How to jump into a new domain or project and get started quickly

A few years back, I started a new role just before Christmas.

In the first week my Project Manager told me I had to start workshops immediately – that week! Two of our key decision makers were taking leave and will not be available until mid-January. Waiting more than a whole month was not an option so I had to get started.

It was the worst possible time to commence something new. People were frantically trying to meet deadlines before the Christmas shutdown, and nerves were frayed with many competing demands on time and resources.

I sat at my desk with my head between my hands. I had a headache.

I didn’t know a thing about the problem space yet. This was the real issue. I felt stuck and overwhelmed. It was a new project in a completely new domain with new stakeholders.

Will they accept me? Will they cooperate? Will I even understand them?

I reminded myself that I never ever wanted a repeat of the horror meeting of 2003.

You have to get through this, I thought, so what are you going to do?

And that’s when my thinking shifted from worry to problem solving mode. Phew!

I realised that there were things that I could do. After all, I controlled how the workshops were going to be run, and I could design them in a way that would serve my agenda too.

So I did just that, and I discovered that you can do the same for any given context.

Here are some questions that will help you jump into a new domain or project so you can start actively contributing as quickly as possible.

  • What is the problem being solved?
  • What do I already know about the problem space?
  • What don’t I know?
  • What information is available?
  • How do I get that information?
  • Can I get that information from stakeholders or other sources?
  • Who do I need to talk to?
  • What are their organisational and project roles?
  • What information do I need from them?
  • What questions do I need to ask?
  • How am I going to ask them? What format?
  • What am I going to do with the information?
  • How am I going to analyse it?
  • What other information will help the analysis?
  • What are the deliverables that I’m producing?
  • When do I need to deliver them?

The answers to these questions give you the information you need to understand the domain, plan your next steps and inform your deliverables. The more questions you ask, the better informed you are.

You can use these questions to orient yourself to an immediate problem – such as my pending workshop – or to the overall project. The sources of your answers will vary, and how you use that information is based on your knowledge and experience of the business analysis process.

This is your winch to save you from getting stuck, and keep you moving.

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