Starting a new project can be difficult, especially if the project is for a new company or a new business domain. These six tips will help you hit the ground running.
These tips were written for Business Analysts starting on a new project, but team members in any role can benefit from them. So let's dive into how you can make the process of starting a new project easier for you.
1. Study the Subject
Before the new assignment starts, do a little research about the project domain. This will really help you understand the context in which you'll be operating.
- What does the company or the department do? What is the business domain?
- Do they produce their own product or use vendors?
- Who are the users and stakeholders?
- What are the systems they use on a daily basis?
If you are already familiar with the domain, great. If not, spend at least a few hours researching and learning business vocabulary. This will really help you to absorb new information faster during your first weeks on the project.
As we learn new concepts, our brains form new neural pathways. When we come across a completely unknown word or concept, neurons outside of those pathways start to fire. If there is something from our experience that we can make a parallel with, new pathways will form, connecting those parts of the brain.
When there are too many unknown words, or a concept is too complex, neurons fall asleep. That’s why studying can be boring--there's simply too much new information at once.
If you are lucky, you will be invited to a lot of meetings at the very beginning of your new project. In these meetings, you'll hear a lot of new information, and you'll be able to learn and absorb a lot more if you're already familiar with the business context.
If you start working for a new company, it is also very good to learn in advance as much of their terminology as possible, as this will help you get the most out of these initial meetings.
2. Get to Know Key People
Find out who your users and stakeholders are. You will need users to ask about their "as is" process, and you'll need stakeholders to get requirements and sign off on the implementation of new features.
It’s good to find a "go to" person who can direct you to subject matter experts who can help you find answers.
3. Take Notes
Always take notes, and be sure to write down your questions: unknown words, who is who, and "parking lot questions." Then make a note when your question gets answered. Don’t rely on your memory. The first weeks or even months on a new project can be overwhelming, and you can’t possibly memorize every acronym and every new term that comes your way.
When there are too many notes, you can use color codes: green = something that's completely clear, yellow = still have questions, red = need clarification, very unclear.
Or you can color-code by department/process within a project.
4. Ask Questions
Make sure your questions get answered. If you think your question could be about the business domain or general terminology (accounting, legal, etc.), Google it first.
Take some time before a new meeting to review your notes from the previous one. Some of the questions you have on your list might get answered as you learn more about the project.
5. Become an SME
Understanding your client's business well will help you immensely. Are they a production or a service company? What products or services do they produce? Who are their customers? Are there any legal or financial restrictions?
Every new concept can be quite complex, even if it’s not very complicated. This is especially true when there is no project documentation. If you are a Business Analyst starting on a new project, then there is a good chance that this is why you were hired - to create this documentation. All the information exists in people’s heads, or in email chains, Jira tasks, etc.. You need to take this information, analyze and document it, or understand and use it to create new project documentation. This is often complicated by the fact that the information is coming to you from various sources, presented in different ways. For example, each department might use different terminology when talking about the same things.
To make your job of sorting information easier, start by dividing a concept into smaller pieces. If needed, divide each piece into smaller pieces that you can comprehend.
6. Put the Puzzle Together
Finally, if everything seems to be too complicated, don't worry. Remember that this feeling is common for people starting new projects, and some projects take longer than others to get up to speed on.
This process is like putting together a multi-piece puzzle where you only get a few pieces at a time and you don't have a picture to follow. You can’t lay all the pieces together at once; you uncover them one by one.
Just pick one concept or process. You might pick the one that seems to be a central piece, or the one that is most urgent, or simply the one you understand the most. Then dig for information: search the Internet, company documentation, and your notes until you feel that you understand at least 90% of it. Then you can move to the next piece. If it's a piece in a related area, you will find a lot of patterns and terms you’ve already learned. After this, the speed of learning will increase exponentially.
Vlada Pobedrya is a Business Analyst at Avenue Code with 10+ years of experience. She started her career in IT as a QA, then transitioned into Business Analysis, where she has worked on multiple complex projects using both Agile and Waterfall development models. She has trained junior QAs and Business Analysts. Vlada is passionate about learning, new technologies, and skills. She loves hiking, rock climbing, and scuba diving.