Do You Really Need Permission
I once worked for an organization that had several buildings within walking distance of each other. There was one building where the organization rented a single floor, and since a project was ending they no longer needed the space so everyone moved out. I had left some paperwork there, so I went over to retrieve it. I had expected my pass wouldn’t work and I’d have to get special permission to get in, but I was pleasantly surprised to find my pass still swiped me in.
When I got into the office, it was almost completely empty except for a few broken chairs and some discarded crates. I grabbed my paperwork, but noticed that a huge meeting room still had all of its furniture inside (including a whiteboard). Not only that it was a corner meeting room meaning the view was pretty much as good as you could get in the building. At the time, we struggled to find meeting space, so this was a real find. I had a series of meetings over the coming weeks and I pretty much ‘moved in’ to the meeting room, to the extent where colleagues and stakeholders (jokingly) referred to it as ‘my office’.
Collectively, I and the stakeholders I was working with were able to get some really productive work done. Since the meeting room was no longer on the room booking system, we weren’t depriving anyone else of the space, in fact we were actually creating space as we weren’t hogging other meeting rooms in the main building. In retrospect, it seems like a foolhardy thing to do. I mean, who did I think I was? Surely I should have asked permission before commandeering an unofficial office?!
Sometimes Authority Is Taken Not Given
Imagine I had asked permission of my manager. They probably wouldn’t have had the authority to ‘re-commission’ an old meeting room, so they’d have had to escalate it. Eventually, weeks later, someone from ‘property services’ might have said yes, but by that point the lease with the building would have expired. I realize ‘just doing it’ might seem maverick, but if the risks are low and it isn’t negatively impacting or endangering others, what is the issue with making a personal decision whilst also taking personal responsibility? After all, I’m sure there’s no ‘what to do if an old meeting room in a decommissioned office becomes available’ section of the employee handbook.
This is a specific example of a broader pattern. As business analysts and change practitioners we have a lot of autonomy, often more than it might first appear. The BA has a huge influence over the tools, techniques and approaches that are used in a project or product improvement initiative. We need to ensure that we align with other stakeholders, but the ultimate decision ought to be ours. We also have leeway in who we invite (or don’t invite) to meetings and workshops, and this in itself can affect the end result. With autonomy comes responsibility! That includes the responsibility of calling-out when we see different and better approaches that could be adopted.
Imagine you were in a situation where traditionally user stories had been used, but you felt that due to the specific organizational context use cases and accompanying scenarios would be more appropriate. It would be tempting to fall into the trap of thinking ‘ah, but we’ve always used user stories in the past….so let’s just go with the flow’. To do so would be to fall into a pattern that is all-to-common throughout organizations. Doing something because it’s always been done that way without understanding the underlying rationale is dangerous. Understanding the pros and cons of each technique in the specific context would help determine which is better.
Of course, if we were to go ahead and utilize a different set of techniques this would require discussion amongst a range of different stakeholders. We need to ensure that what we create is as useful as possible to those that consume or refer to it. Yet, a BA shouldn’t need permission to initiate these discussions. If a better way of doing something is spotted, it is the responsibility of the person that spots it to step up and say ‘I think I’ve found a better way!’. The alternative path of officially escalating it up the chain and waiting for a decision from someone much further away from the work will likely just burn up time and distract more senior people from more valuable activities.
There’s an old expression that says “it’s better to ask for forgiveness than for permission”. In some contexts, this is probably true for us as BAs too!
What are your thoughts? Do you feel BAs should push for more autonomy? I’d love to hear your views, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn