10 Things About Business Analysis I Learned From My Dog

By Bob McGannon, PMP

Two years ago we examined canine knowledge and how it applies to project management. The relationships skills of dogs – their loyalty and ability to draw attention to themselves – provided us with lessons to apply to project management. The world of business analysis has some things to learn from our canine friends as well!

Dogs efficiently read the “requirements” of their masters and have a number of skills that good business analysts should aspire to emulate. So, once again, through extensive empirical research, interactive testing and a number of years of direct observation, compiled below are the “best of the best” techniques for business analysis I have learned from my dog. Open your mind, reflect on the dogs you have encountered and see if you can learn from these canine traits as well…

1) Approach everyone with a wag of your tail

One of the business analyst’s greatest challenges is to collect the requirements from a variety of business customers, while being mindful of their need to manage the day-to-day business. To be successful in this endeavor, business analysts need to be very friendly, approachable, considerate, in tune to the needs of others, and “to be there with understanding” when a customer conveys their needs. Just like a dog that is “by your side” through thick and thin, the business analyst needs to be flexible to accommodate business needs and be there when the opportunity to observe business processes present themselves. Be there for your customers, be loyal to their needs, and respond eagerly when called.

2) Don’t judge – everyone might give you a snack

Dogs will approach anyone and everyone – the business analyst needs to display the same trait. Most dogs approach people with the attitude that “snacks” can come from anyone – business analysts need to adopt the same attitude. Some business users will have an extremely rich, deep level of knowledge. Others will be “novice users” and will not provide you with as much information – but the information “snacks” they provide could be very valuable. The information on how novice users capitalize on a system or process is just as valuable as the information received from “super-users.” Both the novice and the super-user need to be satisfied with the new system or process designed with the help of the business analyst; the input from both of those user types and most everyone in-between is vital to your success.

3) Mark your territory

Dogs know where they belong – and they passionately protect their territory. By the same token, they also know where they DON’T belong – lest they aggravate other dogs. The business analyst also needs to understand their “territory” – the scope of the project – and protect it with passion and vigor. Business users can present a number of alternatives to the business analyst. The proactive analyst will record any requirements and needs, but will succinctly and tactfully set expectations with the user as to what will and won’t be addressed based on the scope of the project.

4) Go out in the morning; eat at the same time every day

Dogs live by a schedule. Alter that schedule and they can get temperamental. Successful business analysts live and die by a schedule. Viewing their role as a major piece of the overall project, the best business analysts create a plan for the requirements collection, documentation and verification exercises for the project. They will manage that schedule with the same diligence as the project manager controls the overall project. Any deviations to the schedule will set any dog on a barking tirade – business analysts should also be very vocal (please bark “appropriately”) when the schedule will not be met, communicating widely and thoroughly to the sponsor, customer stakeholders and the project management team.

5) Dig when needed to find what you want

Dogs have an instinctual ability to successfully search for what they want, to the point of being able to smell things underground. The best business analysts understand their business environment and the needs of the project stakeholders. They will continually “dig” – through varied interactive collection techniques – to get to the real requirements. They also successfully discover the process exceptions and special needs that will ensure the project deliverables meet the business requirements. By the same token, good business analysts won’t “dig excessively” in areas that yield no valuable information or in areas outside of the scope of the project (see #3, above!)

6) Remember where you bury ALL of your bones

Dogs have a flawless recollection of where they get their bones and where they have buried them. Business analysts need to utilize tools which give them the same capability. The successful business analyst diligently uses traceability tools to understand where they received all requirements as well as tracking a number of characteristics about each requirement. All requirements should be traced “back” to the business objective for the project. In addition, all requirements should be traced “forward” to the validation techniques and ultimately the testing techniques that will be used to confirm the degree to which the requirement is satisfied by the project deliverable(s).

7) Bark when you sense danger

Dogs will quickly alert their masters whenever they feel their territory or their “family” is at risk. Surfacing and communicating risk is a primary responsibility for the business analyst as well. The collection of requirements often does surface sizable risks, including significant disagreements between major stakeholders, requirements that conflict with each other, and differences between user needs and the overall business objectives of the project. The project manager and the sponsor are responsible for making the decision as to how to react to those risks, but – like our faithful canine friends – the business analyst is usually the first to recognize, and alert others to, these risks.

8) Defend your food

Even the most social of dogs can get “testy” when they are at their food bowl. It is difficult and unwise to interrupt them when they are eating. “Food” for the business analyst is the requirements they collect from their user community. Although not endless, the more food – or requirements – the business analyst collects, the better the Business Requirements Document (BRD) can become. Business analysts will continually fight for their right to produce the best BRD they can deliver – which will increase the probability of a successful project. Gather as much “food” as you can to ensure you understand all the requirements.

9) Simple signals work best

Dogs can try to communicate by barking and other “sophisticated” methods, but these techniques rarely work with humans. Simple approaches that are “obvious” like scratching by the cabinet where food is kept or standing by the door to go outside are much more effective. Success between humans parallels this tendency. Simple words, simple sentences and straightforward approaches such as the use of diagrams (use cases and flowcharts) are the most effective, and lead to requirements documentation that successfully details user needs.

10) Taste or smell anything, but don’t eat everything

The good ole’ family dog is famous for enthusiastically running to everything and anything that drops on the floor to test it out. There is a simple “success criteria” in this test – can I eat this? Business analysts need to have the same passion for testing – as early as possible. Each requirement needs to be “sniffed out” – and then the “success criteria” formula is – will it satisfy the user community?

Special acknowledgment for the material in this article goes to Toasty, Lady I, Coco, Butterscotch, Lady II, Jed, Ellie Mae, Chauncey, Bailey and Buzz.

Bob McGannon is a Founder and Principal of MINDAVATION, a company providing project management training and consulting, leadership workshops and keynoting programs throughout North America. Bob can be reached at MINDAVATION via the web at WWW.MINDAVATION.COM or by calling 866-888-MIND (6463).


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