Today on the Salesforce Admins Podcast, we talk to Ko Forte, Salesforce Business Analyst at RGP. Join us as we chat about business analysis, career transitions, and the business analyst (BA) mindset.

You should subscribe for the full episode, but here are a few takeaways from our conversation with Ko Forte.

August is Business Analyst Month

For August, we’re taking a deep dive into the business analyst skillset. We get started by talking to Ko, a consultant who helps organizations as both a Business Analyst and a Salesforce Admin. She’s recently given a talk at some Salesforce events entitled “BA Where You Are,” so we thought we should bring her on the pod to hear all about it.

Ko’s talk is focused on developing the mindset and habits for a Salesforce Business Analyst role. It’s geared toward people who are admins and want to move into business analysis, as well as folks who might be new to the ecosystem and looking for a potential fit.

The business analyst mindset

For Ko, the key to being an effective business analyst begins with mindset. Before she starts work with a new client, she asks herself:

  • Who is this company?
  • How are they positioned in the industry?
  • Who are their customers?
  • What do they do to make money? And therefore, what’s important to them?

Thoroughly understanding these things grounds Ko with a clear understanding of what the company she’s working with needs their technology to do for them.

It’s also important to cultivate a mindset of compassion, both for why business processes are the way they are and for the people who will be affected if you make a change. People do things for a reason, and you need to understand those factors to find something that works.

Transitioning your career

The biggest thing Ko recommends for admins making the transition into business analysis is to not be afraid of asking questions. Someone else may be wondering the same thing and something that seems obvious to an expert might need to be better understood by everyone else on the team.

You should also start making a habit of turning the camera on for meetings. You want to create the impression that you’re reliable, you’re present, and you’re listening. Our brains have evolved to look at faces and, especially in remote work, it helps to show yours to the world. And, again, have compassion for everyone else attending a meeting by clearly communicating what you’re trying to do with an agenda and some goals.

Be sure to listen to the full episode for more about Ko, and why it’s important to take a look at your job description if you’re trying to advance your career.

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Full show transcript

Mike Gerholdt: This week on the Salesforce Admins Podcast, we are talking with Ko Forte about business analysis and the BA Mindset. Ko is a business process transformation expert. I promise you, I promise you, you’ll want to stick around to the very last question, because her advice gives me goosebumps. That’s how good it is. That’s how good it is.

Now, before we get into the episode, be sure to make sure you’re following the Salesforce Admins Podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcast. It’s super easy. I’m telling you this because that way when a new episode drops on Thursday, it’s right on your phone like magic. You don’t have to think about it.

And then, you can listen to it while you’re walking your dog or you’re on your way to work or you’re enjoying your summer. Anyway, this is an amazing conversation that Ko and I have. Let’s get into the podcast with Ko. So Ko, Welcome to the Salesforce Admins Podcast.

Ko Forte: Thanks, Mike. Great to be here.

Mike Gerholdt: Let’s get started. It’s August already. Hey. Glad to be out of July. Felt like it was never going to end.

Ko Forte: Agreed.

Mike Gerholdt: But we’re talking business analysts. Actually, I have quite a few episodes this month, spoiler alert, that will be focused around the BA. I know you and I have talked while Atlanta World Tour was going on. Tell me how you got started in the Salesforce ecosystem.

Ko Forte: Sure. My journey to the Salesforce ecosystem came as a really great surprise to me. I was actually a theater major. I graduated from the University of Georgia with an MFA and just needed a quote, unquote, “Real job,” in the interim. Definitely, graduating during a housing bubble and things like that contributed to that decision. But a lot of my friends from there were going to work for a small upstart tech company here in Atlanta, and they needed some entry level folks to do some data entry.
And so, I applied for that job and I got it. No experience needed or anything like that. You’re literally just typing in numbers. But this company used Salesforce as their tool to build cases and quotes and opportunities and things like that. I was just very curious about this tool that we were using.

I said, “I notice that when I do this, then that happens. I wonder why? What’s behind this thing that’s making all this stuff do what it does?” That was really my introduction to what is Salesforce as a tool. Why are we using it? Why does it do what it does? How can I learn more?

Mike Gerholdt: Wow. I would love for us to do some survey on the number of degrees that admins have that aren’t tech.

Ko Forte: Right.

Mike Gerholdt: Because I’m a communication studies degree. I also did theater in high school and I loved doing it. So I can totally talk theater, but we won’t on this podcast. You went to into data entry, which is as fun as watching paint dry, but it pays the bills. What got you into business analysis?

Ko Forte: Well, it took some years, to be honest. Being at the level that I was and at the type of company that I was in, it was just, “We’ve got to do the job.” That’s first and foremost. As long as there’s nothing else in queue, you can do whatever you want.
The company being smaller, I was able to talk to different departments and bring my questions to other people who knew a lot more than I did. There were thankfully enough supportive people around me to say, “Hey. Well, this is Salesforce. There’s some help articles out there. You can understand what it does and study up on how this thing works.”

From there, I just went on a journey of self-study. This was before Trailhead, so it was a lot of help articles and Googling and asking people around me, “What does this mean?” Befriending admins, befriending those people who were working in the IT departments and things like that to say, “Hey. I’m studying this thing. If you have any advice or if you can give me any mentorship, I would really appreciate it.” Just building upon my knowledge from there.

Mike Gerholdt: What do you do now then?

Ko Forte: Now, I am a Salesforce business analyst. I work for a consultant agency and I am sent on different projects to help both in admin capacity and business analyst capacity for different Salesforce implementations and projects.

Mike Gerholdt: You’re the person who has to go into the bowl of spaghetti and untangle all of the noodles.

Ko Forte: Yes.

Mike Gerholdt: It’s always been the analogy. It’s been in my head since ever I can remember of, “Here’s our business processes and it looks like a bowl of noodles.” You do a lot of speaking at community conferences. I know you talk about business analysis there. Can you try and tell me, what do you talk about there? How are you getting people into the BA role?

Ko Forte: Absolutely. Recently, I spoke at both the Southeast Dreamin’ in Atlanta and Dreamin’ In Color, both two really great community conferences. My session is BA Where You Are. My session is geared towards developing the mindset and habits for a Salesforce business analyst role.

This is for people who are admins and want to expand their admin career into more of a BA role. Or for people who are not yet in an admin position. Maybe they’re in customer service or sales or something like that, and they want to pursue a business analyst career. And I talk about the mindset and habits and competencies that can be developed in order to build a business analyst career.

Mike Gerholdt: Let’s dig into that. Help me understand. Because I feel … You’re very fortunate in that you get to do business analyst stuff all the time. I feel for a lot of admins, it’s kind of, “Well, that’s part of the project.” That’s part of the day-to-day is to jump into a department and figure out the challenge and then have to solve it.

Let’s talk about that mindset. What is your mindset going into that first-time, say, meeting with a client or a department, knowing they’ve got a bowl of spaghetti that you have to untangle? What should admins … How do they start being that BA where they are?

Ko Forte: My mindset work happens even before the project begins. It’s taking a step back to review, “Who is that company? How are they positioned in the industry? What do they do to make money? What’s important to them?”

Look at their overall profile, so that as I walk into the project, I have more of a grounded understanding of, “This is who this company is and how they show up. This is how they make money and these are their customers.” And so, I have their story of who they are, where they’re going, and what they need their technology to do in order to support that mission.

Mike Gerholdt: Wow. You start a long time before I thought, as any good professional should. As you’re walking through some of these business processes, I feel like you are almost solving a mystery to some degree. Is it just the fact that so many processes are put together and then changed and are not well-documented? Where does it start? Where does the mess start?

Ko Forte: I’ll just offer that it feels less like I am solving a mystery and more that I am being content with being in the mystery that is happening. I am in the mystery as it is unfolding, and even I am an audience to it, but a compassionate audience to the process.

Because as a business analyst, you are both dealing with technical information, process information, but you’re also navigating the human aspect. The emotions of making a transition from where you currently are to where you’re trying to get, and the reactions to change that happen throughout all of that. Mystery is a good word, but we don’t understand how many micro-mysteries there are within that process.

Because like many great teams, there’s somebody on the team who is a rockstar, who everybody goes to them because they do the thing and they know the information. And if we ask them this one thing, they’ll take it and they’ll do it. That person is great and valuable and necessary, but that person usually is not writing down what they do, how they do it, so that when they’re gone, it can be repeated by someone else. Or just to give transparency to what that process is and how they’re solving it.

So as a business analyst, those are the things that I am looking for. That hidden knowledge and those people who are key players that make the magic happen and solve the mysteries for the business, but make those mysteries more transparent.

Mike Gerholdt: I’m going to stitch a couple of things together. What part of your theater degree do you have to rely on most in those meetings?

Ko Forte: I appreciate this question, because the parts of the creative mindset that are so valuable in this space has to do with having that capacity to sit and let things unfold, but also allow repetition to be comfortable. Coming to the table and setting up a meeting where you’re giving people space to talk and share about what they do. That’s kind of like a rehearsal. We’re coming together. We’re trying to get all the information out there.

But there’s also a great deal of synthesizing that must happen. We talked about this piece of work that this team is going to do and this process over here, but what are the threads that link all those together to help us move this project forward? And that’s something that you’re doing with a text that’s in front of you, that you’re studying to put on as a performance.

You have to find the themes within. You have to find the patterns. You have to synthesize the information and bring it to that larger context of, “What is the overarching idea that we’re trying to put forward when we do this play?” It’s kind of the same thing. We’re helping organizations navigate that change, and in the end, curtains up. We’ve got a great Salesforce implementation and all is well.

Mike Gerholdt: I love the play theme because we can run with that. There’s always a part of a play that I feel people struggle with. Or somebody has a hard time with their lines. What is the hardest part that you had to learn in being a business analyst that you feel maybe other admins are going to run into as well?

Ko Forte: Absolutely. The hardest part for me personally has been the speaking up and showing up.

Mike Gerholdt: Really? For a theater major?

Ko Forte: Absolutely. It makes sense now as I look back on my journey, because I had that imposter syndrome. I’m here, but I really am not the smartest person in the room. I don’t know if I’m supposed to be here. I don’t know if I can measure up to all these people who are more technically inclined.

And that had to do with a lot of, “Let’s just be quiet. Let’s just hold that. I see this thing and I am curious about this and I have questions and concerns, but let me not rock the boat, because someone else over there is smarter than me.” But I learned that level of insight and curiosity that I have and the ability to say, “This doesn’t make sense. Can we go through that again,” is actually appreciated in the end.

Because a lot of times in these IT settings, we’re talking about things while somebody else is multitasking over there. Not everybody is fully at the table, and so things get missed. And if you’re a person who’s sitting in there and that is actually listening and attuned to what’s going on and a question comes up … That’s a benefit, because someone else might have that question. Someone else might have that concern.

Shrinking back is really something that I encourage myself constantly to avoid doing. You want to bring relevant questions to the table. You don’t want to just be taking meetings off the rails. You want to have the ability to say, “This could use some clarification.” Not from a place of, “I know better and I am the smartest person in the room. You need to say that again.” But from a real question of, “You said A and you said B, but I feel like that doesn’t equal C.” Or, “Tell me how that equals C.”

Mike Gerholdt: No. I can 100% understand that. The imposter syndrome part, I feel like you deal with every day. Because you’re sitting there and all of these people know the process or pretend to know the process. And then, you’re the expert and they almost look for you to, “Well, can you answer this?” You’re like, “We are just in the learning about you phase. We are not into the solving about you phase at this point.”

Ko Forte: Right.

Mike Gerholdt: What is one thing … I feel like maybe you pick up on this a little bit more with your theater background, but dealing with personalities. I’m trying to dig into the mindset part of this, because I feel like a lot of it is understanding business process and what people are telling you. But I feel the other part of it too is dealing with personalities in a meeting.

Because you mentioned, and I could literally visualize as you were telling me, the person over there multitasking. The one person talking, who is super excited telling you about the process. And then, two or three other people that are like they have to be there. What would your advice be for admins who are going into this? Who are like, “Look, we’re all in this room. We’re trying to solve this.” How do I manage personalities?

Ko Forte: Managing personalities for me has a lot to do with helping people understand their value within the context of the meeting or the workshop that you’re doing. So it’s really appropriate what you said about feeling like I have to be here. That is definitely an energy that I’ve dealt with.

When you haven’t communicated beforehand in your meeting agenda … Or not having an agenda. That’s a big one. Or in your meeting invite, “What is the purpose of this meeting? What are we going to do there? What are we going to talk about?” Those are big things that contribute to the feeling of, “I have to be here. I really don’t want to. I have nothing to contribute.” And that’s not going to be the case.

So as much as I can, helping people have information upfront. Even if within that meeting we don’t get through that whole agenda. Just having them understand, “This is a snapshot of what I hope to achieve here and what kind of feedback I’m hoping to get. Thank you so much for making the time. I’ll see you there.” That goes a long way to creating an environment of participation and shared value.

Mike Gerholdt: I know every meeting is different. In every business analysis session, you’ve probably had 20 or 30 people and two or three. Is there a physical activity that you feel you do in most every meeting that really helps move it along? That may be a normal Salesforce … Normal. That may be a Salesforce admin who is getting into the business analysis role and maybe doesn’t know what to do.

Ko Forte: Well, the one big one, since a lot of us are working remotely now and we are having Zoom meetings and video meetings and things like that. The biggest thing I would say is, “Turn your camera on.” Even if you are not facilitating the meeting, you’re not leading the meeting … Even if you’re not a BA. Especially, if you’re not a BA and you’re hoping to land a BA role. Turn your camera on. Let people see your face.

As human beings, we have evolved to enjoy seeing a person’s face, seeing the eyes. That’s going to be important to create an image of, “I’m a safe person. I’m a reliable person. I’m here. I’m present.” That goes a long way. Having the ability to show up and be seen, and to be seen as someone who is actively participating and present goes a very long way.

Mike Gerholdt: I 100% can tell you I react differently in a meeting when I see the organizer’s face versus when I don’t.

Ko Forte: Absolutely.

Mike Gerholdt: Because I’m like, “Are you even paying attention? Are you phoning this in literally? Phoning it in?” I want to dig into a little bit of … We talked a lot about inputs and managing stuff. We’re never going to cover all of the business analyst role in a podcast. And if we are, it’s going to be a long podcast.

Ko Forte: Right.

Mike Gerholdt: What are some of the outputs that you feel are different that maybe admins should shift to as they’re doing more business discovery and business analysis work?

Ko Forte: Sure. Just some simple things that I like to keep track of, especially if I’m working with other teams in their processes, is a process document. How do people currently do their work? And I like to say it doesn’t have to be anything fancy. A lot of times when it comes to process documents, no one has written this stuff down. Because it’s just the process and it’s been transferred verbally from one person to another. We just know to do it like this.

But as you are creating that document and you are working with the point person to approve and authorize, “Yes. This is the process. We’re good to go.” So much comes out of that. Because then, you get to discover, “Well, that’s what they do. Why are they doing it like that?” Or, “That’s actually not the process. We need to figure out who told them to do that and why.”

“This is the actual process. We need to tweak this process over here and make it more clear that this is the way, and not that.” There’s so much value that comes from that. Just knowing what people are doing and how. And then, where even the gaps are and the idea of, “We just started doing that. That’s just what we do now.” And the manager is like, “Well, I didn’t know you were doing it like that. Why are you doing it like that?”

Mike Gerholdt: Well, we started doing it that way, because we heard the consultants coming in.

Ko Forte: Right. Right.

Mike Gerholdt: It’s like the chef getting the cookbook out. “Well, we started using this recipe the other day.”

Ko Forte: Well, a lot of times too, it happens because, “Well, that broke, so we couldn’t do it like that anymore. We started doing this.” Well, let’s talk about this part that quote, unquote, “Broke.” We can address that as opposed to making a whole other process to get around that thing.

Mike Gerholdt: You never start fixing something until it breaks. Boy, let me tell you. That is so relevant for me right now. You have no idea. No idea. Documentation always comes up. I’ve managed admin track at Dreamforce now for many years. Almost every year outside of the shiny object that Salesforce is releasing, whether it’s Dynamic Pages or Flow or whatever the hot new product is, the sessions on documentation are always the biggest.

The ways to store documentation, I’ve talked about this on the podcast. What do you like to give departments or give organizations and advise them in terms of a leave-behind? In terms of, “Now, we’ve documented this. Here’s what I suggest, where to keep it, how to update it, how often to update it.”

Ko Forte: I’m actually working through that right now, because I’m rolling off of a project.

Mike Gerholdt: Good.

Ko Forte: What I decided to do was work with their current knowledge base. This is important because I want to be very sensitive not to create yet another space that they have to go to and that they won’t go to. What are they actually currently using? Some organizations, they are blessed with lots of different tools.

Mike Gerholdt: Sometimes they’re rich in tools, but poor in knowledge.

Ko Forte: Correct. Correct.

Mike Gerholdt: Or they’ve got so many tools they don’t even know where to put them. “Well, we could put this documentation in seven different places.”

Ko Forte: Correct. So as a consultant, if that’s not a process that I’m there to solve for, I’ll just ask, “Where will you find this? Where do you want this?” And in a place that everyone can get to it. So that’s generally my approach. I actually want what has been created to be something that they can reference again and again.

Doing the work to prepare the documentation in such a way that it’s not just, “Me, in my mind, I know exactly what that means,” but making it for a general population that can go and get value from it after I’m gone is something that I’m really sensitive to. I want to put it in a style that they can easily read and get value from. And I want to store it in a place that they say, “We will come back to here and we will utilize this again.”

Mike Gerholdt: That’s smart. How often do you recommend they update their documentation?

Ko Forte: I recommend that documentation is reviewed quarterly. At least, quarterly. Because within a quarter, companies are reviewing what their goals were, what work they’ve completed, where they need to go to in the next quarter. It’s just a good place to stop and say, “Is this still accurate based on where we last were and where we need to be now?”

But along with documentation that I create, throughout the lifetime of the project, I am adopting that company’s documented information. When was the last time you reviewed your organizational chart? Or a job description? These are very valuable documents that a company provides and we hope that they manage pretty regularly, so that I know who key stakeholders are, how teams interact with one another, where they connect, and who to go to for certain information and guidance. So I’m constantly as the BA looking to interact with that company’s documentation as it’s stated.

Mike Gerholdt: I’ve got to imagine that org chart is probably the least updated. I don’t know. That would be a fun poll to ask people. I feel many companies I have worked at … They always hand it to you in training or something, “Here’s the org chart,” but it’s from 1982.

Ko Forte: Exactly.

Mike Gerholdt: You’re like, “Wow. That’s great.” “We fired the guy that took care of it.” You’re like, “Cool. I love that even more so.”

Ko Forte: Right.

Mike Gerholdt: As we wrap up, the one thing … If you’ve ever presented an admin track or any presentation I’m overseeing. I always like to think of the one thing that goes through my mind when I’m done hearing a presentation, which is, “Cool. You gave me a ton of knowledge and I’m super excited to go do it. When I stand up, what should I do next?”

That’s my question to you. After listening to this now for however many minutes, admins are like, “I need to do business analysis work even better.” What should they do next? What’s their next step?

Ko Forte: What I would suggest is to first go and review your job description and understand for yourself, “Am I currently meeting this description as stated? Am I doing, to the best of my ability, what they are expecting me to do?” And then, from there, if you are, good job. Now, you can understand the ways that you want to start building out in this BA capacity.

I feel like that’s the most supportive way for you to begin that journey. Because I don’t want to put you in a position where you’re like, “Well, I created these process documents and I had this workshop and I took meeting notes. I got all this documentation together. Can I be a BA now?” And they’re like, “Well, you stopped being a great admin. We can’t promote you to a BA, because you’re not meeting your job description currently.”

Make sure you’re meeting all the needs and requirements there first to protect yourself and allow yourself to have the best possible path to where you want to go next. And then, start building relationships. That thing of turning on your camera? That’s a simple one that you can do immediately. Start building relationships both horizontally with people who are in a similar state as you in the job. And then, vertically. Who’s above you? Who can become a sponsor for you at your company? Who can be a mentor?

Who can you mentor? That’s a very valid question to ask, because as you teach, you learn more. Your network is going to hopefully be full of people who can support you, who can encourage you as you do things like look into certifications and things like that. Because that’s going to take not only mental space, but it’s an emotional process to some extent as well. You want to be well-fortified in all the ways, so that you can expand your career in the direction you want to go, but keep your mental health intact at the same time.

Mike Gerholdt: That was 8,000 pounds of awesome advice. You started with someplace that no one has ever started before. I feel the need to call it out. Take a second to look at your job description and make sure you’re doing that well. Wow. Wow. Because I think we forget that, and I got goosebumps when you said that. You’re so right. If you’re going to move up, make sure you’re doing the foundational work right.

Ko Forte: Right.

Mike Gerholdt: That is huge knowledge. Right at the end of the podcast. This is an amazing discussion, Ko. I could talk to you for days, literally. Thanks for taking time out and sharing some of your information with us, really bringing that mindset to what you do, inspiring admins, and being out there at community conferences and talking about this. Because it is so important.

Ko Forte: Thank you so much for having me. It’s really important to me and valuable to me to support people to share my journey. It feels like an unlikely journey. And so, that’s why I’m happy to share it with others to say, “Hey. If I did it, you can do it.” You can do even more.

Mike Gerholdt: Yep. Absolutely. Absolutely. Wow. Well, thank you for being amazing at this.

Ko Forte: Thanks, Mike.

Mike Gerholdt: Okay. Was I right or was I right about Ko’s advice on what you should do next? Literally, that might be the best advice I’ve ever heard about what you do next. So I hope you enjoyed that. I enjoyed the podcast. I will give you a hint that there is more business analysis podcasts coming up in August, because that’s how the hosts lined up. And I am totally into business analysis stuff right now.

I think this is a great episode. What I want you to do is, if you’d do me a favor, I need you to share the episode with one person. Help us build the listeners. There’s a ton of Salesforce admins out there that need to hear this. It’s so much fun. I think it’s fun to listen to.

Now, if you’re listening on the iTunes app, here’s how you do it. You just tap the three dots and choose Share Episode. Then, you can share it to your social feeds. Or you can text it to a friend and be like, “Hey. I just listened to the Salesforce Admins Podcast. I know you wanted to get into business analysis. Listen to this episode with Ko.” That’s literally what you need to do. It’s not that hard.

Of course, if you’re looking for more great resources, everything Salesforce admin is at, including a transcript of the show. And of course, be sure to join the conversation over in our Admin Trailblazer Group in the Trailblazer community. I know there’s probably some BA questions going on over there. Don’t worry. Links to all of those are in the show notes. And until next week, I’ll see you in the cloud.

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