A simple discussion turned into a heated argument which turned into an actual throw down and my delivery team business analyst actually KO'd the customer business analyst in a not so memorable moment. I blamed myself for letting it get out of hand and figured we'd be pulled off the engagement. Thankfully the customer side team admitted it was actually their fault, replaced their business analyst and we moved on to a successful project from there and basically never spoke of it again. Lessons learned, project saved. Yeah!
I don't recommend going this route on the project and that's why I've tried to keep the alcohol aspect out of any offsite engagements with project customers, but sometimes it can't be helped... though it's very unlikely you'll ever actually end up with a fist fight on your hands. If you have, please share your incident... I'm sure everyone would love to hear about it.
What is it your project manager, your project team, your project customer, and your senior management really wants from the business analyst? What key qualities are you looking for? A good right hook? Probably not. For me it comes down to these top 5 things...
Creates accurate estimates
Since I'm basically looking at the technical project management landscape because that's where 90% of my project management experience has been, I'm talking here about a business analyst who can either put together a good tech estimate on his own or have enough detailed or high level technical expertise and experience to understand if the team is giving a good estimate. It also comes in handy when the business analyst and the project manager are working closely together on planning and estimating project tasks in the early versions of the project schedule. Fine tuning the schedule before the real work gets under way and having solid work estimates help drive the budget forecast and the resource management plan for the rest of the project with small weekly adjustments, of course.
Can create good, detailed requirements
The business analyst who can comprehend customer business processes quickly and turn them into a functional design with the team and creates detailed requirements from that functional design is invaluable to the organization. It's like a great football quarterback who can look at the defense and read the defense. He can see what they are planning for and respond accordingly. And win. Winning is good. I always say that detailed, complex, well documented requirements are the lifeblood of the project and getting started on design and development from great requirements is a major stepping stone to success. And those same requirements will be a major component of a successful user acceptance testing (UAT) session later in the project as you’re getting very close to a signed off deliverable project to the customer and end user community.
Can manage project teams effectively
Resource management, communication, conflict resolution, mentoring - these are all good qualities for a business analyst to possess in order to successfully lead teams on productive and winning projects. But it's more than that. It's high integrity, honesty, follow up and follow through, confidence, and the ability to make decisions and delegate tasks and not waiver, but still be open to team feedback and communication. Yes, you are leading the team, but not micromanaging them or oppressively managing the team. It's a cohesive, collaborative process and a back and forth input, absorption and follow through process. The business analyst needs to be able to listen as well and as much as they speak – it will go miles toward successful leadership of the project team.
The effective and efficient business analyst also must exude confidence. That's actually very important for any leader in order to be respected and followed. The business analyst often must make tough decisions without much data or info to back them up and if they are lacking confidence the team and the customer will sense that and be concerned about the business analyst's ability to lead a successful Project. You don't want to go there. Be confident, standby your actions, your decisions and task delegations even if there is pushback. But at the same time, recognize and admit your mistakes.
Cares about the customer
Customer passion, understanding and empathy are all good qualities of the effective and successful business analyst. Feeling accountable to the customer and living by my personal motto of "you're only as successful as your last customer thinks you are..." will help the business analyst stay focused on one of the key ingredients of project success - customer satisfaction. Customers need and want a high level of communication and many touch points and frequent updates on most projects to stay confident in the delivery team and feel good about the project. And that's ok – it's their money you're working with so they have that right.
Summary / call for input
The bottom line on the business analyst who will best serve the project, the team, the customer and the project manager is one who is experienced, has the right tech knowledge coming in, is confident and ready to make decisions and lead a team. He's been around the block – knows when to act and when to get more info, knows how to lead a customer, knows how to maintain the productivity of a skilled team, and knows how to facilitate good and effective communication. Everyone has to start somewhere so all new business analysts are novices at some point, but most that I've worked with were either project managers or tech leads before becoming business analysts, so they were already a step ahead of everyone else.
Readers – what's your take on this? If you're a business analyst, where did you come from – and why be a business analyst? What drove you into the position... need, desire?