In this interview we speak to Eleanor Stowe, a Business Analyst from OVO Energy, who gives us the story of her operatic beginnings, a gradual move into Business Analysis and recent presentation at the Business Analysis Conference Europe.
Can you give a brief summary of your career path to date?
My first career was actually as an operatic soprano. I studied at the Royal Welsh Conservatoire of Music and Drama for my undergraduate degree in “Voice: Soprano”.
Towards the end of my degree I realised I didn’t want to go into the performing career so after I graduated, I tried a few different jobs including events management, teaching (singing) and sales, but none of these really fit me and my talents. I wanted something a bit more generalist as I had always been good at a large variety of interests, but I had never been able to be exceedingly good at just the one discipline, so in order to succeed, I argued, I needed to find something which drew on as many of my skills as possible.
In 2016 I started my first tech job working on websites, first as a front-end developer and then as a support analyst. I was beginning to find a career which enabled a lot of customer interaction but was balanced with problem-solving. I was studying UX Research in my spare time, and moved on to business analysis once I realised this was like UX research on steroids and I was hooked!
From that point onwards I worked hard to get a full-time BA role through online courses, the BCS certifications and small projects as the opportunities presented themselves. I had a bridging role in the NHS (Support and Business Analyst) which allowed me to understand and work on complex systems and then I moved to a Business Analyst role with OVO Energy in March 2018. In November 2018 I completed the BCS Diploma in Business Analysis.
In OVO, I’ve mostly been involved in regulatory change and improvements to our vulnerability processes. Energy is an incredibly interesting industry – everyone needs an energy supply, regardless of whether they can afford to pay for their energy so a lot of work goes into ensuring that those less fortunate are given ways to pay or grants, etc., and as much as possible is done to ensure they can keep the lights and heating on. This said, energy is also a highly competitive, risky business (the weather literally makes a huge difference to our profit and loss) so striking the balance between doing what is right for the customer and making profit can be very tricky, but also an extremely interesting environment for a BA.
Recently, I spoke for the first time at the 2019 BA Conference Europe. It was really good fun and I look forward to next year’s!
In your view what is the core role of a Business Analyst within an organisation?
I often feel like the mortar between the bricks. Each area of expertise or “piece of the puzzle” has great value in itself, but by joining these together we can make something bigger than the sum of the parts.
This applies to all levels of a project, whether that’s ensuring the right projects are initiated in the right way through understanding of all the affected parties, or ensuring that everyone is release ready.
What would you say is your proudest achievement so far?
Firstly, speaking at the 2019 BA Conference Europe was an amazing experience. I shared a part of my story of “life with anxiety”, as well as some tips and tricks for dealing with anxiety.
The response I got was more than I could have imagined – people who I have followed for years on Twitter when I was trying so hard to break into the career came to see it and shook my hand afterwards. People shared their stories and those of their loved ones with me. I really didn’t think it was such a big deal but it seems like so many of us have suffered with it at some point in our lives that it struck a big chord. It’s made me realise how powerful and important it is to share these stories and let others know that they are not alone in their suffering.
Otherwise, sitting here typing away, I’m looking back at those few years when I knew I wanted to be a BA and fought tooth and nail for it. I wasn’t given many opportunities and I was quite timid so it was a lot of studying in my free time and continually putting myself out there when I thought I didn’t stand a chance (and often didn’t).
Have there been any low points in your career and how did you deal with those?
Energy is a high-risk, fast moving industry. The stakes can be pretty high, time and resource can be a challenge and sometimes it can be difficult to deal with.
While OVO is great and does not have any kind of blame culture it is in these moments that it’s really easy to blame yourself for something you could have missed or mishandled.
The way I’ve dealt with these moments are:
- Always remember the prime directive of retrospectives and apply it to everyone, including yourself:
“Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.”
–Norm Kerth, Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Review
- Often, the issues you experience are due to something you had no influence over, such as resource allocation, challenging time frames or just simple unknowns such as technical debt, etc.. No project is without risk and it’s not doing yourself any favours if you blame yourself for not being some kind of superwoman/man (see point 1).
- Be brave, keep putting yourself out there, learn from mistakes and keep the RAID log up to date!
What do you think are some of the particular challenges that a BA faces in today’s business world?
One of my challenges is trying not to take on too many roles in a project. The issue with having such a generalist role is that it normally means you are able to do some of the others roles in a project, particularly when you become an SME in the subject area.
Whilst having all these skills is great, it means you can sometimes end up spending vast quantities of time dissecting data or project managing, because it’s easier and quicker just to get the job done than to fight for resource.
This then sets a precedence for you to be doing work outside of your role which may set that expectation in future projects and ultimately leads you to being unsupported and losing out on the work you should actually be doing. Setting reasonable boundaries is tricky but absolutely necessary for yourself and the success of your projects.
Do you have any career aspirations for the future that you would like to share with us?
I achieved a lot in a really short space of time, and that wasn’t without it’s sacrifice. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone time and again to further my career, and although I’m really proud of what I’ve achieved, I think now is a great time to develop my strengths and lessen my weaknesses rather than to hit arbitrary goals.
Other than that I just want to keep learning! Whether that’s more about my current industry, a new way of working or a new workshop technique, there’s always more you can fill your brain with and it all counts towards making you a better BA.
What advice would you give to anyone who is early into their career as a Business Analyst or considering a move into the profession?
Learn as much as you can and keep putting yourself out there. Udemy do great courses, often heavily discounted and they’re mostly video based so you can watch them on the bus or train if you don’t have time in work. There’s loads of great blogs and books about self-development and careers so devour them.
What about your life outside of work, can you tell us a bit about that?
I still sing a little and I’ve started running a lot!
You can connect with Eleanor via LinkedIn