We live in a world of endless possibilities and there is no need to stay in jobs you hate anymore. You can change your stars in a million ways. The way that worked for me was to embrace a single platform, SharePoint, (learn how I did that).
Being the brilliant business tool that it is, means that gazillions of PA’s around the world are changing their careers too. Learning the technology is one thing, but the important part is understanding how to apply the tools available to the business world. You need to understand how the business works first, otherwise simply trying to learn a new technology for the sake of it, is going to be a constant uphill battle. You should only be trying to solve a business challenge.
Learning to think like a business analyst doesn’t come naturally to everybody. It’s a huge mindset change from simply performing tasks because you’ve been told to do so, to properly understanding the business for the purposes of improving it.
When learning the tech, newbies in this space tend to get stuck by trying to go straight to solution mode without understanding the problem to its full extent first. You won’t succeed like that and you’ll end up rebuilding a dozen times. This is what you need to do.
The first step is to figure out what the problem is. What’s not working, where are things bottlenecking, what’s hugely admin intensive, why, what is the result of these inefficiencies, why are they looking for a solution, what have they tried before. Be like a 5 year old, “why, why, why, why, why”. You won’t always get it right in the beginning, but you have to start somewhere. Here’s a cheatsheet to get you started.
Once you’ve fully defined the problem, you can give the potential solution a name. Here’s an example.
I own a dressmaking business. The problem is that my business grew too fast. I hired 10 dressmakers but we were very disorganised, so clients were getting wrong sized outfits made, outfits were being duplicated, material was being wasted, clients are getting mad and I started losing money. I can’t keep track of the orders anymore, there are bits of paper everywhere and the emails have gone mad.
- That’s the problem statement. What we need to solve this, is an Order Management System – the solution name.
- Now we can change gears from understanding mode, to solutions mode.
- The first question to ask is, can we do this better? Of course yes.
- The next question to ask is, is SharePoint the right technology for this problem? In this case, yes.
- Right, now how would we do that.
Well we’d need a couple of custom lists with some permissions management for this. A client database with their contact details, measurements and style preferences. There would also be a database of dressmakers with their core strengths, maybe one is good at pants suits and one is better at skirts for example, as well as any other pertinent info you’d need about them. Then you’d need a third list for orders that looks up into the client and dressmakers database. In the orders list you’d specify the exact order, date placed, due date, client, dressmaker assigned, status of order and percentage complete. You would then capture all new orders on that system which would send an alert to the dressmaker to tell them to process that order. They make the outfits and update the statuses on SharePoint as they go along. Once the outfit is complete and they mark it as such, the business owner gets an alert and they can contact the client for a fitting. That’s the core requirement addressed. Then you can scale out slowly to the rest of the admin tasks in the business.
See how that works? Let’s try a different one.
We have 5 food trucks that are only utilized 30% of the time. They cost us a lot of money as they are fully kitted out. We would like to offer them to other business units to use so we can get return on investment on them, but we need to manage the vehicles with all their licensing and insurance details, keep stock of what’s inside when the vehicle was taken and brought back; get drivers’ license details, let people see what vehicles are available when, book them out, sign for them and do it all in reverse when bringing them back. We also want to know when vehicles licenses expire. Right now this is all done via email and telephonically and we can’t keep track.
- That’s the problem statement. They need a Fleet Management System – the solution name.
- Can we do this better? You bet!
- Is SharePoint the right platform for this? Absolutely.
- How do we do it?
Again, custom list functionality with unique permissions kicks in. One database to manage all the vehicle details, license and registration numbers, chassis, VIN numbers etc. Another list for people to book the vehicles and insert their drivers license details and complete the checklist that looks up into the vehicle database. A colour coded calendar view to display what vehicles are out when. A workflow on the license expiry dates to alert system owners that it’s expiring soon.
Why don’t you try one? Just keep practicing this till you get it. Every time you are at an event, talk to people about what they do and what they are struggling with at work. In your head, see if you can unravel it and come up with a solution. SharePoint can do so much, but the better listener you are, the better consultant you will be.