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In Praise of Thinking

It seems that in today’s world the pace and volume of communication is soaring. The average worker has to prioritise and process a seemingly never ending stream of emails, instant messages, meeting requests and more; all while completing the often demanding elements of their day job. Much of this work is invisible, hidden in virtual inboxes that follow each worker around everywhere they go through their smartphone and tablet devices.

With so much focus on activity, there is a danger that there is less time for thinking.  As a wise person once said, “nobody blocks thinking time in their diary”. Yet without making time for reflection, how can organisations operate efficiently, adapt and remain viable?  Without thinking, won’t organisations simply continue to operate as they are, potentially stagnating and being overtaken by their competitors? 

Analysis Is A Thinking Profession

If there was one part of the business where you would expect to see people deep in thought, it would be the business analysis team. After all, good quality analysis work requires reflection, creativity and innovative thinking. Yet a lack of thinking time is an issue throughout organisations, and business analysts are no exception. Much as analysts are encouraged to be curious and ask ‘why’ when examining business situations, they should also remain curious about their own work practices too.

Let’s take an example: Imagine you are working on an agile project and you are collaborating with the product owner and other stakeholders to populate the backlog. What type of artefact do you anticipate you would use?  I suspect the words “user story” jumped straight into your head, and understandably so.

However have you ever wondered why user stories often appear to be utilised by default, without any conscious thought or discussion about whether or not they are the most appropriate technique? Why do some teams resort to user stories as if they are the only option available? And shouldn’t business analysts challenge this assumption and ensure that the most appropriate tools and techniques for the particular context are deployed?

Whether use cases, user stories or an alternative requirements documentation approach are adopted, effective requirements elicitation, analysis and management requires analytical thinking. If a team is relying on just one documentation style, questions relating to the requirement may be overlooked leaving critical aspects still to be addressed. It is also important to consider requirements analysis and management from the very beginning of the requirements work. Rushing in to write user stories or build a requirements catalogue without thinking about the rationale for that document style, can lead to gaps in the analysis that may be very difficult to sort out.

Keep questioning

These types of traps are avoided by analysts who question their work practices and are keen to build a toolkit that reflects the breadth of their professional discipline. No-one needs permission to develop their professional techniques and skills, and if a BA can’t answer the question “why are we using xyz technique” then perhaps they need to consider if an unconscious choice has been made just because that is the way it is always done. Reflection and analytical thinking avoid the traps that are posed by reactive, unconscious decision-making. They are the skills that are core to business analysis so we should make sure we apply them. Thinking opens up all sorts of opportunities to gain insights and, ultimately, this is sure to be beneficial to our organisations and to ourselves.

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