This post could also be named: What Your Business Analysts Really Wish You Would Do For Them.
Managing Business Analysts can be challenging and frustrating. Actually, to be fair, managing any staff can be challenging and frustrating…but maybe more so for analysts.
Why? I think this boils down to the fact that business analysis work is complex, and even though we’ve come a long way as a profession, our role is still not well understood in many organizations. Do some reading, and you’ll get lots of opinions on what the job is and how it should be performed, especially now with the popularity of Agile. Many people who are managing BAs don’t have experience in the role which makes it hard to know how to best serve a team of analysts.
I’ve had the opportunity to be on both sides of the “analyst management desk”, as it were. I’ve also spent hundreds of hours in the classroom with business analysts talking about the challenges they face. Based on all that, let me offer some tips for individuals who find themselves managing business analysts.
Understand What a BA Does…and Their Value
I’ll never forget a conversation that I had with a gentleman named Cliff Spitz. Cliff is an amazing man, and he promoted me into my first management position when we worked together many years ago. No, I won’t say how many years. And yes, I’d think Cliff was amazing even if he didn’t promote me ;-).
I was in Cliff’s office, and he had just delivered the news of my promotion. I must admit (with some embarrassment) that I was feeling pretty darned proud of myself. I was giving myself a verbal pat on the back for being such a great Systems Engineer that I’d been selected for the management position. (OK, I’m cringing at my former self here, but hey, I was in my early twenties. Cut the younger Kathy a break). I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I’ll never forget Cliff’s response. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “You know, Kathy, we didn’t promote you because you’re the best Systems Engineer we have. We promoted you because we think you have potential as a manager.”
Well, alrighty then…I guess he told me!
Bottom line, many managers find themselves overseeing teams composed of individuals with skill sets that they themselves don’t possess. And that’s OK – managers are supposed to support and manage, analysts are supposed to analyze. But it’s very important that managers understand what BAs do…and the value we bring to an organization. Why? Because we need you to be our advocate. We need you to negotiate for the time we need to do our projects well. We need you to ensure that we are included in the right projects at the right time with the right responsibilities. And we need you to help us honestly assess our strengths and weaknesses as analysts so that we can continue to improve.
Know How to Measure and Monitor BA Performance
Many organizations don’t yet have standards and consistent processes around business analysis work. It is difficult to evaluate a BA’s performance when there is not a clear performance standard around which to measure.
If your organization doesn’t have role definitions and expectations defined for analysts, I recommend taking a look at:
- Ali’s Just Enough Doesn’t Mean None! The Agile Business Analyst Role blog post
- The IIBA’s Business Analyst Career Road Map
Give Them Tools…Lots of Tools
When I mention tools, I’m not necessarily referring to software tools. In fact, a word of caution – don’t fall into the trap of thinking that a tool will solve your management problems. A requirements management tool will never replace a BA and will initially add to your management challenges because of the training curve and custodial resources required.
So what kind of tools do I mean?
- Access to requirements artifacts from other projects. This is not only a learning opportunity, but enables requirements reuse.
- Encourage BA communities of practice so that BAs can learn from their peers.
- Implement peer reviews as part of your project best practices so they can form networks.
- Allow BAs time to read blogs and articles about requirements management. (We have an awesome Knowledge Center! Two other great resources are the BA Times and Modern Analyst blogs.)
- Identify skill gaps and provide formal or informal training to address those needs. (Not to keep harping on all the awesome resources we have, but our Essential Skills Self-Assessment is a great tool to evaluate where you are lacking the business analysis skills you need to be successful.)
Make Sure They Have Time to “Think”
Merriam-Webster defines analysis as “a detailed examination of anything complex in order to understand its nature or to determine its essential features: a thorough study”. So by definition, to analyze, we have to examine and study things. Examining and studying take “think time”. But that causes a couple of problems for analysts.
I swear, almost as soon as I get a project assignment, people start asking me “How long is it going to take?” and “When will you be able to finish this?” Unfortunately, it’s hard to estimate how much time it’s going to take to break something down and really understand it. As analysts get more senior they will likely get better at this type of estimating…but it’s challenging even for the most senior among us.
Beyond that, it’s just culturally difficult in many organizations to say, “I need some quiet time to think.” We work in cubicles, surrounded by noise, dealing with constant interruptions from email, IMs, and cell phones. So where’s the project code for “I went and hid in a conference room so I could think”? Or “I lied and said I was sick today so I could stay home and get some real work done”?
Understand that solid analysis work requires blocks of quiet, uninterrupted time for thinking. It just does. You’ll be a hero to your team if you can help them get that.
Keep BAs from Over-Analyzing
I can’t help but think of an Alan Greenspan quote: “I know you think you understand what you thought I said but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”
Most BAs are very detailed-oriented people who are thorough and can’t help a desire to lean towards perfectionism. It is difficult for them to finish a task because the requirements are never perfect. Many BAs get stuck in “analysis paralysis” because they want everything to be “just so”.
When a BA is stuck, ask her to tell you the risk of letting go. “What is the worse thing that will happen if we don’t thoroughly document every exception in the billing process before we move ahead with this release?” Help them to understand that there are some risks that you and the organization are willing to take.
Continue to remind them that a model or a set of requirements will never be perfect or absolutely complete and that just enough can be enough. Tell them that you (and their stakeholders) are not looking for perfection but are looking for the best work that can be done within the given time frame.
Managing BAs will never be easy or straightforward. But hey! Who wants easy and straightforward, anyway? Spend time with your BAs asking them to explain their work and their challenges in some detail so that you begin to understand the complexity with which they are dealing. Assure them that you have confidence in their ability to analyze and that you want to support their efforts as much as possible.
And buy them chocolate. Lots of chocolate. It never hurts.
Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally written by Barbara Carkenord and published in July 2008. Due to its popularity, Kathy has completely revamped and updated its content to be more comprehensive and accurate for the state of today’s environment.