Deconstructing the Stress Factors in the Business Analyst Role
Over my years as a professional, I have come to realize that the title of Business Analyst (BA) is a heavy one. How each organization defines the role can be completely different. A BA in Company C may be a requirements scribe, whereas a BA in Company D wears many hats: process analyst, project manager proxy, test validator, etc. Whichever way the role is defined, I think stress has plagued many of us who call Business Analysis our profession. If you have found yourself feeling anxious or overwhelmed at any point during your career in business analysis, you are not alone. There are many factors that can play into that feeling. I want to deconstruct a few of the typical stressors here and offer some potential solutions.
1. Not understanding the area of study:
BAs are often on the fringes of the business. It is analogous to being a window cleaner. As each pane gets cleaned, we can see a little more into the room in front of us, but we are still only seeing a portion. Each pane reveals a bit more about the room, but the entire picture may still elude us. We are on the outside looking in. Not having the full picture of the business, its processes, or its business drivers can leave a Business Analyst feeling inadequate and uninformed.
As a BA, questions are your friend (like your squeegee on the dirty window). I have been guilty of feeling like I was asking too many questions. What I realized is that if I don’t ask my second follow-up question, which may lead to a third follow-up question, I risk not gaining the knowledge that I need to understand the business to write better requirements.
Feeling anxious because we don’t know the business is stressful, but not asking enough questions to get the understanding we need will cause more stress later. If you have 100 questions, don’t stop at number 99. Ask all 100. If you find that the participants are getting a little impatient with your questions, gently remind them that you are trying to understand them as an outsider looking in. Once you gain a better understanding, your perspective changes, and you are no longer looking through smudged windowpanes.
2. Large complex projects:
If you have been on projects with multiple stakeholders, then you may feel pressure before you even type the ‘r’ in requirements. It can be daunting to start a new project. You may be working in a new department with all new faces. Unfamiliarity coupled with complexity can be intimidating. In instances like this, it is important to build alliances.
Find project team members that you can trust. Relationship building is so important to your success as a BA and will also go a long way in helping alleviate some of your stress. It can be nice to have a friend when you are on the fringes.
3. Requirement Elicitation is not one size fits all:
For those who do not practice Business analysis, gathering requirements may seem like a simple task. You find out the need, and you write it down. It is not at all that simple. Different stakeholders require different elicitation methods. Some stakeholders are very forthcoming with information. Others can be more guarded or may simply not know how to express the need. Interviewing may work for some. Passing e-mails back and forth may be more appropriate for others.
The key here is to really take the pulse of your stakeholder population (a personality assessment of sorts). Understand their optimal mode of communication and how you can best work within the confines of that. Also, do not neglect your best mode of working as well. Finding the proper balance between stakeholder and BA methods of working will be key to helping alleviate stress.
Do not feel pressured to use an elicitation technique that is not a good fit. We do not want to simply check boxes on the list of deliverables; we want to add true value.
4. Feeling pressured by deadlines:
Every project comes with a start and end date. BAs often occupy a few task lines on that project schedule, and the pressure to meet those deadlines can feel immense. We don’t want to be the ripple that causes the project timeline to shift.
As BAs, we often take the deadlines given to us and work to fit within them. If we do not understand the business, the project is complex, and we don’t know what elicitation method to use when starting a project, then how can we be tied to a deadline?
Speak up when you feel that timelines are not realistic. Open and honest conversations can be uncomfortable but can also be wholly necessary when the quality of work is on the line. The timeline may not shift because you raised a concern, but I guarantee you will feel a little less pressure when you have been open and honest and raised your hand.
This is not an exhaustive list; it is just some of the key things I noticed in my career as a previously stressed and anxious BA. In the end, it is important to remember that your success as a Business Analyst rests in part on your ability to perform the job well. Different stress factors can become obstacles to your performance. Understanding those factors is the first step in tackling them. Apply different techniques to alleviate the stress. You will thank yourself.