Principle #12: Learn, adapt and thrive

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Cartoons aside, business analysts have to learn all the time. It is part of the job, part of the challenge, and a big part of the attraction.

At the beginning of my career, I would never have expected some curious things I had to learn about (and quickly) when working as a business analyst. I also could not have predicted which knowledge and experience I will end up using again later under different circumstances.

I realize now how all that not only added to my knowledge, but helped me shape how I look at problems – shape my mindset.

Once, new on the job, I had to figure out complex rules for determining funding eligibility for a government program – after two other analysts gave up on it. To do that, I’ve created my first decision tree, which later became one of my favourite analysis tools.

I’ve learned what a bitmap data format is and how it reduces the overall file size. As a side product, I’ve understood the importance of having tools that can simulate test data in prescribed format when a spreadsheet is not good enough.

I had one excellent French translator explain to me, and ingrain in me, the tricks of French punctuation, including the placement of spaces relative to other punctuation signs (before, not after). I’ve used this knowledge quite a few times to help save some time and reduce consulting translator budget.

And I have followed a delivery courier during their morning runs and observed how they used their knowledge of the territory, client schedules and the gut feel about traffic situation to optimize their route. This also allowed me to appreciate the complexity of setting and measuring performance indicators, especially when measuring a multitude of correlated factors.

Some career business analysts say that they will never be bored with the job as long as they get to move and explore different industries. Others find deepening their expertise in a particular field most satisfying.  One thing is certain though – however much you learn, you can never learn enough to last you a whole career. As technologies develop, industries are disrupted by new business models, and corporations experiment with new ways of organizing their business, the world around us keeps changing, and we have to keep up.

Every project that a business analyst works on would have a new and unique element – otherwise, why is the project even needed? To be successful in this profession, you have to enjoy and welcome the new and the unknown, and be ready to learn and adapt.

First of all, upgrade and expand your professional knowledge:

  • Learn about a new industry when moving to a new organization or taking on a new client
  • Expand and deepen domain expertise for a project that requires specialized knowledge, such as laws and regulations, complex business rules or calculations
  • Explore and study capabilities and functionality of an off-the-shelf software package that your client has decided to buy and adopt
  • Brush up on your college math, logic or statistics to understand, drive and manage complex requirements – e.g. building statistical models,  intricate reporting and analytics, multi-factor derivation rule sets and decision tables
  • Become an expert in a specific non-functional requirements domain such as user interface, accessibility, localization or data governance
  • Become familiar with data interchange formats used in particular industries – enough to be comfortable discussing, capturing data mapping and watching out for structural gaps in data integration requirements
  • Understand technologies used in your organization’s technology stack – enough to reference architecture diagrams and infrastructure requirements. This could mean understanding databases, data warehouses and data marts, what a workflow engine or a business rules engine does, what the difference between operational and reporting data structures is, or what a service bus and APIs are for.

As a practitioner, you will also learn through reading, training, experience and adaptation:

  • Business disciplines such as organizational behaviour, operations, finance, sales and marketing
  • Project delivery and change management methodologies
  • Business analysis techniques such as process and data modelling
  • Organizational policies and governance
  • Enterprise architecture frameworks

And whatever you do, you will keep learning more about people – their psychology, behaviours, motivations and shortcomings. You will meet with different characters and learn to recognize certain character traits that require special handling. You will encounter different cognitive biases and will start to recognize patterns. And you will learn more about yourself, your own biases, shortcomings and weaknesses that you need to work on. And all of the above, believe me, are valuable things to learn, wherever you go and whatever you do next.

So, don’t resent feeling like an apprentice or a student sometimes. Even with many years of experience as a business analyst, you may find yourself a novice in a certain industry, area of business or technology. It is not a setback and it will not slow you down. Anything new you learn will expand your horizons, boost your marketability and will add to your confidence.

I recall speaking with a business analyst who has worked in one company for all of her career. She told me: “You must be so brave to take on a new job. I only know this – if I were to lose this job, I wouldn’t know how to do anything else!”

Would you not rather feel confident that you can adjust, adapt and thrive wherever the chance and your career aspirations take you?

Feel the thrill of learning something new, of doing something that has never been done before – or at least something that you have never done before. Embrace the challenge of continuous learning, and you will enjoy the business analysis profession and will thrive as a professional.

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