Lately, a number of my eMail newsletter readers have been asking me about what books I read. So I thought I talk about one book that has a measurable impact on my life and how you can use its teachings in your business analyst interview.
One of the very first business success books I read was The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, written by Stephen Covey. Covey’s book would eventually become one of the best selling books of all time (25 million copies sold) and influence people decades later.
Before introducing the habits, the book prepares the readers for a paradigm shift.
Covey explains that there are different perspectives and viewpoints from our own. Two people can see the same thing and yet differ with each other.
I was explaining this to my daughter and she said “like when I see candy I want to eat all of it and you don’t want any daddy?” hmmm, something like that but not entirely 😉
btw I do love candy, I am just workin’ on toning that belly area…for the past 10 years ;P
Once the reader is prepared to accept that people can have different perspectives on the same piece of information – he introduces the seven habits.
Often times as business analysts we go about trying to understand requirements, and come across a piece of information that we believe means the same thing to everyone. Only to later hear them say “oh, I thought you meant this…”
The paradigm shift helps you understand that clarity about what the information means is just as important as the information itself.
The lesson here is the next time you come across a piece of information that you *assume means the same thing to everyone.
Take a minute to talk about what it means to each specific person involved. You will be surprised at the different perspectives that will come out of it.
More importantly, in your interview if you don’t understand a question, or assume the interviewer is looking for ATTRIBUTE A but are not sure. Do not hesitate to ask for clarification, I have conducted hundreds of business analyst interviews and there is nothing worse then watching a candidate talk for 10 minutes about something you did not even ask about.
It has taken me 15+ years, and I still have not mastered them all. I find the last habit — Sharpen the Saw (renewal, balance) — an on-going struggle to live by. When I first read the book, I just KNEW that would be the toughest habit for me. It continues to be true.
For life effectiveness, I found habits 1 – 3 timelessly useful.
Habit 1: Be Proactive
Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind
Habit 3: Put First Things First
Much of what I teach all of you is very much in alignment with these habits. Habits 1 – 2 focus on figuring out what you want and working backwards — as opposed to observing what everyone else is doing and just trying to beat them. Habit 3 focuses on doing what is important, not necessarily what is urgent. The two are definitely not the same.
Upon further reflection, I realized that my adoption of habits 4 – 6 have in large part contributed to why I developed such strong client skills at such a young age as a business analyst (relative to my same aged peer group at the time). I’ll summarize these habits here and hopefully you’ll be able to see why this has been the case for me and how you might be able to do the same:
Habit 4: Think Win/Win
In working as a business analyst (as well as other people from your life), it’s very useful to find a solution to a problem where everybody wins. While this is simple in concept, it takes extra effort to implement in practice.
One of my long-held philosophies is that everybody I work with, must win. Even the people that don’t actually interact with me, they too must win.
When people realize that you’re always helping others try to win, and trust that this is your intent, they want to engage with you more and more often. For example, I have worked on numerous multi million dollar project with implementing technology solutions in all sorts of industries.
I ensure to take the time to gather requirements from all the stakeholders involved and work to create a solution that is a win/win for all of them.
This is also what the business analyst interviewer is looking – are you an individual that looks for a win/win solution?
Therefore, in your interview make sure that any answer you provide you avoid putting other people down, or only talk about how what you did benefited you and not anybody else.
Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
In working as a business analyst, an incredibly disarming way to build trust is to just show up, shut your mouth, and listen. Don’t try to convince anyone they are wrong, or that they need to listen to you and help you.
Just show up, listen, take notes, and ask clarifying questions to confirm you UNDERSTOOD what they’re saying.
It is very, very hard to sustain inherited anger or resentment towards someone who listens to, and confirms understanding of your every word.
I have done this both with all sorts of people (technology partners, subject matter experts, project managers etc). One of the beautiful outcomes of this approach is once someone knows you’ve heard and UNDERSTOOD them, even if you make a decision or make a recommendation that is NOT what they were hoping for, they are 10 times more likely to accept the decision.
I remember one colleague of mine who explained this to me. I made a decision that would cause him and his team to do a lot more work. But he said to me:
“Andy I understand that there are other factors that go into the final decision. I figure that since you (meaning me, Andy) know and UNDERSTAND what’s important to us, if the decision doesn’t go our way, then it must be because there are other factors that are even more important. Because we trust that you understand us, we trust your final decision will balance all factors — even the ones we are not personally familiar with.”
By the way that last paragraph embodies a PRICELESS lesson in managing relationships and very much embodies habit 5: Seek First to Understand, then to be Understood.
Similarly, in your business analyst interview if the interviewer gives you a long winded question – you can start with: “Interviewer name, just to make sure we are on the same page – you are asking me how my experience as a quality assurance tester will be relevant for the X Fusion project your team is currently working on in Delaware? Did I get that right?”
Habit 6: Synergize
The principle of habit 6 is in any situation where you’re deciding between two seemingly opposing options, come up with a THIRD option. Often in work situations, you have one group that wants X and the other wants Y.
This might occur in a post merger situation, where former employees of Company 1 are arguing for one approach, but former employees of Company 2 are arguing for a different one. Or it might be a rivalry between two divisions of the same company… or a disagreement between two departments of the same division.
In these situations, both groups tend to just FIGHT. I want this. No I want that, etc…
But when you come in, understand what both are trying to accomplish (Habit 5), and come with a win/win attitude (Habit 4), then it moves you to consider creating a previously unmentioned “third option” that gets everyone more of what they want.
It is the equivalent of rather than fighting over what % of the pie (of resources) each side gets, it’s about finding a way to grow the size of the pie.
Though I have briefly summarized the 7 Habits book, I know that I have not done them justice. It is still worth reading 7 Habits as the explanations and examples really help one to internalize the key ideas.
In Covey’s 79 years he made amazing contributions that have benefited me and countless others. He will be missed. While he has passed away, his body of work, his legacy, has and will continue to stand the test of time.
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