You’d be hard-pressed to find Dana McInnis without her personal stash of dry erase markers and whiteboard-sized post-it notes in hand when conducting a process analysis or requirements session. That’s because Dana, Trilix’s Principal of Business Solutions, loves helping teams understand how to overcome their current state challenges to reach a more utopic, beneficial end state. (The post-it notes provide the room with visual cues, while Mr. Sketch fruit-scented markers help provide some entertaining aromatherapy.)
With more than 20 years of experience as a business and systems analyst, technical writer and trainer, Dana ensures that all Trilix client engagements begin by focusing on “true” business needs and getting to the core of business problems quickly. We sat down with the Six Sigma Greenbelt to get her thoughts on what makes for a great business analyst and what you’ll find her working on in her spare time…
You have a rich background in the business analysis (BA) space. What made you want to go into this profession?
I am about to sound really old, but when I started in IT, there was really no such position as a business analyst working with a software development team. It was the late 1990s, just before the tech boom hit, and I was living in Northern Virginia, which had become a hub for start-ups. Developers and project managers would collectively fill the role of the analyst on teams, and not necessarily well. After working for a bit as a webmaster (now, that really is dating myself) for a non-profit, I started on a software team as a technical writer, documenting user and technical specifications, and as time progressed, there became a need to better understand and document the business requirements. Somewhat organically, I filled the role of BA because that’s what the teams I was working with needed. However, I quickly found that the role complemented my skill sets: I got to combine my creative writing skills (because good requirements really are creative writing) and my interest in psychology.
What is the difference between a business analyst and a project manager?
There is a huge difference between the defined roles of a BA and a PM, but when the roles work together, that gives the business team the best possible experience. The BA is “boots on the ground,” understanding what the business needs, challenges and opportunities are, raising issues to the PM as needed. The PM keeps the project on the rails, making sure the team is making their milestones and driving the overall project team and performance. It’s possible to have one person serve as both, but it is tricky to do it well.
How would you describe your unique approach to BA? What do you believe to be the most important characteristics of a strong BA?
As a BA, you need to be a great communicator and an active listener. You also need to help people get to the true root of their problems, and not everyone is always ready to do that, even in a business setting. A good BA, in my opinion, is not afraid to ask what others may perceive to be dumb questions. It takes a certain level of self-confidence to ask some rudimentary questions and not feel like you need to know everything about the subject. I have learned how to be a BA through a lot of falling down and learning from it. If my team doesn’t understand the business requirements driving their development tasks, I have not done my job.
Describe a great day of work—what does it look like? What type of work are you completing, etc.?
A great day at work involves working with a client to uncover their top challenges and working through what the future could look like. I love to help solve problems and guide teams through the process of transformation. I also love to empower teams to be the visionaries behind the changes. I’m really just there to facilitate and solicit their ideas.
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What role does analysis play in the development process and why must it never be overlooked?
At Trilix, while the BA leads process analysis and user adoption, we also have the BA serve as the product owner on the SCRUM team. That provides continuity from business requirements (e.g., what the application needs to do) to the functional requirements (e.g., how the application should work) and helps ensure the business team gets what they need in a prioritized way. However, in any project, the BA should be involved from inception to delivery. Business requirements can change, and the BA role is the best role to manage those ongoing changes, while also making sure the end product meets the business needs.
Related Reading: The Importance of Business Analysis in Any Software-related Project
As one of the founding members of Trilix, what made you say “yes” to this opportunity?
As a BA who for many years felt that I was swimming upstream and working for companies and teams that led with technology, the opportunity to help create a business outcomes-focused company wherein a business analyst’s role is a primary role presented an amazing opportunity. The timing was also right: companies are learning from their mistakes and now realizing that they need to fix their processes before they even start to discuss introducing new technology. Plus, every member of the Trilix team—including each developer—believes that the business needs are at the core of any technology project. Having worked with members of the team previously, I knew helping to build Trilix was the right decision for me.
Switching gears…while you were working on your Masters in Creative Writing and working full-time in application development, you also taught college English part-time. What lessons in the classroom have you been able to carry into your line of work now?
I think I often run my BA interviews and groups sessions as I would a classroom. I try to make it as engaging as possible. Someone is always at the whiteboard, whether it be me or the client, and I spend most of my facilitation time on my feet. I also try to bring candy. That gets attention, whether it be in a classroom or a requirements session!
What hobby/talent do you have that likely does not find its way into the Trilix world? OR what do you do in your spare time?
When I moved to Providence about 15 years ago, I joined the then-knitting craze. I have been knitting and weaving ever since. I always have multiple projects going, and I like to knit for charity, when I can. I also love gardening and cooking. My favorite meal: one that includes fresh vegetables from my garden!
Coke or Pepsi and why?
Coke, for sure. Pepsi is too sweet.
What is your favorite word?
Get to know some other Trilix team members!
- Senior Software Developer Travis Eland
- Randall Jackvony, Principal, Technology and Client Services
- Lead Architect Scott Cornell