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Going Rogue: A Business Analyst Life

As business analysts, we should have a goal to be perceived as though we are going rogue.

At The Free Dictionary there are plenty of negative definitions of the word rogue. The definition I use for a Rogue BA is the following: Operating outside normal or desirable controls. At the most senior levels we need to look at every situation and do what is necessary for the success of that project. We should not be following a step-by-step process or take the same approach on every project. Every project is different, therefore we need to assess the project and determine our approach based on that assessment. This is why I believe so strongly in the need to dedicate the necessary time on a business analysis work plan prior to starting down the path of the analysis effort. Check out this short webcast on Developing a Business Analysis Work Plan to understand where I am coming from.

Side note: Just in case you were wondering, this post does not in any way represent my views of Sarah Palin. I do thank her for the inspiration in creating the title.

Over the years I have watched companies struggle with determining the right level of flexibility in their business analysis methodology or approach. A thought I have been playing with is that the methodology/approach needs to have the proper amount of rigor for the individual executing the methodology. For example, new and junior BAs struggle if they are left alone to try and assess the project needs and adapt their approach. They will fail miserably with a flexible process. The new and junior BAs do not have the right level of training and/or experience to adapt. How can you bend the rules, if you don’t even know the rules yet? Without the knowledge and experience they don’t have enough stories and history of why certain tools and techniques work for certain situations, while others don’t. They need a mentor and a step-by step process to follow.

goingrogue1At lunch a few weeks ago with my friend Jeff Hyatt, he introduced me to a concept that helps illustrate my thought. It is called ShuHaRi, which he heard about through Alistair Cockburn. ShuHaRi is a Japanese martial arts concept, and describes the stages of learning to mastery. You can read more about how Alistair has written about it here.

In short the idea is that a person passes through three stages of gaining knowledge.

Shu (obey). In this beginning stage, the student follows the teachings of one master precisely. He concentrates on how to do the task, without worrying too much about the underlying theory. If there are multiple variations on how to do the task, he concentrates on just the one way his master teaches him.

Ha (digress). At this point the student begins to branch out. With the basic practices working, he now starts to learn the underlying principles and theory behind the technique. He also starts learning from other masters and integrates that learning into his practice.

Ri (separate). Now the student isn’t learning from other people, but from his own practice. He creates his own approaches and adapts what he’s learned to his own particular circumstances.

Based on this concept, organizations need a methodology or approach that is flexible enough to work and properly support their BAs in all three stages of learning.

Here is a simple application of this concept to levels of BAs.

  • New and junior BAs need a prescribed approach with the help of a master.
  • Intermediate BAs need the support of a community.
  • Master BAs need to be set free on their project and teach the new, junior, and intermediate BAs.

Many organizations seem to have methodologies and organizational structures that address one of the above, but not all. I have seen organizations that jump right to Ri and set all of their BAs free where many need a step-by-step process. These organizations do not have mentor programs or promote collaboration amongst their BA community. Other organizations have such a rigid process which suits the new and junior BAs, but hinder the more senior BAs.

What stage are you in? Is your organization structured to support all levels of BAs? I challenge you to think about what stage of learning you are in and continue to work on reaching the goal of being perceived as a Rogue BA.

Yours in going rogue,


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Jonathan “Kupe” Kupersmith is Director of Client Solutions, B2T Training and has over 12 years of business analysis experience. He has served as the lead Business Analyst and Project Manager on projects in various industries. He serves as a mentor for business analysis professionals and is a Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP) through the IIBA and is BA Certified through B2T Training. Kupe is a connector and has a goal in life to meet everyone! Contact Kupe at [email protected].