“I like the approach to finding the bottlenecks or the pain, the dissatisfiers things that will cause somebody to discontinue, uh, an application for a product or something that will cause someone to just lose interest and fall fallout. And what are those, what are those points? And if we can identify those and go after those also, what may, what may be redundant in our processes, what may lack simplicity and those things, because sometimes it takes more work to make a process simple than it does to make it complex. What taking, taking steps out of a process can be very painful because you’ve got to look more at more detail in terms of what is not needed. It’s easy to throw things in. And that’s, that comes back to the theory that 80% of requirements go unused, well, why does that happen? Because we didn’t do the extra work to make the process more simple. We just added.”
(Click for full transcript.)
Hello everyone. And welcome to the traceability podcast. I’m your host, Tracie Edwards. And today we have my friend, Steve Hodnett with us. Steve and I have known each other since our time serving on the board of the IBA Salt Lake City chapter. And Steve was very instrumental in growing the chapter and also helped us get a BA Development Day hosted and have a successful event there. And he’s a longtime BA and we’re really happy to have him with us today. So welcome Steve.
Thank you Tracie.
Very glad to have you join us. And so typically how we start out here is how did you get your start as a BA? Is that really where you wanted to go in life? And how did that all work out?
I never actually knew a business analyst was a career path, actually. I started out as an accountant as an accounting major at Boise State University. And I went into financial planning and analysis at Hewlett-Packard, and I worked there for several years and then relocated to Utah and stayed in the finance and accounting arena for a while, and then realized that there were a lot of people that did finance and accounting in this market. The salaries were, were not quite what I’d hoped them to be. And so by accident, I actually started implementing solutions at companies. So a payroll solution here then started looking at process engineering and then eventually went to work for a large regional bank and became a full time business analyst and then became CBAP certified and really got into looking at business analysis as a career. And the fun thing about that for me was that, um, all of a sudden I could be engaged in problem solving rather than problem identification. And I don’t mean making the decisions about how to solve the problem, but having a lot more influence, even in finance, we present the numbers and then the organization would determine what to do. And even in business analysis, we can present the, the scenarios, but also make some recommendations about some courses of action. So that was more exciting to me is, is actually having some, some influence over decisions that were being made in organizations.
Yeah. I very much agree with you there on that. It’s interesting to be able to go in and actually help to facilitate problem solving and, and have the conversation around approach and that kind of thing that we don’t always get to have when we’re in more targeted career paths, probably.
Right. And I would always find myself saying, why do we do things this way? For example, in a call center, we spend so much money on taking care of customer calls. And we look at, at how quickly can we resolve the issues and get the customer on their way. And I was always wondering, I would always ask the questions, like why, why don’t we try to understand more about the customer’s organization so that then we can say we have solutions here and here and here because constant contact centers are viewed as a cost center. And I was sitting there thinking, why is it only a cost center? Why are we not a revenue center? Why are we not generating revenue by improving and enhancing the customer’s experience? Not just in existing technologies, but in other technologies that might be able to enhance that environment.
So very much a precursor to the whole concept of the voice of the customer, right? Where are you doing an analytics with that, or really just trying to sort of understand customer perspectives.
Yes. I didn’t know where it fit, so I didn’t know how to influence the organization. I knew that the organization needed to change, but I didn’t know how to influence. If I look back having the skills of a BA, I would have taken it a completely different approach to the organization I worked with and I would approach different stakeholders. Then I approached, I was approaching a set of stakeholders that were completely happy because their revenue was coming from contracts to support products. Whereas I would have gone to the product organization itself and said, Hey, we, this would really enhance our experience if we combine our efforts with this division. And so, and so learning that I was really a precursor to say, how do we innovate within organizations? But I didn’t know that’s what it was called or that that’s what it was at the time. It was all I thought. And that’s how I continue to think is, is, you know, why do we do this the way we do? And I think disruptive innovation has to flow from that thought process within organizations. And that’s really where my passion has come from in business analysis.
So I was actually having a conversation with someone earlier today. And, you know, we were talking about, sometimes you engage with stakeholders, you’re asking those why questions and they don’t always appreciate those why questions. Did you find that you ran into maybe some perception of feeling threatened or anything as you were trying to ask some of these questions?
I think it’s a constant issue that we deal with, right? Because, and the more mature the team, the more threatened they may feel. We’ve been doing this all along. And so we know what we want in our product yet. We recognize the flaws in what we built in the past, but we’re not ready to let go of that over real challenge. And I, you know, I continued, I’ve dealt with it. I even deal with it to this day, you know, in terms of approach and really coming up with ways to. And one of the things that I’m thinking about now as a, as a method is to ask simple questions on the intake that will help people pivot on their own. Because if I, or if I say, I’m going to introduce this process to you, you’re going to follow this process. The defenses go up automatically and they say, no, no, no.
So, so I work with a team of designers. One of the things we’re working on is, is being able to ask these questions of where is your vision for this product three to five years out, and what other technologies are impacted by this? And if they don’t know these things, then we’re trying to get them to think strategically, not just functionally, not just how do we hold this on, add this on and make this happen, but how do we, how do we provide an experience that drives a usability, but also long-term strategy integration and ultimately market competitiveness.
That’s fantastic. I love that because it was sort of a similar conversation they had with someone else this weekend, that three and five year plan. Sometimes people haven’t really gotten there. They’re so kind of caught up in their current world kind of thing, and trying to accomplish the business that’s in front of them. And so what are maybe some of the techniques that you’ve used to kind of encourage that longer term thinking, especially if you’re still working in say customer centric, contact center environment, so to speak.
Yeah, so I, I have tried to pull the product team much of the burden of requirements as I can. It’s one of my challenges has been a very mature, like I mentioned, a very mature product team, so initiatives that I can take on, on my own from end to end and really show delivery of value in terms of, of, of asking the why questions or of, of finding what’s working well, and what’s not working well and actually going through and, and putting myself in the user experience so that I can say, this is really a good user experience. We don’t always want to challenge everything to the full folder, but we really want to challenge those pain points. And so that’s really, what I’ve tried to do is, is focus on where do I have areas of pain. This is one of the things that, that I really like the work that, and for everybody’s who’s, who’s in business analysis, I will recommend Kristin Cox, her theory, videos, where she talks about pain points and bottlenecks and areas that really need to be addressed because we can’t be more efficient as an organization if we don’t address those things.
And so really I like the approach to finding the bottlenecks or the pain, the dissatisfiers things that will cause somebody to discontinue, uh, an application for a product or something that will cause someone to just lose interest and fall fallout. And what are those, what are those points? And if we can identify those and go after those also, what may, what may be redundant in our processes, what may lack simplicity and those things, because sometimes it takes more work to make a process simple than it does to make it complex. What taking, taking steps out of a process can be very painful because you’ve got to look more at more detail in terms of what is not needed. It’s easy to throw things in. And that’s, that comes back to the theory that 80% of requirements go unused, well, why does that happen? Because we didn’t do the extra work to make the process more simple. We just added.
And I think a lot of that is driven again, by that shorter term operational type thinking, as they’re trying to understand sort of a short term analytics, I find what I’ve run into is they want to respond to something that came up right in the moment. And they, they often don’t see the forest for the trees kind of thing.
Yeah. We, and sometimes we put too many, too many stakeholders into the equation, which the risk is okay. We don’t, we didn’t speak to those, those stakeholders, but really determining that appropriate level. I’ve also found that, you know, we, when we, when we talk about communication and, and we reach out to groups and organizations, this is a real frustrating point for BA’s. I need to really emphasize this when we reach out to organizations and we say, you must engage. And that engagement does not occur. The best teaching tool for a team or an organization is the fear that it is not going to happen because they didn’t, they didn’t engage because, because ultimately as we’re doing the things that we’re doing, as we’re communicating, if we don’t set clear expectations and we don’t say no, I mean, deadline means deadline. If we’re up to deadlines, how can we do that?
If we don’t expect our teams to operate to deadlines. And don’t mean last second, you know, we’re throwing this in because I was, I was engaged for three months and didn’t say anything until, because I didn’t bother to read the requirements till the last minute have to set those expectations. Clearly at the beginning, we have to stick with them because a part of accountability means being accountable. And regardless of how high up in the food chain the organization is when budgets are budgets and timelines are timelines, stakeholders have to abide by that as well. So yeah, our communication is critical there.
Yeah. I know that I have bumped up against that quite a bit in some of my recent job experiences, you know, sort of the engagement goes both ways, kind of thing. We need to get them to engage, but we need to also make them feel that it’s worth their while to engage. And that it’s a win for them as well as for us.
Right. And, and, and I’m not saying this is simplistic because, you know, obviously we’d love it to be right. And then you have the reading. It happens at the last minute that weren’t included. But, but it’s why that, that communication and reactives are so important that we get everybody on the page. And, you know, whether that, if that comes from, uh, an agreement early on a contract, what if they’re important enough to be involved or they’re important enough to be involved process. And, and that I think is every BA’s pet peeve is that we find, you know, other things to work on until the very last minute. And then we’ll re environments and, Oh, it’s so changed and it’s not, it’s not easy to pivot and it’s harder to pivot. And that’s why, that’s why we engage these stakeholders at the beginning. And it’s one of the behaviors to change. And frankly, because, because I said, just said, those things doesn’t mean that I’m not left in Richmond where we’re including those changes at the last minute.
Right. So speaking of pivoting, let’s maybe go a bit broader with that topic. What are some sort of situations in your career journey where you’ve had to sort of understand where and when to pivot?
Yeah. I think the hard part is still as a business analyst is, is, you know, I get to make recommendations, but I don’t get to vote on the decisions. And sometimes that’s hard because pivot and realize the decision makers make the decision. And I think, I think if, you know, if there’s one thing I could say is even sometimes even though our decision makers don’t may not know that we can tell them that and coach them that along the way, it’s still very hard for people to give up the control of even the analysis work. We want this, we want this because instead of focusing on the problem we, we focus on. And so it’s, it’s the, the pivoting to the fact that we don’t have a vote. And sometimes that doesn’t means we may not even have a vote in the amount of analytical work that we’re enabled to perform. If that makes sense, that’s a hard pivot because, you know, we’re asked for our expertise on one, once one count and on the other account, sometimes there’s an unwillingness to really let that analysis work go and say, you know, it’s kind of like the early in the conversation where we were talking about the, why are you doing this? Even when we provide the full analysis, why are you providing this to me? I know what I want already. How do we, how do we constantly enlightened without thrilling the stakeholders?
I think something that has often been sort of a challenge for me as, as a BA is feeling like the project is already well underway. By the time they decide that they want some business analysis on it, they’ve already decided on a vendor, they’ve already decided on a business case and a cost estimate and that kind of thing. And I can, I can feel a bit frustrated in those situations because I wasn’t able to necessarily provide some more upfront guidance. How have you sort of dealt with similar situations and maybe how have you had to adjust or make a change to, to feel a little more satisfaction?
One of the things I did, I worked for an organization that was actually pretty good at starting projects. And they had a checklist of things that had to be done before a project was started. And in that checklist, one of the questions they asked was, has a project manager been assigned now that as a business analyst, that that said huge red flags hope my spine because Mike and I always suggested to the organization. I think they’re the more pertinent question is as a business analyst, Ben aside, we don’t need a project manager until we’ve established that we need a project and so on. So that was one of the things that I would ask related to that. But, you know, in terms of being, you know, involved earlier, I think that is the most con you suggest one of the most common scenarios and it’s, it’s really, you know, as a business analyst, you kind of feel like a doctor.
I don’t know if you feel like that’s sometimes Tracie, but when I come to you and the projects already underway, you’ve already see some of the symptoms of what happened with, without analyzing the problem. And I think that nature to say, we’d like to be able to give the prescription and then follow the patient all the way, all the way through. Whereas, you know, now we’ve got a patient, who’s got some conditions because analyst’s analysis work wasn’t done. And we’ve got to try to work with a more limited set of tools. Whereas when we, when we look over here, I give you an example, say, a company is looking to apply a communication methodology and they say, okay, we need to communicate. So we need to be able to send emails and text messages. Well, there are so many ways we can communicate.
We can use WhatsApp, we can use chat, we can use fax, we can use email, but where they’ve already said, let me limit my, the ways I can communicate. So I’ve chosen a communications method that will, that will allow me to limit myself. Instead of suggesting, I need to send a message from point a to point B, what’s the most efficient, effective way to do that. And what methods coming along are going to make it even more effective. You know, we’re using, we need a, you know, does it integrate with our CRM tool? Do all of our departments have a history of what messaging has been sent? Can we view, can we view that history? Are we complying with privacy rules and regulations? Are we a GDPR CCPA compliant? So all of a sudden we have all of these things to think about. And if we bring some of these things in as an afterthought, you know, we’re missing kind of missing the boat.
And I don’t know if you’ve run into this as well. Maybe talk about some times when you’ve run into some vended solutions. I know vended solutions are kind of all the rage right now, and I don’t know your perspective, but I find that they buy a big product, but don’t necessarily need everything about the big product or they buy multiple big products that all do similar things. Have you run into things like that and how have you maybe attempted to resolve some of the potential conflict?
Yes. And one of the big challenges is we buy a vended product and then we want to make it fit what we want to do. And I, and I ran into that several times where we go, we buy an off the shelf product. It doesn’t have some of the capabilities we need for a certain sub group of stakeholders. For example, ran into this complete group of stakeholders, not engaged in the procurement process. Uh, process was bought four months later. They decided they needed an analyst to come in. The analyst starts meeting with, which was me, starts meeting with another group of stakeholders. They said, nobody talked to us about this solution. They bought the solution because they thought it could be tailored to this one group of stakeholders needs. And after doing a lot of work on it, it was not a suitable solution for them.
It was causing a lot of angst and frustration. Of course, of course they liked me as an analyst because I brought them to the table, but I could not fix the problems that were not be resolved with this particular solution. And so, and so then we think we can start customizing these off the shelf solutions as opposed to backing up and saying, what does the solution do? How could our organization be aligned to the solution? No, we say, well, we want to do it our way. I think off the shelf solutions are great, but are we prepared to mirror our organization to the technology as opposed to the technology, to the organization? What are the great podcasts that I like is O’Shaughnessy on the O’Shaughnessy investment podcast and of the podcasts that they had talks about the concept of build or die. You know, if you’re not building your well off where to evolve in the marketplace, you’re really going by.
And, and you know, when, when off the shelf solutions don’t work, you really have to think about, you know, can we, can we build this? Yeah. Which is why I think it’s so important that if we were, if we’re going to look at an off the shelf software, we need to look, can we do 90% of what we want to do with the off the shelf, 80 to 90%? And are we willing to give up the 10 to 20% so we can optimize what this was built to do? We’re going contrary to the intent of the whole purposing of it.
Yeah. I very much agree in, I know that as I’ve run into some of those situations, those have been some of the things that have maybe caused me most of the career dissatisfaction that I can on occasion run into, because I have felt sort of difficulty having influence over some of those conversations. So maybe speak to, as you have, perhaps run into times of dissatisfaction in your career for one reason or another, how have you sort of address those from a career longevity kind of perspective?
Yeah, it’s, it’s something that I think all BA’s I think we’ll, we’ll run into a level of dissatisfaction with because of not being the decision maker. And I think, I think it’s really interesting to watch organization and team players that look for that, that expertise and value those types of relationships and build them. And so you have to be willing to put in work and time because sometimes those relationships aren’t going to come in three months or six months or nine months, maybe it’s going to take a year or a year and a half to, you know, getting some, I hate to say domain expertise because sometimes by the time we’ve developed domain expertise, we become a little bit bored, but I think sometimes it does take that. And then, and then being able to then as we gain that knowledge and expertise, we can start providing concepts and ideas to teams, especially more mature teams, you know, understand how their, their organization operates and the types of, of decisions they’re trying to make. And that some of that only comes through time. And so I think that’s one of the key pieces of advice I would give, but I would also look for, look for organizations that value your expertise. And this is the biggest learning experience I had was joining the leadership of the IBA because I was able to reach out and work with other team members who had experience building this type of collateral with their folders. And, and that’s, I think that learning experiences extremely valued.
I really like the point that you made there authentic can just take a long time to build those trusted relationships where they know that they can kind of rely on you to ask the right kind of questions. And, and sometimes maybe we don’t put the effort into the relationship building that we need to because we’re so in a hurry to make an impact, say this thing.
And I think Tracie, we can see we as a business analyst coming in, and this is why we do the work. And it’s one of the strengths we have is, is we, we know how to identify issues rather quickly and can identify issues that the teams we work with don’t necessarily see, but also just like with ourselves when truths become, you know, when, when, when truths have been evident that we didn’t see our in ourselves, it’s very difficult, those changes quickly and nor do we necessarily want to be told that we need to make those, those changes quickly. And so it’s hard to remember that that’s a hard thing to remember that, that we don’t want to pivot quickly, just like our stakeholders may not want to pivot quickly. And that’s why the longevity we can get to the problems really quickly. I think anybody who’s been doing this for a long time knows how to, how to point things out and say, Oh wow, that’s, that’s, that’s painful.
Why are we doing things this way? And based on our learnings, we could sure do, do things differently. The other thing that we learn is, is the pivot, because it’s done in CRM correctly, the pivot to correction may not be fast and it may not be painless because we’ll want to build out a new prep platform. We may have to introduce pools and we may have to do things that take a while. And we, and we’ve got to keep the airplane flying at the same time. You know, that’s a dynamic we have to remember as we go through this.
Okay. Switching to another topic, sort of, as we’re in times like we’re in right now, something that has been on my mind a lot is sort of what are the things that I need to do to sort of recession proof my career path, so to speak and, and to sort of wondering what are some recommendations you would give for folks as we’re sort of in the challenging times that we’re in, what can we do to make ourselves indispensable?
I’m really glad you asked that, that question, Tracie, this has on been on my mind a lot. And we are going to have friends, neighbors who have businesses that are going to need to make hard decisions and not necessarily have, have capital for that. But I think if we use the questions that we can ask and the scope that we have, not for big companies that a lot of BA’s work for, but with some, but say, how could we help our friends business, our neighbor’s business, and not necessarily looking at it for, from a profit motive, but looking from a, they need help motive. This may be the fundamental time where the greatest amount of innovation actually occurs. That was never thought of how do we help with that? How do we help ask questions about better delivery methods for businesses? How do we about streamlining operations?
How do we talk to them about looking at different technologies may have, that may exist, that they haven’t thought about before and thinking about it as defining the challenges that, that those friends of ours that are in business face and really those issues and honing our skills with them. Because if we can bring value to our friends and neighbors, they’re going to be some of our biggest cheerleaders in return, right. And we can get to the market with high rec recommendations, but also maybe we meet, we really improve the position of those who were very vulnerable coming into this. Right. What are the things I’ve been thinking about a lot is, is how could I, without going in with a profit or a financial motive, in addition to my day job, how could I look out for, for using the skills that I have to solve problems for, for others.
That has been on my mind a lot as, as well as what can I do to serve and what can I do to help folks that have run into a challenging situation in their businesses and that kind of thing. And I’ve also sort of just had the impression that really, this is why we have times like this, this is opportunities for us to sort of use our toolbox and rise to the occasion. And it sounds like your advice is, is very similar.
I think some of the greatest innovations that we see are going to come out of come from this long term, you know, what that looks like. I can’t tell you because I’m not a, I’m not a futurist, but, but I, I, I can say that along those lines, without going into too much detail, one of the things I’ve thought about is how can I facilitate successful new businesses starting from this, for that may have never considered owning a business before, or, and, and so I’m working on some things along those lines that I’m very, very excited about that everything from back office to, to instantiation. So, so, so I think there are with every, you know, thing that happens like this, there are things that can be taught. There can be things taught about capital preservation. Am I, am I over leveraged? Am I leveraged properly?
So that in business I can go forward. I know a business owner from my own family, uh, who was a very long time proponent of have no debt in his business. So when he saw times like this come, he was the most profitable because all of his competitors were very highly leveraged. And so it brings new opportunity to folks who think maybe differently or contrary, you know, and I, and I feel badly for, for businesses that are highly leveraged, but, you know, and sometimes it takes leverage to, to be innovative at the same time. Right? You can’t say leverage is bad, but you can say, am I thinking about things in terms of all possible scenarios that we could encounter.
Right. And sort of the long-term strategic leverage and, uh, what is an acceptable risk type of thing to take on,
You know, and the other, the other thing, you know, we talk about pivots and, and I want to go back to that. If I, if I may, one of the big events I’ve had is organizations as a BA you know, one of the things I think that we can really add value to the organization, if we can do it at a high enough level, is come back to the organization in terms of what is our strategy. Because I, you know, if, if we have a strategy that includes five to seven elements, which is a reasonable number of strategic initiatives for, for an organization, one of the things we need to ask is, are all of the initiatives that are underway in the organization, are, do they reflect the strategy that we have just because a new payroll system may give us a good return over, over, you know, 15 or 18 or four months after it’s implemented.
But if that payroll system takes capital away from other initiatives like growing revenue or gaining market share or other, we need to be doing in the organization, we need to be prepared to ask where strategically do our investment dollars align to our strategy. Can we go back? One organization worked with which I think their threshold was too low based on the size of the organization, but any project over a hundred thousand dollars had to either show an ROI or it had to tie back to a regulatory or, or compliance requirement. Now I would add one more thing that that organization could have benefited from, which is tying it also to a strategic initiative of the organization. Because even though we get a savings we’re, or we get a return, do we get it in the area that we strategically feel is important? Because doing that, adding that one element really is, is what, you know, operational efficiency is about. And, and so that’s one of the things I would, I would add as well is, is get our business to focus on its strategy, even if it’s only our, our department that we work in or, or our organization, or that we’re helping them say, how does this meet our, not only why are we doing this, but how does this meet our operational strategy? And you might, they might feel very threatened asking that question, but really you’re just helping the business.
Right. I very much agree with that. That’s a very, um, business architecture type of mentality, where we’re trying to align our capabilities and our projects with the vision that we have for the organization and the strategy that we’re taking to get there. And I agree that often that strategic tie-back is missed. And that can, that can be a little frustrating for those of us who are sort of those more strategic thinking types,
Especially when we’re looking at traceability,
Into chasing to the, uh, the overall overarching goals and objective.
Yeah. Yeah, for sure. So as we wrap up, maybe speak to some of the things you’ve got going on in the future and where things are going for you right now.
Yeah. One of the things that I’m really, you know, I, I’m definitely busy, I’m spread pretty thin on different that I’m working on, but one of the things I’m passionate about is the kind of the initiative that I, that I mentioned is, is starting to build, you know, I’ve built or built, uh, applications and capabilities for, for large companies on a, on a regular basis. And now I’m actually doing one on my own that will help books come out of this, you know, come out of this, on that we’re into. So that’s one of the goals and objectives that I’m working on. So, I’ve started my own company, SavvyIQ. That’s been been fun. I’m definitely very busy, passionate about looking at sectors, things that are happening, looking at markets as well. Markets are evolving. We’re seeing interesting things happen there. I mean, the price of oil at $10 a barrel, you know, the interesting things that we never sought thought possible locations of that, you know, where does, where does, what does that do, you know, long-term to energy sectors and things of that.
It’s just really interesting that if we, if we keep our eyes out for what trends there are, and what’s evolving going back to that marketability question, I think we, I mean, this isn’t going to last forever. Eventually it’s going to go away. And so, so I mean, in the short term, I think we say, what problems are out there that need to be solved because, because now people need leaders more than anything else. They don’t need people to hide in fear. They need people to say, how do we tackle this? Let’s go out. Just like, just like after, right after an earthquake or after a tornado or after how do we go, Whoa. But I think that’s the model we have to have just like after a hurricane, how do we go and build and, and pick this thing up and, and, and find solutions that are going to, uh, solve people’s problems.
That’s a terrific note to end it on, look for the solution builders and the people who are going to lead us in the positive direction of getting everything back together again. So Steve, how can folks find you?
They can find me on LinkedIn and we can provide a, an address for my LinkedIn profile. They can also find me at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fantastic. And we will make sure that that gets uploaded to the show notes. So tell me about, uh, the SavvyIQ and how’s that going for you?
It’s going great. This is just a little company that I’ve started, where I find that, uh, there are lots of opportunities in business analysis to work with, with clients and define the challenges of their business environment and ways to navigate through that.
Well, that’s very exciting. Congratulations on that. And for our listeners, if something from our conversation resonated with you, your call to action today is to leave us a comment at our website, traceabilitypodcast.com or send me an email at email@example.com or reach out to Steve directly. I know he’d be really, uh, anxious to hear your feedback and have a conversation with you. That would be fantastic. Thanks Steve so much for your time.
Yes. Thank you, Tracie.