Don’t be afraid to ask a million questions and don’t be afraid to say, I don’t know

In this interview we talk to Kathy Berkidge who tells us about her career as a Business Analyst and her exciting move into coaching and training.

You can connect with Kathy via LinkedIn here

Can you give a brief summary of your career path to date?

Way back in 1988, I began my career as a programmer at Coles/Myer Australia. My very first project was to implement ‘change rounding’ on the cash registers when one and two cent coins were withdrawn from Australian currency. Over time, my role changed to analyst / programmer, where I performed more requirements work, and less programming. But I remained very much in a technical role.

Over the 1990s, I worked for a couple of companies that developed their own store systems and began to perform much more consulting, working directly with clients to implement systems, identify configuration changes, and often elicit new requirements.

In the 2000’s, after working on some Y2K projects, I became a project manager for a large call centre, but quickly realised that I preferred working with stakeholders’ needs rather than the coordination of resources.  I moved on into a true BA role in the telco industry and moved away from technical development. In 2005, I participated in my first agile project, which was very successful and satisfying, and continued to work in agile ways pretty much from that time on.

For a few years in the 2010s, I worked for a state government department as a senior BA built a team of BAs, helped raise the profile of business analysis in the organisation and introduce agile, which was hugely rewarding. I returned to the telco world acting as a combination BA / Scrum Master, using agile methods. That role included delivering training to all our new clients and users, as well as writing user manuals and developing training materials. I enjoyed it so much I began a qualified teacher.

After I became qualified, I took on some ad hoc contracts delivering BA and agile training, while still working as an agile BA. By around 2015, the demand for BA and agile training was so high, I found myself delivering training as my primary role, so started my own consulting business.

For the last few years, I have been delivering BA and agile training, coaching and consulting, and have worked on a few small projects as an agile BA as well as some ‘Scrum master’ contracts. Today, I continue to deliver Agile and BA training and consulting, as well as talk at conferences. I also deliver ‘Mindful BA’ and ‘Mindful Agile’ workshops.

In your view what is the core role of a Business Analyst within an organisation?

Ultimately, to deliver value – the business and stakeholder outcomes necessary to be successful in this complex, volatile world.

To do this, we must bring together all required stakeholders and facilitate the conversations needed to discover the right solutions to deliver maximum value.

What would you say is your proudest achievement so far?

Wow – there have been so many over the years…

My most recent would have to be coaching an agile BA and her team to deliver a customer portal that the stakeholders loved. Initially there was a huge lack of trust between the business and the team due to a previous unsuccessful project. The BA had been criticised by both stakeholders and team members for not capturing the right requirements so she had lost her confidence.  We worked together to ensure previous issues weren’t repeated and ensured there was a collaborative effort in requirements discovery. It was so rewarding to see the BAs confidence return and the team deliver every sprint.

Have there been any low points in your career and how did you deal with those?

Oh boy, have there ever.

The worst was when I was a PM. I was struggling with the role and had large difficulties dealing with stakeholders. I became stressed, unhappy, uncaring and worse, difficult to work with. I knew I was in the wrong position, but the business was determined that I perform the role of a PM, not BA.

After a particularly bad day I went home and by chance saw a mindfulness workshop. I went and learned mindful techniques that helped me cope. Moreover they helped me change my attitude and work more productively in the role that I didn’t enjoy. It reduced my stress and increased my ability to work effectively with my stakeholders despite being unsatisfied.

From there I met with my manager to discuss how to move me to a BA role from a position of openness and calmness.  Unfortunately the opportunity to be a BA didn’t present itself, so I gave up that high paying, high profile position to move to another company as a BA where I halved my income but increased my happiness.

What do you think are some of the particular challenges that a BA faces in today’s business world?

Dealing with rapid change is a huge challenge – for stakeholders and BAs alike. Keeping up with technology, business needs, customer demands while delivering in a team requires balance and organisation.

One of the greatest challenges BAs also face is to help organisations truly collaborate. So often, I see teams and organisations who want to work agile, but then continue to work in silos; the stakeholders want to tell the BA their requirements and ‘walk away’. The delivery team want the BA to ‘spoon feed’ them the detailed requirements and not participate in story workshops. So, the BA becomes a liaison between the two groups. BAs need to bring them together to share ideas, brainstorm and reach a shared understanding.

Do you have any career aspirations for the future that you would like to share with us?

I hope to continue coaching and teaching until I retire. But along the way, I do hope to publish a book or two on mindful agile and mindful business analysis, as well as finish my novel based on my mum’s life.

What advice would you give to anyone who is early into their career as a Business Analyst or considering a move into the profession?

Stay curious. Ask. Investigate. Ask some more. Don’t be afraid to ask a million questions.  And don’t be afraid to say, ‘I don’t know’.

What about your life outside of work, can you tell us a bit about that?

I am incredibly fortunate to live on the beach in a bay-side suburb in Melbourne. I have an adult daughter who is my best friend, a lovely partner who is my greatest support, two big fluff-ball cats, three cockatiel birds and two fish tanks. Though I have a tiny garden, I grow 7 types of chillies and have a good collection of geraniums.

I walk between 5 and 10 kilometres every day and enjoy being outdoors and bush walking whenever I can. Though I travel a lot for work, I also love to travel for pleasure, trying to go somewhere new every year.  My favourite pastime is cooking – always trying out a new recipe. I am a strict vegetarian and a long time, passionate mindfulness practitioner.

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