When I think about what it takes for BAs to be successful, it always comes down to the same thing: Using hard skills and soft skills together strategically to get results and engagement from stakeholders. When I think about what it takes to execute on any BA activity or technique and to be good at it, it is rare to find a scenario when both hard skills and soft skills are not needed. This may not be new to anyone as underlying competencies (many of which are soft skills) are foundational to performing the various BA tasks. Where we fall down on this is in executing this concept well in a variety of situations and complexity levels and showing the path to truly deepen these competencies.
Why is it that we rarely look at the path to developing skills in underlying competencies in the context of BA tasks and techniques? Or when they require an elevated and advanced level of complexity to execute well?
I would like to look more closely at these skills in additional dimensions.
For example: It is easy for someone to say they have been trained in facilitation, and may have some successes and good experiences in facilitation, and therefore they feel they are a great facilitator. But what does it really mean to be a great facilitator? Are those learned skills and experiences really enough to succeed in new and more complex situations? Would they really be successful in facilitating a highly complex topic while working to build consensus with a group of executives?
A BA organizes and facilitates a meeting with a group of stakeholders to review the future state of a business process. The process flow being reviewed was technically correct and the facilitation methods, tone and techniques were flawlessly used. However, the meeting still failed to achieve a desired goal of reaching consensus from a group of executives on the future vision of the business process.
This was an opportunity to strategically use the skills of facilitation and process modelling together aligned to the purpose of the meeting. In this example, what gets missed is thinking about the goals and purpose of the meeting as well as the audience, and thinking about how to use these hard and soft skills strategically for the purpose. In many cases like the scenario above, the process flow and meeting planning were thought of as needed together, but not strategically planned and executed together; they were performed as separate tasks in the same meeting. There is an opportunity for the meeting goals, agenda, and expected participation to drive the level of detail that the process flow is presented at. The review and discussion, along with expectation setting with the participants on the level of detail is critical to the success of the meeting. This was a missed opportunity to engage executives in the facilitation techniques used by modelling at a higher level appropriate to the ways they engage.
The soft skills needed to be a great business analyst are difficult to develop. It is hard to find resources, mentoring, etc. that really help develop these skills in the context of being a BA in a variety of contexts, situations and different stakeholder groups.
We hear from our leaders about how important soft skills are, and are usually trained on them separately from BA tasks, activities and techniques. It can be a challenge to apply what is learned to the BA context. Rarely do we discuss or hear about leveraging them together. This makes it difficult to grow and apply the skills and build awareness of when to use soft skills. Some would say it is intuition, and either you have it or you don't. I believe there is some truth to that, but that much can be learned through developing experience and awareness.
My callout to the leaders of BAs:
Give mentoring and feedback that shows the context and linkage of soft skills and hard skills together to your BAs in the context of business analysis. Help your BAs build an awareness of situational complexities.
My callout to BAs:
Seek feedback in specific situations on a variety of soft skills and how the situation and tactical activity could be improved through soft skills.
Focus more on developing these skills together and seeking feedback on how we use these skills together.
Truly bringing tactical and influence skills together by thinking differently about how we plan and execute our BA activities and technique usage is key to developing strong competencies as a BA.
What are your thoughts and examples of how BAs can leverage tactical hard skills with influential soft skills?
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