Riding The Fourth Wave of Business Analysis With Debra Paul

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In this conversation, Debra Paul and I explore the fourth wave of business analysis, developing a service-design and growth mindset and essential skills for the future business analyst.

Dr. Debra Paul is the CEO of AssistKD, author of some of the best books on business analysis, creator of international certifications, kick-starter of community forums, and the founder of the BA Conference Europe.

Here are just a few of the highlights in this episode:

๐Ÿ˜ฑ "Working with stakeholders whom, and it's not an exaggeration to say, were terrified." Debbie shares her start as part of a business change team in a government department that was one of the first to have computers. This experience inspired her to shift to systems analysis and business analysis, all driven by the need for a holistic approach toward implementing technology.

๐ŸŒŠ๐ŸŒŠ๐ŸŒŠ๐ŸŒŠ "It's about moving beyond product to a service design and growth mindset." Debbie walks us through the evolution of the business analysis from the original project focus, through the strategic, to the advisory role, and now how we're moving towards a service-oriented mindset. She emphasises the need to focus on the customer and think about the ecosystem, characterising the emerging fourth wave.

๐ŸŒฑ ๐Ÿง  "You have to have a growth mindset to continue believing that what we do is worthwhile and keep working at it." Debbie highlights the value of a growth mindset for business analysts, enabling us to explore different approaches, challenge received wisdom, and maintain confidence in the importance of the role, even when it's sometimes overlooked.

๐Ÿซฑโ€๐Ÿซฒ "Service design, business architecture, business analysis, they sit very neatly together" Debbie unpacks how the synergy of business architecture, business analysis, and service design is essential for success. Yet, role confusion causes conflicts and fragmentation. But by emphasising shared objectives and customer perspectives, these roles can collaborate effectively, minimising overlap and conflicts.

โš ๏ธ "If we don't do that as business analysts, I fear we're going to be overrun by another role." Debbie highlights the T-shaped model, which allows a focused approach to skills. We dive into interpersonal skills, business knowledge, finance, process understanding, and data skills, all of which are crucial for success in business analysis.

๐Ÿ’ก "If you really are worried about something, do the work." Lastly, we touch on the enormous shift happening right now and the simple truth about how you move forward.

Tune into the episode below or listen on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or your podcast player of choice. You can watch the interview on YouTube here.

Brought to you by Business Change Academy skills development and career building business analysis courses.

The transcript of this episode can be read here.

  • [00:38] Debbie's start in the world of business analysis and why she fell in love with it 
  • [04:15] Reflecting on the three waves of business analysis and shifting our mindset for the fourth
  • [08:12] How fragmentation, distraction, and a loss of confidence are holding back the profession
  • [12:33] Having a growth mindset to consider received wisdom and to continue believing in your value
  • [16:34] Losing out on TLC (to the trends) as business analysis message is lost at the executive level
  • [19:58] Pulling together the roles of service design, business architecture, and business analysis 
  • [24:09] Taking the T-shaped professional further into the eco-system of people, business, and analysis
  • [28:23] Calling out the neglect of data as one of the most significant risks to the business analyst role 
  • [33:39] The authority, licence and need to analyse situations, consider options, and make recommendations 
  • [38:51] Fundamental advice for business analysts diving into the enormous change of the fourth wave

What was your favourite quote or insight from this episode? Please let me know in the comments. ๐Ÿ‘‡๐Ÿ‘‡๐Ÿ‘‡

๐Ÿง  Add your brains to the  ๐Ÿ‘‰ Future Business Analyst survey.

Joe: Hey everyone, it's Joe. Welcome to the first episode of the Future Business Analyst Podcast.

My guest today is Dr. Debra Paul, CEO at AssistKD. Debbie's worked in business analysis, and these are her words, not mine, for a very long time. Okay. She's written books and certifications, founded forums, and of course the BA Conference Europe, and she basically loves everything to do with business analysis. So Debbie, thank you for joining me today.

Debbie: You're welcome, Joe. It's really nice to talk to you.

Joe: Yeah, it's gonna be great. I've got lots of questions for you, but, why don't we start off with just a little bit of background information about you and some of the research and the work that you've been doing in the world of business analysis, because you've been studying this, practicing this, implementing this in, in bits and pieces for, well, a very long time.

So how did you get involved in all this stuff and why do you love it so much?

Debbie: Well, I got involved initially because I always wanted to work in it. Okay. The very first job I had many, many, many years ago was in a government department in the UK and it was one of the first to have computers. And I always say it was like falling in love. I loved everything to do with it, and it was so logical and it was so thought through. I thought, this is marvellous.

So when I started moving into that area, my first job was actually working in a business change team. And what that involved was working with stakeholders, some of whom at that time it's not, it's not an exaggeration to say were terrified. Okay. And so I had to work to really try and help them and to help them understand the logic of how what we were going to introduce as a system was going to work to help them in their jobs and they were going to be okay.

And that really started me thinking about how technology helps organisation's and also works with people.

I then became a systems analyst and I loved systems analysis. I loved really getting inside the detail of requirements and specification and understanding the technology, but at the back of my mind was always the people and the broader context. And so I started thinking, well, okay, this is great. I'm really enjoying working on this software development, but I've gotta think beyond this because I know there is a world beyond it.

And the more I thought about it, and I don't think at the time there was a role called business analyst, but I couldn't limit my work to systems analysis. I had to look further into the business area. So that was really where it started. And I've always had that belief ever since, that technology is there to work in a holistic context and that ultimately it is to help organisations do what they do well.

Yeah. I mean. That, that's, that's why I love it.

Joe: Yeah. That's fantastic. It's funny how things work out and we can look back and sort of see how these paths were almost laid before us, but, but we didn't realise that they happened. And it, and I suppose for you and the way that you see things, I always say it's, it's the way we've been brought up, that sort of shapes as our mentors and sort of where we land in our first jobs and things.

And it's really interesting that given, I mean, you used the word holistic. I mean, perhaps I should drop your, your model in here of POPIT, right?

People Yes. Organisation, process information and technology. And it's sort of like you've continued that, that thread throughout. You also dropped a couple of other things in there that I want to come back to you, I'm gonna come back to that word, terrified. I mean, that, that could be a great word that we use later on.

But you, you got on board on the first wave, and I am leading to your three waves here, right? You, you got on board on, on, on the first wave. So you, you've seen this progress of the BA role over the years. So initially from that sort of project focus, bridging, you know, translating and transporting requirements from A to B, and then as you said, with your systems and now with your change role that you needed to do more.

And so you got into systems and from systems you needed to do more. And there wasn't the job title of BA back then, but you sort of progressed it. That was into the, the second wave really, wasn't it? The pre-project stuff, the business stuff, the strategic stuff. And then of course there's the third wave, perhaps a bit more focus on on sort of service delivery portfolios and that value.

And I'm wondering now if we are at the cusp of a fourth wave, do you feel like we've fulfilled that third wave or are we still fulfilling it or perhaps we're moving on to a fourth wave without fully fulfilling the third?

Debbie: That's such a good question, Joe, because when I initially thought about the three waves, the sort of advisory wave was where I thought, okay, what business analysts will be doing is they will be working across a portfolio. They will be advising at quite a senior level to ensure organisation's do what they're trying to do effectively.

I think the fourth wave is moving more towards that service view. Because if you think about it, we've talked a lot over the last 10 to 15 years about product. Yeah. And, you know, we work on projects and a lot of the time, somewhere in the heart of that, there's a software development, a software product that is either being used or developed.

And then beyond that, we started talking about change programs, which was, if you're like the second wave where we did expand into that more cross-functional holistic view.

And then I originally thought the portfolio view would be looking not at a program of change, but across different programs where you'd have, you know, really quite specialist senior business analysts who could advise.

But I think the fourth wave is changing mindset now, and it's moving beyond product to service, to growth mindset, to really saying to organisation's, you know, we keep talking about users all the time, let's talk about the customer and let's think about the ecosystem. And that's where I think that fourth wave can go.

And if I'm honest, I'm really excited for it to go there because I believe in that so much.

Joe: Yeah. It'd be a fantastic place to get to.

And, I feel like we can see clues like little breadcrumbs of that happening in places. There are certainly, certainly some companies that are more ahead of others. There are some people who are getting the opportunity to do that kind of work before others. But if we are moving into this kind of service design thinking stage, I do sort of look back at this third wave and think, have we quite fulfilled that advisory role?

Because if we are doing that service design kind of work, it needs us to be seen as that trusted advisor. And I feel like we're perhaps straddling a couple of things at the same time. And that could be just because the world is speeding up so much, there's so much happening that I feel like we're gonna get a lot more overlap of almost different levels and maturities of thinking.

Debbie: Mm-hmm. I think you're right. One of the things, when I did the original presentation on the third wave, I also looked at fragmentation. So when I talk about holistic view, I think of that being holistic in the sense that yes, it does use the POPIT model, but the POPIT model is drawn the way it is because everything is integrated. There's a consistency, there's a pulling together with the same focus.

What concerns me is a fragmentation and a silo thinking in the business change and business analysis world that actually works against that. And I think sometimes for that reason, we've looked at business analysis in a way that isn't as holistic and and consistent as maybe it should be. And I think there are lots of reasons for that. But sometimes what that means is that that overall advisory role can't be fulfilled because you are not really addressing what the organisation needs in that complete way.

And I think we've also been quite distracted sometimes. And you know, there have been various things that have come up over the last 10 years that have caused distractions and actually has also caused business analysts to lose confidence. I think because, you know, we are told by other disciplines that business analysis isn't as important as we think it is.

And we do lose confidence. And when we lose that confidence, we then sort of give into that fragmentation, into that silo thinking that doesn't help us at that advisory level.

And the one thing that I often say to people is, you know, throughout my career and very much when I was an a business analyst in the early years, I was being pushed into different areas, you know, really to get on in career, you have to be a project manager. You know, you've heard that type of thing. And my answer yes. And my answer to that always was, I don't want to be a project manager, but what I do want to be is the best business analyst I can ever be.

And that to me was always my focus. And if that meant I didn't get promoted, I didn't get on in my career, well, so be, be it. I knew what I wanted to do.

But it takes quite a lot of confidence when you're being told, you know, to get on as a business analyst, you have to become a business architect. You have to understand that in an agile world, you are not really that necessary. You know, we have to actually challenge these statements and say, actually, if I'm a great business analyst, I'm gonna bring a lot of benefit to this situation. And I think that confidence and the knocks, I think bas have had to, their confidence has contributed to us.

Joe: Yeah. Not really quite achieving the third wave. Yeah. I definitely think there's still some room to grow. The ceilings definitely a bit higher. And as you say, there's sort of many past reasons. Distractions, excuses, whatever they are. I think in many ways there's a stereotype that was created back at that, that first wave that sort of said BAs were systems analysts, if I can call them that.

And I think that that stereotype still keeps a lot of people stuck. Many are trying to get unstuck, of course. And that shifting, and I think they're having great success, but it's almost as individuals rather than collectives who, you know, within organisation's typically.

And you used the word growth mindset earlier, and I feel like that that is probably applicable here because growth mindset is really about when you are having facing challenge and you're not getting through.

And maybe your skills abilities aren't quite there, but it's also knowing that that isn't necessarily set in stone, that you can work past that, that you can grow and maybe start to develop the skills needed to better sell the kind of impact that BAs can have.

Debbie: Absolutely. I find the growth mindset a fabulous concept because when I first started exploring it and reading about it, you know, Carol Dweck's book mindset is phenomenal. I actually thought that makes so much sense. And I think that's always been my mindset. I just didn't have a, a way to explore it further and think about it in more detail.

And I think as business analysts, if you have a growth mindset and if you understand what that can help you do, when you are told by lots of people and you know, there's a general publicity around particular approaches or particular received wisdom, it does give you the confidence to say, well, actually, let me look at it.

Let me, let me just look at that and see if I think that actually adds up. Or is that just something where I need to take it on board, I need to understand it, but it shouldn't divert me from what I'm trying to do as a business analyst, because that is an important role in its own right.

And if I'm being told that as a business, that business analysts in general focus on certain areas, and I don't think that is correct, actually, if I have a growth mindset, I can face those challenges. I can discuss them, I can take them on, and I can continue to move forward.

And I think for people in business analysis, we need a growth mindset because we are overlooked sometimes.

Some organisation's are marvellous with it. But you know, even recently I was hearing about an organisation that had just removed the entire BA practice and, you know, yes. And you just think in today's day and age where organisation's are really having to, you know, keep up to the mark to continue, that's incredible. And so when you see those sorts of challenges, you have to have a growth mindset to continue believing that what we do is worthwhile and keep working at it.

Joe: Yeah. Potentially find a new home because there's always value in the role. And it might just be about the placement of that value as organisation's change.

Yeah. Uh, how do, what did you, what was the word you used? Publicity. There's a lot of publicity, A lot of things that are trending, right? And, yeah, I always find that interesting cause there's always some overlap between the roles, which is okay. Um, I feel like business analysis skills live on, even if the job title isn't there.

So sometimes when I hear about these questions that you know about sort of where's the BA role in Agile? Well, there's still analysis roles in Agile. You're just gonna wear a different hat with a different name on it for a while. Yep. Yeah. Um, which is absolutely fine.

And sticking on this, um, publicity, uh, they get budgets, right? They get focus, they get time, they get special treatments for, for, for that moment that they are trending, right. That they, they are popular.

And I often wonder, because I look at, I look at this, and what will happen is they'll be an agile team. It'll be agile, will be rolled out into an organisation, they'll spend time on it, they'll spend money on it, they'll hire external agile coaches to help get the people through. And of course that breeds some success in agile product projects.

And I do wonder if we actually spent that same TLC, that 10 to 11 care on a different profession, whether it's project management or business analysis, I'd imagine it would see similar results. Because I think focusing, spending times telling somebody that what they do is important will always get some kind of growth.

Debbie: Mm-hmm. absolutely.

There, there was a great quote I read a couple of years ago, I think it was by Barry Boehm, who has been around the world of software for decades. And he was talking about agile, but he could apply it to lots of things. And he said, if you have brilliant people with really good skills, you're going to get good results.

And you know, I really, really, really buy into that because I think you're right that TLC in the area of business analysis, it does reap rewards and it is a great shame. I think that sometimes the sorts of messages we talk about and the sorts of understanding we have of our, you know, change and software industry, it doesn't quite communicate to executive level in a lot of organisation's.

And I think that's a great shame because then effort and investment is made in certain areas, and actually there's probably a broader platform for that investment that could probably be even more beneficial. So absolutely. I I think that TLC as you called it, Joe, that's really important. Do you know, a few years ago we had, uh, a session at the BA manager forum in the uk and it was on the digital ba.

Okay. Okay. What happened to the digital ba? She asks, but, um, one of the people presenting was saying how in her organisation you had business analysts and you had digital business analysts, and the digital business analysts had a better work environment. Yes. And it's just really, I, is that how we're looking at things now? Um, and you know, the word digital is something that, you know, again, we could have a discussion about if we had lots of time, but the fact that it was tacked on as a job title and then more TLC directed Yeah. In that particular area is quite worrying because to me, that demonstrated a real lack of understanding of what business analysis was about.

Joe: Yeah. And I still see it now. I mean, particular organisation's have these like innovation centres and they always have, you know, the, the better coffee and the, you know, better decor that's around. And it's interesting when we do prefix, you know, business analyst with, with some of this tech, I mean, I was talking to somebody today and I was saying, can you imagine if we did that consistently, how many different job titles there be and why didn't we ever have a green screen ba, you know, I mean, what a great job title that would've been. Um,

Okay, so we see some movement, um, in perhaps where the BA is positioned. I feel like there might be a little bit more argy bargy to come with some of the other roles. Do you perceive any other roles coming out? I mean, it, it's always sort of in hindsight that we see these things, but there, there, there's obviously that agile wave where, um, there's the agile BA maybe there's grand master's, product owners, product managers, um, we in the past we sort of maybe rubbed shoulders with the project manager as well and had a, had a little bit of a, a challenge there. Do you, do you foresee some other role emerging at all? Have you given it some thoughts?

Debbie: Yes. I mean, as I mentioned earlier, you do have the business architect role, which I think actually aligns very well with business analysis. As long as you understand the objectives or the services, as I would say, delivered by those two roles.

You do also have the service designer role. And again, I think that service design, business architecture, business analysis, they sit very neatly together if you understand what they're trying to achieve. Unfortunately, though, it feels a little bit when these roles come out that two things happen. One is there seems to be a, the senior business analysts might become business architects or service designers.

So that position happens exactly the same as it used to happen with project management.

And you also get a sort of a land grab that goes on as well, where suddenly the work that we do has become somebody else's responsibility. Um, and these things I think are a real shame because then we end up having all sorts of discussions about who's responsible for what. And you know, why, why do you think only senior people can do that?

And of course, when you step back from it all, actually we're missing the point because the point is, what are we here to achieve? What outcome do we actually want here? And that just can get lost in the mire of this discussion. And then people just start to go in different directions and it all becomes very fragmented again.

And one of the reasons why I've done a lot of research and a lot of work looking at the service perspective is because I think it pulls it all together. Yeah. It allows you to say, okay, what is it that we're trying to achieve? And for whom here, you know, why do we have this function, process, product, whatever it is, why does it exist? Because it's aimed at something.

And if we can understand that why, and we can understand the customer perspective of it, then actually all these things can pull together. But if we all sit in these separate areas, all saying, well, I'm doing that part of the job, then actually we just step on each other's toes.

Joe: Yeah. I dunno if you ever played this game in, in the past, but you get a piece of paper and you draw dots, in a matrix, and then you would draw a line between them, and when you close the box, you'd put your initials in it and say, that's my box. And then you'd count up the boxes at the end to see, to see who had won.

It does feel like we play that game sometimes at an organisational level that, you know, we sort of say, this is mine, that's yours. And it sort of looks like a closed cubicle kind of, um, uh, floor that we are working on.

And it is, um, I mean as you're talking, you're mentioning service design and you're talking about that why and focusing on the end outcome and the customer, of course. And it does tie in so nicely with business architecture, with the value streams and the value propositions and starting to understand how that all fits, you know, uh, how it all comes together. And of course then tactically the, the, the BA is there to help deliver a service, um, with that mindset. I think, I think that would be wonderful.

I'm, I'm a great believer in that our thoughts attract, you know, and I'm aware when I'm gonna have a few of these conversations with people, what I want to sort of keep in mind is that chances are what will happen are the things that people say will happen that they will verbalise, you know, and we can follow the things that resonate with you.

So if we are to make this happen, what sort of skills are bas going to need to begin? I mean, some old, some new maybe, but what skills will they need to start to work in this service design architecture kind of space?

Debbie: Ooh, that's a, that's a big question Joe. So I really like the T-shaped model because to me it allows me to look at skills with a little bit more focus. One of the things I always say is, if you want to stop a discussion, ask people to write something on a blank piece of paper.

So I like, that's why I love models and frameworks so much coz they help us think so in terms of skills, we do have to understand stakeholders, but I think we have to take it a little bit beyond where it is at the moment and think about ecosystems because ecosystems help the organisation work and it, if you think of something as an ecosystem, you can see that every, every element, every service entity is playing its part to make the overall thing happen.

So we have to be able to work within that ecosystem and understand it. And therefore we need to understand people, we need to understand how to communicate with them, how to present them, how to facilitate, how to influence, how to negotiate, all those types of things. And that all sounds incredibly obvious because we've said it for years that we need those skills.

But actually I don't think it hurts to just keep reaffirming them because we can always improve and we can always learn new techniques, new ideas and all of that helps us to beef up those interpersonal skills working within an ecosystem and then taking that ecosystem over to the other side of the horizontal bar of the T really believe that we need the skills of business .

I mean as you know, I'm CEO of a company and I've always said I couldn't do my job if I didn't have business analysis skills, but I also have to have business skills. So I have to understand how, if you're like in an ecosystem sense how my industry works, how the domain works, I have to understand how to work with suppliers and resellers and partners and regulators and competitors and all sorts of different stakeholders.

Not from the sense just knowing they're there, but really understanding how that ecosystem works within my business domain. And I hate to say it, I do have to understand money finance numbers and I know sometimes bas find that tricky.

Yeah. Um, but just tell you a little story, many years ago I did an MBA and I did it distance learning and one of the modules was business finance. And I thought, oh no, this is terrifying. I don't know anything about business finance and now I have to read books. But if you come back to growth mindset, I always felt that if I read it enough and thought about it enough, I'd get it in the end. Yeah.

So that's what I did. I read reread, thought, reread, reflected, reread, and eventually got it. And it is an area of skill that I am so pleased that I got on top of such a while ago. So those are two areas in the BA area. Then we've got all the things like understanding process. Yeah. You know, you talk about value streams from a business architecture view, which is very high level view and is based on delivery of a value item or realisation of value as I would call it with customers.

But underneath that we have to understand processes, how they work, how we model, improve them, et cetera. That that's absolutely a given. We have to understand requirements, and I'm going to use the requirements word because I don't care whether you call them work items, features, user stories, I really don't care. They are a requirement to be fulfilled and we have to understand a lot about them and how to really, uh, uncover what they're about and and how to prioritise 'em and things like that.

So we've got all those sort of key skills there. Yeah. But one of the skills that I think has been neglected a bit is around data. Absolutely. Because data is so important in today's world. There is so much that data can offer and there's too much fear around it, too much apprehension.

Joe: We're back to terrified again, aren't we?

Debbie: We're back to terrified. But I really do think we need to understand data and we need to understand it across the entire lifecycle. You know, from origin through to, you know, modelling representation, capture maintenance usage, reporting, analytics through to extinguishing.

We have to understand it. And if we don't do that as business analysts, I fear that we are going to be overrun by another role, which is the data analyst or even the data analytics specialist. Yeah. So there's a whole area around that.

There are others in the BA space, but I've talked about skills enough really . Yeah, no, no. Let, let, let's, let's carry on with that last.

Joe: When I do the training courses and we get to the, the section about data modelling, for some people it's a bit like you with your business finance, you know, they just look at it and it looks like a mountain too far and we try our best to simplify it and go through it. But I do find even when we do that on the other side, people are fairly ambivalent to it.

And it always surprises me. And I was having a chat with somebody the other day talking about this, saying I can't get why people don't get the need to do data as part of their business analysis. It's just, it's almost a perception aside of the coin that, that I can't see.

And some of it I wondered if perhaps because we're doing more off the shelf solutions, it sort of comes with preconfigured data structures and things that, that maybe we don't have to quite get into all the relationships and the modelling, but I still think there's a lot of value and it needs to be there in terms of the actual data items that attributes their lengths, their types, at what point in the process they are available because mm-hmm , it becomes information ultimately on a report or on a dashboard or somewhere.

And you, you mentioned these data analysts, data scientists, maybe they still need the data captured for them. They, they, they can't work with no ingredients and the responsibility is on BAs I feel to actually get back to data a little bit because we hear so much about business intelligence, intelligent decision making, and businesses are not simply gonna be able to do that unless the data is there at the time.

Debbie: They need it in a, in a way that they can consume it. Absolutely. But also if we don't understand that life cycle of data, we could be working on data that is actually inaccurate. Yeah. Incomplete, unethically sourced, you know, there are all sorts of issues around that. We could be sharing data that we should be looking after much more carefully. I mean there is a lot around this and I think as business analysts we do really need to look at it in, in a lot of depth.

And modelling data is almost like a nice introduction to data I always think. And just looking at, you know, screens that we see when we go online on a website or something and say, well okay, what data have they got there and where did they get it from and what does it mean and is it accurate?

You know, just asking those initial questions helps to get you into that mindset of thinking about data.

And then, you know, looking at things like, you know, when you, you're on sites that give you ratings for hotels or restaurants or whatever and asking yourself, do I believe it? Do I believe that rating? You know, then you start thinking, cos we do that, don't we? And and sometimes you say actually on this particular site, I'm not sure the ratings are that reliable.

So then you start saying, well where do they get that data from? Why do I think it's not reliable? When you start thinking like that then you understand business data customers and I think that makes it a bit easier, but we should be thinking like that all the time.

Joe: Yeah. And it is all around us. It's on airport departure signs. I don't believe the reviews on Amazon. I believe that somebody else captured that data on their own behalf a lot of the time. But yeah, there, there, there's definitely more in data. It's definitely coming more.

And so if we come back to, I'm gonna come back a little bit to service design, but not the detail and architecture. And we're, over the years there's been this trend where we were sort of stuck at the back in, in the room eating pizza and not seeing business and we've slowly like coming more to the fore. So there's this trend that we are getting closer to that business front line. Now we are known as facilitators, we can make recommendations, but we don't make decisions.

But perhaps, I'm just wondering if we have the data and we've got these more trusted positions, do you, do you foresee any ability to make decisions coming into the BA role on behalf of business?

Debbie: If I'm honest, not really. Okay. But I do think we can be stronger in identifying options and making recommendations.

One of the, actually it's a key skill of business analysts for me is the ability to say, what are the options here? Because, you know, we've talked about jumping to solutions for decades actually, but sometimes it's sort of, it, it's a bit more subtle than that. It's not saying, oh, here I am as an executive and here's a product I've bought. This is a solution that happens. Yes.

But sometimes it's, oh, there's this problem with this process, therefore we need to do this. And so the solutions are more micro than macro.

And I think as business analysts we're the people who can say, okay, yeah, well we could do that. But actually there are other options here that we can think about. And this is where, to me the word analysis is sometimes overlooked.

So I don't think necessarily we will have the authority to make the decisions, but I do think we have the authority, the license, and actually the, the need to be saying, let's look at this. Has anybody thought about any other options here? Because I can see other options and we need to discuss them because sometimes out of that discussion comes a really terrific option that actually is really important, that is considered by the organisation.

So, I really do believe that we should be taking our ability to analyse situations, identify options, analyse those options, and evaluate them in order to come up with recommendations and be a bit more proactive and a bit more challenging around that front.

Joe: Yeah. You, you know, the word I'm hearing is curiosity. I think it's, it's actually just being curious about things. What is this? How can we make it better? What else could we do? Does anybody else know about this? Yes. It's just a lot curious questions really, isn't it?

Debbie: Yeah, it is. And curiosity is, is really it, it's sort of almost right at the heart of what we do. Because if we don't have that then the opposite is acceptance in my book . And I'm a very good acceptance because I don't accept anything. You know, if somebody comes out and says this is the greatest new method, approach, role, anything that we've just invented, my attitude is ALS is always okay, I'll take a look at it and see what I think .

So acceptance is never ever part of what I do, but curiosity then is about saying, oh, okay, that's interesting. Let's take a look. Let's see if I think that's useful. Or let's see which elements I think are useful. And also with me it's always, let's see how I can improve it to make it work better. , I dunno if you ever do that Joe, but I do that all the time as I think, yeah, I like that. But I think I could improve it.

Joe: Perfectionist tendencies I think in some ways as well just, um, improving and improving. Um, yeah, let's come back to that word. Terrified. Okay. We've got a couple of minutes left, so I feel that this might be, um, a good place to end off on. Um, and in many ways I'm grateful that the, the, the two little letters AI have not, um, cropped up in our conversation because I know that it's gonna be a conversation that's held again and again. So I am grateful for that.

But I do also feel that I need to mention these, these letters very briefly and I'm gonna come back to terrify cos when you were talking about that moment where you had a, a group of people in an organisation and there was a fundamental shift happening with the advent of computers. I mean it was, it was turning things on its head. It was such a leap in terms of sort of business change, business improvement that was there.

Probably some of the things that we are facing right now aren't dissimilar to, cos we've had quite a big leap over this next one. And I don't think many of us quite know what we are in for. We're sort of projecting a little bit and, um, trying to predict one or two things, but, uh, not without trying to predict what I, what I wanted to ask you for here is, as somebody who's seen people, you know, people go through an enormous change, what sort of last piece of advice could you perhaps give people who are maybe a little bit fearful of being a business analyst going into the next few years?

Um, what advice can you give them to maybe fall back on?

Debbie: Do you know, it's interesting. One of the things I've seen over and over again is people really concerned about A and not looking at B. Okay. And too often when you do that you waste a lot of energy worrying about something that you don't understand and may not come to fruition rather than thinking, I need to understand this, I need to think about it and I need to maybe get some perspective, but I'll only have that if I do the work to really think about it.

And you also need to scan the horizon a bit broader because in all of these situations and actually there've probably been three I would say in my career, um, obviously the advent of the internet was huge as well. Um, in all of those situations there were a lot of benefits that came out, but the, the terror, the concern almost made it twice as difficult for people to actually get on board with these things.

So I always say, if you really are worried about something, do the work.

Yeah. And there was, there was a great phrase that I heard on a radio program, um, and it was an actor who said it, and I can never remember his name, but he was Meghan Markle's father in Suits. Okay. Okay. And he said as himself, not as the ac not as the character. He said, when the going gets tough, the tough go to work. And that is, is how I look at it.

So obviously I've, you know, reading about AI and machine learning, I'm thinking about it. And the one thing I think, I'm gonna come back to this word analyst. Okay. As an analyst, I read and reflect. I think in context I read more, I reflect that way. I start to get a picture that I can work with and I can start thinking about, okay, what do I need to consider? What might I need to work with that is maybe gonna hit me from nowhere and therefore I need to think about it and what can I make sure I understand?

Because the worst thing we can do is just sit terrified and frozen because that doesn't help anybody.

Joe: Yeah. When the going gets tough, the tough get to work. I think that's a great note to end this on. Thank you very much for joining me on this, uh, episode one, Debbie, it's been fantastic to talk with you as always.

Debbie: Yeah, great to talk to you Joe. Thanks for asking me.

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The Show Notes

Cool stuff mentioned on the show

๐Ÿ“š Mindset by Carol Dweck (Amazon)

๐Ÿ‘จโ€๐Ÿ”ฌ Barry Boehm (Wikipedia)

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About Debra Paul

Dr Debra Paul (/in/debrapaul) is CEO at Assist Knowledge Development, the UK's leading specialist provider of business analysis training. She has created and contributed toward the BCS International and Advanced Diploma's in Business Analysis certifications. Debbie founded the BA Manager Forum and BA Conference Europe. She is a co-host on the podcast BA Brew as well as author of six books, including the international bestsellers Business Analysis123 Business Analysis Techniques, and her newest book, Delivering Business Analysis: The BA Service Handbook.

About Joe Newbert

Joe Newbert (/in/joenewbert) is is a consultant, a writer, a speaker, but above all, a teacher. As Chief Training Officer at Business Change Academy, he delivers some of the best business analysis training on the planet. He co-authored the original IIBAยฎ Business Analysis Competency Model and served as Non-Executive Director on the IIBAยฎ South Africa Strategy Board. Joe is Showrunner at the business analysis podcast network OneSixEight FM as well as Editor-In-Chief at the Inter-View Report. And he also writes in fits and starts at Newbert's Blog.


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  • The different waves just prove that it is quite tough to narrow done what a BA actually does. At the core of what we do is a set of skills that truly can be applied just about any where in the business in any function or discipline. That being said, it is still very organizational and we often face that push back, the proverbial “stay in your lane” directive. When faced with that, its easy to fall back, both professionally and personally.

    The growth mindset keeps us focused as well as our solutions and I loved the discussion on this mindset is arguably the most powerful tool in our arsenal.

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