An EnviableTrait of Great Analysts
I am not the great analyst that I am going to talk about. Sure, I aspire to be one and I am hopefully somewhere on the way. But I do have had the fortune to have worked with GREAT analysts.
But who is an analyst?
I would like to move away from the proverbial IT definition that revolves around requirements.
I would say that an analyst is someone who can make difficult things… easier, clearer and more structured.
Sure, there is just so much more. But for this conversation, let’s just focus on that ability- making difficult things easier. Maybe that’s taking someone’s partially formed vision around creating a platform and crystallising it into a concrete roadmap. Or perhaps it is the creation of succinct user stories based on quite an obfuscated and old enterprise use case diagram. In all this, I find one thing that really makes great analysts tick. If you have read any of my other stuff, you know what’s coming now. Anecdote time.
It was a hot summer afternoon in June. Well, not very hot where we were at courtesy central AC. But that makes a good starting line. In that hot summer afternoon, the great analyst and myself and a couple of other developers were looking tiredly up at a projected screen.
Placing my hands on the wooden conference table, I leaned in and said, “Well, we need to finalise these estimates and the plan, but we just can’t agree”. The great analyst was standing up with hands on his hips. “We can”, he said while looking at a gigantic mess of a spreadsheet which started off with a few numbers but had grown to look like a behemoth which we understood less of every passing second.
“I think if we combine a few points from up here and from down there, we could have our slice”, said the analyst. One of the developers yawned.
Right then, the glass door of the room flung open and in walked Mr. CEO. Mr. CEO wasn’t supposed to look at the plan until two more hours, but he was Mr. CEO. He got to walk in like that.
The yawn snapped in half, and I blinked my eyes a few times trying to regain sense and reason. But the great analyst just lightly swiveled around, saw the CEO and gave a “hey”.
“Where are we?”, asked Mr. CEO. He already wore doubt looking at the million rows of gibberish in front of him. He then looked at me. I started explaining, “Well these are our features, and these are the numbers we are looking at…” He had started shaking his head mid-sentence, conveying sharp disapproval.
The great analyst said, “Well, let’s see. Here is where we are”. The great analyst spun up a new blank screen, drew a small circle and wrote, “Core features in MVP”. He drew another circle and wrote, “Mandatory Integrations” and then a few more like “Security Testing”, “Third Party Access” etc. He joined those circles with some lines and suddenly, it looked like the project we were trying to make sense of!
Sure, there were quite a few unanswered questions, but those details were abstracted in those circles. Those circles in fact made so much sense than what I was trying to poorly articulate. The CEO nodded affirmatively and said, “Hmm, so need to know how long and how much of each of these we are doing? Alright, I will leave you to it. See you in 2 hours”. The great analyst just switched back to the spreadsheet and said, “Shall we continue?” I was just awestruck.
He was able to immediately switch the depth and detail without losing either us or the CEO.
As days went by, I started noticing this trait in every great analyst or consultant I worked with.
Great architects had no trouble talking at the over-quoted “30000 feet” in one sec and then looking at JUNIT test cases the next. Good pre-sales managers could go from editing the overall proposal plan to editing lines in the executive summary without breaking stride. It looked really easy.
Except it wasn’t.
The biggest challenge was to stay focused on the details while being firmly rooted in where we were in the larger vision. Through the years and several interactions with great analysts, I found a neat trick to inculcate the at-will zoom-in/zoom-out quality.
I found that if I kept asking myself “why” I was doing something at intermittent intervals then I generally knew where I was in the big picture.
That greatly helped. It helps me to this very day. Whether it is coming up with the “high level update” immediately or diving deep into a user story only to start tweaking the feature roadmap the next second, the asking of “why” helps. But gosh! I still envy that effortless butter-like transition and smoothness great analysts have zooming in and out.
Maybe with time…