From the Archives: Diving Into Unofficial Roles & Responsibilities of the Business Analyst
Why are we the psychologists and the babysitters?
Often on airplanes I get asked, “So, what do you do?”
I am sure if you travel you get this one as well! Do any of you answer with “I am a therapist?”
Well, I do, and it works really well! I am a therapist that helps business teams and technology teams work together and create meaningful products, services, and systems.
- I help them agree on changes and create a shared understanding.
- I create a process and platform to communicate.
- I make them both feel like they are the ones who came up with the ideas.
- I make conflict seem like a non-issue and create win/wins.
- I present options and alternatives and work through, with the pros and cons.
- And, they pay me an hourly rate to do this!
You rarely see “therapist” on a list of required BA skills, but a comparison of BA job descriptions across industries, across nations or even across a single organization, yields an amazing variety of responsibilities and required skill sets. Even the industry leading IIBA BABOK (embedded link: http://www.iiba.org/babok-guide.aspx) highlights more than 20 underlying competencies that support the professional practice of business analysis.
Related Article: Your Next Business Analyst Will be a Robot
Lengthy BA skill lists that include creative thinking, technical skills, adaptability, listening, solution knowledge, teaching, testing, leadership, facilitation, etc., confirm our reality that BAs are expected to be the Swiss Army Knife of the project, product, IT, or operations world. It’s no wonder that most BAs claim to “wear many different hats.”
Despite the wide variety of accepted roles and responsibilities, BAs are often asked to wear strange hats—to take on unofficial duties that don’t really fit the wide range of normal. I get asked in my classes on a regular basis: “Is it the BA’s role to ___________?” Students fill in the blank with common things like testing, coding, and project management, but hostage negotiator, spy and therapist have also landed at the end of their question!
Here are a few true stories I’ve collected over the years, with names changed to protect those who might be embarrassed by their big, floppy, gaudy, leopard-print hats:
- BA Becky was a well-respected senior BA in her organization. The BACoE leader recognized her accomplishments by asking her to mentor a struggling team. The odd part of the assignment—BA Becky was asked to be an undercover mentor—she was not allowed to tell the team she was mentoring them.
- BA Barry was on a project team that needed to create a pricing strategy for the organization’s products. The strategy included several assumptions about their competitor’s pricing. The team leader asked BA Barry to “secret shop” the competitor to validate the assumptions.
- BA Beth asked her stakeholders from California, Texas and Arizona to travel to Minnesota for a full-day face-to-face requirements review meeting. The day before the big meeting, the project manager realized that BA Beth’s requirements were a huge mess. The requirements review would be a disaster. So, the PM asked BA Bart to stay late, re-do BA Beth’s requirements, and bring the new and improved requirements document into BA Beth’s meeting.
- BA Brody was fluent in Spanish, so it makes sense that he was asked to review, translate, and validate a 6-months old, 300-page requirements document written in—Portuguese! The business sponsor asked, “Since you are fluent in Spanish it won’t be too hard to translate, right?”
- A crafty project manager tossed BA Ben under the bus when she asked Ben to present a feasibility analysis to an erratic, f-bomb-wielding business owner. The business owner had great vision, but cost and feasibility did not meet his expectations, and the PM did not want to be in the line of fire.
- BA Belinda got along well with everyone on her project team. So, naturally, the project manager asked BA Belinda to “figure out” a way to get a notoriously mean and stubborn database engineer to cooperate with the team.
- Late one afternoon in mid-October, BA Betty found out she would be laid off at the end of the month. That same day, BA Bill was asked build a relationship with Betty to get the information he needed to take over Betty’s requirements work for a few projects. Obviously, laid-off BA Betty was NOT excited to do the knowledge transfer!
- BA Brent was very smart but quite odd. His analysis work was solid, but his social skills were suspect. The team leader asked BA Betsy to help Brent stay focused, to monitor his interactions with the business SMEs and to step in when needed to ensure deadlines were met.
After Hours Snooper
- BA Bill worked in a business unit where employees processed checks. Employees were required to secure the checks when they left the office each night. To validate compliance with check procedures, BA Bill was asked to stay late one night to search employee cubicles for unsecured checks.
- Important documents were missing from several client files in BA Brenda’s organization. Brenda’s team leader asked her to return to the office after hours and search processing analysts’ desks for the missing documents.
- A third-party software vendor refused to provide their data model to their customer. The customer needed the data model to develop requirements and meet the needs of their business. BA Barb, a member of the customer project team, was asked to reverse engineer the vendor data model.
What is it about the BA role that makes us prime targets for these odd assignments? I don’t see project managers or testers or developers wearing these odd hats.
The majority of these unofficial roles rely on our ability to build and maintain relationships with a wide variety of people. Maybe, these odd assignments are a compliment? Perhaps people skills are the primary strength of effective BAs, and these unofficial roles are just a side-effect of our success.
Have you ever taken on one of these odd roles or do you have another unofficial BA role to add to my list? Share your story in the comments below!
Note: This article was originally published on batimes.com on September 14, 2015