In the first in our series of interviews we speak to Business Analyst Lee Fewkes who gives us the story of his career to date.
Can you give a brief summary of your career path to date?
Like many people in our profession I sort of just became a Business Analyst without really knowing I had become one, or indeed before knowing what one was!
I spent a number of years working in the Logistics industry in various operational roles before making a move into IT as a Systems Trainer.
This trainer role soon opened up a number of opportunities to go out into the business and investigate user issues and to look into why the systems changes that we had implemented had not worked as well as expected.
More often than not it was because the business process that the system was trying to support was not properly understood and the requirements had been poorly defined. In a fair number of cases the solution delivered was just completely unfit for purpose!
I found out that understanding problems and finding solutions to them was something that I enjoyed and I seemed to be very good at. I also managed stakeholders well. Try calming down an irate forklift truck driver at three in the morning when things are not going well with his handheld scanner software!
My next career move took me into the world of data and information with Experian where I worked in the business data side of the business for a few years. This was more of a systems analyst role in truth and despite learning some great skills there I didn’t really enjoy it.
My next job was far more rewarding. I moved into a role at the Derbyshire Building Society where I helped to build a business change team. Not only was this a good job but it was in a nice village in Derbyshire that made for some good lunch times outside in nice surroundings. Sadly the Nationwide Building Society chose to close the Derbyshire so I left and moved into a role at a telecoms company called Timico where I spent a few years.
Then a great opportunity came to move to MWUK, the UK’s leading corporate clothing provider, where I would be the first BA ever to work in the business. I relished the chance to move here and start something from scratch.
Over the last 5 years I have worked on some substantial improvement initiatives and helped to build a high performing Business Analysis practice. Around a year ago I started a role with a dotted line into the CEO of one of the brands within the organisation which has allowed me to work on some interesting strategic initiatives.
In your view what is the core role of a Business Analyst within an organisation?
In the simplest terms we are problem solvers! We are the people who need to get to the root cause of these problems and find ways to reduce their impact or eradicate them.
In conversations with my colleagues here at MWUK it is clear that we all thrive on making a difference to the businesses that we operate within. This desire to make a difference is a common trait of all Business Analysts and it is very much what fuels us.
The Latin origin of the word “Analysis” has a connection to the idea of loosening the mooring ropes of a ship, so I often see us as the people that help to free up a business from the things that tie it down so that it can move more freely.
What would you say is your proudest achievement so far?
I am intensely proud of the role I have played in building the business Analysis team here at MWUK. I came here as the first BA and was able to demonstrate the benefit that Business Analysts can bring. This led to the business investing significantly in additional resource.
The recruitment assessment that I created and implemented has helped us to identify the right kind of people that we need and I firmly believe that we have some of the best Business Analysts in the East Midlands working for this company.
It was a privilege to speak a little bit about this at the Business Analysis Conference Europe in London and I have started to help some of the contacts that I made to think about the way they assess candidates so that they can to recruit the right kind of Business Analysts into their businesses.
Have there been any low points in your career and how did you deal with those?
There have been a few difficult periods of stress in my career at certain times. These have been few and far between but at one stage in my career I stood outside the building of a company that I worked for and simply didn’t want to go back into the building. I considered even just walking away and not coming back.
I think I was emotional exhausted, the role that I was doing was not right for me and the company and its culture was not a good fit overall.
It taught me to reassess what I wanted from a Business Analysis role and I realised that I needed to be more specific about what kind of business I wanted to work for. I am now in a role that can still have its stresses at times but my reason for being here is sounder and therefore I tend to be able to deal with things in a much more controlled way.
What do you think are some of the particular challenges that a BA faces in today’s business world?
The “just get things done” culture of some businesses is a real issue for someone in a more strategic role like ours. The natural inclination of some people in business is to run around and get on just doing stuff. For someone used to working that way it can be difficult for them to understand the way a Business Analyst works or thinks.
I have a quote stuck on the divider of my desk from the basketball coach John Wooden that says “Don’t mistake activity for achievement”. At the end of the day a hamster can run around in its wheel without going anywhere!
You have to focus your energy into something that is purposeful and worthwhile and this often requires forethought and planning. There is another favorite quote of mine from Deming that says “It is not enough to do your best, you have to know what to do and then do your best” which makes a lot of sense to me.
Another challenge was something that was raised at the recent Business Analysis Conference Europe and really resonated with me. The Business Analysis practice generally is not represented at a high enough level within the management structure of an organisation. We can often be buried within IT or perhaps a change or transformation function. This still allows us to deliver benefit to a business of course but I think there is far more that the profession can offer and some businesses may be missing out on the use of a valuable resource.
Do you have any career aspirations for the future that you would like to share?
There is a huge amount still to do in my current role and I cannot see that level of work changing any time soon. The business is changing quite dramatically and I want to do all I can to play a part in that.
In the future I would like to be more strategically involved in setting the direction of a business. Alternatively I would maybe like to venture into a consulting role where I can focus on helping businesses to understand their “Why” and to create new “Blue Oceans” of opportunity.
What advice would you give to anyone who is early into their career as a Business Analyst or considering a move into the profession?
We are blessed as Business Analysts with a particular mind-set and clearly if you have found your way into this profession it is a pretty safe bet you have it too!
When I have mentored new Business Analysts in the past the main bit of advice that I have given them is to trust their instincts. Skills and techniques can be developed over time but a natural analytical mind-set is not something that can be taught. You either have it or you don’t.
If something instinctively doesn’t feel right to you don’t be afraid to challenge because ultimately that is what we are all about. We exist within a business to ask one of the most important things…Why!
As you become more experienced you will learn to trust your natural mind-set more and more. Believe in yourself, learn from others who work with you and who are out there in the wider profession and you will do well.
What about your life outside of work, can you tell us a bit about that?
I am heavily into music and I even have a go at writing my own. If you want to you can search for my stuff under the name of Many Elephants (the name has its own story!) on some of the usual streaming services such as Spotify or Apple Music.
As for family life I have been married for 21 years, have a teenage son who is studying media content at college and I have been gradually renovating a 1930’s house.
By “renovating” I mean that I am paying skilled people to do things as I am hopeless at DIY! The house is swallowing up pretty much all my money. The good analytical sense has gone completely out the window on that project!
Make a Connection
You can connect with Lee via Linkedin