This post was suggested by Vesa Renfors. Thanks Vesa!
Three and a half years ago, I published the first installment of “BAs Can Be Difficult People” here on Bridging the Gap. It received 100 page views in one day. And while that’s a small fraction of the traffic a new post gets now, at the time it was more traffic than we saw in a typical week.
Since then, the post has also become a topic of a presentation I’ve given at 5 IIBA meetings. I’m delivering this presentation 3 more times the week of July 16. I’ll be in New York City, Philadelphia, and New Jersey – if you are in the area it would be great to meet you in person. As I’ve been revising my slides, I’ve taken a fresh look at this topic.
Are BAs difficult people? Or, to look at the question differently, how can business analysts, despite their best efforts, be difficult? As I considered my own career and the personalities of those that I consider to be great business analysts, what I settled on is that it’s not that BAs are inherently difficult people – actually, the reverse is true.
The least difficult of all people are attracted to the BA role because the requirements of the role itself are difficult.
What we are required to do as BAs is difficult, maybe not for us, but for those that engage us and those that work with us. And this can make us be perceived as difficult to deal with, which is why soft skills are so incredibly important for success in this role.
So for this encore discussion, let’s look at why what we do as business analysts is inherently difficult for us and for our stakeholders. Let’s understand why we are difficult.
We have to say “no” or “not now” or “that’s last on the list.”
Part of scoping a project that can be realistically achieved (i.e. requirements that are implementable within the project’s constraints) means saying “no.” Sure, we can help our stakeholders scope out a beautiful solution and they might love us for it. But at the end of the day, we deliver value when something gets delivered and change is made. Beautiful solutions on paper might have intrinsic value, but they don’t have real, practical value. They don’t generate anything in the way of business results.
Saying “no” and helping our stakeholders prioritize is the difficult work that BAs must do.
The ambiguous role of the “liaison.”
Few aspects of our role come under more direct attack than that of “liaison.” I myself have been guilty of thinking of myself as a “go between.” In reality, as I wrote in a recent StickyMinds article, titled Three Essential Elements of Business Analysis, “At our best, business analysts engender collaboration amongst diverse members of a cross-functional team involving various departments within the organization and levels in the organizational hierarchy.”
Getting everyone in a room to discuss a problem and find a suitable solution requires strong leadership and advanced communication skills. Bringing together the right business and technology stakeholders and keeping the discussion at the right level so everyone is engaged and time is used wisely takes a certain finesse. These are difficult meetings to lead and difficult to participate in. Depending on your stakeholder’s role and competency, they might feel like their knowledge is challenged, their job is on the line, or that they have something to contribute but don’t know the right way to say it.
Change is hard.
A recent course participant let me know her key takeaway came from the fact that I asked her to use a different template than she usually would to document a business process. She found using a new template to do a familiar activity a difficult task and, in the process, she felt like she had walked in the shoes of her subject matter experts for a day. She had a new appreciation for how difficult it was for them to change the way they have always done things, even when the change would make their job easier or the process more efficient.
The truth behind this realization is that change is hard. And as BAs, we help a lot of people change.
Another student wrote to me about a project she led as a BA intern. She’d discovered an elegant solution that was going to help the business be more efficient, but she faced resistance in discovering the information and incorporating the change. Her question: Is it always like this? My answer: Yes, most of the time. Even with supportive leadership and willing stakeholders, change is still hard. You will face resistance. In fact, part of the value of the BA role is working through the resistance to achieve a positive result.
For new BAs, it’s difficult to be difficult.
I hope I’ve made it apparent now that sometimes being difficult is just the reality of the game. We have to lead stakeholders through difficult tasks like scoping projects, understanding models, and, often the worst of it, making decisions. Part of gaining your confidence as a BA is embracing these challenges as learning opportunities. Part of becoming a great BA is getting our stakeholders to do difficult things, love us for it, and want to work with us again.
But getting to this point means that you take the difficult road not the easy one.
- Instead of letting our stakeholders put everything they want into the requirements spec, we lead them through a prioritization process and help them see how prioritization helped them get more of the right stuff done (instead of just less stuff done).
- Instead of allowing conflicting stakeholders to duke it out and asking for their decision to document in the spec, we jump in and help them work through the issue and come to a shared solution. In the process, we help elevate everyone’s understanding of the issue and of each other.
- Instead of allowing a passive sign-off and waiting for the inevitable changes to come later in the process, we force true understanding and surface as many issues as possible as early as possible. We play the bad guy so IT or QA or the technical writer doesn’t have to.
For the right professionals, becoming a BA is a career-changing experience. In fact, for some, it’s a life-changing experience. The rewards should outnumber the challenges. Or, really, the challenges are seen as part of the fun of making a bigger and better contribution to the world’s organizations.
Being a BA is not for the faint of heart.
As much as we do here to help aspiring BAs find their path and as much as I want tohelp as many talented professionals as possible get started in their BA careers (and if you are one of them and new to Bridging the Gap, please join our free email course), I have to be honest and let you know that being a BA is not for everyone. If the idea of working through these sorts of challenging situations and investing in continuous improvement of your soft skills, especially your communication, leadership and relationship-building skills, is not compelling, then this is not a good career choice for you.
It’s difficult to be difficult and do difficult work. But it’s also immensely rewarding. In the words of one of my most trusted mentors, “if it were easy, anyone could do it.”