Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Professional development tip: Keep a project journal

Nice article from "Bridging the Gap"

Professional development tip: Keep a project journal

Posted: Wed, 22 Sep 2010 11:00:34 +0000
As Business Analysts, we are professional change practitioners.  We are experts in the field of “change” and should expect to add maximum value to the organisations we work for.  To be effective in this role I believe we must manage change in our own professional development and take every opportunity to reflect on our experiences, and crystallise the knowledge we gain whilst working on projects.
It is important to have a conscious professional development strategy and this is likely to involve a number of activities.  However, it is good practice to build in professional development to your weekly and monthly schedules.  Professional development doesn’t have to be costly or time consuming, and it’s important not to overlook the experience we gain in our project work.
One of the single biggest ways we develop as BAs is through the work that we carry out day-to-day, and I have found that keeping a project journal is an incredibly useful professional development tool.  It can be tempting to move straight from project to project without taking any time to reflect on what has been learned, but consciously recording relevant information in a journal (acronyms, terminology, lessons learned etc) can be an effective way of crystallising knowledge and storing it for future use.   This can become excellent reference material if you work on a similar project in the future.  The act of reflecting on your progress and recording it, is useful in itself, as it helps you to consolidate your knowledge and consider what you might do differently in future. It can also be useful to review the journal periodically, to reflect on previous projects and ensure any knowledge is carried forward.
You can spend as much or as little time on this activity as you like.  It would be valuable even if you only spent 15 minutes writing a summary after every project engagement.
A very light-weight journal might include:
  • Project name
  • Date started/date completed
  • Techniques used
  • Stakeholders worked with
  • 3 things that worked well
  • 3 things you’d do differently next time
  • Biggest learning point
  • Acronyms & terminology
  • Other relevant information
You can tailor your journal to your particular needs and preferences.  I keep an incredibly light-weight journal.  By keeping the journal short, this makes it very quick to update (which means I am much more likely to do it!).
A project journal can also form a useful part of your stakeholder management strategy.  For example, you might learn that a particular stakeholder likes to receive information in a particular way (perhaps they prefer diagrams, or value telephone calls over e-mails).  It can be incredibly useful to record these preferences, so that you can keep this in mind for any future engagements.
The journal itself can be kept in any format you like.  You could keep it on paper, electronically or even on your iPhone.  I personally keep mine in Excel, as it is easy to sort, search and update. The important thing is to get into the habit of updating it, and allowing time to reflect on your progress.  Why not put a monthly reminder in your calendar, blocking out 15 minutes for reflection?
One final benefit of a project journal is that it provides an excellent repository of information which you can use to periodically update your CV or resume. It will also help you if you decide to apply to become Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP ®) qualified, as you will need to provide evidence of your project experience.
However you address your professional development strategy, I hope that you have found this article useful, and I hope that you consider reflecting on your experiences and keeping a project journal.
Do you keep a project journal, or do you have any other professional development tips?  I’d love to hear them – please feel free to contact me directly or reply to this post.
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Monday, August 23, 2010

Nice article on BA-Tech vs. Non-Tech

Why do we see technical skills in business analyst jobs?



Why do we see technical skills in business analyst jobs? We, as members of the business analysis profession, know that to be a business analyst, you don’t have to be an IT person. Doug Goldberg has covered this topic thoroughly and I don’t have anything to add to his angle.

But this doesn’t resolve what many experience in the job market. New and experienced business analysts alike will start researching jobs, only to discover that an overwhelming number of positions require specific technical skills. Or, they speak with a recruiter who has a myopic view of the role, and are told that if they can’t write code [or insert your favorite technical skill here], they’ll never make it as a BA.

Why we see BA jobs requiring technical skills

In the real-world job market, business analyst roles are messy. There are a specializations, unique qualifications, extensions, and partitions. “I want to be a business analyst” is not an adequately defined career goal. You’ve got to dig a bit deeper. This is a process I lead mentees in my current resume evaluation program through and also address in The Promotable Business Analyst. I’m also developing a comprehensive mini-course to help individuals prepare for a job search or a career change. (To receive notifications about this new course, be sure sign-up for the eNewsletter.)

The short answer is you can find a BA role that does not require technical skills. Prepare to wade through and ignore those jobs with technical qualifications. As soon as I find a job with an absolute requirement for SQL or a coding language, I stop reading and move on. If you don’t want to be doing those things, applying to jobs that require those skills is just a waste of time. So is fretting over their existence. Remind yourself that BA roles are messy and set them aside.

Sorting through the technical skills requirements

You may notice that not all jobs with specific technical skills listed require the ability to use those skills. Sometimes these skills are preferred. Sometimes they are not mapped to any of the job responsibilities in the description. Sometimes you can ascertain a bit about the position by looking for the context around the qualification. Consider the following two hypothetical examples:

  • Write SQL reports. Requires SQL report writing experience with deep knowledge developing complex queries across multiple tables.
  • Prior experience in SQL preferred. Understanding of database concepts and information models critical.

While the first requirement indicates day-to-day SQL responsibilities, the second does not. Vague or “preferred’ requirements often indicate a desire for a business analyst to think logically and understand big picture technical concepts. Other times, they have seen business analysts trampled by developers because they don’t ask the right questions. The assumption becomes if you can write code now or could write code in the past, you are less likely to be trampled by the developers.

When technical skills are couched in conceptual or communication-related contexts, the technical skill may be less important than system thinking competencies. And as a business analyst, IT-focused or not, you must have good systems-thinking skills. Read the comments in this discussion about the difference between a business analyst and a systems analyst for an insightful separation of systems knowledge from systems thinking.

Technical understanding vs. technical skills

While we are starting to see a growing number of jobs focusing specifically on business process and organizational changes, the reality is that most business analyst jobs involve working on IT projects. By an IT project, I mean that a larger part of the solution is implemented in software. To perform BA work on an IT project does not require the ability to write code. I’ve spent most of my career working on IT projects and I haven’t written a line of programming code since high school when I took a class on PASCAL.

As a business analyst on an IT project, it is important to have a general understanding of software systems. Basic knowledge of servers, databases, and client side technology, augmented with solid logical, systems-thinking will do. Combining both will lead to more effective communication with the implementation team.

Quick Test: Select a software application (client or web-based) that you use often. Select 2 or 3 activities you use it for. Can you identify the main sub-systems and interactions that are in place to enable these activities? If yes, you probably have enough software knowledge for a pure BA position on an IT project. If no, or if this test confused you, find an introductory book to read.

The final word.

My advice to you as a job seeker or career changer is to pick a direction for your business analyst career. Decide with some certainty if technical activities are part of your target position. If yes, then go about discovering the coveted technical skills and positioning yourself to build these qualifications. If no, then start ignoring the positions with these requirements. Focus on discovering the gems for which you are qualified and interested in.

What are your thoughts? Why do you think we see technical skills in business analysis positions?

By Laura Brandenburg. Laura Brandenburg is an independent business analyst consultant. She is passionate about the BA profession and is committed to contributing by supporting this blog as a forum for business analysts to build on each other's experiences. View more blog posts by Laura Brandenburg

Monday, June 14, 2010

8 Steps to Starting a Start-Up

Here is a good post which I read in a blog from Ben Casnocha

8 Steps to Starting a Start-Up

As good as a list as I've seen from VentureHacks:

  1. Move to Silicon Valley. [BC: Not mandatory]

  2. Pick a great co-founder with complementary skills.

  3. Select people with intelligence, energy and integrity.

  4. Pick a big market.

  5. Develop the minimum viable product to test your hypothesis about what the market needs. Preferably it’s a product that you’re passionate about since you’ll need to stick with it to an irrational point (the Internet especially is efficiently arbitraged).

  6. Iterate like crazy until you find product/market fit. If you don’t find it, do not raise money, do not pass go. Start over.

  7. If you have found product/market fit, raise money from high-quality people that you trust. Keep control.

  8. Scale. Hang on.

The links within the list are good as well.


  • Interview with Australian teen who had a party when his parents were out of town and refuses to apologize on TV.
  • Clint Eastwood lists three reasons why he will never win an Oscar.
  • Chris Yeh comment on my post on interestingness: "Things are interesting when they are both novel yet strangely familiar. It's like when you meet a new person, yet it seems like you've known them forever."
  • Interesting photo project of strangers touching each other.
  • Mexico's conflicting interests when it comes to the drug trade. Another masterful analysis from Stratfor."

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

xiting your car lease gracefully

The friendly letter arrives from the leasing company with the news you've been expecting. Your auto lease is coming to an end in a few months.

Before you start dreaming of the next car, however, it's time to get out the magnifying glass and reread that lease agreement, because there are important decisions to be made. Make the wrong ones and the lease might snag you in the pocketbook on your way out the door. The right moves -- some of which the dealer was unlikely to mention -- could actually give you an unexpected bonus.

Start by deciding, 45 to 60 days before the lease ends, what you want to do with the car. You have five options available to you if, like the vast majority of lessees, you have a closed-end lease. According to Michael Kranitz, author of Look Before You Lease: Secrets to Smart Vehicle Leasing, you can:

  • Return the car to the lessor and walk away from it. Not surprisingly, this is called a "walk-away."
  • Buy the car, usually for the amount of the "residual," or buyout, value set in the lease.
  • Extend the lease for a limited amount of time, usually at the same monthly rate.
  • Re-lease it, via a used-car lease, or
  • Trade your leased vehicle in on a new lease. If the car is worth more than what you would have to pay the leasing company to buy it, it shouldn't cost you anything to acquire it and trade it in on a new vehicle. In theory, this shouldn't happen because leases are designed to yield zero equity at lease-end, but with certain vehicles, you could wind up making money on the deal.

Decided? Good. If you're turning in the car, it's time to get it ready to go.

Check your mileage
The first thing to check as soon as you get your inspection letter is your mileage. If it looks like you're going to go over your mileage limit, try to minimize the vehicle's use. Trade cars with your spouse, your parents -- anybody you trust who drives a shorter distance than you do.

"Mileage is a big deal," says W. James Bragg, founder and CEO of Fighting Chance, an information service for new vehicle shoppers and author of the Car Buyer's and Leaser's Negotiating Bible. "I had a college roommate who went on to be the CEO of a company. He leased a Lexus for 45,000 miles and had 90,000. He had to write a check for $9,000 to give his Lexus back. A lot of dealers will say, 'Don't worry about it, we'll roll it into the next cap cost,' so you wind up paying interest on your excess mileage."

Here's some potentially bad news. When you reread your lease, you may find that you've volunteered to pay an extra charge for the privilege of giving them back the car -- the disposal fee. About half of the carmakers charge them, and the price can be stiff -- $350 with BMW and Land Rover leases, for example.

The amount should be specified in the lease, sometimes with a different name, such as "turn-in fee." Leases signed after Jan. 1, 1998, have to spell out the fee on the front page of the contract, but you might have to get out a magnifying glass on older leases. It sometimes is waived if the customer signs up for a new lease.

If you've volunteered to pay it, all you can do is make sure you don't get overcharged.

Prepare for an inspection

When you get your letter, you'll receive instructions on how to bring your car in for an inspection, unless you're going to buy the car, in which case there's no inspection. It may take place at the originating dealership, a nearby dealership or an independent inspection firm. The inspector will check the car's interior, exterior and mechanical condition.

The leasing company expects you to return the car with "normal wear and tear," but each one has its own standards.

Ford, for example, tells customers that "normal" includes dings, minor dents, small scratches, stone chips in the paint finish and reduced tread on the tires. It defines excessive wear to include such items as broken or missing parts, dented body panels or trim, damaged fabric, cracked or broken glass, poor quality repairs, unsightly alterations, tire or wheel damage or less than 1/8-inch tread, or mechanical or electrical malfunctions.

Before the inspection takes place, you can help yourself with a minimal investment by having the car professionally cleaned, waxed, vacuumed and detailed.

Tire wear is particularly important. Don't bring the car in with less than one-eighth of an inch of tread, or with mismatched tires. If you do, you'll find yourself charged for a new set of tires.

Once the inspection takes place, you usually have few methods besides the courts to dispute its findings. New York is an exception -- a state law went into effect in 1995 giving customers the right to a second appraisal, if they pay for it.

Lessen the damage

Outside the Empire State, lessees can still lessen the bite of damage charges.

First, don't tell the dealership to just take the cost out of your security deposit. You're responsible for the repairs, but you don't have to pay the dealership's service department prices. Shop for repairs yourself and save.

Also, check to see if you have coverage remaining on your warranty; some mechanical repairs still may be covered.

The contract may contain strict language about damage, but it doesn't always mean the inspection will be white-gloved and nitpicky.

"Lease contracts written in the last couple of years are much more specific about what 'normal wear and tear' means, although the definitions tend to be fairly strict in the leasing company's favor," says Al Hearn, author of Automobile Leasing: The Art of the Deal. "Even if the contract is strict, the inspection can be loose and liberal. I personally have never had a problem even though I've returned cars with cracked windshields, worn tires, dents, dings and scrapes."

It all becomes a moot point if you decide to buy the car. Then, there's no inspection, no fees for extra mileage or excess wear and tear, no disposition fee and you get your deposit back.

When to buy your leased car

When does it make sense to buy a car you've leased for the last two to three years? Here are some questions to ask yourself, courtesy of Remar Sutton, president of the Consumer Task Force for Automotive Issues:

  • Do you like the car?
  • Has it generally done what you've asked it to do with a minimum of unexpected cost and repair? Don't go on history alone. Take the car to your mechanic, just like any other used car you're considering buying.
  • Will it still fit your future needs? If you're driving a convertible and planning a move to Rochester, N.Y., probably not. If you're the proud parent of a budding tuba virtuoso and driving a minivan, then it's probably going to continue to be a good fit for you.
  • What is the lease-end buying price? You'll find the figure in the lease's small print. This buyout price is often called the residual value.
  • What is the car actually worth, or its wholesale value? Edmund's Automobile Buyers Guide and the Kelly Blue Book are good places to start looking. Both sites let you estimate wholesale and retail prices for a used car.

From there, you need to research your market.

"Auto retailing is an extremely local business," Bragg says. "A guy in Oregon has a pickup. Everybody drives one, so there's a glut of them and there's a depressed value. You drive down the road 80 miles to the big city and you can get $2,000 more."

Bragg suggested picking up a copy of a regional auto classified magazine or walking dealership lots when they're closed.

"The average new-car dealer sells as many used as new," he says. "See what they're asking, then mentally adjust that down 10 percent to 15 percent for realistic pricing."

Sutton recommends taking the car to three used-car operations and tell them you're thinking about selling -- not trading -- and ask what they'll offer you for your old car in cash. That's the wholesale value. If the amount the dealer is willing to pay you is more than your lease says you can buy the car for, it's a good deal for you.

If your leased car has performed well, meets your needs and you can buy it for no more than $1,000 over wholesale value, Sutton says that's a very smart buy.

If residual is high ...

What if the residual is higher than the actual value, but you still want the car? Your dealership or leasing company won't offer this information, but you can try to negotiate a better price.

"You'll find that banks and captive finance companies have an incentive to keep you in the car," Kranitz says. "They don't want it back. There's a glut of off-lease vehicles and they'll lose money on it every which way to Sunday.

"Say the market value is $13,000 and the residual value in the lease to buy is $16,000. What you could do is call the bank and say, 'Look guys, you're going to eat $3,000. We'll split the difference.' "

Sound improbable? According to the Consumer Bankers Association's 2001 Automobile Finance Study, 95 percent of the leased vehicles returned to lessors in 2000 were sold at a loss, to the average tune of $2,342.

If residual is low ...

You can also come out ahead under the opposite scenario, in which the market value is well above the residual value. This is more likely if you've stayed well below your mileage cap, or the car has become coveted in the market.

It's unlikely the dealer has mentioned this, but you can resell the car yourself while it's under lease.

"You may want to think about reselling it," Kranitz says. "If you put it in the paper, you could make more money than the payoff. If you've leased for 15,000 miles a year and only driven it 10,000 miles, it has a value to the dealership and the consumer market. You can use the dealer's retail price on those cars on what the market will bear. Most people don't lease so they can play the used-car game, but it's there."

The offer had better be a great one: Many leases carry early termination penalties in addition to disposition fees, so you'll have to figure them in when calculating if you'll get a profit.

The other two options you have on the table are to extend the lease short-term, or re-lease your used car. Extending the lease makes sense, Bragg says, if you're at a point of uncertainty in your life. Maybe you're getting transferred, anticipating starting a family or you know you'll be getting a bonus in the next month or two.

"Will they extend it a couple of months? I think leasing companies will," Bragg says. "No wonder. You're making level payments based on the depreciation for the first three years. They're making more profit on your payment."

The final option is to re-lease your car. That should result in a considerably lower residual, a lower capitalized cost, less depreciation and a lower payment.

"You have to decide if leasing still makes sense if you like the car, and you think it's likely to hold up for another three years," Bragg says.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Directed byMartin Scorsese

Plot : In 1954, two U.S. marshals Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) investigate the disappearance of a patient from a hospital for the criminally insane on an island in Massachusetts. They run into trouble when they are deceived by the hospital's chief psychiatrist and administrator Dr. John Cawley (Ben Kingsley), a hurricane hits, and they uncover a series of sinister human experiments.[4]

Meanwhile Teddy looks for Andrew Laeddis the man whom he suspects is the reason behind his wife's death.Did he find Andrew Laeddis or did he uncover the mystery behind the lost patient all forms the rest of the movie. In the end waits an awesome suspense.

Kudos to the director for taking such a wonderful movie.