Starting a new project as a Business Analyst is usually mixed with uncertainties and the unknowns. I have seen highly experienced Business Analysts become confused or lose their confidence when assigned to a new project. In my early days as a Business Analyst, I had this challenge too. What I quickly realised is that to maintain control and retain your level of confidence, you need to have a structure in place to guide you from the start of a project to the end of the project. Without this structure, you will find yourself always worried, confused and sometimes, making decisions based on what others are telling you to do, versus what you should be doing and saying to others in a partnership or advisory capacity as the Business Analyst.
A Business Analyst is seen as a trusted advisor, someone who helps others to get to the real reason why things should or should not be done. They help consolidate different sources of information and then transform these pieces of information into something meaning, that can help a business take advantage of technological, sociological, and, or economic transformation; this feat is achieved through a rigorous and painstaking process, which is both an art and a science, a truly creative endeavour. This is a huge responsibility and it's possibly one of the reasons, why Business Analysts, may become uncomfortable and sometimes confused when they are starting out on a new project, there are new words to learn, new acronyms, new systems to learn and new people to meet or work with.
In order to reduce the uncertainties and put a structure around how you can manage your role on a new project, here are five things you should do as a Business Analyst on every new project:
1. Meet your Project Manager: The first thing you want to do on any project is to set up a meeting with your Project Manager so that you can find out important information that will set you up for success. At the meeting, you want to find out the stage of the project, because this will help to adjust your Business Analysis Plan. You want to ask for important documents such as the Business Case, Project Initiation Document (PID), and a Stakeholder's List (if it's not in the PID). You also align your expectation of the role with those of the Project Manager. You may want to ask some clarifying questions about the project, such as, why are they doing the project? what does the organisation plan to benefit from the project? are there other projects that will depend on the outcome of this project (or vice-versa)? What goals, pain points or objectives will this project be targeting? What is the delivery time frame for the project? and what high-level requirements have been provided, if any?
2. Create a Know Your Stakeholder (KYS) document: Once you get a list of those you will be working with on the project, you want to map our who is who and what each person will be responsible for, using a RACI Matrix; RACI stands for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed. You also want to create a matrix that helps you to understand, the power and influence of each stakeholder, as well as how to communicate with them, what their schedule looks like and so on. This will help you to know a little more about your stakeholders, and it will prevent an unpleasant stakeholder relationship in future, where a stakeholder becomes difficult to manage.
3. Review and Analyse Existing Documentation: In many cases when a Business Analyst is brought into a project, the project is either just about to start, or, the project has just been kicked-off or the project is underway; sometimes, it might be a project that was canned (put on hold or discontinued) but has now been re-started, or the project is actually going into a test phase. You want to make sure that regardless of the phase or status of the project, you ask for all the project collaterals (or artefacts) and thoroughly analyse them. Check the glossary of terms for the meaning of words or acronyms, check for embedded or linked associated documents, check for names of contributors to any of the documents, research on google (a BA's best friend) to find similar projects, white papers or reports relating to a similar project, ask for the organisation chart, and any piece of information that will help you further down the line. At this point, you want to be hungry for as much information as you can find that will help you understand what the project is all about.
4. Create your Business Analysis Plan: It is not uncommon to find that the Project Manager may have already created a Project Plan (see PID), which will include some skeletal (or even detailed) list of activities that will be expected of the Business Analyst. Which is why I mentioned above in the Project Manager's meeting, that you align your expectation of the role with those of the Project Manager. Nevertheless, as a Business Analyst, you want to create your own plan and approach for performing your analysis. You will have had an opportunity to review available materials, discussed with the Project Manager, understand what the business is looking to achieve, so it shouldn't be too much of hard work to put together a plan for how you will accomplish this task. Remember the saying "if you fail to plan, you plan to fail". Your plan should contain a list of activities, estimated delivery time frame, and it should be updated regularly to ensure you are on track and any potential delays are spotted and managed on time.
5. Be ready to make a valuable contribution: Once you have accomplished all the four essential tasks mentioned above, you should be a lot more confident to go out, armed with the right information, and the right mindset, ready to add value. When you go into meetings, you will be able to ask the right questions, or even clarify certain information that you have come across during the document review process. You will be able to direct the right question to the right stakeholders, now that you know more about them and potentially how they might be impacted by or have an impact on the project. You will be able to talk about what trends relating to the projects are out there and perhaps what issues other organisations have faced when they embarked on a similar project. At this point, you should also be talking to people in the organisation more clearly, speaking to your peers and even non- project related staff.
By following the five approaches mentioned above, you will be able to own your space as a Business Analyst. You will not be pushed around like a ping-pong ball by some of the stakeholders. You will also be able to stop technical people in their tracks when they start talking solutions when we barely understand the real problems we are trying to resolve. Wouldn't life feel much better, knowing that your job is not at stake, your stakeholders see you as a valuable member of the team and your project manager sees you as an ally?
To learn more about how to confidently prepare for a new project, I have created an online course titled “The Business Analyst’s Playbook”. The course aims to help you hit the ground running on any project as a Business Analyst, with a proven process that hundreds of my students and I have used to successfully deliver multi-million pounds projects in some of the top organisations in the UK.