Let’s start by answering some fundamental questions about the concepts mentioned in the headline:
Q: What is remote collaboration?
A: Remote collaboration happens in a distributed environment. It consists of different workstations in multiple locations across different time zones.
Q: What is a collaboration technique?
A: It is a methodology of performing actions in tandem with someone to produce an output that helps achieve a goal or complete a task.
Q: What is the difference between communication and collaboration?
A: Collaboration can be effective only when the communication is productive. You can’t expect collaboration without communication. Communication facilitates the connection between different people with unique skills and knowledge. Collaboration is two or more people interacting together on the same project.
Q: What is a business analyst (BA)?
A: A business analyst (BA) is a professional who analyzes the needs, systems, processes, data, and environments involved in supporting the business.
Now let’s see how it all works together, and look at the remote collaboration techniques and tools used by business analysts, including stakeholder mapping, simulation, online whiteboards, project management tools, and more.
Business analysis in the times of remote collaboration
Within an enterprise, business analysis is a process of continuous improvement performed at strategic, tactical, and operational levels. During this enterprise evolution journey, a BA plays an important role to discover, synthesize, and analyze the information from various sources including tools, processes, documentation, and stakeholders. This information represents the stakeholders’ actual needs.
To meet these business needs successfully, the BA collaborates with colleagues and stakeholders to develop ideas within cross-functional teams. Often, this collaboration occurs through in-person interactions, with the BA visiting the customer’s site to hold workshops, engage in whiteboard sessions, etc.
Now, however, when business travel is constrained and stakeholders and cross-functional teams are in different locations, it becomes a challenge to elicit the required information. This can affect the delivery of business solutions.
To optimize efficiency in this situation, BAs collaborate using online collaboration applications such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Skype, GitHub/GitLab, Google Drive, SharePoint, and other third-party tools leveraging virtual meetings and workshops.
But that’s not all. While working remotely and/or in a distributed environment, a BA needs to apply the following techniques to communicate and collaborate with the team and stakeholders effectively.
The purpose: to identify and list the relevant team members and decision-makers; to analyse and understand their perspectives; and to connect them based on the objective, motives, and value proposition to get help in managing them during the project.
Based on identified artifacts, business analysts create stakeholder maps. Some examples include:
High Influence & Low Impact
- BA to ensure stakeholder needs are met
- BA to engage and consult them regularly to keep them satisfied
High Influence & High Impact
- Stakeholder is the key player in change effort
- BA to ensure they are in agreement with and support the change
- BA should focus on this group and engage them regularly
Low Influence & Low Impact
- BA to monitor and ensure stakeholders’ interest or influence do not change
- BA to keep them informed at all times
Low Influence & High Impact
- Stakeholders may feel anxious and concerned about lack of control
- BA to keep them informed
- BA to engage them to get their input
- BA to show interest in their needs
Stakeholder onion diagram
This diagram places stakeholders in four distinct groups:
- The project team and others directly involved in creating the solution
- End users, helpdesk, and others active in the post-release phase
- Sponsors, executives, SMEs, and others interacting with affected groups
- Customers, suppliers, regulators, and others having a significant impact on the solution
The RACI matrix maps stakeholders into four groups:
- Responsible (R): People who will perform the tasks
- Accountable (A): The decision maker in charge of a successful completion of the tasks
- Consulted (C): The persons or teams whose opinion and information about the tasks are required
- Informed (I): The persons or teams who must be notified of task statuses
Requirements definition with multiple aspects
The purpose: to provide a holistic view of the requirements through use cases and scenarios, flow diagrams, process modelling, wireframes/mock-ups, etc.
The BA communicates and collaborates with stakeholders (product owner, business team, solution architects, etc.) during the process of defining the requirements. This involves presentations, online workshops, brainstorming with the teams, meetings, and follow-ups on clarifications and open tasks.
- To structure your thoughts and provide a holistic view of the requirements, create a mind map or use the Ishikawa (aka Fishbone) diagram.
- To keep track of the notes and document important artifacts, use online documentation tools such as Office 365, Google Docs, Libre Office, JIRA, Confluence, Trello, etc., as required by the project and supported by the organization.
The simulation technique
The purpose: to understand how the system works, define the UI and data flows interaction using simulation.
UML and BPMN diagrams are widely used to specify the process flows and their results in particular cases.
Using this approach, the BA:
- Creates an activity diagram to describe what needs to happen in the system
- Organizes brainstorming results through feature mind maps
- Creates product roadmaps
- Illustrates how entities (people, objects, or concepts) relate to each other in the system using the Entity Relationship (ER) Diagram
Online whiteboard tools
The purpose: to enable teams to collaborate in real time and provide the feeling of being available in person.
Engaging the team digitally and making the collaboration simultaneous, online whiteboard tools are used by the BA and the team. There are many tools available online, both free and licensed. Some of the widely used tools are:
- Miro: to lead engaging workshops and meetings, sketch product design, brainstorm ideas
- Lucidspark: to host a dynamic brainstorming session
- Mural: to enable innovation by providing a platform for everything from product strategy and planning to immersive workshops using agile and design thinking methodologies
- Webex App/Microsoft Teams/Skype: to enable calling, meeting, and messaging across devices, locations, and organizations
- ClickUp: to have docs, reminders, goals, and calendars to plan, organize, and collaborate
- Microsoft Whiteboard: to provide digital canvas to present ideas and content
- Planning Poker: to enable simultaneous voting for an entire team
The purpose: to focus on the conversation, to supplement the notes, and to evaluate and refine the facilitation skills.
There are many recording tools available online. Pursuant to the corporate policy and project requirements, the BA uses the recording mechanism as and when required. Some of the widely used tools for this purpose are:
- Windows voice recorder
- Meeting recording available as a built-in feature in Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Google Meet, Slack, GoToMeeting, Webex, Skype for Business, BlueJeans, etc.
The purpose: to help foster collaboration and team spirit, engage everyone in a fun and safe scenario, explore and share the knowledge and experiences on a given topic, and identify hidden assumptions, risks, and solutions, which is difficult to do during normal interactions.
BAs can use collaborative games as an ice breaker during elicitation and collaboration. This encourages participants to collaborate to build a joint understanding of a problem or situation. Some examples are:
Each person/team builds a retail store box, associates a feature with that box (i.e. the features helping meet customer needs), and demonstrates the product box. Everyone votes for the best product box (excluding their own). The product box with the maximum votes wins.
Each player writes down features on sticky notes, then similar features are grouped together, and patterns in the data are discovered. It helps to understand where most people’s thinking is focused.
The BA splits the participants in groups, asks one group to talk about the problems and the other groups to listen, and documents their comments. As a result, everyone gets to participate in a rich and meaningful conversation.
This game helps to introduce people to the concepts of visual thinking, working memory, mental models and/or systems thinking. The BA asks people to illustrate how to make toast and then share the drawings/diagrams with each other and discuss the similarities and differences.
By creating an empathy map of what a person says, thinks, does, and feels, the BA gains a deeper understanding of stakeholders in the business ecosystem as well as the customers and their context.
The BA uses a set of directed games as a means of generating feedback about a product or service. This way, they gather data directly from customers or prospects while trying to get an answer to a specific research question.
Project management tools
The purpose: to ensure proper access to the project status (from inception to delivery) for the team and stakeholders
There are many project management tools used by BAs depending on the corporate policy and project requirements. Some of the examples are:
- Atlassian JIRA and Confluence used to plan, track, release and report on the project activities
- Wrike, which includes Gantt charts, Kanban boards, personalized dashboards, and custom request forms
- WorkflowMax, a cloud based workflow and job management software
- Microsoft WBS
The above-mentioned techniques not only help BAs to collaborate and manage the activity in a distributed environment, but will also aid all team members and stakeholders in project management and delivery.
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