The Learning BA: 3 Effective Ways to Generate Ideas that Work

Peter Drucker once stated: 

Just as the human ear does not hear sounds above a certain pitch, so does human perception not perceive what is beyond its range of perception. Perception is determined by experience and knowledge.

Business Analysts are referred to as “knowledge workers” because we “think for a living”. The more knowledge and experience we have, the more our perceptions evolve. Our perceptions are important because they determine the decisions we make. In order to increase our ability to generate effective ideas and make better decisions that work, we must continue learning in the face of dynamic projects.

As Tom Peters once said: “The best leaders are the best note-takers, the best askers, the best learners…They are shameless thieves of the best ideas”. Through constant learning and practice, business analysts can reduce errors on the job. Learning by ourselves all the time is, however, the long (and hard) route. We should learn to think with other people's tested and trusted ideas so that we do not always have to start from scratch.

Rivals in the business world are learning from masters in the industry; world economies are being built on the theories of economic masters like Milton Friedman & Peter Drucker; online businesses are borrowing from Amazon’s successful model and putting their ideas into practice, why should business analysts be any different?

How do all these apply to the business analyst? Here are some things to take note of:

1. Learn from the IndustryWhat are others in your industry doing to make their projects successful? Look for successful case studies on similar projects. What did these companies do to get the right results from their implementations and their stakeholders? What did they do wrong? Study their successes and their mistakes. This is particularly essential if you find yourself in a new business domain. Learning from similar projects is a great way of getting ideas for new requirements, which can later be confirmed with your stakeholders.

Babok V2, Section 9.9.1 proposes a technique for achieving this: Document Analysis. This is a means of eliciting requirements by studying available information on existing and comparable solutions and identifying relevant information. Before you take on any major project, take your time to review relevant documentation like case studies, market research, product reviews and the like. Take the ideas and make them better.

2. Learn from Your Users – Speaking to those involved in the business process at all levels, especially frontline staff, can be useful in gathering ideas on how the new system should work. Babok V2, Section 9.3.1 defines Brainstorming as a technique for fostering creative thinking about issues. Brainstorming sessions are effective ways of generating ideas from stakeholders. At the end of the session, refine these ideas and concentrate on the ones that add the most business value.


3. Learn from Yourself – So what if you make some mistakes or get frustrated along the line? Think about the story of George Crum, a chef in Saratoga Springs who invented potato chips. He made a plate of fried potatoes for a customer who kept sending it back and asking that it be fried thinner. Crum angrily sliced the potatoes thin and fried them till they were extremely hard. To Crum’s surprise, the customer loved them and kept asking for more! Actions born out of frustration and mistakes may lead to surprising knowledge. Be open to taking corrections repeatedly from stakeholders if you don't get things rightMake up your mind to learn from your mistakes.

At the end of every project, compile a lessons learnt log. Look for areas in which you could have performed better and focus on their improvement. Ask customers and clients for feedback so that the next run can be better and faster. Babok V2, Section 9.15.1 provides a technique for achieving this: the Lessons Learned Process. This involves compiling and documenting successes, opportunities for improvement, failures, and recommendations for improving the performance of future projects or project phases.

Next time you're starting a project, remember this: you don't have to start from scratch.

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