Five top professionalism tips from Business Analysts that you can apply today!
What do Business Analysts do?
This is not a blog about what Business Analysts (let’s call them BAs) do, despite the heading!
No, this is a blog about common challenges to the professionalism of BAs, how they respond to those challenges and what we can learn from them.
It’s worth, however, spending a moment to understand what they do.
It’s difficult to define exactly what a BA does – there are all sorts of BAs, from finance and change analysts to systems analysts. Regardless, the role is primarily about collecting, collating and analysing data in order to make recommendations.
This blog refers mainly to BAs who do all the analytical work around building and/or deploying technical systems. These are pretty much garden variety BAs! (I’m counting on BAs having a sense of humour when I say this – don’t worry, the writer used to be one!)
1. From purpose to purpose – a production line of new tasks, each with its own purpose
BAs typically move from project to project and therefore role-purpose to role-purpose.
One project will have a purpose to update a process; another will be to introduce new technical systems, often doing these concurrently; the role of the BA is to work to the purpose of the project while remaining true to/consistent with the overall purpose of the role within the organisation.
The challenge is to be able to be clear about the purpose of each project and the contribution of your role to each project, in other words your purpose.
Working backwards from there, you can plan to deploy your skills, knowledge and experience to deliver that purpose.
There is a lot of judgement involved – there’s no single, correct answer
2. User Requirements; are they Wants or Needs?
Typically, a stakeholder will say ‘I want the new system to be purple’ when in reality it doesn’t matter what colour it is. There is no need, only a want. Ok, this is paraphrasing but it happens.
Clients want all sorts of things. The skill of the BA, however, is to help the clients peel back their ‘wants’ and get to their ‘needs’. This weeds out irrelevant information and informs sensible decisions about new systems.
Think of it this way – a patient says to a doctor ‘I want anti-biotics’. The doctor knows that the patient has a virus and anti-biotics won’t work. The doctor needs to be able to communicate to the patient that, despite what they WANT, their actual NEED is different.
That’s the life of the BA.
How do they do this? Often it’s about drilling down past the ‘wants’. Without undermining confidence or the professional relationship, the BA will challenge ‘wants’ with questions like ‘why do you want that’, ‘what purpose will that serve’ and ‘what benefit will that deliver’? It is about bringing people back to the PURPOSE of what they are trying to achieve.
The best outcome is the one that where stakeholders come to learn for themselves the difference between wants and needs, decide on the needs and agree the priorities of those needs.
BAs will have to be able to ‘read their audience’ to determine how or even how much they can push back on a ‘want’.
Close communication with stakeholders helps. Seek comment on the progress of analysis and on the recommendations as they are being shaped.
3. Educating while capturing requirements, not leading the witness – finding balance
Sarah tells me:
“My job is to gather requirements for new systems. I often find that people in my workshops know their jobs and processes really, really well, but don’t understand what the technology can do for them”.
Sarah’s challenge is to find a way of educating the workshop participants in what is possible without influencing unduly or ‘solutionising’. Solutionising is a BA cardinal sin. It’s where people jump to solutions rather than understanding actual requirements and opportunities. Solutionising often overlooks reality.
“So, I have to find a way to help people open their minds to the opportunities without closing their minds down to a single solution.
The way I do this is to ensure that:
- There is an agreed purpose to each meeting and workshop
- Participants know – really know – the outcome of the workshop and expectations”
And then, any information I introduce about what technology can deliver (especially specific solutions) is done very carefully. It is done in the context of informing the conversation, not to start to solutionise.”
Tricky. But that’s the BA’s professional challenge.
4. Be thorough, objective… and brave!
Sometimes, people simply aren’t going to like your recommendations, no matter how rational those recommendations are.
Rick was once asked to review a client’s business case for the purchase of software. He found fundamental problems where recommendations were based on unjustifiable assumptions. For example, the software vendor claimed that their clients typically save a percentage of salary overpayment. The writer of the business case overlooked the fact that the organisation did not have an overpayment problem in the first place.
It seemed that they simply wanted some ‘cool’ software.
This finding was not well received by the project sponsor who had an emotional attachment to the project, for reasons unknown.
It would have been easy for Rick to back down and bend to the will of the sponsor, a very senior person.
However, Rick had to stand his ground – BECAUSE it was the right thing to do. The facts supported his observation.
He did his job. He performed his role without undue, subjective influence and was brave enough to present his report despite knowing that it might elicit an emotional response from someone who could harm his career!
5. Be rational; use instinct (Use hunches, but be able to defend rationally)
To be a BA is not to be a robot.
Yes, BAs are highly skilled and rationally use empirical data for analysis from which implications are drawn and recommendations made.
However, they are not programmes or robots that simply churn out outcomes.
Their work – their findings, outcomes and recommendations – should be grounded in rational, objective, empirical fact but there MUST be room for inspiration, instinct and feel.
They use a level of skill that can be difficult to articulate. They have a mastery over knowledge, almost in an artistic sense.
It’s important both to product rational analysis AND to draw on subjective intuition. The trick is to be able to know for yourself which is which!