Creativity and Effectiveness for Business Analysts
By Alice Lee
May 26, 2020
How do Business Analysts continuously improve? How do employers qualify a candidate’s experience and what types of experience are relevant to their teams?
For most of us there is the usual course and foundations of practice where it all begins. Whether it be combination of experience across industries, specialist domain knowledge, certification from project management bodies like PMBOK, or modern frameworks and methodologies such as Lean, Agile and Scrum, or a degree in general business administration. As with most (not all) disciplines, I’d say diversity of experience with products or initiatives will never go out of favour.
However, over and above this, there are other skills and habits we can develop over time that are equally complementary to years of experience or qualifications. One of which involves fine tuning your creativity and thought process over time and making this practice part of your daily and work life.
What is creative thinking, and why is this important?
The earliest concept of creative thinking was coined by renowned American Psychologist J.P Guilford who, through his studies of human intelligence and creativity, gave rise to concepts of Convergent and Divergent thinking.
Convergent thinking is to rely on known facts to arrive at a single answer, much like selecting the correct option for a multiple-choice question. The opposite is Divergent thinking, which is the ability to produce new and creative ideas in a short amount of time, as we do when we brainstorm.
So, what is the application of these concepts to solutioning?
We often work within intersections of disciplines, inter and intra teams. Innately we are already familiar with connecting ideas and possibilities as we facilitate the decision-making process. The mental framework and methodology from our experience has taught us a repeatable flow and how to get things done. But not all challenges are equal and reliance on existing know-how may only get us so far—particularly in a changed economic environment as we’re in now. Creative thinking and innovation can make all the difference between a job done, or a job done well.
Practice divergent thinking
Ideation as an activity is flexible enough to scale from an individual task to a group exercise. We begin with generating as many ideas as possible in a short amount of time. Time constraints are important to prevent us from over-thinking or fixating on one idea.
Some starting points:
- Look at the idea in reverse. What’s the opposite?
- Change your environment. Sometimes a different context will inspire.
- List the ideas you consider ‘bad’ (it might only be a bad idea because you consider it unachievable).
- Consider the 5W+H method: Who, What, When, Where, Why and How.
- List similar ideas you have used in another initiative
When you’re nearing the end of brainstorming, think about grouping your ideas into bucket. Which could be similar, complementary or impossible ideas? Think about how an idea might be associated with another.
An idea is only as good as the solution
Convergent thinking closes the loop on our ideation by applying logic and assumptions to evaluate the feasibility of our ideas. I would recommend at this stage (if not already) to include your team—different mindsets and expertise will help to further develop these concepts.
In Agile terminology, this stage is similar to running a spike where we gain deeper understanding about an idea and make further evaluations.
At this stage, the ideas you keep going back to, are potential winners but it’s important to include a good amount of logical rigour to prioritise and eliminate as you go. Just enough knowns and logical assumptions are required to get started onto a proof of concept, but make sure the risks and complexities are considered first.
Give your mind a different workout
Our fuel tank of ideas will eventually run a cycle into familiar territories and patterns. It’s a great idea to keep afresh by learning new things and participating in activities that are unrelated to your daily work. Some of the best ideas come from unfamiliar grounds and past experiences we’ve forgotten about.
Some examples of borrowed concepts:
- Learning a new language and script can teach us about fonts and layouts on a website and how a user will interpret written words.
- Coding has always been sighted to have similarities to linguistics.
- Spatial design vs experience and interaction (UI/UX) design: some of the best designers I’ve worked with have come from a background of designing living spaces. Conceptually, menu drop downs, hover actions and pages are like corridors, windows and rooms. Universally both disciplines share principles in user behaviour.
- Lean software principles were adapted from Toyota’s lean manufacturing principles.
Sometimes the secret sauce is rest & play, in equal parts.
This may seem counterintuitive in fast paced environments where the difference in success boils down to the maximum output in the shortest amount of time possible. Whether it be a mind block or pure exhaustion however, the creative mind needs time to rest and make neuro connections to new things.
It is within the cycle of learning and rest where our minds begin to connect and our mental fuel tank starts to fill up. Many creatives focus equal amounts of time on structured tasks and play. When the mind isn’t overwhelmed with a mission, you are more open to connecting random ideas that are already seeded.
Overall a solid foundation by academia, practical learning and on-the-job experience is important, but differentiating and building a creative skillset will set us apart in years to come. So, stay curious and start thinking creatively.
Check out some great online tools and resources:
Stanford De-School Design Thinking Workshop
This fun workshop is an introduction to design thinking mindsets and methodologies; a great way for teams to participate in creative thinking. Have a go and facilitate a session or have a chat to your team lead.
This course provider offers flexible choices for upskilling, whether in programming, data analysis or design to name a few. It’s also run by industry experts that are working in their field and has a practical learning element. They also run free online courses!
Even as a B.A, this is a great way to put your creativity to practice and collaborate with new teams. It also offers great insight to how start up teams might function and would also recommend playing the role of Product Owner, and have a go at pitching your idea.
References and good reads
Alice Lee is an experienced Business Analyst with DX Solutions having worked across clients like Qantas, Macquarie Group and NBN co. During her career, Alice has been instrumental in delivering digital online/mobile experiences and business transformation projects among other high profile digital transformations in financial services, regulatory and compliance initiatives and assisted growth in various start-ups. Alice believes in using deep data and A.I to drive individual user led tools to support greater productivity and value. With a keen interest in agile and product management practices, Alice is working towards instilling a culture of agility and innovation in every project she’s involved in.
DX Solutions is a wholly owned and operated Australian private company providing businesses with strategic solutions to optimise, transform and progress their operations. With around 200 employees we are proud to partner with software, project and network engineering teams to deliver quality assurance, test automation, CI/CD, agile project management, business process analysis and automation (RPA), network engineering and cloud infrastructure services for Australia’s major digital transformations.