Wednesday, 08 April 2020 08:00

Impostor Syndrome: Business Analysis Is NOT Just Common Sense

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Impostor Syndrome seems to be particularly prevalent within the Business Analysis community. It’s time to consider why that might be, and how we can overcome it together.

Impostor syndrome is characterised by:

  • feeling like a fraud (“When are they going to figure out I don’t know what I’m doing?”)
  • believing success is unearned or just ‘lucky’ (“I was just in the right place at the right time”)
  • being plagued with self-doubt (“Who am I to do this?”).

When BAs hear about Impostor Syndrome, we experience a lightbulb moment. (“I thought it was just me!”).

BAs often down play our skills and effectiveness, we say things like “I didn’t really DO anything, I just got the right people together and asked the right questions” as if this is not an incredibly valuable skill!

Do not mistake the logical and sensible outcomes we are able to reach, due to many years of experience and developing our skills, as ‘common sense’. We have trained ourselves to be objective and see different perspectives. We have learned a wide range of techniques for engaging people appropriately, obtaining information and conveying that information in the best way possible.  

Business Analysis is a professional discipline, is growing in size and expanding around the world, it is supported by recognised qualifications and professional bodies. If some friends and colleagues don’t know what Business Analysis is – that doesn’t mean it’s not real or not valuable.

Here are some of the factors contributing to widespread BA impostor syndrome:

It’s just common sense:

Application of logic and evidence driven decision making can look like common sense, especially if our approach and techniques are not made visible to stakeholders. We forget that the tools we are familiar with, and the logical process we apply are not personality traits – they are our professional skills, honed and improved over many years of practice, and not everyone has these skills.

Anyone can call themselves a BA:

Unfortunately, anyone can start calling themselves a BA, and anyone who has ever facilitated a workshop or written some requirements can believe they have the BA skill-set. As a profession we can make it easier for employers to differentiate between genuine BAs and BAs-in-name-only by having membership of BA professional bodies including IIBA and BCS, by undertaking professional qualifications, by engaging with the professional community online and at events and we can encourage the BAs-in-name-only to up their game as well!

Just fell into it:

Most of us did not set out to be BAs. In fact, when we were making critical life choices about what to study and where to live, we did not even know the role existed. The fact that we have become BAs by accident doesn’t mean that we have to apologise for it, or play down how much we enjoy it or excel at it.


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Not a ‘real’ BA:

Some genuine BAs feel that they have come to the profession from circuitous route, or had a different path for them selves in mind. These BAs have often locked-in their professional identity to their industry, rather than their profession. For example, BAs in the financial sector who started their career in branch of a bank may believe it is their business knowledge, not their BA skill-set that allows them to do their job. If you have the skill-set and responsibilities of a BA, it may be time to allow yourself to see this as your professional identity.

What does a BA do?:

The BA role can look very different in different organisations and even within the same organisation. The BA role is no longer ‘new’, but there is still a great deal of role ambiguity [1]. Constantly having to explain the BA role can be tiresome, and make us question why it is not understood.  

Not technical:

Many BAs have a role in IT-enabled change, and can feel they have to apologise for not having a technical background. This can lead to a feeling of ‘anyone could do my job’ because we don’t have specific technical skills, like writing code. The skills we do have are just as valuable, and often more scarce within the tech industry!

There is no role for the BA in agile:

Some organisations and individuals, sadly, still hold this view, and BAs can find it crushing. BAs have consistently proved our contribution in all software development approaches, and the core of our professional discipline is strong enough that we should not feel pushed out by other specialist roles, such as UX, UR and PO.

The business have written their own requirements:

The implication here is that a group of business users can figure out what they need, document it and convey it to developers and or suppliers. We know that 9 times out of 10 this will not end well, but instead of feeling offended or excluded, we need to work with them to build the trust they need in our profession.

So what can we do about it?

  • Understand that impostor syndrome exists, and the majority of people experience it at some point in our lives [2].
  • Consider which of these BA impostor-factors are effecting how you see yourself and how you behave.
  • Talk about it! Find someone you trust, or engage a coach, and discuss your feelings in relation to your role and profession.

Conclusion

By allowing ourselves and our stakeholders to believe that ‘business analysis is just common sense’, we may become valued as individuals but we will never demonstrate the value of the professional discipline. This occurs frequently in organisations when certain individuals are constantly requested within a BA Service, as it is the individual BA who is valued and trusted, not the application of business analysis.

We must continue to stand-up for the activities we know need to happen that contribute to the successful delivery of software, projects and change initiatives. We must leave every stakeholder we encounter with a better understanding and appreciation for business analysis that when we met. And finally, we must value our skills, believe in our role and not see ourselves as impostors in our industry.

Further reading:

[1] Dr Debra Paul (2018) Defining the role of the business analyst.  http://centaur.reading.ac.uk/80476/1/86223494_Paul_Thesis.pdf

[2] Dr Pauline Rose Clance (1989). Take the Impostor Phenomenon test: www.paulineroseclance.com/pdf/IPTestandscoring.pdf

Christina Lovelock

Christina is an experienced BA leader, has built BA teams ranging in size from 5 to 120 Business Analysts and champions entry level BA roles. She is active in the BA professional community, attending and regularly speaking at events. Christina is an examiner for the International Diploma in Business Analysis and is also a director of the UK BA Manager Forum. She has co-authored the 2019 book, Delivering Business Analysis: The BA Service Handbook, which shares insights and findings from research into Business Analysis, practical guidance for BA leaders and case studies from across the professional community. https://www.linkedin.com/in/christina-lovelock

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