In the latest in our series of interviews I talk to Business Analyst Yvette Kempson who tells us about her career path into Business Analysis, the personal challenges along the way and gives great advice for those starting out in the profession.
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Can you give a brief summary of your career path to date?
I was basically born a BA I just didn’t know it till a lot later on in life!
I started my ‘career’ as a farm hand at the age of 13 and was always problem solving and finding efficiencies in everything that I did. As my confidence grew, I then started making suggestions and recommendations when I saw I could help improve the situation for others.
I was, and continue to be, the first person to stick my hand up to try something new and I LOVE to work. While I was at school I did work experience in a hairdressers, Frankfurt international airport in the animal quarantine department and I also did Taxidermy at Wollaton hall as part of my Duke of Edinburgh award an option that had not previously been chosen for the past 15 years and was soon to come off the options list.
I then went to Nottingham Trent University and studied applied animal science specialising in Agriculture as this was where my interest was. Learning about Animal behaviour, Husbandry, Ecology and the ever-changing environments fascinated me. During this time, I also worked in an old people’s home where I started as a part time cleaner but soon became a full-time care assistant while continuing my studies.
After I graduated I decided to leave the UK and went on to live in Florida, USA where I spent two years specialising in Dairy Heard management learning about all aspects of the industry including Genetics, vaccines, artificial insemination, rearing, and milking but also nutrition and general farm management learning how all the pieces fit together and the impact each individual area had on the bigger picture.
I then came back to the UK and wanted a 5 day a week 9-5 job. Although I loved the agricultural life the 24/7 4am starts were having an impact on my social life and my relationships with friends and family. I then went to work in an agricultural grain merchant as an administration assistant keying in grain weight bridge tickets. This was great as I realised, I loved admin and soon started improving efficiencies in the way the team processed and queried information.
I also concentrated at looking for discrepancies and took it upon myself to follow these through to resolve them as this was a problem area for the business. I soon became responsible for reconciling the stocks each month within their numerous storage locations. Rather than trying to resolve the stock shortages each month I decided to take the time to uncover the core route of the problem. Finding out why this recurring issue was happening. Off my own back I started an investigation and went out to visit each of the storage locations that had discrepancies and reviewed the end to end process to identify any areas that might be causing this issue.
Some of the issues I uncovered as quick wins where weighbridge stampers not being maintained which made 8’s look like 0’s, drivers swapping trailers and not amending paperwork, wastage not being recorded accurately and so much more. Not only did I uncover these issues I also helped instigate measures to resolve them. Speaking to the end users and management teams and devising a way that worked for all parties involved. I quickly realised that the end users are the ones that have the biggest impact therefore there was no point designing a form so complicated and full of info that the drivers or weighbridge personnel did not have the time or correct training to fill it in. So focusing on quick and simple solutions that achieved the desired outcome such as simplified forms, training programs for new starters, and also ‘how to’ guides for equipment maintenance. This is also where I was working closely with the IT team to make system and process developments to help improve efficiencies.
Soon the stock reconciliation that used to be never ending with 100’s of tons being signed off as unaccounted for was soon reconciled down to the nearest ton! Something I am massively proud of! I then went on to do the same for the fertiliser department and also seed deliveries before moving onto a different company to essentially start again and do the same for them.
I then took a year out using my previous nursing home skills to help support my mother who had taken on the responsibility of taking care of my Nana who had severe Alzheimer’s.
I later continued my career in the agricultural industry working within the free-range egg industry and it was here that my job role of BA was formally identified. I was placed within the IT department reporting directly to the CEO. I was responsible for many things during my time there but again as things got sorted, I needed new and fresh challenges to keep me engaged.
After 5 years, I decided I wanted to try something different so I moved to a uniform production business where again I learnt about the end to end production of manufacturing and distribution using admin processes, it systems and an external bespoke website. Finally I moved to where I am now at oe:gen which is a salesforce implementation partner specialising in community websites, amongst other, things based in my home town Nottingham.
In your view what is the core role of a Business Analyst within an organisation?
“Helping the business achieve success” I’m not a huge fan of silos and titles so whether you’re a Business Analyst, CEO or a casual weekend farm worker, we are all equal, just with different priorities and we all have the same goal for the business to be successful as this then funds and supports all other areas of our lives.
Whether that’s helping to empty the bins, spending the time to investigate and implement change to help improve the working life of others, or mapping out highly complex process maps, whatever needs to be done to help support and move the business forward … just roll up your sleeves and get stuck in!!
What would you say is your proudest achievement so far?
The stock reconciliation thing was pretty epic for me as this was my first major achievement in a huge established company and it made such a huge difference to a lot of people.
However, I would say that I’m most proud of making so many friends along the way. Moving around a lot not only up and down the country but also within the various industries has enabled me to meet so many lovely people and by taking the time to sit and understand all the needs and requirements, rather than just solving a problem offered to me, has enabled me to make better suggestions and improve the bigger picture for a lot more people than possibly intended.
Any of you reading this that know me, will know I love talking to people and I love helping others and I can get very animated and passionate about doing it so the BA role has been a good one for me to do this.
Have there been any low points in your career and how did you deal with those?
There are always low points and struggles with this job role. I could recall countless ‘I told you so moments’ and the frustrations you get when you see a project landing that should never EVER have taken off … but the one I want to share is the one of not being allowed to be myself and at times not being taken seriously.
In my early days I was working in a very male dominated ‘grandfather’ industry. I had to work really hard to fight my corner and prove myself. Due to my sex and age, my ideas and suggestions were often overlooked or shunned. I had to stand my ground and learn to speak up and be firm quite early on. This was ultimately great for my confidence, but it took real determination and grit at times. This has also made me a very honest and expressive person and possibly not as fluffy around the edges as needed at times.
I’m also a rebel at heart and nowadays with the culture changing for the better people can more freely express themselves in whatever way they choose which is a great move.
I can often be seen with pink, blue or purple hair riding into work on my Yamaha MT09 motorbike, wearing clothes that show off my tattoos, and any excuse for fancy dress I’m first in the queue…
This has not always been the case and I clearly remember going out to buy ‘work clothes’ or attending a meeting being asked to cover up my tattoos to help support the ‘business image’. The business image should not be based on appearance but on what you produce and how you interact with others. Ultimately by restricting my individuality this only made me feel uncomfortable and miserable which is not a productive state of mind. I am very fortunate that the culture and attitudes are changing for the better and more and more people can express themselves with the view that it’s a much happier and diverse environment.
(any readers out there feel free to call me if you have a need for fancy dress… I’m AWLAYS available for that!)
What do you think are some of the particular challenges that a BA faces in today’s business world?
Wow were to start… I’ll focus on this one and leave others for another day but the one I see at the moment is the increased speed and quality of delivery.
I feel that the days of the waterfall and Prince 2 methodologies are numbered (thank goodness!) however where the BA used to have months and months to define and fully investigate the whole end to end solution this no longer fits in today’s fast paced society.
I’m a huge fan of Agile, design thinking, Lean UX and some of it is very new to me, however, I also love and have the need to know as much information about the project as possible in order to have the full breadth of knowledge to come up or support the right solution.
In my opinion it is never too early to get a BA and the wider development team involved. I know this is not always possible with resource restrictions but the more knowledge that is shared early on the quicker the team can hit the ground running. If you’re sat thinking about a project …get the BA involved, if you’re talking to investors about a project get the BA involved, If you are having a meeting with your team about possible changes … get the BA involved. Many people think we suffer from ‘the God complex’ and that we want to get involved in everything, this simply is not true and the less non-productive meetings I can go to, the better, but if you want the right solution then you need to give us the right level of information at the right time.
Do you have any career aspirations for the future that you would like to share with us?
As I started off saying I was born a BA or should I say I was born with the requirements that make up a BA role. Over the years I have been a farm worker, carer of the elderly, taxidermist, waitress, administrator, project manager, tester, systems analyst, process advisor, stock controller, admin manager, policies and procedures manager, BA and so much more… I have sat on various boards and I have given various talks and I have loved (near enough) every widely varied minute of it.
The siloed way of working is breaking down and a more collaborative approach is becoming more common place and I just cannot grab it fast enough.
I became a BA purely on the basis that the job description fit my existing skill set. However, the expectations of a BA role itself is changing, and there are so many different variations of BA it’s difficult to pin down what the ‘BA’ role is.
Ultimately, I love to help others and where possible share my knowledge, my career path has never been the focal point for me rather a journey with an unknown horizon. Whether I continue to be a BA or diversify into other roles such as Service design/UX/UI or fall into a box with no known title, who knows, as long as I’m happy, engaged, appreciated and ultimately making a difference to others I’ll continue to move forward.
What advice would you give to anyone who is early into their career as a Business Analyst or considering a move into the profession?
- Roll your sleeves up, get stuck in and go the extra mile regardless of task – you will be amazed how much you will learn just through taking this approach.
- Take the time to really listen – it is amazing how much you can pick up in a simple and sometimes casual conversation that could lead to big ideas.
- Learn the tools – some of them you may never use after the training day, but some are invaluable in keeping your thoughts and projects in line and have consistency throughout the project.
- Apply good admin … seriously the HOURS if not DAYS I have spent down administration rabbit holes trying to find a PDF document that’s actually still in someone’s outlook inbox….AHHHHHHH!!!! If there is a filing system in place, follow it if there isn’t put one in place. Speak to an administrator if in doubt. Good admin practice saves so much time for everyone!
- Help others – If you see or feel someone is struggling go help them – we have all been there and we all need support at some point. Even if it is dropping a hot tea on someone’s desk while they are taking that awkward Phone call … what goes around comes around and one day they may return the favour.
What about your life outside of work, can you tell us a bit about that?
At home I suffer from never being able to just sit still! My Grandad used to say I had a ‘round bottom’ this did not refer to my love of sausage rolls but the fact I was always on the go. I live with my husband, 5-year-old son and 10-month-old puppy! Me and my son are always into mischief whether assembling a sofa fort or surprise Nerf attacks on his Daddy, we have a lot of fun. I also like to keep fit when I can so run with the dog or doing obstacle races with friends on occasion.
I am also quite crafty so enjoy sewing and making things. most commonly Crotchet. At the end of each night I’m usually found on the sofa making something for someone!