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Bad-Ass BA Lessons. Part 3.

Co-Authored by Cecilie Hoffman

This article is a continuation of the 10 Steps to Becoming a Bad-Ass Business Analyst. These steps will help you take your professional capabilities beyond most people’s expectations and help you to stand out as a leader. In the first two installments we covered:

Step 1. Exploit the hidden power in “menial” tasks
Step 2. Delegate!
Step 3. Compose in real time
Step 4. Define gonzo success criteria
Step 5. Ask the crazy-as-a-fox stupid questions
Step 6. Get their attention
Step 7. Schmooze those stakeholders
Step 8. Rat out those underachievers

Now let’s discuss the last two steps to becoming a Bad-Ass Business Analyst. Buckle up, here we go.

Step 9. Speak truth to power

Here are three ways that business analysts can use their verbal acumen to demonstrate leadership.

#1. Someone has to say what needs to be said
Rarely is it worthwhile embarrassing a person in public, but sometimes it needs to be done.

For example, in a group workshop, staff members are engaged in a productive discussion. Ground rules banning in-room cell phone conversations were agreed to. A manager who is there to lend credence to the proceedings and answer any management type questions that may come up receives a call on his cell phone. Instead of excusing himself, he proceeds to take the call, hunching his back and focusing his gaze on the floor as if averting his eyes from the people around him makes him invisible and inaudible.

Our BA-Meeting Facilitator turns to the manager and politely requests that he turn off the &#@$ing phone. As the manager leaves the room with phone glued to his ear applause erupts in the room.

#2. Children whine. Bad-Ass BAs do not whine.
If a BA wants to be taken seriously, whining is the kiss of death. Bad-Ass BAs present the facts, just the facts, and nothing but the facts, followed by a constructive suggestion for moving forward.

#3. Ask for “Guidance” instead of blaming
When asked by a senior manager what the cause of the delay is, a junior team member gets defensive and starts to whine that the team can’t be held accountable for delays caused by other groups.

“Madam Manager, you are right. Our draft of the BRD is late because all sections should be ready for preliminary review today, and section four is not yet completed. We are collaborating with the infrastructure team, and they needed to get information from the data center operations team, and that team is in a time zone 12 hours ahead of us. We are having difficulty conveying to them the importance of their cooperation. We would appreciate your guidance in how to handle this situation.”

In this context, a request for guidance is an encoded request escalation, e.g., that strong motivation be applied to provide the information. Of course you could say, “Would you please arrange for a fire to be lit under that laggard’s butt?” but that might not reflect well on your powers of self-control.

Step 10. Put on Your “Facilitator Flak Jacket”

Rules of the Road

  • Start on time, end on time
  • Be present – turn off or silence cell phones, PDAs, computers
  • Participate in open, honest dialog without aggression
  • Only one conversation at a time
  • Avoid rat holes and rabbit holes
  • Document decisions and don’t reopen the discussion
  • Be succinct – anyone can invoke the 10 second rule (requesting the speaker to wrap up in 10 seconds or so)
  • Silence = consent
  • New rules can be added at any time (any suggestions?)

Slang: a flak jacket is a form of protective clothing designed to provide protection from shrapnel and other indirect low velocity projectiles.

The BA role is a communications hub, as we said before. We spend a lot of time helping people discuss their needs and concerns while trying to move the effort forward towards a goal. Facilitating a meeting with a group of contentious stakeholders is no fun, but it can be interesting. Ideally your company would provide training in facilitation, negotiation, and conflict management. If that is not available to you, think about a high school coach or a teacher who, while you may not have liked that person, you respected because they were able to keep control of an obnoxious group of teenagers. Channel that person. Remember that you are wearing an invisible flak jacket – take criticism in a constructive manner and adjust your conduct if doing so will yield a better result. The flak jacket will protect you from bleeding out when a particularly unkind criticism is hurled at you.

#1: Set the Agenda
Normally the facilitator sets the meeting agenda. If you realize that the meeting agenda isn’t going to meet your needs, offer the list of items you would like to see on the agenda.

“For our meeting on Thursday, I’d like to see us address the following topics. We have been talking about these issues in several other meetings this week and I think we are ready to make some decisions. Could we have these three topics on the agenda? I think if we put them in this order we’ll be able to make the decisions quickly.”

#2: Good Housekeeping
Start with getting people to agree on how the group meeting will be run.

  • Verify the “Rules of the Road”
    For example, if you are running a brain storming session, you will remind people that all input is good, and comments like “that’s a ridiculous idea” are out of bounds.
  • Identify and agree upon the decision-making method
    Decision-making methods range from unanimity, through consensus, to authoritarian. Should the team choose consensus, make sure there is a common understanding of what this means (usually, “it’s not my first choice, but I’ll support it” or “disagree but commit”) and how ties or stalemates will be broken (possibly by delegating the final decision in this situation to a project or team leader, with the “disagree but commit” agreement in that case).
  • Explicitly call out the expected results/deliverables/goals of the meeting
    At the beginning of the meeting, review the deliverables for that meeting, get agreement that they are complete, and then drive the agenda to complete those deliverables. At the end of the meeting, review the deliverables to make sure they have been met.

#3: Keep people to the schedule
“Mr. Senior Architect, I’m sorry to interrupt your story, which I must say is quite interesting. To keep us on schedule, could I ask you to wrap it up in the next two minutes? Thank you.”

There can be a fine line between managing the schedule and permitting the attendees to dig down to unrecognized underlying information. Spread this power around by identifying a rule in the “Rules of the Road” permitting anyone to call a “rat hole” or “rabbit hole” when attendees are either pontificating on something that has already been agreed upon, or are going off topic. Provide a culturally appropriate phrase to use when doing this. Sometimes this can be a nonsense phrase – for example, in a steering committee, one attendee brought a little cut-out human figure his child had made and explained it was named Flat Stanley. Flat Stanley was adopted as the team mascot, and “given” the power to make recommendations to keep the team on schedule. From that point on, the phrase “calling Flat Stanley” meant the speaker should wrap it up and move on.

#4: Manage the conflict
Some of us would rather sink into the floor than be in a room when two people are speaking to each other in a challenging, contentious manner. There’s a certain amount of conflict that is constructive, and even necessary. Shutting constructive conflict down too early is like the game whack-a-mole; it merely means that the conflict will erupt elsewhere. Sometimes we have to bite our tongue and be patient, giving time for the individuals to work it out in a professional manner.

Conflict is not constructive when the argument has been repeated more than twice or when the comments have become personal insults, or people are yelling in anger. At this point the facilitator must shut down the conflict.

“Gentlemen… Gentlemen! Please. Sam, would you record in the minutes that this topic needs to be addressed in a different meeting. Gentlemen, why don’t you two take a five minute break. We’ll move on to item #5 on the agenda.”

This is the third and final installment in this three-part series. Using any of these techniques will make you stand out as an exceptionally motivated and capable Business Analyst. These techniques will develop your sense of intelligent disobedience and increase your ability to act with judicious audacity so use them with care and flare.

You might pick one technique, try it, and be pleasantly surprised at the result. Work your way through the list – all of the techniques take practice to sink in and become automatic. The goal is simply to add techniques to your business analysis toolkit, so experiment and enjoy!

Installment 1 Business Analyst Times
June 16/09
Step 1. Exploit the hidden power in “menial” tasks
Step 2. Delegate!
Step 3. Compose in real time
Step 4. Define gonzo success criteria
Installment 2 Business Analyst Times
July 14/09
Step 5. Ask the crazy-as-a-fox stupid questions
Step 6. Get Their Attention
Step 7. Schmooze those stakeholders
Step 8. Rat out those underachievers
Installment 3 Business Analyst Times
Aug 11/09
Step 9. Speak truth to power
Step 10. Put on your “Facilitator Flak Jacket”

Don’t forget to post your comments below

Rebecca Burgess is the Business Process Methodology Analyst in the Commerce Lifecycle Transformation Office at Symantec and a Certified Six Sigma Black Belt. After many years of uncovering problems and determining root causes, she is now applying her BA skills to strategic process design and improvement. She can be reached at [email protected].

Cecilie Hoffman is a Senior Principal IT Business Analyst in the Business Analysis Center of Excellence, Symantec Services Group, Symantec Corporation. Cecilie’s professional passion is to educate technical and business teams about the role of the business analyst, and to empower the business analysts themselves with tools, methods, strategies and confidence. Cecilie is a founding member of the Silicon Valley chapter of the IIBA. She writes a blog on her personal passion motorcycle riding at She can be reached at [email protected].

For more information on the art and power of facilitation, take a look at “The Art and Power of Facilitation” by Alice Zavala and Kathleen Haas. This book is one of a series in the Business Analysis Essential Library published in 2008 by Management Concepts.