Category: Biography

Letting Go

Letting Go

During the last week, it seems that everywhere I go, I am running into a constant theme. People around me are letting go. And letting go is one of the most challenging things we do as humans.

My family is in the process of decluttering over a decade’s worth of stuff, and I see first hand how some of these items evoke strong emotions. Take the exersaucer, for example, that was used by my daughter, who is now 5ft 9in. As wonderful as that time in our lives was, we can never return to it. The stations on each side are housed in a white plastic casing that now has changed colors to a light tan.

I jokingly asked Lily if she wanted to give it one last turn. Of course, I got the response, “Dad, that sounds pretty shady to me.” That is her way of saying, stop with the Dad jokes.

It’s not just my household, though. My Mother has the loss of her furry companion; a Yorkie named King who passed at the age of 84 in dog years, 12 in actual years.

And there have been others I’ve helped within the last week, too.

I’ve learned that the challenge of letting go involves some level of the grieving process. It doesn’t matter if the letting go is from a tragic loss, or just from the passage of time and how life causes transitions, grief is often involved, though we may downplay its significance.

Life’s Transitions

So how do we make the transition?

If that question is asked too soon, it can be jarring. The stages of grief should not be circumvented for significant life events. And each stage likes to return to visit us often.

So, I will ask the question again, with that as a caveat. Knowing that change often invokes grief, how do we make the transition?

First, we need to see if we are ready to make the transition. If we are not ready for the transition, we will never accept it. And acceptance is vital because we often need to take action over and over again for a change to take hold.

In my decluttering example, it isn’t just the exersaucer that we need to let go. It’s clothing, bedding, toys, artwork, crafts, and a thousand other items. And it’s not just things involving my daughter.

For me, it’s books. Many of which I intended to read but never did. And now that season of my life when I should have read them is past. They are no longer relevant or timely. As I’ve gone through boxes of stuff that have not been opened since our last move 7 years ago, it is surprising how many books I have that I don’t even recognize, and many must have been from before we married. A good portion of which are of the self-help variety – so much that one visitor looked at my shelves and asked, “What’s wrong with you?”

My reply, “You mean you can’t tell?” Followed by a psychotic laugh, just to see the effect.

One of the books I found was “Who Moved My Cheese,” which is a book that is about … you guessed it … Letting Go. Can you guess what I did with that book?

Yep, it’s been donated.

For my wife, it’s things she remembers from shopping experiences with our daughter. Every so often, I hear the exclamation, “Lily! You’ll never guess what I found. Do you remember…?” Then she tells a story about something she hasn’t seen in years, and suddenly we must keep it.

This makes little sense to my logical mind. But I conclude that Marie Kondo doesn’t work when everything “Sparks Joy.” That and the books explains our storage unit.

Still, no matter what the circumstances, letting go is a necessity. Our ability to let go is directly related to our ability to excel in life. Why? Because letting go of the past is necessary for us to envision a future.

And for myself, letting go involves more than just clutter. Every so often, it is important to take a risk, to change course. And this pandemic seems like the natural time to do that.

The Point

As Business Analysts, we often speak of techniques and skill-sets involved to identify process gaps, requirements management, and the like. There is another part of the job that requires empathy, and empathy is a core part of leadership.

Whether it is letting go of the clutter in our lives, painful events, or letting go of what we have done to move toward a better future, letting go is difficult.

As a business analyst, one of my roles is as an “agent of change.” That means some people love seeing me come because they know things will get better. But others are not ready for change. They don’t see the vision or don’t like the vision they see. For these situations, often reminding of the drawbacks of staying put can help soften the resistance.

But no matter where someone is on willingness to let go, it can always be said that letting go is a necessity for moving ahead. And my job is not just to gather requirements on a product vision; it is to create as smooth a transition as possible. The emotional intelligence of handling change is a huge part of getting a project done.

My job is to help them

It may mean that the vision gets adjusted to embrace the concerns of a group that was overlooked. Great – I’ll pass these changes along and get approval.

It may mean that I need to help people see a vision other than what they know. That’s great too. I can help lower the level of fear involved with change by highlighting the benefits, not only to the organization but to the individuals affected.

What do I do to help? The main thing is to listen. Once the problem is voiced, the fear of it lessens.

I’m very thankful for this past week because it reminds me again just how important it is to help people move toward what is next.

And the real reason I have all those self-help books that I mentioned earlier is because in reality they are more useful professionally than many people realize.

How I Became a Salesforce Certified Administrator

How I Became a Salesforce Certified Administrator

This is my 3rd article on “How I became a …” So, I’m at it again, learning to do new things and going in directions I had not considered just months ago.

In February, I found myself sitting at a computer taking an exam for Salesforce Certified Administrator. Of course I’m familiar with this kind of setting, as I’ve already completed CBAP and AAC from IIBA, as well as PSM-1 from Scrum. I believe in the current economy, if you are in IT, certifications are a necessary part of ensuring you remain relevant.

But why go for Salesforce?

As I’ve mentioned before, I am a lifelong learner. That thirst for new skills, sources of information about the world and how it operates (or doesn’t operate, which is equally as important at times), is something that has driven me.

However, I needed to do something that would expand my usefulness into areas inaccessible to my previous experience. It’s not that I’m giving up Business Analysis, but that I needed to refocus it. And what I see from Salesforce will allow me to do just that.

Yet, these don’t really answer the question. How did I land on a decision to pursue a Salesforce Certification?

The short version is I got advice from some total strangers.

Well, they don’t feel like strangers to me because I’ve been listening to their podcast for over a year (3 years worth in 1 year). The ChooseFI podcast features two regular guys discussing Financial Independence, which I discovered can be highly relevant to Salesforce. In December 2019, I finally caught up with their backlog. And one of the last 3 episodes I needed to hear was actually released the prior December (remember, I was catching up). So 14 months before taking the exam, ChooseFI released what I was hearing 2 months prior. What was it about?

Go for it

This was one of those actionable messages in which I said, “I’m going to do that. I’m starting on that today.”

The guest was Bradley Rice. And his story gave me hope that that I can still start something new.

Remember my drive to learn? That’s well and good to have it. But it needs an outlet. Preferably one that can be marketed. And what I heard from Bradley was exactly that. A new world to conquer, along with an opportunity to combine the new skills with my Business Analysis background in a way that is challenging and opportunistic.

Personal Goals

The reason Bradley’s message resonated with me is how well it lined up both my experience and with my hopes and dreams. I have a goal of putting my daughter through college. I have a dream of working from home. And although I’ve worked remotely for clients, that work was actually performed in an office 50 minutes away. I have a vision of a sustainable business that I can run from anywhere. But getting the clients has been a challenge.

The story Bradley told answered all of those goals, hopes, dreams and visions, and a few more that I’ve not mentioned here.

Beginning To Learn

Bradley described enough of how to get involved with Salesforce that I had all the knowledge I needed to get started – or so I thought. There’s more to learn than I had imagined.

The first step is signing up on the Salesforce training platform, Trailhead. This is amazing because it allows up to 10 fully functional training copies of Salesforce to be used as a playground for all of your training. And if you need to, you can delete the older ones and spin up new ones in just a few minutes. Plus the cost was a very prohibitive $0.00.

The training materials walk you through everything. There are career and certification paths defined for administrators, developers, consultants, architects and partners.

Trailhead gamifies the learning process. Each module has a maximum number of points for completion. Badges can be earned associated with specific skills, and you can collect points and badges as you move from Scout to Ranger.

During this phase of my learning, I discovered Superbadges on Trailhead. These are the secret sauce for learning Salesforce. Superbadges are real world scenarios in which you must demonstrate that you understand how to perform a complex function, such as establishing security, building a platform or even writing APEX code. Where other badges walk you through doing a few simple tasks, Superbadges give you the requirements and you have to apply what you’ve learned. One of the Superbadges (Billing Specialist) required stringing together about 10-12 steps, in the correct order, to complete only one of the 10 challenges, so they can be very tough.

Superbadges have the added benefit in teaching how to research Salesforce. Since the answers are not apparent by any means, you need to look through all the documentation available on-line. Being able to research is a key skill that I have as a Business Analyst, so again, Salesforce dovetails nicely with my experience.

My first three Superbadges were Security Specialist, Lightning Experience Reports and Dashboard Specialist (Lightning Experience refers to the latest-greatest technology for building applications on the Salesforce platform) and Business Administration Specialist.

There are even some non-Salesforce topics included, such as resume writing, management philosophy based on Drucker, meditation, health and wellness.

Within about 2 months, I had devoured the Trailhead material for Administrators and was ready to prepare for the certification exam.

Final Preparations

In addition to the hands-on experience provided through Trailhead, I joined a group Bradley formed (Learning Salesforce and Building Your Talent Stack) that helps people navigate their Salesforce career transition. From there, I heard about a second source called FocusOnForce.com, which provides sample exams and preparation guides for about $19.00 each – still a great bargain.

Going through FocusOnForce provided me with a better understanding of the philosophy behind Salesforce. Where Trailhead showed me what to do, FocusOnForce taught me how to think.

So in February, I signed up to take the exam, and passed.

Leveraging the Investment

A funny thing happened shortly after certification, a little thing called Covid-19. Now all of a sudden I have a lot more competition for Salesforce jobs. So how do I overcome that added obstacle.

Well, frankly, I’m still working on that obstacle. But here’s how I’m tackling it.

First, I didn’t stop at one certification. There’s a related certification called Platform App Builder which expands on the ideas discussed in the Administrator training.

I already had a pattern for learning. I just needed to cover the additional material and sit for the exam. I finished this exam in April.

Additional Superbadges were also attained. At this time I am up to 8 total.

Team for Travis

Second, I knew I needed to get hands on experience. So I volunteered. Yep, while needing a job as much as anyone else during the pandemic, I volunteered to help a small Non-Profit navigate through the process of migrating to Salesforce. You’d be amazed how many opportunities come because you showed you care.

This gives me the opportunity to demonstrate that I can not only do the work required for a new installation, but it helps show that I can lead, train and coach others on the Salesforce product. There are several platforms set up to help connect non-profit organizations to professionals willing to help. Among them are Taproot and Catch-a-Fire.

I applied for a pro-bono position through Catch-a-Fire for a new Salesforce implementation. I liked that because it was completely fresh, which I felt would allow me to use both my Administration and my Analysis skills. After talking with the founder, we both discovered our stories have several parallels. And the cause was something I felt I could easily get behind. That connection is very important, especially for non-profits and pro-bono work. They want someone who they believe can help them for more than just a gig, to truly help with the organization.

My non-profit is a small organization called T.E.A.M. 4 Travis. This organization is founded by a wonderful parent who lost her son to a rare disease called Asplenia. Travis was a healthy, energetic and happy four year old boy who loved the Texas Longhorns. But the first time he got sick, his body couldn’t fight off the disease due to the undetected abnormality where his spleen did not function properly. Simple testing could have saved his life. Please take a moment to look at this page, learn Travis’s story and, if you can, support this organization.

And it’s showing me that my Business Analysis skills are still very much at work. In the Salesforce ecosystem, Administrators often do double duty gathering requirements for their organizations then building the changes. With the “clicks not code” nature of most of the development, it is quite easy to just build the required changes in less time than it takes to document them.

For example, we are currently discussing various options for documenting contacts made at networking events so that T.E.A.M. 4 Travis can leverage that information in future correspondence. In Salesforce, that is simple, but there are many ways to solve this problem. My BA skills help me find, while consulting with T.E.A.M. 4 Travis which of those ways is best.

Network Strategy – Embrace the Ohana

Third, I am building and expanding my network. I now have long timers in Salesforce who come to me whenever they pass a Trailhead Superbadge! One person has about 10 years experience, and started prior to the existence of Trailhead. So he knows this stuff even though he hasn’t been through the training. But he is very proud to share that he has reached these new milestones.

Salesforce talks about its “Ohana” culture, which embraces traits like helpfulness, involvement and inclusion. It is facilitated through a massive emphasis on Salesforce Communities. Many of these are topical, geographical or skill-set oriented. So I’ve determined to be a joiner.

Once I’ve joined, I’ve observed which groups tend to be more active and that also more closely align with my skills and goals. Then, I began participating (as best as I can while Covid is happening) and connecting with people who can help.

It is very encouraging how many people have been willing to help, giving tips, suggestions and leads. Some have cheered me on saying that I am inspiring them to train more.

What’s Next

I’ll let you know soon enough. But I will say, I’m not done yet.

The Will to Overcome All Obstacles

About two years ago, I started on a journey that has changed my perspective on everything. At that time, I was overweight and had just come out of pneumonia, followed by the flu, back to back. I was disengaged from my family because I was constantly tired. And I decided it was time to do something about it.

I read about Keto and decided to try it. I added up what I ate every day and it was atrocious. I cut out all fries and sugary sodas, which cut my caloric intake in half. I cut carbs 80%. And I did full fasting once or twice each week.  Within three months, I lost 30 pounds. I felt great. My mind was alert. I was not tired anymore. That’s where the story begins.

Then came the obstacle — a huge one.

The Obstacle

I have had a problem with my gallbladder for a long time, so this isn’t Keto related. But it was time to do something about that too, and I had it removed on May 8, 2018. Later the doctors would speculate that a gallstone must have escaped during the surgery.

A week after the procedure, I started having complications in the form of violent pain and nausea. I went to the ER, who treated both symptoms and sent me home. And I returned the next night with the same signs. I was admitted to the hospital this time.

It turns out that the escaped gallstone had found its way into my pancreas and blocked a duct. That means the enzymes produced had nowhere to go except back into the pancreas. It was eating itself.

While in the hospital, I was also diagnosed with two blood clots.  One was in the leg, the other in the lung. This created all kinds of problems as treatment for one could not interact with the other.

For pancreatitis, they pumped fluids in me. The 30 pounds I had lost was put back on me in 2 days. The fluid was to keep my blood pressure up. Pancreatitis patients can die from low blood pressure as the body attacks the issue by diverting blood to the organ. I had six IV bags going at any one time.

Then the hiccups started. Uncontrollable. I couldn’t rest because of them. For days, every 20 seconds. And the staff all but laughed when I asked if there was something they could do about it. They did say to hold my breath or drink from the wrong side of the glass.

Lack of Trust

So I had a trust issue with this team. Some of the doctors included the same team that performed the surgery. I was in the same hospital that sent me home from the ER only to return the next night. And the physicians were telling me one thing but the staff something else.

On the 3rd night, I moved into a standard room. It was tiny, with a slit of a window positioned in the wrong corner so you couldn’t see out of it. I think Johnny Cash “heard a whistle blowing” through that window that allowed no “sunshine since I don’t know when.” It was depressing.

I assured my family it would be OK for me in that room. But after they left, I had a lot of time (between the hiccups) to think. Am I dying? What will happen to my family if I do? And I resigned myself to trust God to work out whatever my family needed, whether I make it or not.

Get Out NOW

About 2 am, I heard His response. It was so jarring when I heard it, but gentle at the same time. “Bill, you’re the project. This leadership team doesn’t know what to do. Get out of there before they kill you.”

All of a sudden, it made sense. God speaks to you in the language you understand. God was making it known that He was not done with me yet. Let that sink in a bit. I knew I was going to make it. In addition, He was reminding me that when project leaders do not know the way, the project always fails. And if I am the project…with this leadership team, I was going to die. Change the team NOW.

But I’m in a hospital bed with 6 IVs. I can’t just walk out. Somehow I had to get out.

I texted my wife, Kimberly. It was about 2:00 am. She was up trying to research everything she could. I told her to get me out and, they’re going to kill me if I don’t get out of there.

She contacted the hospital immediately and initiated the request for a transfer. We asked to transfer to either of two hospitals in Lexington and eventually got accepted into Good Samaritan, which is part of the University of Kentucky. It took until 6 pm to get the transfer on the road.

I would spend the next 2+ weeks at Good Sam.

Now I refer to this transfer from the local hospital to Good Samaritan as the time I fired the hospital.

A New Team, A New Vision

At Good Sam, they did the opposite of everything the previous hospital had done. They outlined a plan to me within an hour of my arrival and stuck to that plan throughout the stay. They took the fluid off (which required countless trips to the bathroom). They treated the hiccups (and replaced it with bathroom trips). And they paid attention to everything.

Between both hospitals I went probably a 10 days without any food. For a time, the only liquid was through the IVs.

The Damage is Done

Kimberly did not share her research with me until later. She found, among other things, an article called “The Atlanta Classification for Acute Pancreatitis.” This article outlined mortality rates for Walled Off Necrosis and explained that the best treatment is not to treat it. Any effort to drain the necrotic material risks infection. And because there are no surviving blood vessels through the necrotic material, there is no way to get antibiotics to treat any infection.

The damage to my pancreas is severe. 70% of it has been liquified – a condition called Walled Off Necrosis. I became a type 3c diabetic, insulin-dependent and requiring digestive enzymes.

The Importance of Kindness

Dr. Calder was finishing up his residency at UK that month. I was one of his last patients before he finished. Several times, he wheeled me out of my room and ate lunch with me. I still get emotional thinking about that simple kindness.

I finally made it out of the hospital. I walked around the yard. Then twice around the yard. Eventually, I returned to work.

I lost another 20 pounds after leaving the hospital. So that means I lost 30 over three months before the surgery, gained 30 in two days, lost 30 in 2 weeks, then lost an additional 20 over the next two months. Now that I’m diabetic, I do not try the Keto diet. That does not mean I’m against that diet, just that my organs already have some extra strain so I choose to be more normal.

The Importance of Community

But the obstacles were not done. Every demon tries to kick you one last time as it is banished.

Back in May, just before the surgery that started all this, several people were let go from work. Our staff of Business Analysts was cut from six, counting the director, to three. About two weeks after returning, I also was released.

One of my friends, Richard, who had been released in May, provided me contacts for jobs he had worked. So, I landed a new job without missing a paycheck.

Between my family, Dr. Calder, the staff at Good Sam, and Richard, I owe so many people so much.

Full Recovery

When you look at me now I look and act as healthy as most people. I have more energy than most. My mind is sharp. The only difference is that I must know how many carbs I am eating so that I know how much insulin to take. As long as I know, like most diabetics, I can eat what I want. With that in mind, I also have to know if my blood glucose is high or low, so I can adjust my insulin dosage accordingly.

If you see me jittery, that means I’m running a bit low and I need something with sugar in it. I have a built in excuse for junk food. But really the best thing is 100% juice with the sugar.

At the beginning of this article I talked about how this medical event changed everything. Since the medical event:

  • I started taking the stairs at lunch. In December 2018, I was able to climb up to 21 stories. Not bad considering the building was only seven stories, and I could barely walk around the yard in June 2018. No one else was doing that in the building.
  • I understand how viewing things through a project lens can illuminate the need for change. I believe God used my project oriented mind to save my life. If you think that is exaggeration, then read this again.
  • I am grateful for simple things. I do not want anything fancy at all. I just want things to work. Simplicity is the key to abundant living.
  • I’ve completed my AAC certification from IIBA and my PSM-1 certification from Scrum.org. And I’m currently working toward Salesforce Administrator. This is on top of my CBAP certification from IIBA.
  • I’ve developed a course to teach AAC certification to other Business Analysts. The course has caused ripple effects in my local IIBA chapter, causing a change in approach to other certification courses. (See, this article is relevant to Agile Analysis).
  • I started this website, and in doing so, I taught myself WordPress and took some courses on writing. Related to that, I revisited a course on Web Development.
  • I’m working to improve family relationships that were damaged through my neglect back when I was fat.
  • I have convinced my family about changes we all need to make for long term financial stability.
  • I am always aware of my health. I’m not obsessive about it. But I have to test between four and six times each day, inject insulin with meals and bedtime, and take enzymes with meals. With that kind of regimen, it is impossible not to be aware.
  • I realize the importance of being your own health advocate. I know that you must make people listen when it comes to your health. I’ll never know how much less damage there would have been if the ER admitted me the first time. DO NOT BE AFRAID TO FIRE THE HOSPITAL. I DID.
  • I have had a personal revival of faith. Although I had never walked away from my faith, I had gone through the motions there for too long. I am currently reading the Bible through for the second time since the medical event, this time my goal is in 4 months. And by reading larger sections at a time, I am making connections that I had missed before.
  • I am constantly listening to podcasts that inspire and educate me toward goals I am attaining. My favorite is ChooseFI, which I’ve binged in it’s entirety, and talks about everything, not just finances. Between that, my family and my faith, I consider this one of my major sources of motivation.

I’ve been told to never make more or less than three points. I just blew up that rule. That’s twelve different areas of improvement in about 18 months.

Summing it up. I no longer neglect my family relationships, my faith, my health or my career. I thought I was taking care of family and career before. Now I am seeing how much more I can and will do on all fronts.

Do I want my pancreas back? You bet. Am I better off now than before? If that is still in question, then read the last section again. Because…

Obstacles are there to make you better in all areas of your life.

If there is anything to take away from this story, I hope it is one of these three ideas.

  • Simplicity is the key to abundant living.
  • Be a vocal advocate for your own health, even if it means overriding what professionals say. Don’t be afraid to “Fire the Hospital” if you have to.
  • Obstacles are there to make you better in all areas of your life.

Process Begins with Bach

J.S. Bach

Yes, that Bach. Johann Sebastian. There were others, his children primarily. In many ways, western music is influenced by him more than anyone else in history, including (I can hear the collective gasp) the Beatles.

I’m not going to review his impact on music though, but his impact on the beginnings of my IT career.

What does Bach have to do with “process”

In college, I was a double major in Applied Mathematics and Music. The Music major was much the harder of the two. And Dr. Hall was the most challenging professor of all. I will admit to never getting over a C+ in any of her required classes. Although I liked her as a professor, I thankfully only had her for two courses needed for my major.

It was Spring term of my senior year when I took Baroque music history, a requirement for the major. And the most significant figure of that period was, of course, Bach. And as usual, my research papers were insufficient to get a B, but I did improve significantly by changing my approach to the material.

Instead of reading tons of materials from various musicologist (the term that is given to music historians), only to choose the wrong sources, I did my own thing. I dissected one of his works, “The Easter Oratorio.” And by dissection, I mean the basis of my paper was a discussion of a chart I constructed which looks more like a Work Breakdown Structure than it does a piece of music. That brilliant shift got me up to an impressive C+ in her course.

By the way, my overall GPA was 3.3. And I was the highest-ranking music major in my graduating class. Well, I was the only music major in my graduating class. It was a small school.

The Discovery

The approach I took toward this paper is one that dovetails nicely into my eventual profession in Information Technology. I’m not going to rehash the paper but will show several of the elements Bach commonly used. By identifying all of the source material used in the piece, I was able to document the musical equivalent of a transformation process, both on a thematic and structural level.

That transformation is illustrated in various ways. Thematic transformation can be analogous to data transformation in systems. When looking at thematic transformations, you can see where the themes started and how they were changed along the way to a finished product. Common transformation processes include truncation, key changes, inversion (the theme basically upside down), retrograde (backward), and various repetitions with other themes creating a counterpoint or counter melody.

But another discovery is the structural transformation, which is more in line with process analysis. Bach is notorious for structural frameworks. Often involving numerological symbolism, these structures are part of the story of each composition.

Later generations would settle on the simple ABA “song” or “sonata” form. Often Bach would use a ABACADACABA form. Yes, that is exponentially more complex. Although this work is considered short, lasting about 45 minutes, each of those sections did have some time to develop. All those “A” sections are repetitive in style, not content. In his compositions, the central “D” section would be the point of highest tension. This is called a chiastic structure, which Bach used as symbolic of the cross, which is the subject of Easter.

Often the central section would feature intervals of an augmented 4th, called “the devil in music” partly because of its extreme dissonance, and partly because of its difficulty to sing that interval. In the Easter Oratorio, he did something different. He changed keys, adding a sharp to the key signature. That sharp also symbolically represents the cross.

The musical themes, the lyrics, and the structure of the piece all tell the story.

Relation to Information Technology

With the thematic and the structural transformations, Bach addresses the subject in both a personal and an overarching global sense. I find that mirrors much of what we do with systems.

In the same way, as a Business Analyst, I use tools and techniques to communicate the desired transformation. We transform individual elements through data manipulations and global structural elements through process redesign. This transformation is of processes and data. The tools I use augment the desired changes, highlighting specific functionalities. They break down the elements of a feature the same way Bach segments his themes. They move to the critical point of decision in a way similar to how the conflict redeems the theme and propels it to its final destination.

I would not realize how important this paper, and a couple of others, would be to my eventual career. I got started in IT because of my Math degree. But I understood it so much more because of my Music major.

While cleaning out a storage unit, I found my old Music History folders. And there it was. The orange notebook I used for the Baroque Music History class. And inside was the paper called “The Symbolism, Form, and Rhetoric of the Easter Oratorio by J. S. Bach.”

As I reviewed this paper, I was reminded that there is a language the composer used to tell a story — the techniques used in the composition highlight the transformations. And like Bach, I have a language, a set of tools, which I use to tell a story of transformation.

Additionally, I saw how it mirrors communications among multiple stakeholder groups. If A were the shared understanding, the other sections are enhancements from other groups. As a CBAP, I have experienced enough to communicate on multiple levels. It is the difference between ABA and ABACADACABA forms.

Agile in Everyday Life

Agile in Everyday Life

December 2018 – Brooklyn Bridge – Chaos Personified

I am one of those people who seem to have a curiosity about everything. Frankly, it drives family members crazy since they perceive my need to know as a need to be always right. For the record, it is merely a need to know and is really an admission that I do not know, combined with a determination to find out. (And I would know better than anybody, right?)

One of the aspects of Business Analysis that I have always enjoyed is that it is the perfect outlet for people who have a great desire to know something about everything. Curiosity might have killed many cats, but it makes for great Business Analysis.

But being a curious person, I wonder what happens when the skills learned in practicing Business Analysis are applied to your everyday home life. It is one thing when dealing with professionals trained in various project methodologies and instructed to optimize output. Is it different with family members?

For example, what would happen if you institute some Scrum ceremonies? In a lessons-learned session for your family’s 3-week sprint, your wife mentioned how your daughter did not straighten her room. I can hear the screams – “Why are you bringing that up again from 2 weeks ago?” It might make for great entertainment if your family was on a sit-com, but not exactly the peaceful family we all wish to promote.

Another example, do we have a “Definition of done” for everyday chores? And for verification, do we have a period of User Acceptance Testing? How would you perform UAT for a task like the dishes? Does your spouse serve in a tester role to ensure dish cleaning problems are identified as early as possible and avoid that 10x cost to fix it later? Can you put the dishes away without going through UAT? If I were acting on my BA training, I would hope not because we must know they are cleaned before the plates go into production.

So is this really as efficient as we think it is?

As much as I love optimizations of project work, I think the brief list above would suggest (though obviously, I have not done an empirical study) that certain things in life are best handled without the constraints of any currently conceived project methodology. Certain things simply are not projects and treating them as if they were can be disastrous.

But that raises an interesting question. Regardless of which methodology, how do we know when some kind of project methodology should be applied? Ignoring the debates of Lean vs. Scrum vs. Waterfall vs. whatever, should project methodologies be used when we attempt to do X?

PMI has an answer for that. Their answer comes from the definition of a project. If it has a defined beginning (you know when it started), ending (you know what has to have happened before you stop), and a unique goal (the purpose you wish to achieve), then it is a project. They would categorize everything else as operations, meaning the rules of Project Management do not apply.

So, what does apply? I mean, many things fall outside of that definition. These may be ongoing processes, which do not fit so neatly as a project. It may not be so unique, such as laundry or dishes. That’s a shortcoming of this definition if you are using it to define what needs to be optimized. It leaves out a lot.

IIBA has a different view that includes pre-project and post-project activities. These may consist of some of the analysis performed that resulted in the initiative in the first place. They also include actions to monitor and control the ongoing operations of the delivered product.

Still, the examples listed above would make it seem that although IIBA would include “operational” activities in its analysis process, they do not really address the actual operations themselves – just the analysis of the operations.

So again, what applies?

I am sure other organizations weigh in on this in one way or another along a broad continuum. But none seem to really provide an answer. And frankly, I do not pretend to be that wise myself.

As I have been thinking of this question, “Is there a way to apply what we do professionally to at least some of our home lives? What does it look like if we do?” I have also toyed with subtly introducing some of the concepts at home. To see if there’s a way they could help.

Here’s a recent example of one interaction while exploring this.

Recently I was talking with my wife about all the schedule changes around her and the frustration that creates. While we were talking, I was reminded of all of the articles I have written about different SDLCs and how the ability to adapt to change is one of the factors that brought some of these methodologies into existence.

However, in my wife’s case, the problem was not that change was prohibited. The problem was that change was out of control. She needed to find a balance between working with schools, family, a sick child, a husband’s new job schedule, soccer coaches, and our church’s small group. Each item from that list was both demanding her time and expecting her to be flexible. Any of these changes created a cascade effect on her plans for the day, and sometimes her entire week. Also, much of this conflicted with her own personal vision for our family, which was getting squeezed out.

If we were in a Waterfall project, we would invoke the scope clause of a Project Charter. All these externals are out of scope. That was easy. Well, maybe not so easy in real life.

If we were using one of the flavors of Agile, we would talk about the team being able to self-govern. All these externals are the proverbial “Chickens” in that much overused (and lame) “Ham and Eggs” story. And since the Chickens are not totally committed to the project, their voice doesn’t matter. If you don’t know the story, I’ll spare you this time. Again, it’s not that easy because…

What happens when one of the team members, your daughter, is playing soccer (weather permitting) but also is recovering from an illness? What happens when the coach adds multiple practices with no advance notice. OK, sick kid, no warning, that gets canceled. But still, there is stress involved from both the child and the coach? What happens when your sister is in the area and you haven’t seen her in years? Or your mom is sick, so you have to reschedule that visit with both her and your sister? Or when your husband transitions to a better job providing for the family, but it has a longer commute? Or when the host for your church group is away and needs this week’s meeting to relocate? And your husband’s professional organization wants his time to develop some training when he is needed at home?

And then all of that is occurring at the same time?

What if the care that you have for all of these externals causes a multi-dimensional tug of war where you – not the project but you – are in the center, standing on the only dry spot and surrounded by a muddy pit? If you hold your ground, they all pull you apart. If you give in to one side, and you are drug through the mud while pulling you apart.

In that kind of environment, I think we need a new methodology. And I’ll call this methodology – Moms.

The problem with my promoting this new methodology is I don’t know how it works. But it does. And I have a lot to learn from it. I’m sure there’s an element of chaos theory involved.

Plus, it drives me nuts that I can’t figure it out. Because I have a curiosity about everything. And like I said, I don’t know it all.

How I Became an Agile Business Analyst

How I Became an Agile Business Analyst

A few years ago, I wrote an article about how Business Analysis found me. I cannot say that I found Business Analysis, since I was not looking for it. I did not even know what it was.

Well, how did I get into Agile as a Business Analyst?

Well, quite literally, I applied for a job and got it, then figured out what the job did. If you read my first article, that should sound familiar. Here is the story for my transition into Agile.

Lightning Strikes Twice

As a 2-year contract with a nationally known liberal arts college was ending, I was entering the job market again. I felt I had a significant impact on things while at the college. Among other things, I had begun a campus wide Project Office, helped negotiate some needed services when the college hosted the Vice Presidential debate, and lead an initiative to automate financial aid packages. Now I was looking for the next adventure. While looking at the job listings, I kept seeing this job title called a Product Owner.

In my first article, I admitted my confusion by the title “Business Analyst” because I did not connect IT projects to Business. I have learned a lot since then. Relevant to this story, I have learned that job titles do not always convey what job roles do, unless you know how those titles were derived. 

I kept seeing this title “Product Owner.”

I did not know what that meant. Why is a “Product Owner” considered an IT role instead of Marketing? Having experienced that unknown in job titles before (when I became a BA), I did not let it stop me.

Reading the job description, I could tell it had something to do with requirements. I figured I could handle that and I had heard of Scrum. So I prayed and applied.

A few days later, I was surprised to hear of my selection for an interview. The client was one of the major health insurance providers, which happens to have its headquarters in the region. 

I drove the 80 minutes to the location. Yes, that was a hike. The company has employees in several buildings in downtown Louisville. On my way in, I quickly discovered that I underestimated what happens when traffic stops on the interstate. Living in a small town, I had not seen that coming. As the traffic started moving again, my nervousness began to leave.

After finding a parking spot, it turns out I was only a few minutes later than I had planned, and the 15 minutes cushion I had given myself was just enough to help me find my way around the tower to the interview.

Just in time. Maybe that should be the basis for a delivery methodology.

Swing and a miss

Then my two interviewers presented a scenario on a whiteboard, and asked how I would communicate that scenario to a development team. 

Simple enough.  I squelched the thought that “You just answered the question you’re asking,” since they had conveyed the requirements to me. Then I gave my answer.

I thought I responded quite well, talking about the inputs, outputs and the processes of transformation along the way.

Strike 2

My interviewer prompted me saying, “Well, we don’t do it quite like that. Can you try again?”

Quizzically, I tried again, paying attention not just to content, but order, maybe they talk about the end result first. I might have added acceptance criteria from some previous experience dealing with User Acceptance Testing. I will not swear to that.

My questioner asked me to try again … again.

3-Pitch Strike Out

I know now this interview is toast. Giving up, I responded, “I know what the elements are, but obviously you’re looking for some magic formula. I don’t know it. But if you tell me, I’ll do it.”

That was the first time I had heard the phrase “User Story” or the format “As a ___ I need a ___ so that I can ___.”

Reached on a Passed Ball

On my way home, I called my recruiter to deliver the bad news, while simultaneously thinking what I would tell my family. Somewhere in the conversation he responded, “You got the job.”

To this day, I do not know how. Desperation I guess.

I started drinking from a fire-hose as soon as I got home and downloaded Mike Cohn’s book User Stories Applied to my Kindle App. Things moved fast, and it has not slowed down.

That was my introduction to Agile.

Transitioning into Agile Business Analysis

One of the recurring themes of my career is that titles do not really mean much. Each organization has a different lexicon for such things. Sometimes it is due to legacy overhead.  Others times, internal creativity outside of the established norm. Whatever the reason does not really matter as much as what those roles actually do.

The same is true for Product Owners, Business Analyst, and Agile Business Analyst. I have held all three titles while doing the same kind of stuff for different organizations.  So, in another parallel to my first “How I Became…” article, the Agile Business Analyst role itself is suffering from an identity crisis of sorts.

However, I do believe I should promote ideas and concepts in a consistent manner. So, in spite of what the broader market is, for the remainder of this article I will choose to go with titles established by IIBA.

So, what is Agile Business Analysis? This time, I will turn to the Agile Extension to the BABOK® Guide (Agile Extension v2, IIBA) for assistance.

“Agile business analysis is the practice of business analysis in an agile context with an agile mindset.” (Agile Extension, page 2)

That clears it up.

Maybe not.

I will have to break that down a bit. First, there are many ways to practice Business Analysis. To get a handle on the broader topic of Business Analysis, I would recommend the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK® Guide v 3, IIBA).

Next, this is not saying that Business Analysis is Business Analysis whatever the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC). Although there are commonalities, there are stark differences as well. For an Agile Business Analyst, the distinctiveness comes from applying the Agile Mindset.

So let’s go a little deeper to explore what that means.

Agile Mindset

The Agile Mindset is developed by applying The Agile Manifesto for Software Development to Business Analysis. If you’re reading this, you probably have at least heard of the Agile Manifesto.  But for a reminder, here it is.

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Working software over comprehensive documentation

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

So, these are the guiding principles of Agile.  Any flavor of Agile.

Expanding on the Manifesto

It is interesting that the Agile Manifesto was signed in 2001 by 17 proponents of various software development life cycle methodologies such as Scrum, Adaptive and Rational, and it makes reference to software development in the first sentence – but the Agile Manifesto has much broader applications than software.  In fact, the case can be made that these principles were first put to paper in 1943 by the manager of Lockheed’s skunk works to develop experimental jets and spy planes. A far cry from modern software development.

In fact, there are many examples of the Agile Mindset being applied to all kinds of industries and sectors outside of software.

Going back to the definition of Agile Business Analysis, that means that you utilize principles that can be traced to the Agile Manifesto (or Lockheed’s Skunk Works) to Business Analysis.

But, what does that mean? How does that affect deliverables?

Feedback

In Agile, whether you are working on Strategy, Initiative or Delivery Horizons, the key component boils down to a loop between Inspecting and Adapting. Inspecting and Adapting occurs on all 3 horizons, and is performed iteratively. This means that new findings can be added that alter the resulting priorities and the product.

The key is that these shifts occur based on feedback from all involved, as everyone discovers new insights into what can or cannot work and what is valued by the customer.

It is called Agile for a reason.

These feedback loops are built into the analysis at all levels to allow changes to occur up until just before the beginning of development of an item of work.

Contrast that to more traditional approaches where the plan is set in stone well before development begins. Changes are difficult and frowned upon. Rework is necessary after developing items who’s function should have been altered as more information was unearthed.

The benefit of continuous iterations and adaptive planning is that there is less rework due to changes that occur during the product. The change can be built into the end result.

This is not only for development, but for planning and initiative as well. On those levels, the analysis includes prioritizing organizational directions on a higher Business Architectural level. Areas of opportunity or risk mitigation can be iteratively and adaptively explored, with the resulting plans taking on more of the flavor of a hypothesis than a set path.

The results are that everyone knows what is expected, when it is expected and how it is supposed to work. With that knowledge, there is a drastic lessening of misunderstood requirements.

Well and Good But…

Now that we know what it means to be an Agile Business Analyst, how do you become one?

You could do like me and wiff on an interview. I would not recommend it. These days there’s more experienced talent out there who have worked with one of the Agile frameworks before. Although there is still much more demand than supply, I doubt you would find a company as … desperate. But still, the path isn’t that far off from what I experienced, though there is some newer developments that give structure to the way forward.

First, you need to be a Business Analyst. I’ve discussed that in my article on becoming a BA.

Next, study one or more of the Agile frameworks, or take a job in which Agile is utilized. This will give you familiarity with terminologies and techniques that apply to Agile frameworks, but not to traditional SDLCs.

Join organizations which promote one of the Agile variants such as The Scrum Alliance or IIBA. I like IIBA because it has a focus that prepares initiatives well prior to the delivery of the product. Their CBAP certification similarly expands the role of Business Analyst both before and after the project. I have found that broader perspective allows for a broader career path as well, such as into Business Architecture.

With a couple of years of experience, you will begin to see what it means when the manifesto says it values the items on the left more than those on the right. The thought process in that shift is profound.

Next, read the Agile Extension cover to cover, taking time to understand the implications of the Agile Mindset, and the 7 Principles of Agile. Learn what those mean to planning, communication, collaboration, value determination, prioritization and rapid delivery.

Now you’re ready to take the next step and get certified. IIBA introduced the IIBA-AAC exam about a year ago to certify Business Analysts that have demonstrated their understanding of how to apply Agile principles across the 3 Horizons.

And when you’re ready to prepare for the exam, please let me know. My local chapter of IIBA is preparing a study group for the IIBA-AAC exam this fall, and I am planning to lead it. I would love to see you there.

How I Became a Business Analyst

How I Became a Business Analyst

Maybe you’re thinking of making the transition to Business Analysis.

Perhaps you are a long time developer who wants to make a career change. Or you have an idea for a project, and you find yourself being its champion. Maybe someone has decided that your company needs to move to some other SDLC methodology and you have been chosen to explore what that means.

Or maybe you are like I was a few years ago. Having worked for one company for over 20 years I was faced with an unexpected transition. After my first extensive job search, I landed a new job with a new title I’d never heard of before – Business Analyst. Because of my experience, they put the Sr. moniker on it – Sr. Business Analyst. I didn’t know what the title meant.

I’ve told versions of that story in a couple of interviews to explain how I landed in the Business Analysis arena. Evidently folks are impressed when you can do something well – even though you don’t what you’re doing!

When I started in the new position, it took me a while to discover that I had been acting as a BA for quite some time. But it was hard for me to accept the new title. Why? My title had been Sr. Systems Engineer. At least I kept the Sr. part. But I wanted a title that sounded more like a technical genius, lead developer, project manager or at least project leader. I’d often filled those roles, along with systems designer/architect, security officer, client liaison, tester, process engineer and a host of other roles. I had switched between them over and over again.

Then a friend asked me, “What did you do at that other job?” When I told her, she said, “That’s a BA.”

“That’s not a technical thing,” I protested. “That’s a business thing.”

Acceptance was hard, but eventually I started figuring it out.

Until relatively recently, it seems that most Business Analysts, like me, just found the role without knowing it. Thankfully that is changing.

Say that again?

That’s right, there was another identity crisis in the Business Analysis profession which was working itself out while I was going through my personal and professional search. The industry seemed to be asking, “What is a BA, again?” I thought it was some combination of technical genius, lead developer, project lead, project manager, systems designer, systems architect, security officer, client liaison, tester and process engineer. My friend said that’s a Business Analyst. A little focus would be nice, both for me and for Business Analysis as a whole.

I find that the Business Analyst role has long suffered from that identity crisis. So let’s help give some definition to the role. And to assist with that, I’ll refer to A Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK Guide, v3) by IIBA. Right off the bat, it gives a lot of focus that was missing from my friend’s definition.

“Business analysts are responsible for discovering, synthesizing, and analyzing information from a variety of sources within an enterprise, including tools, processes, documentation, and stakeholders. The business analyst is responsible for eliciting the actual needs of stakeholders—which frequently involves investigating and clarifying their expressed desires—in order to determine underlying issues and causes.” (BABOK Guide, v3, pg 2-3)

Let’s shorten that a bit. Business Analyst bring clarity to business needs by investigating the issues and their context. Then they use the knowledge gained to define solutions to fill the business needs.

When I learned that, I thought, “What? Where’s the tech genius? Where’s the systems architect?” It seems there’s no super-do-it-all role for a Business Analyst.

Or is there?

Breadth Matters

Let’s look at this role another way.

When I was young, I remember hearing about some of the great Renaissance thinkers. People like Milton, daVinci and others who still have impact on so many elements of our society today. One of the things I remember about those people is how they knew a lot about everything. Art, literature, architecture, theology, politics, economics, medicine and science were all subjects which they were not only aware of, but fluent or expert in. I remember thinking that I’ll never be as smart as those people, but I can set a goal to always be expanding my knowledge in many different directions.

Likewise, the Business Analyst role requires a hunger for multifaceted learning. The role is designed to be independent of any specific functional area, industry, sector, methodology or technology. Saying that another way, Business Analysts are exposed to just about everything. And successful BAs demonstrate the ability to apply the trade across multiple technologies, methodologies and functional areas. Business Analysis requires a great amount of adaptability and develops a great amount of exposure.

I know many BAs who have:

  • spent portions of their careers involved with technologies ranging from desktop applications, to client server, to web-based, to enterprise – and now mobile and cloud platforms.
  • focused on business decisions, market analysis, financial analysis, supply chain and process re-engineering.
  • worked on projects in different industries like manufacturing, distribution, health care, financial services, retail and education.
  • worked with projects and deal with the various SDLC methodologies such as Waterfall, Scum, Lean or Rup.
  • served various functional areas such as HR, Tax, Accounting or Corporate Real Estate.
  • been involved in public, private and not-for-profit organizations.

And a few I know have exposure to almost everything I’ve just listed. So even though we’re not experts on everything and can’t aspire to the levels of the Renaissance thinkers, we do know who to ask that is. And we learn from them.

Breadth of Experience Matters

More than that, everything you learn on one project from all of those different methodologies, sectors, technologies and focus areas will be useful on future projects. This is one of the most exciting elements of Business Analysis.

Since learning that I really was a Business Analyst, it is amazing how each job transition was facilitated by the position I had immediately prior. It doesn’t always happen that way, but there’s been so many instances that I cannot deny it. One job for a manufacturer led to a college requiring the manufacturer’s product and services when hosting the US Vice Presidential debate. A position with a health insurer leading to a public sector position in the same industry. During each transition, though there was a tie to the old, the experiences differ so much that there’s always a lot to learn.

Traits of a Business Analyst

Earlier I said that to be a Business Analyst requires a lot of adaptability. That is because the right solution is always flavored by the broader context of whatever endeavor the organization has in mind. The right solution for the same problem can be very different in a different context.

To understand that context requires an additional trait – curiosity. There are hundreds of questions to be asked and answered. Each answer reveals a little more, but raises new questions. When you’re just about to the end, it’s inevitable that you’ll think “I’ll never get to the bottom of it.” Then, just as inevitably, a few items are revealed and everything falls into place.

This brings me to the next trait – persistence. Just like you can never grow tired of questions and of learning, you must also keep pursuing the answers.

Currently I’m working on a reverse engineering project. Many of the customer’s Subject Matter Experts were let go a few months back, so getting answers is taking much longer than usual for this kind of a project. My work partner and I had been going in circles for about three weeks asking the same question – “What’s next?” It seemed like the information would be left hanging with no where to go. We knew what must happen. We couldn’t get the answers to how it should happen. We had asked “What’s next” numerous times, but got answers to every other question – not the one we were asking. Normally I would be OK with that, because the information usually does add clarity to something, just not the something I’m looking for at that moment. This time, it was just going in circles. Three weeks of going in circles. It left us feeling dizzy and we start thinking we’ve lost. Finally, we gave a presentation of what we’d learned so far, and we asked the question one last time.

This time the answer came. It was so simple that we were able to fill in 80% of our remaining work that afternoon. Three weeks work was resolved in 4 hours. And that illustrates another trait – Patience.

Patience can take a couple of different forms. Being able to wait without getting frustrated is one kind of patience. One way to channel that kind of frustration is to keep busy in another aspect of the project. A former boss of mine used to say, “If we can’t have progress, let’s at least have movement.”

Another kind of patience is the ability to handle difficulties, whether it’s people or challenges, without getting rattled. Perhaps that’s better called level-headedness. Things do get heated. People may get irritated. And if the challenge was easy, they wouldn’t need a Business Analyst to assist in the work. There are times that the relational aspects of the work can be as challenging as the work itself. Handling those frictions, knowing that there’s a good level of friction and a “crossed-the-line” level, and knowing how to keep that balance are all key skills.

What it takes

At the beginning of this article, I discussed my journey to becoming a Business Analyst. Luckily, falling into the role isn’t the primary path anymore. Really, that’s the hard way to go about it. Having the role better defined and growing clarity on what it means is good for the Business Analyst role, those who aspire to become Business Analysts and for the organizations that hire BAs. The International Institute for Business Analysis (IIBA) has gained a lot of visibility and has published several books on the subject. Notably is the A Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge. IIBA has also created certification tracts which, for those trying to break into the field, will give a level of assurance to a potential employer. If you have what it takes to become a Business Analyst, please check out their web page at www.iiba.org.

In the coming weeks, I will be sharing more on my journey into Agile Business Analysis. So please stay tuned.

First published on LinkedIn, December 19, 2015

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