I didn’t want to like OneNote. I didn’t want to be beholden to another Microsoft application … weren’t Visio, Word & Excel enough? After all, I occasionally used Evernote* and surely it did everything and more than I thought OneNote could ever do. But there are reasons below & more that changed my mind and now I can’t live without it.
*Note: This isn’t a comparison of Evernote to OneNote … I’ve been a fan of Evernote on and off for some time. Compare for yourself or see Lifehacker faceoff: OneNote vs. Evernote for their views.
Reason # 5 :
It’s free! Yes ..Free! Personally and professionally, as well … kinda!
If you want to use OneNote personally it is completely free!
Professionally, is a bit different. The organisation I work, for example, chose the Office 365 suite integrated with SharePoint, which includes OneNote, so it is free for me, so to speak! The same as it would be if they had Office 2013 (See Office 365 / Office 2013 Debate).
My workday once only required “WEV” (my personal acronym for MS Word, Excel & Visio). The fact that OneNote is bundled with them is now the added “icing on top”. When I started with my new organisation, it was already just sitting there, waiting, patiently for someone to use it though nobody was … yet. Since making use of what you have available has always been my motto, I gave it a try and voila! Now I’ve updated my own requirements for my Business Analyst workday to “WEVO”!
And since OneNote is part of the package, I can switch from the Windows 8 app and the full version, which helps me to be flexible on the run while I can also access from a variety of access points, including my notebook, my tablet or my smartphone.
Anywhere and anytime, all at my fingertips.
Reason # 4:
My Manager can finally see what I do.
Most IT Managers understand technical work. There is something to do and it takes ‘this’ long to do it. They usually have experience with support and technical teams, however, some (not all) don’t always understand my “Business Analyst” day and what this entails.
My workday often has quite a large portion of “difficult to document/record” activities that don’t make it into the succinct output documents. Analysis of my whiteboard photos, physical notebooks and individual files get lost stored away in folders, which are difficult to share with my Manager. Activities such as stakeholder relationship building, investigations and analysis all involve quite a bit of background personal observation note taking that doesn’t necessarily make it into those outputs. Yet this doesn’t mean they are not necessary. Additionally, process & requirements validation cycles and their progressive elaboration with stakeholders, will sometime see many, many, many “versions” before the final “version” is revealed. Quick? Simple? Right! Surely that didn’t take long, Managers may think. You can almost feel thought or question of -”What does this BA do with their time?”
With an integrated SharePoint solution, we have a notebook for each project or client we work with. I can record and document my thoughts, notes, meeting or interview minutes, stakeholder information and comments, investigations, multiple versions of any diagram, all in the one place, which is synchronised immediately with SharePoint and each of my projects. This means my Manager has immediate access to all of my work from their OneNote view of the our project notebooks from any of their computers, notebooks, iPads, tablets, smartphone or whatever else they are using. Just having all of this work visible in a single location allows them to see the work and thought processes, all planning and also allows them to add comments and provide immediate feedback & ideas throughout the process of analysis. Problem solved!
Reason # 3:
Continual Improvement is Ok!
As a Business Analyst, we collect, collate, analyse data and present that information in a useful way so both the business and technical sides of an organisation. It needs to be easily digested and used to make strategic and technical decisions. I have spent many years using (& eventually not using) a myriad of solutions to record anything and everything that would help me get to the eventual output required. Some useful little solutions included sticky notes, Simple Note, Google notebook, wikidPad, which stored all my data in great and different ways … however I usually eventually lost said data (hmmm … filed away!), because I’m ashamed to say, I got a little bored with them and never maintained. And even with all these solutions and/or combinations of solutions, I still needed to keep my manual notes, drowning though I was in them, because as a BA hoarder I found it hard to throw out those workshop notes from six months ago. OK … I know … I do scan & take photos, but I would file them away too never to be seen again. Nobody could keep up with amount of file and paper collection, collation and the constantly evolving filing solutions that I wanted, created and required. Because I am all for the continual improvement, I couldn’t keep up with it myself. Finding anything from within all of those piles of information (physical and electronic), for example ‘who said what at that requirements workshop from last month’ and ‘are all the actions completed?’, would involve stress & paper shuffling, and time I didn’t have to devote to the task.
Now I can template my notebooks, pages, etc with OneNote. This means and every time I want to improve … I can! Each notebook is a continual improvement from the last one. I change the way the notebook is arranged, can add checklists and tabs as required. New meeting format page … done! New checklist page … done! New format for a different client … done!
Reason # 2:
I’m always on my own these days!
There was a time in my BA career where you could hold workshops and meetings, whilst having the resources to have backup or even a scribe to take notes, manage the parking lot, assist with data capture and collaboratively review after the workshop what worked and what didn’t and how the stakeholders interacted. It’s a rarity now that we have that luxury. Most of my meetings and workshops are run and documented solely on my own. There is no one to help capture data whilst I am busy presenting at said meeting. Then OneNote comes along with a recording feature that is so good that I almost use for every meeting now. (Note: Of course, this involves informing my participants that I am recording for minute taking purposes only.) Being able to concentrate on the discussion at hand without having to try to scribe at the same time, is like having your own secretary. The biggest bonus is being able to review the full discussion exactly as it occurred at a later time. This of course, helps with my comprehension and understanding of the participant viewpoint, assists me in providing accurate minutes, plus captures all actions and analysis of stakeholder participation. Without OneNote, I could record elsewhere, but with OneNote this file is saved directly where I want it, and an added bonus is that you can type notes, which will sync with the time within the recording. Good for finding the moment, in an hour long meeting, when the sponsor said “yes”.
Apart from the recording, just like keeping my Manager in the loop of what I am up to, having all the relevant analysis and references on hand, whilst in interviews, meetings or workshops, allows for quick interaction among participants. Of course you can try to have all the relevant documentation open in the background, but guaranteed it is always the one you haven’t opened that you need that your participants have to watch you search for agonising moments of time. Having the references either in print out form in a page or links to everything you are analysing within the one notebook, not only saves time but makes you look efficient. Participants can also get a glimpse into the consideration you take with information they give you. It’s valuable to them. They see the value you place on data you are analysing, and that is a good thing.
At a pinch, OneNote can help you present while you take notes too, with tools to use as pointers and having the options to open multiple instances of OneNote at a time. It would never replace a PowerPoint presentation but it can be a good back up when in a hurry.
Reason # 1:
Outlook Integration & To Do Flags save my life … Daily!
The integration with outlook is so streamlined. I feel like I am using one application not two. Now I take it for granted and rely on it constantly. From Outlook I can open meetings and select to record my notes directly to OneNote. From the OneNote page, I can add any meeting details from my Outlook or I can add an Outlook Task anywhere in my notebook which will appear in my Outlook tasks. Any page within OneNote can be emailed in total, including any attachments, on the page, to anyone. If meeting notes are linked to an existing Outlook calendar item, it will pre-populate all of the recipients. If files are attached to the page, it will add them to the email.
This is so useful to my day. It saves me from replicating simple data in two places and I don’t forget any recipients when sending out minutes. Professional and smart!
To Do Flags and Find Tags are my definite number one.
The ability to add a To Do Tag anywhere within my notebook, while on the run, and then be able to find them simply and easily in whatever way I choose, either within a page, a section, a notebook, all notebooks or from when they were created, really does make my life easier. That small to do item I recorded quickly, that I once lost, is now found when I use this feature regularly. Thank you OneNote!
These are only 5 reasons … ok I had a sneaky extra in Reason #1 … so there are 5 + 1 Reasons why OneNote has quickly become my application of choice. It has enabled me to keep the chaos down, my analysis is planned and data is in order. I could go on and on. Of course, we could discuss the integration with other Microsoft applications or other non-Microsoft apps, but there are too many features to discuss in full and there are many places out there to learn about those features.
To keep up with other OneNote news, I keep an eye on Office Blogs for OneNote. This is a treasure chest of tips for OneNote. You never know it might just make your workday better too!
By Bree Abell – 2014