A mechanical approach for a BA on an agile project

Recently I wrote a mechanical guide for testers on agile projects, but what about business analysts?

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A good video on Jobs to Be Done

We all want to be more customer focused and closer to the customer.  All that sounds great, but it assumes that we have some idea of who the customer is and what they want.

So maybe we should list our customers by customer segment.  Let’s see – I am James and I am a customer of your product.  I live in Sydney and I am Australian.  But unlike most Australians I am a bit short and not very good at sport.

Now you know me really well you can flog your product to me.  You can even build a persona around me (see this link).  If you are more sophisticated you might even start doing empathy maps and value proposition canvases.

But the point is not to build a detailed picture of me.  Knowing I am tall or short is nice and knowing I am Australian might tell you about what I want in a product … but just as likely it won’t tell you how to make a product relevant to me.

Rather – we want to know what things I want to do (ie my “jobs to be done”). So let’s see what that means.

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Is it enough to say that the BA is the “universal translator” between business and IT?

I often hear that we need a business analyst to translate what the business people say, so that technical people understand them. Then, I am told we need the BA to then translate what the technical people say, so that the business people understand them.

I guess it goes something like this:

It sounds good, but actually I don’t think it is true.

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The humble trade-off matrix

I have been doing some business analyst training recently and I spoke about a “trade-off matrix” a couple of times. A couple of people have asked for a good link to explain what one is and why they are so cool. So I looked on the web and couldn’t find anything decent enough to send through.

So I thought I would describe what a trade-off matrix is here. I will also briefly mention why they are useful and then mention a couple of variations that people might not have heard of.

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The dark art of politics – do you need values or a brand to win battles?

Some people believe that if you are evil then you have no values and that you will be good at office politics, but that if you are good then you will have strong values and be really bad at office politics.

I believe that regardless of whether you are good or evil, you will be really stressed if you do not know your values and you will be really bad at office politics if you do not understand and manage your personal brand.

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Focusing questions and project charters are great, but where do you start?

I am starting a bunch of small projects at the moment and people are rushing to help define the solutions.  That is great but I am (as always) nervous that we are providing solutions before we really understand what we want to solve.

I like to define the problem (or vision) and then a rough plan to get there and with this in mind I have already published an article suggesting teams use a project charter and possibly a product statement, but where do these come from? 

I usually start right at the beginning, by asking people what they want and then asking what they mean by that – I call that approach a “question compass” because it is useful for finding your direction right at the start of things.

But even with all those links, how do you go from “hi, there my name is James – what would you like today?” through to “Cool, here is an initial project charter – it will allow us to address the enclosed focusing question … that will be $3.2M if you choose to continue, have a nice day”.

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Can I add more scope and still deliver on time? Or should I Scamper

I often seem to face the same problem – how can I reduce my resources, increase my scope, improve quality and go faster?

The best answer is – be clear on what you really want and decrease your scope.  Sadly that is the opposite of what people want to hear, but usually delivering the right thing (done well) is better than delivering a lot (even if its done well).

But I have also found that the grinding task of trying to fit more in and failing can actually help you define what you really need.  So I often find the process worthwhile even though I end up with a different scope rather than a bigger one.  So here are some ideas I have tried:

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