|Photo by Mario Gogh on Unsplash|
Be it either due to the COVID-19 outbreak or for some other reason, you are stranded at home and you still need to carry out your business activities.
As a business analyst you are most probably engaged with requirements elicitation, analysis tasks, documentation maintenance, stakeholder interaction, quality assurance, possibly testing and training, and most certainly the daily coordination with the rest of your team. That’s a wide range of activities and often a handful for the best of us.
Having to perform these tasks under your own roof, although convenient at first, poses a lot of difficulties. Individual experiences may vary, but the most common issues faced – and possible counterstrategies – are as follows:
ConcentrationNow, this applies to all teleworkers, no matter the profession. Social media, streaming services, your book collection, the freezer, your toddler, the neighbor that you’ve never met, the neighbor that you’ve met way too many times, news feeds and television. So many ways to teach time how to fly… When you are in your office you are somewhat shielded from most distractions, either actually or just socially. But when you are back home, all shields are down and everything is game. This is exactly why you have to consciously put your shields back up and enforce an office mentality, even though you are at home.
First of all, define your working space. Be it a separate room, a corner desk, a folding table, or an iron board if that’s what gets you into the zone. This will be your working area. No other activities take place there and work doesn’t take place anywhere else. Once you have that, communicate with any other residents of your house that once you are in your working area they should treat you like being away, at your office. Will they? They’ll do their best, I’m sure. But you have to help them out. How?
Establish a morning routine, similar to the one you have when preparing to go to your office. Wake up early, clean yourself up, have breakfast – and make it actually fast, as you would during a normal office day. Then change your clothes into your business attire, load a tray with what you’ll need for the next few hours – snacks, fruit, water, coffee, tea – and place yourself into your workspace. Changing clothes, gathering what you’ll consume during the next hours, and moving into your designated working area are actions that physically separate you from the rest of your household, both in your mind and in the mind of those around you. Your routine may vary, but there has to be a routine if you are to distance yourself from the cozy feeling of being home and force yourself to do some work.
Once you are in your workspace and your mood is on the right track, there is nothing stopping you from performing all the solitary tasks that you would undertake while back in the office – analysis, design, documentation, testing, preparation of meeting material, and what have you.
TechnologyIt might be the case that you have moved your office equipment at home and you need no access to your company network and resources. If that’s the case, you are blessed. Usually this won’t be the case though and you’ll have to rely in some extend on your own equipment and/or a remote connection. Be prepared to address missing or damaged hardware. You will need a headset, a webcam, a workstation that can handle videoconferencing smoothly, and possibly a second monitor. Contact your company and ask to have the core equipment that you already use when you are at the office, but be prepared to cover some of your needs yourself, such as a wifi repeater if your signal is weak at your working area. Once settled, make sure that you can use the software tools you are usually using, all your vpn connections work without issues and your chat/conference tools are in place. Test everything in order to minimize surprises down the way.
AlienationOut of sight, out of mind holds so very true when teleworking for a long time. Not socializing with colleagues on a daily basis may gradually distance you from your team, losing the connection you have established over time. For this, you have to establish communication pathways that you may have not fully explored before. Kick-off your day with a short team catch-up. Keep it as informal as you want, just make sure you keep in touch with everyone. Mix it up with some face-time and have everyone remember that there is a friendly person replying to all the emails and chats, not a nameless bot service. Be personal and maintain the relationships you have already established. Think of it like a virtual water-cooler chat. Then, keep your routine of formal communication channels as you would back in the office.
CoordinationMany of our daily activities require communication and coordination with other stakeholders, be it our colleagues or clients. Normally you already communicate with your clients mostly remotely. As such, the transmission for you doing so from home will be minimal. Just make sure that you can use from home whatever software is agreed upon for video and audio conferences. If there is a problem there, make sure that you identify and raise it much earlier than the next meeting, also offering alternatives that work for you and are expected to work for your clients as well. Skype and Skype for business, Webex, Zoom Meetings, ClickMeeting and Google Hangouts are all reliable options. When communicating with your colleagues, the already established communication tools should be maintained. Just ensure to replace face-to-face meetings with audio or – even better – video calls.
Proximity to the stakeholdersHaving covered the internal coordination and the remote communication channels with our clients, we are left with the elephant in the room, the big thorn at the back of any telecommuting Business Analyst, that being Requirements Elicitation.
I consider requirements elicitation as an intimate process of building trust and unfolding the needs of the stakeholders through an exchange of experiences from the past and visions for the future. Call me a romantic, but I experience this as a form of business art. This intimacy inherited in the process is more easily and efficiently achieved by being in close proximity to your stakeholders. Removing this option, as is now the case with the COVID-19 #stayhome regime, we have to rethink how we hold interviews, brain-storming sessions and requirements workshops, while field observation and apprenticing are right off the window.
My take is that preparatory material becomes even more important than before. Visual aids in the form of diagrams and mockups must always be provided to all the participants beforehand, framed by a well-tailored presentation, making up for those public speaking points you won’t be able to score.
Moreover, individual remote video interviews, although time-consuming, become a necessity for getting to know every stakeholder and allowing them to trust you. When brain-storming sessions or workshops are to be organized remotely, try to arrange individual interviews with your key stakeholders beforehand in order to break the ice and establish a communication bridge. Additionally, fragment the workshops into short sessions, during which a maximum of three stakeholders will need to participate, including at least one of the key stakeholders you have already interviewed. That way you’ll be able to better manage the discussion remotely, having already set a disposition of trust.
Is this a foolproof approach? Certainly not, as conflicting requirements will arise over different sessions, additional meetings will be needed for clarifications, and requirements tracking will be a pain for a while. Still, you are going to have true feedback that you might otherwise miss, leaving you with a skein of requirements that you should in any way engineer.
We are facing a new reality. Teleworking is no longer a luxury – it has become a necessity to which we have to adapt. Armed with the collective experience of the BA community, we can foresee the issues that we’ll have to face and plan ahead for a smooth transition… back home.