7 Tips for Success as a new lead Business Analyst
Congratulations! You have been asked to serve as the lead on a team of Business Analysts assigned to an important project.
It is more than likely someone recognizes the good work that you have done in the past and their hope is that your prior success can be replicated with multiple Business Analysts on this new initiative. Like any new experience, you may have some anxiety regarding this new role. It is important to you that what happens will turn out to be a future success story and not an experience that stays in the closet.
Here are some tips for success as a new lead Business Analyst from someone who has gone through the experience. I have also had the opportunity to observe many colleagues who have succeeded in this role and some who have crashed and burned.
1. Understand the Role
Spend time upfront figuring out the role of the lead Business Analyst in the context of the work effort that you are about to join.
Do not make assumptions on expected tasks or deliverables. While the function is becoming more common, there is no universally accepted definition for the lead Business Analyst role. Some experts view the lead Business Analyst as a formal role inheriting many project management-type responsibilities while others view the lead Business Analyst as an informal way of steering people in a common direction. There is no consensus.
Work with the manager who assigned you to this role (Project Manager or Business Analyst Manager) to understand their expectations and their interpretation of the role. Ask the question “What is your definition of success for this role?”
Provide input about your views on how you can provide value as the lead.
Capture the outcome of the dialogue to provide a reference point that you can subsequently use to ensure you are on track.
What I have observed in practice is that many people accept the lead BA role on a project and skip this step because they feel they are a natural leader, that they inherently understand what is needed, or that the expectations (in their mind) are obvious. They subsequently bump into reality when results do not happen the way they or their manager expected. Combat this possibility by understanding the role upfront.
2. Set Team Expectations Upfront
Spend time upfront with assigned Business Analysis resources on the team to reach a common understanding of roles and responsibilities. Recognize that Business Analysts have an independent streak and often are used to steering their own ship.
Avoid describing a responsibility with the words “participate” or “contribute”; such ambiguity invariably leads to future conversations.
Recognize that team members have different experiences and viewpoints on what tasks and deliverables are necessary to be successful. This is a dialogue, not a monolog.
Capture the shared understanding of a team discussion to provide a reference point for keeping the team in harmony going forward.
Setting team expectations of the relative role of different members of the team is a practice that seems to be very much in its infancy from an adoption perspective. On the positive side, the practice of using Business Analysis plans on large projects seems to be growing, which lends itself to this task.
3. Communicate Openly and Transparently
Take guidance from our Agile brethren by communicating openly and transparently. There is no mystery here; good leaders are good communicators. Motivate and inspire people through clear communication. Build trust through direct and open communication; do not be afraid to share difficult messages. Do not be afraid of the difficult conversation.
Do not treat information as currency, to be controlled and dispensed as it fits your needs. Banish the phrase “need to know.”
Communicate information from top to bottom as well as bottom to top. Communication should be continuous; err on the side of over-communicating; people do not always hear, understand or make a connection when they receive a message the first time.
Remember your actions communicate a message. The message that you communicate verbally and the actions you follow should be in accord.
If you fail to communicate properly, you can poison the atmosphere between you and your colleagues, as well as the morale of the project team. Communication is paramount to your success as a new lead Business Analyst.
4. Lead by Example
Show what you expect by taking the lead by example approach. Taking the role of a lead Business Analyst should not preclude being an active participant in the project.
Make it easier for people to follow you by piloting the approach for Business Analysis that was agreed upon during upfront planning.
Set the standard for excellence with your actions; be the role model and do not dabble in mediocrity.
Build trust by sharing your experiences and how you adjust from the initial gameplan.
Do not be afraid to ask for help; illustrate that no one has all the answers and that we rely on each other for success.
In my experience, successful lead Business Analysts are the ones that engage directly and share in the accountability for the deliverables. The lead Business Analyst who is preoccupied with status reports and attending management meetings is often viewed as too remote to understand the real issues being faced by the Business Analyst in the trenches.
5. Accept When You Are Wrong
Accept that as a lead Business Analyst you will not be perfect. You will not get everything right at first and will make mistakes along the way. Your success on this project is dependent on how you handle mistakes and failures.
Openly acknowledge mistakes in leadership that impact the team and the outcome of the project. Take ownership of the mistake(s).
Keep calm; handle failures with grace and humility. Move forward by reflecting on the challenge and identifying lessons learned. A significant component of leadership is related to your ability to influence. Accepting when you are wrong illustrates your humanity and builds trust within the team.
6. Know When to Keep Silent
As a new leader, avoid the temptation to micromanage contributors on the team. Know when to keep silent. Setting guidelines by communicating the expected outcome is acceptable. Paying excessive attention to how a resource does their job is counterproductive and leads to conflict.
Treat Business Analysts as professionals and give them the benefit of the doubt when you contemplate stepping in to provide direction.
Do not undermine the authority and credibility of a Business Analyst during elicitation sessions by intervening to steer the outcome into what you expect. Use the offline time to guide, coach, and mentor resources.
Talk to your team about how they want you to provide direction and how you would like to be kept apprised of their progress.
Do not overreact when things do not go the way you expected. Instead, reflect on whether your expectations were realistic and how your guidance could be improved.
Remember that individuals will feel disempowered and not trusted to fully complete their work when they encounter excessive involvement by their supervisor or leader.
Knowing when to keep silent and when to intervene is not always straightforward for the new lead Business Analyst. If in doubt, reflect on your desire for control, weighing it against the need to develop and grow the team.
7. Apply Servant Leadership
View your role on the project through the lens of a servant leader. Put your team first and yourself second.
Listen first and practice empathy. Acknowledge the perspectives of others before asserting your viewpoint.
Understand the obstacles faced by the Business Analysts when facing their deadlines.
Distinguish between obstacles they can solve on their own and the ones that need assistance. Provide the support needed by removing those obstacles.
Use persuasion and influence to set direction; resist the temptation to dictate the process.
Champion the success of the contributors; act as a cheerleader by applauding victories and witnessing people doing good things.
Look beyond the delivery of documents as a measurement of success. Look at the professional growth of your team members as an equal victory.
Applying servant leadership is more than knowing when to keep silent and avoiding micromanagement. It means being vocal and active while serving the needs of the team.
No matter your background, age, or experience, we all share something in common: a desire to be successful. As noted in the beginning, being lead on a team of Business Analysts for the first time can cause some people anxiety. Following the seven tips listed represents an effective start towards addressing the fears and meeting the goal, the outcome of success. These tips are based on the patterns that I have observed in my career as an experienced Business Analyst. However, they are certainly not conclusive. What has your experience been? What advice would you provide? Cheers to your success and future learnings.