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BA Tips and Tricks for 2015

As a guide to less experienced business analysts here at Seilevel and out there on the Internet, and because a specific colleague of mine requested I write this post (this is for you Amanda!!), I wanted to share several tips and tricks that I have uncovered in the past couple of months that have made my work as a business analyst more productive and my life a little bit easier.

When I think about the tools I use to do my job, there are really two programs I use nearly every day: Visio to make RML models and Outlook for email and scheduling. (I also use Excel a lot, but the number of crazy things you can do in Excel covers books, so we’ll leave that one out for this post.) Over the past couple of years, I have uncovered a few tips and tricks that I use nearly every time I work with these programs, and I’d like to share them with you now. You might already know all about these…in that case, this post isn’t for you! But if you’re relatively new to Visio or Outlook, or maybe don’t use them all that much, you might find some useful hints.

Visio

Trick #1 – CTRL+SHIFT+W will automatically adjust the model you’re looking at to the window that you’re displaying it in. Unlike Word, which opens to the top of the document no matter where you were when you saved it, Visio reopens a file the exact way that it was displayed when it was saved. So if you were zoomed in on one box to adjust the connection point to another box, Visio will reopen zoomed in to that box. You can easily adjust the view to orient yourself by hitting CTRL+SHIFT+W. I know you can do that by adjusting the zoom in the bottom-right corner of the screen as well, but I find this is easier (I generally prefer key strokes to mouse clicks when I can help it because it saves time).  Bonus tip (courtesy of my colleague Joyce Grapes): before you send off a Visio file for review, go through each tab and adjust the zoom using CTRL+SHIFT+W so that when the reviewer opens the document all tabs are properly zoomed. DOUBLE BONUS TIP (again, courtesy of Joyce): You can easily move through tabs by hitting CTRL+PAGE UP/DOWN.

Trick #2 – F2 will automatically highlight the text of a shape. This tip applies in most Word applications (in Excel, it mimics double-clicking on a cell, highlighting the cell’s text and allowing you to edit). It also applies to arrows and other connectors. If you want to move the text on a connector (for example, if you have a decision box and “Yes” and “No” arrows coming out of it), hit CTRL+SHIFT+4. That will allow you to use the arrow keys to position the text in such a way that the reader can easily follow each line.

Outlook

I only have one new Outlook 2010 trick to share, but it’s a really good one. When I review Word files, I love putting in comments using CTRL+ALT+M. Rather than dragging my mouse up to the toolbar and going through the different options trying to find the Insert Comment button, I can use keystrokes to insert a comment in a certain location within the text, or to comment on a chunk of text I’ve highlighted. But did you know that CTRL+ALT+M also works in Outlook?! If you did, I wish you’d told me about that sooner, because it’s been a revelation. We use it on my team all the time now, most often to review and mark up the drafts of the status reports we send every week, but also as a better way to respond to lists of questions (it’s annoying to have to change font color to differentiate your responses from other people’s responses), or just to provide precise feedback (similar to how I use it in MS Word). As far as I can tell, there is no icon on Outlook’s standard toolbars to insert a comment either. It may be possible to customize your toolbar so that it has this button, but now that I’ve found out that CTRL+ALT+M works, I need not look further!

BONUS TIP: How to save maps offline in Google Maps

While completely unrelated to our work as business analysts, I thought this was too cool not to share. I recently went to Mexico on vacation, where I knew I wasn’t going to have cell service. I was afraid of getting lost in an unfamiliar city, but from a friend I had heard that you can save maps in Google Maps’s mobile application and use them offline/when your phone is in airplane mode. After some internet research, I learned the secret trick. Type “ok maps” into the search bar and it will enable the functionality. Then, you just need to tap the search bar, hit “Save map to use offline”, pan and zoom to the appropriate area (if you’re zoomed out too far it will tell you that you need to zoom in a little bit…maps covering cities are OK, but states and countries are too much data), and hit “Save”. Bam! You now have that map saved to your phone, always and forever (until you choose to delete it or your phone falls in the ocean or gets eaten by a shark or…). It’s great for traveling internationally or saving data!

 

What tips or tricks do you use to make your work as a BA or product manager more efficient and productive? Share with us in the comments!

 

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