will vouch that you worked for them (paid or unpaid) in some capacity. The minute you are between jobs or are trying to get back into the workforce, look for those opportunities which can build references. Review your past period of gaps and see if anything you did over that time is relevant to the work you are applying for. Document it all and be ready to provide references that will back you up.

7 -Previous job at much higher level than one being applied for

How you can get caught with level of role in previous job:
– You use terms that may not be applicable to the role being applied – example managed financial budgets when applying to a developer job that is all about pure coding.
– You talk about the people you managed when the role has no people to manage.
– Previous experience is overly impressive – such as worked at the United Nations when job is for a small company.
– You have an internet profile that shows what you were before.

How to handle higher level role in previous job:
It is ironic that on the one hand we are told to play up our successes but the on the other hand we do not get hired because our success scares the employer. Going for a lesser job requires making the employer feel that you are not going to get bored and quit. You need to remove any terms / experience that is not relevant to the job you are applying for. You will have to set the title of your previous job to match the role being applied for. Downplay large companies you have worked for by focusing on describing the small team or department you worked in. Avoid mentioning words that would associate you with large global organizations if at all possible by looking for other ways to describe projects / experience.

8 -Samples of work not your own or incorrect

So your future employer asks you for samples of relevant work and you grab whatever you feel like sharing. This can be great aid but it can also bite you in the butt.

How you can get caught with an incorrect or someone’s document:
– Employer has an acquaintance at your previous employer who can validate the original author of the document.
– You are unable to talk intelligently about the document.
– It contains glaring errors that make you look unsuitable to hire.
– Document sample is way larger than anything the employer would expect you to deliver making them suspicious that others helped you with it.

How to handle document samples:
Best to use your own work. Keep your document samples small and make sure they do not provide confidential information. If needed, mock up some samples based on your experience. A page here or there and never a whole document. Be prepared to talk to every page shared as if you were doing a presentation. Verify that what is present in the document is correct as it represents your best work.

In summary I hope you find this information useful and it helps you get your next gig.

Good Luck

14 tips for surviving Senior Level meetings.

At some point in your Business Analyst career you may be asked to meet with Board level staff. This should not frighten you if you follow some logical tips.

1 – Don’t go it alone.
Find someone to help you setup, run and share results/minutes of meeting.

2 – Make sure someone in the room can vouch for you.
Someone in the room of a senior enough level has to be able to support you when things get tough. If you don’t know anyone, reach out to at least one individual prior to the meeting to introduce yourself and get them on your side. Failure to do this could leave you in front of a firing squad.

3 – Know who the most senior people are in the room and respect their authority.
If you don’t know who a person is that has the power to end your job, better to find out before you challenge their meeting behavior or statements.

4 – Define the rules and objective of the meeting.
Always good to define the rules and objectives. Please note however, the higher the level of meeting the less the participants are willing to listen to the rules, in those cases you have to go with the flow.

5 – Dress to match the meeting participants.
If the meeting is a suit and tie affair, wear them.

6 – When things go astray.
Ask the participants if they are open to taking a break.

7 – Be Bold but not Reckless.
Be careful of how you control the meeting. Being respectful to participants is key and don’t get sucked into arguing with them. Note and accept their objections then move on.

8 – Meet one on one post meeting to resolve issues.
Since you avoided the argument, afterwards is when you meet with the individual or subordinate and work to resolve their issues.

9 – For long meetings, meetings at lunch or dinner make sure the food and drinks match the level of staff.
Quite often you can reach out to the personal admin of the highest of the participants and work with them to schedule the right food and drinks.

10 – Be flexible.
Senior level staff availability changes at the last minute. You may find your meeting getting shrunk or bumped. Often these people are used to meeting in the evenings post the regular work day.

11 – Learn the individual personalities before hand.
Knowing what to expect from the individuals involved in the meeting keeps the surprises to a minimum.

12 – Know the terminology / acronyms
Either learn the stuff before the meeting or have someone with you who can whisper / Instant Message you what is being said.

13 – Use IM to get live meeting feedback
If you or your companion is not presenting, have your senior friend in the room (point 2) let you know if you are going off track by Instant Messaging you feedback to the computer that is not presenting – don’t want the IM to appear on screen.

14 – Prepare psychologically.
Follow whatever routine you use to relax and stay relaxed during the meeting.
http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20140904-jitters-act-like-a-starfish

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.

Not knowing Business Terms can affect your hireability.

Since I have been working for so long at different clients I have gotten a good understanding of terms used in the business world. However others of you may not have the same experience. This lack of understanding can affect you doing your job and even getting hired in the first place since you may have to do a scenario interview.

To help you with this, I have added a link to a online dictionary of terms used in the work place to my blog and also provided it below.

Office Business Terms

Happy reading!

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.

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