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Pessimism, a Business Analysts Good Trait

When most people experience a beautiful sunny day, they think to themselves, “Wow, what a great day!” But to me, a pessimist at heart, I think, “What about my garden?

This sun and heat are going to wilt my flowers and give me a sunburn on top of that!” Is pessimism a good trait for an analyst? Is it wise to put someone whose instinct is to jump to the negative or be nitpicky in the BA role? Would not being an optimistic person be a better fit for a company in need of an analyst’s help? It seems to go against what I, and probably many of you, think would be a bad trait to have but I believe I am a great analyst because of it.

Naturally looking on the flip side, I prefer not to say downside or negative, has it benefits. After all, is it not part of being a good Pessimistic BA (PBA) to look for gaps and to see where processes have gone down the wrong path? How many times have you been asked to gather requirements, only get vague answers? It is not only about asking why, who, what, where, and when?

Analyst. That is our title, it is our mission to analyze.

As a PBA you instinctively dive into what is not being said. “Oh, we are needing to install this XYZ software. Should not be a problem.” Well a PBA might say to themselves, “I bet they are running another competing software and probably did not even bother to make sure that this new software is compatible with their current and legacy systems.” So you start asking questions pointed towards these possible issues. They may or may not result in an issue, but the more everyone in the group talks, the more nagging questions come to mind.

There is a term that I have come to use; strategic pessimism. Strategic Pessimistic Business Analyst; sounds good to me. What is this, what is the idea, and how does this apply to the PBA? Imagine or just remember a time when a stakeholder came to you, asking the world, at the highest priority, and with an astounding three day deadline. Been there? I would guess we all have been.


The first goal is to reassess their priority, that impossible deadline, and must haves. The goal of strategic pessimism is to weed out the must haves to a list of true must haves, should haves, and would like to haves. This is called lowering or making the real expectations known. Contemplating the flip side to the request/project, you help to provide outcomes and plans to deal with any if….thens. Doing all these things tactfully will make realistic expectations and lower anxiety.

Of course, this is not only limited to vetting business processes but to every aspect of the PBA. The PBA loves Epics, User Stories, and Use Cases. I was recently a part of a continued education class when a BA wrote a User Story. The team thought it was a good story. As a PBA that “something does not seem right here” feeling came about me. Starting to rattle off multiple User Stories, branching out from the groups original User Story, effectively turning that Story into an Epic. Instead of a simple example, more work was created. Needless to say, I was not liked that much at that moment. Those questions that run through the PBA’s mind may be adding to the workload but it uncovers needed answers to the possibilities that would otherwise lay resting until discovered after deployed.

Now it would seem that a PBA would not fare very well talking to people. After all great communication is a huge part of an analysts work life. You get better responses by being firm but nice; making that small chit-chat before getting down to the issues at hand. Being a PBA does not mean you do not like to talk to people or that you love to hide in your office with your door closed. If you are an analyst, of any type, by definition, you love to get out and talk to people.

How many times have you followed up with a stakeholder and they said they would get that information to you later today? Did a little voice in your head scream, “I bet I am going to have to follow up with them by end of the day; they will probably forget or avoid it.”? That is the PBA at work. I have such deep hope for them to get back to me; sometimes they do but sometimes they do not. But it is that question that rages up in your mind that keeps you in focus; keeps the project from getting away from you.

Rather it is pessimism or through learned behavior, we learn to read people and anticipate the coming possible roadblocks. We look for undesirable and unthought of outcomes, eliminating unrealistic expectations, and all while helping to deliver the best product possible.

Maybe being pessimistic just works for me and other PBA’s. Maybe being optimistic could be even better or the same. But I truly believe in the end we all have a little pessimism in us. Embrace the flip side!