10 Minutes with… Jamie Lynn Cooke

This week, we meet Jamie Lynn Cooke, who is the author of a number of books on Agile methods applied to business and project management. Most recently, she wrote The Power of the Agile Business Analyst.

ITGP:  Hello Jamie. Thanks for coming to speak to us today. Please tell us a bit about your book – why did you want to write it?

JLC: I wrote The Power of the Agile Business Analyst because I wanted to show that including a dedicated business analyst on an Agile team is a remarkable way to increase the quality, relevance, and user acceptance of delivered solutions. It can also substantially reduce the stress levels for the developers. This is especially true for projects where the Product Owner has limited availability to work hands-on with the Agile team during the development process, due to their other work and personal commitments.

ITGP: What in particular is it about adding a business analyst that makes such a difference?

JLC:  In my experience, Agile business analysts not only provide development teams with an ongoing source of business knowledge, they can equally provide valuable assistance to time-crunched Product Owners in gathering, analyzing, valuating and prioritizing the functionality that is required for the solution.   Also, as many business analysts are experienced testers, technical writers and trainers, this gives the Agile team greater flexibility in allocating the work that is required to deliver the complete solution.

ITGP: Why do you think more people haven’t realised the benefits?

JLC: I don’t know. It is surprising to me that more Agile teams are not aware of how much value a dedicated business analyst can bring to their projects. It’s partly why I wrote the book – to make the approach more widely known.

ITGP: Did you discover anything about yourself while writing your book?

JLC: I’m not sure that I realised exactly how passionate I was about this topic until I tried to put my experience into words.  Every time that I started to write about a benefit that an Agile business analyst brings to the team, I found myself getting emotionally charged, and it was evident in the wording that I was using.

ITGP: Can you give an example?

JLC: As one example, I wanted to write that it is perfectly insane to think that one business user can effectively represent the interests of all of the areas of the organisation, but I knew that I needed to step away from the emotion, and tone down the language, in order to make a compelling business case.  In this instance, I replaced the emotionally charged words with objective statements of fact, saying that – the Agile business analyst can help to ensure that the needs of all relevant stakeholders are incorporated into the solution.

ITGP:  What aspects of your work do you particularly enjoy?

JLC:  The best part of my work is seeing business users embracing the solutions that we deliver to them.  We do a lot of “train the trainer” implementations, where “super users” are responsible for teaching other staff members how to use the systems we build.  There is nothing more satisfying than seeing a super user show another staff member how the solution helps them to do their work more efficiently, get more dependable results, or meet their deadlines with less pressure.

ITGP: It’s certainly satisfying to pass on knowledge and see the results.

JLC: Absolutely! When the people who use these solutions on a daily basis become enthusiastic champions themselves, we know that we have delivered genuine business value to the organisation.

ITGP: Where did you begin your career in IT?

JLC: I started my IT career over 20 years ago, working as a Quality Assurance Engineer on UNIX systems – a fancy term for software tester!  Testing these systems gave me a lot of insight into what does (and does not) meet the needs of business users, which prompted me to switch career paths to become a business analyst and project manager.

ITGP: What switched you onto the Agile methodologies?

JLC: Over the years, I have seen too many waterfall projects get stuck in delivering outdated requirements, building low priority “bells and whistles” features instead of the most critical capabilities required by the business, and testing too late in the process to make substantial fixes before the system was implemented. About 10 years ago, the team that I was working with began using Agile methods to focus everyone on consistently delivering high quality, high business value, production-ready solutions.  Once I saw the power and effectiveness of Agile approaches, it became clear to me that this was where the IT industry needed to be headed.  Since that time, I have written four books to guide and inspire organisations to use Agile approaches for both their IT and non-IT projects.

ITGP: If you could go back in time and meet yourself when you were at school, what advice would you give?

JLC: I would tell myself that everything in life can be an opportunity, if you want it to be. No matter what job you are doing I would give this advice:

  • if you focus on doing your work as effectively and efficiently as possible, people will respect your dedication
  • if you keep your promises, people will know they can depend on you
  • if you embrace challenges and go outside of your comfort zone, people will admire your tenacity
  • if you ask questions instead of acting on partial knowledge, people will trust your advice.

Even when I was washing dishes, sweeping floors, and doing data entry work to pay my tuition, my mind was always focused on how the job could be done more effectively. My roles and responsibilities may have changed over the past 20 years, but the underlying work ethic is the same.  Be dedicated, be dependable, be tenacious, be trustworthy, and the opportunities will follow.

ITGP:  Great advice!  Thanks very much for your time today.

JLC:  Thanks for asking me.

All of Jamie Lynn’s books, including The Power of the Agile Business Analyst  are available from the ITG website. She is also the author of: Everything you Want to Know about Agile as well as Agile Productivity Unleashed, Second Edition, and the pocket guideAgile: An executive guide