I spend an inappropriate amount of time daydreaming that I’m a contender on a project management-themed reality show. Over the years, my imagination has perfected the sets, fine-tuned the cast, developed each episode’s twist, and painstakingly selected each judge. It even has a name: “PM Gladiators.” In each show, project managers pick teams (kickball style) from a pool of eager specialists. Once the teams are selected, the project parameters are revealed and the teams must go to work: dodging unnecessary meetings, slicing and dicing change orders, tweaking MS Project schedules with razor thin constraints—okay, it’s probably more riveting in my head.
The point is, I always win on this show. I win before the project is even revealed. I win because my first team pick is always a killer business analyst. Don’t understand my strategy? Maybe it’s because you believe one of these myths:
1. “Business Analyst” is an entry-level position.
Gaahhh! Here’s the truth: the more important the project, the more crucial it is to have a seasoned professional at the helm. On the high-stakes projects I manage, here’s what I look for in a BA:
- Has broad business experience (or relevant education) spanning multiple functional areas (operations, sales, finance, etc.)
- Proven leader who commands respect from peers and managers.
- “People-person” who is savvy (but not manipulative) of office politics–a skill that comes with experience.
- Articulate and confident communicator, in writing and in person.
- Comfortable speaking and presenting in public.
2. Business Analysts are concerned mainly with paperwork and compliance.
Paperwork is a necessary evil, especially on complicated projects where documentation is critical to knowledge sharing. But it really should only constitute 10-20% of a BA’s job. A BA’s real job is to help a project team reach consensus on project requirements by asking probing questions, creating “what if?” scenarios, envisioning future possibilities, and understanding present challenges. Unfortunately, project stakeholders (and other team members) perceive this step as an administrative “toll gate”–an obstacle to getting started on the “real work.” The thing to remember is that a skimpy effort on the front end will lead to skimpy results on the back end.
3. Business Analysts are only useful at the beginning of a project.
Business Analysts are especially useful at the beginning of a project, but they also serve a few critical roles during the execution phase:
- BA’s help the project manager maintain the integrity of the project scope. When change requests are submitted or stakeholders try to “gold plate” the end product, the BA can speak to the reasons behind the original requirements.
- BA’s can help the project manager understand when changes really are necessary. A BA has done the groundwork to thoroughly understand the business needs and constraints, so they are in the best position to help a PM decide when change order battles are worth fighting.
- BA’s are great “translators” for other project stakeholders. To be good at their job, they have to learn how to explain one group’s requirements in a language that other groups can understand. A good PM will put this skill to use throughout the entire project.
4. Business Analysts are glorified note-takers.
This myth is (ironically) perpetrated mostly by the Business Analysts themselves. When BAs don’t feel empowered at their companies to be leaders, they begin to see themselves in more of a compliance/knowledge management role. This isn’t just bad for their careers–it’s bad for their employers! For any company wanting to get good at managing internal projects, a solid team of experienced, visionary BAs is a must.
5. Business Analysts are left-brain oriented.
The truth is that BAs can’t afford to be overly left-brained or right-brained. Most BAs benefit from a solid foundation of technical skills, organization and logic–but really excellent BAs are also tremendously creative and intuitive. They have the ability to use right-brain techniques (visual facilitation, for example) to get a team thinking richly about challenges and requirements. They are skilled at envisioning alternate futures, possibilities, workarounds, and creative solutions for seemingly unsolvable dilemmas.
6. Business Analysts aren’t visionaries.
Business Analysts are tacticians first, visionaries second. But they are visionaries. They have to be. Adequate Business Analysts capture the business requirements as they are today. Great Business Analysts capture the requirements needed to meet the demands of the future.
7. Business Analysts aren’t technical enough.
It certainly helps when Business Analysts have enough industry or technical experience to “speak the language” of the technical team. But ultimately, Business Analysts are valuable because of the general (read: diverse) expertise. Once business requirements are defined, it’s the job of the developer to translate those requirements into technical requirements and actions.
I want to hear from you–are you a business analyst? What do you wish other people knew about your job?