Why ‘Soft Skills’ Are Key for Innovation

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For business analysts, solving clients’ thorniest issues isn’t a purely left-brain exercise; it also requires “soft skills” such as creativity, holistic decision-making, and a willingness to learn. Let’s break down the importance of each.

Creativity

In the world of business analysis, creative thinking involves more than just thinking “outside the box,” as the cliché goes. Analysts should never take on the entire burden of creating a solution; instead, they should use enterprise analysis, interviews, and other tools to help colleagues and stakeholders come up with new ideas. Creative thinking in the business-analysis world means helping others to stretch beyond their normal boundaries of thought.

A brainstorming session often helps spur creative thinking. I personally find “mind mapping” sessions extremely helpful whenever I need to organize disconnected thoughts together in a way that makes sense. (You can Google “Mind Map” to find more information, including templates to use.) Mind mapping not only allows you to document brainstorming sessions and make connections between data-points, but also offers insights into how to apply that data to actual solutions.

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When do you succeed at creative thinking? When your ideas get buy-in from stakeholders—which is something most easily done when their own ideas are fully considered.

Decision-Making

Effective decision-making cuts emotions out of the equation. To analyze the benefits of your choices, consider using a flowchart (I prefer swimlane diagrams) to trace each proposed solution’s pathway from its origin to completion/deployment. Share these flowcharts with all stakeholders, and confirm (or at least identify) any assumptions so the charts have greater validity; then ask those stakeholders if those prospective completions are where they really want to go. They’re ultimately in the best position to know what they want (and what’s best) for the business.

Learning

“Learning” means an altogether different thing in business analysis; good learning skills involve not only absorbing new information quickly, but effectively applying that information in innovative ways.

When faced with any new process, system, business, or business application, seasoned analysts develop the habit of engaging the five W’s (Who, What, When, Where, and Why) as they gather information. Keep asking the last question—Why—until you find the real need for the system or application.

Problem-Solving

Here’s where your discovery skills come into play. For an analyst, successful problem-solving means not only examining the information that everyone gives you, but really digging for the underlying problem and alternative solutions. The process should give all stakeholders the opportunity to voice their objectives and concerns (even if only in meeting notes).

Before you can hope to solve a problem, you must make sure to define it clearly, and that everyone can agree on that definition. Share your research to ensure that all stakeholders understand the true nature of the problem. (Stakeholders sometimes think they know the scope of the problem, when in fact they do not.)

Once the problem’s understood, solicit and brainstorm possible solutions. How do you know when you’re solving problems well? When your soft and hard skills combine to produce solutions that make everybody happy. Honing these soft skills—and choosing and implementing the right accompanying tools and techniques—can help you negotiate roadblocks and bottlenecks to your project.

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