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It’s Time to View Your Role as a Communication Expert

kupe Oct29I teach a class on applying improvisation skills that focuses on how to be a better team player, collaborator and communicator. I start the class off by asking people what skills they need to be effective in their role. In this session people generally say communication skills, problem solving, negotiation skills, influence, teamwork, etc. Many of the underlying competencies in the BABOK. They also bring up the multitude of techniques familiar in our community like use cases, user stories, impact mapping, context diagrams, workflow diagrams, etc. In my last blog post I argued that decision making was not an underlying competency it was what a business analysis professional does. In my classes and here in this post I argue that the same applies for communication skills.

As I was formulating my thoughts for this post I attended a Greater Atlanta IIBA chapter meeting where a panel discussed communicating to executive level employees. My friend and BA thought leader Jonathan Babcock made a statement that resonated with me. He said, in so many words, BA’s need to be great communication experts. I was so moved I almost gave him a standing ovation.

You need to view your role as communication expert. Your goal is not to complete a template, your goal is not to document Use Cases, your goal is not to help groom a backlog. You goal is to have the necessary stakeholders involved in your initiative gain a shared understanding of the problem and how to go about solving that problem. It’s that simple. The tools and techniques are there to help you communicate. They are not what you do.
Other professions, not yours, have communication as an underlying competency. For example, a plumber. Their main competency is plumbing services. Their goal is to get water from point A to point B without any leaks (over simplified, but you understand where I am going). Their main role is not communication. Yes, they have to communicate with other team members and a homeowner, but it is truly a secondary competency.

Communication challenges are at the core of why in our profession best practices are not always the best practice. Being a communication expert means you are communicating with individuals. Every individual is different. Everyone has their preferred communication style, their own information needs. So when someone says I have a requirements best practice you can’t assume it will work for you and your team. That practice was the best for their team. You need to understand what works for your team and your situation. Now don’t stop learning from others. Just use other people’s experiences to help come up with your approach.

In our community waterfall vs agile is a big topic. This comparison and these conversations are masking the real issue. If you have the mindset of communication first, nothing else matters. Regardless of methodology used you add value to your team by helping gain that shared understanding. Do what is necessary to gain that. New techniques or new uses for existing techniques surface all the time. Use them to help you communicate.
When you view your role as a communication expert you will start to see how to identify when you have done enough analysis. Knowing when you have done just enough analysis is not when a technique is complete to a certain level of quality. You know it when you have communicated clearly and there is a shared understanding. When that goal is reached you are done. There is no silver bullet here. If everyone on the team is very familiar with the business area and problem to be solved it may happen faster. If the problem and solution are complex and there are new team members it will take longer.

Without being able to see your faces or ask you directly I am going to assume we all have a shared understanding. If not, let’s continue the conversation in comments below.

All the best,

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