I had a very Interesting experience in my BA consulting career. About 7 years back, I was conducting a public workshop on business analysis. 2 managers from a large multinational corporation attended the BA workshop. After about a week, one of the managers reverted back to me asking me if I could help them in building up their business analysis practice and competency.
I had no clue about the domain as it was a very specific domain :Colors. When I indicated the same to the manager of the group, he said anyway it’s extremely hard for them to find a business analyst in color domain. He asked me if I could learn the domain in few weeks’ time. I agreed to the proposal as it was a test of my learning capabilities as well.
After joining the client as a BA consultant, I attended a large project team meeting. Many Domain SMEs had gathered to explain the requirements. They kept talking about something called MASAI conversion.
I couldn’t make any sense make out of it. To me, it looked like there was a Japanese scientist who created a certain kind of formula and the team was discussing on implementing that formula. I kept quiet in the meeting with the fear of looking like a novice (I know this is wrong but how often we will be candid about our ignorance?).
When I came out of the meeting and asked one of the Domain SME, “What is this MASAI conversion?”. My Domain SME was bit surprised that I did not know this. She said, “LN, this is nothing but multi-angle instrument to single-angle instrument conversion. Our old devices captured color measurement only in a single-angle. Newer generation devices can capture color measurement multiple-angles. That’s why when data is interfaced to the old systems; it has to be converted from multiple-angle to single-angle.” Had I knew this abbreviation, the whole meeting would have made sense to me.
As Business analysts or as project team members, we must understand the business domain. Now one wouldn’t have experience in a domain unless one works in the domain. So this seems to be a chicken and egg problem.
So how can we learn a new domain quickly?
Here are few tips that can help all of us:
Learn vocabulary for the domain
I would consider this as the most crucial journey. Most businesses fundamentally do lots of things which are common. However they use the terminology which could be very different from another domain. So once you start appreciating what the terminologies mean, then it becomes much easier for you to understand and communicate with stakeholders. If you are comfortable with the language of business, business becomes comfortable with you.
Refer basics of domains on APQC.org
This is a website I find I find very interesting, where one can learn basic tasks that companies perform in various domains. If you visit the process classification framework provided on APQC.org, you will see process definitions for at least about 25 domains. You may not get an exact domain, but you will definitely find something close to your domains.
Read a fundamental books on the domain
Most domains have a fundamental book written by a prominent author. Usually these books are called as handbook of the domain. For example you can look at handbook of Banking, or Handbook of insurance, or Handbook of retail. Such books are a very good primer for what happens in the particular domain so if you are planning to join a particular domain. Please buy the paper copy of the book and go through it thoroughly.
Identify resources on internet
Internet is a great source of Information. Find authoritative websites which describe about a particular domain that would be very helpful for you to learn the new domain. Only challenge with internet based learning is that internet is a vast information source, so you have to be really careful not to get deluged in the vast amount of information on internet.
Identify people with domain knowledge
This is another great way to learn a new domain. Try to be in friendly terms with them. They would know lot of tips and tricks and they also may have information resources which could be invaluable for you. I remember when I was working as a Consultant for Change management, I developed good friendship with a senior colleague of mine in my organisation who had tremendous knowledge in change management consulting. I got books and materials from him which was a great help for me in my project.
I trust many of us would have tried other means as well. I would be obliged to have your experiences captured for the benefit of entire BA community.