Tuesday, 02 April 2013 04:18

Promoting and Selling the Role of the BA

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Barrett FeatureArticle April2Back in 2003 when a group of 17 of us thought about and discussed the idea of establishing an association for business analysts (later to become the IIBA), we struggled with many issues, as you can imagine. One of the key questions we discussed that first meeting was simply, what is a BA? It was interesting how many people around the room had different opinions about the roles, responsibilities, and even the proper title for the business analyst.

Now 10+ years later, we are still struggling with the same issues. The core issue makes it very difficult for many of us to grow as business analyst professionals and to promote the role within our organizations. When many still don’t understand what a BA does, and many others still don’t appreciate its value, it makes our lives very difficult. This is our career. If we want to grow and mature as BA professionals, we need a stronger

BA awareness both locally and worldwide.

Selling and promoting anything in this world is easy if our audience ‘gets it’ in the first place. But if the sale requires education first then the job is much trickier. I remember working for Symantec back when the idea of a computer virus was relatively new and I had to make my numbers selling site licences of Norton Anti-Virus. That was really hard. First I needed to explain what a virus was and then I needed to convince them that this was an important issue.

The same goes today for the role of the BA.

The process of promoting the role of the business analyst and selling ourselves as a valuable asset to our organizations isn’t a slam dunk. As a result, we need to be armed with the right tools and approaches to be able to get through to our customers, management, and even our friends about what we do and how we do it. Then we need to convince them that we add value to the world.

This article will address the process and offers some tips, tools, and techniques that we can use to help others better understand the role of the BA.

The most important part of the puzzle is to be able to articulate clearly and concisely what the business analyst is. If we can do this well, it can be used in many locations and instances: at work, at home, across the backyard fence, and at the neighborhood Christmas party. So often, as part of small talk at a party or during a discussion at work, we hear the words, “So what do you do for living?”

The problem that we BAs have when we are asked this question (with my apologies to so many people out there) is that we are far too technical and detailed in our approach to the answer. The key is to keep it simple; keep it short, concise, and use terms that our audience will understand. The trick is to leave out words like requirements, processes, software development, stakeholders, business improvement, and more. The truth is our jobs involve all of these wonderful but technical words. We have to leave them aside.

My approach to the question is short, simple, and in terms that anyone can understand. I use the word architect very quickly when describing what a BA does. The word is understandable by everyone. We all know what an architect does when we are renovating our home or watching others design a large building. Once my audience understands that the BA is an architect, my job becomes much easier. From there I very quickly bring the analogy to reality. I go on to confirm that they work with customers at the front end of any project to search out and document exactly what the customer is asking for — and to be sure that they are getting what they really want. They will work throughout the process of design from simple sketches to detailed blueprints just as an architect would on a large building. In the BA’s case, the projects are smaller but not necessarily less important. And I also explain the types of projects that BAs work on: lots of software projects, as well as process improvement projects within an organization, and very importantly small business projects. (I always highlight that BAs do not just work on technology projects.)

And again, I keep it short, simple, and in terms my audience understands.

The next logical step would be to tackle the questions, “Why do we need this person?” or, “Who cares?” We will also often hear, “Why not let the project manager do it?” To the last part of that question, I have a simple answer. Project managers can’t do this properly — they are not equipped. I suggest to my audience that project managers and business analysts think and work very differently and are not cut out to do each other’s job as well. To the first part of the question my answer is also simple: if you employ a BA (or architect) at the front end of any project you are ensuring your project and your stakeholders a better end result. Too often our projects involve reworking and more investment because we didn’t get the specs right, up front. A BA will save you time, money, and effort because you will know exactly what you should be building up front.

By now I have established what a BA does and where the value is. With this framework, my work promoting and selling the role of the BA becomes much easier.

There are many vehicles we can use now in our mission to grow BA communities. We have already established the 15-second elevator speech when someone asks us that question, “What do you do for a living?” But be careful because often you will be asked to explain more. “How do you do this? What tools do you use?“ Again, the BA will tend to get far too technical and detailed. I call this vehicle the two-minute reception speech. You now have to go slightly deeper and give your audience a better understanding of what you do and how you do it. This vehicle is only two minutes long because we run the risk of losing our audience at this stage very quickly. If they want more even after this, I will finally admit it’s time to get technical, but they will ask for it by this point.

Other vehicles available to us are the resume, the LinkedIn profile, the bio, and even the job description. So many people are reading about the business analyst these days and still don’t get it. Or they are reading your profile or resume and don’t understand. Be very careful about your job experience as a business analyst. Again, keep it simple and understandable. Your audience will appreciate it.

Within our organizations, we have vehicles available to us to promote the role as well. The project management office (PMO), business analyst office (BAO), or community of practice are all terms that are becoming more prevalent in today’s organizations. These are wonderful centers or communities that we can use to promote our role. Lunch and learns, monthly presentations, professional development days are all great vehicles within our organizations that can help us. Maybe the ‘community’ does not exist. If that’s the case, build it yourself. Again, keep it simple and straightforward. Creating a community of practice for business analysts within your organization does not need executive support or sponsorship. Just do it. Announce a gathering in the lunchroom of business analysts to discuss tools and techniques or career progression and watch everyone pop in to see what’s going on.

Write an article like this one and share it with others, or create a portal or website page within your organization’s domain. Create a blog. All of these vehicles are at your disposal in order to help promote and sell the role of the BA.

The bottom line to all of this is if you want to grow as a business analyst you have to take part in growing the community of business analysts around you. You need to help promote and sell the role of the BA even if it doesn’t involve you directly. Get involved with the IIBA, creative center of excellence or community of practice. Have at the ready a 22-second elevator speech and two-minute reception speech. Write an article.

Create a blog.

Long live the business analyst.

Don't forget to leave your comments below.

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David Barrett

David has spent the past 17 years building a series of companies dedicated to the business of Project Management and business analysis:

  • running conferences in Canada, the US, Australia and India
  • running education programs at 10 universities across Canada
  • operating one of the world’s largest online portals for project managers and BAs
He is also the Director of PMPeople.com, a web site connecting project managers donating their time to Charities and Not-for-Profit organizations across Canada.

David has just released his first book: The Power of the Plan - for people managing every day projects. He is about to release two other books one for professional project managers and the other for professional BAs.

David and his wife Karen run an online travel business called SharingTravelIdeas.com.


-1 # MAS 2013-04-02 13:51
This article provides a good way of describing the Business Analyst as an architect. However, I don't fully agree with the statement that BA's can't be Project Managers, or vice versa.

In many instances along the way in my career, I have had to do both. I may not have been a full-on PM, but since we didn't have one, I was put in the role and it worked out fine. It may not be the optimal situation, but I think it is viable.
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+1 # Vicki James 2013-04-02 15:00
I'll address this next week in part 2 of 3 of So You Want to Be a Business Analyst - http://project-pro.us/2013/03/31/you-want-to-be-a-ba-part-1/.

Here's a preview "if you effectively and efficiently juggle managing the project (planning, tracking, risks, stakeholder management, etc.) with the business analysis tasks (eliciting requirements, creating models and documentation, working with stakeholder to prioritize, translating for the technical team, etc.) then it is working for you. "
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+5 # Cathy Brunsting 2013-04-02 13:52
Nice article David.

I like to think of the difference between the PM role and the BA role as the BA ensures that we are providing the right solution, while the PM is ensuring that we are providing the solution in the right way. Thus the BA ensures that the team is focused on business functionality and doing what is truly needed by the business. And, the PM is more like a traffic cop - making sure that everyone on the team is working effectively, staying on target within time and budget constraints and communicating with each other.
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+1 # Ron Segal 2013-04-02 20:10
David, I'm going to be a bit critical of some of the points in your otherwise well written article.
If business analysts are to be described as 'architects', then isn't that a confusion with 'business architect'?
In any case architects of any sort (building, naval, microchip, business etc) are all 'structural' designers. Analysis is a step in design.
Furthermore, architects work with their customers often before there is any project. In that regard a project or programme is a mechanism for managing realisation of an architecture.
Having said this, I believe that 'high end' business analysis should merge into business architecture and aspire to support board level decisions, so not be project bound.
Business analysis not only struggles to define what it is but also what it aspires to be, maybe these are strongly linked!
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0 # suresh 2013-04-03 01:47
Thanks David for making BA as "architect" in concise.

In the corporate world, we BA's not only work on helping in designing the customer need in to logical /functional / technological structures, but also, we own the delivery of those solutions to them.

From the earlier stage of Business Analyst being a Consultant or a Trusted advisor, we are now moving to next stage of owning the change from design to delivery. This is because the Business Owner or the end customer believes that the Business Analyst not only knows how to build solution but also know when to deliver it.

But on the flip side, I agree with your point of BA doing a role of a PM, although, many organizations intend to do it, the essence of analysis is more or less lost, the individual tend to concentrate more on the delivery than the analysis.
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0 # Tanya Nema 2013-04-03 05:53
Hi David,

This indeed is a very good article describing BA profile quite well. However I feel that not every organization understands this role completely. Many companies call BAs as consultants also many others look at PM and BA roles as one. I do believe that these are two different roles but a PM might have to play the role of a BA also in certain situations. Pls provide your insight on this based on your experience.
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0 # Stephanie 2013-04-05 10:56
Hi David, thanks for this interesting article. I do agree with the fact that BAs do need to respond to the call of selling their role. Communities of practice, blogs, articles etc can go a long way to promote our visibility and clarify some of the confusion out there.

I also think that a lot of progress is being made; the PM and BA roles in my experience are two clearly distinct roles.
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+2 # Godfrey de Zilla 2013-04-08 11:05
The problem with trying to define what a BA is (together with other ambiguous terms such as "Agile") is that it is already so abused it has lost most of it's real value. Better perhaps to start by defining a role that fits a specific gap and the set of skills that are required. Then think of a name for it.

"BAs" I have interviewed included, SMEs (many of whom weren't remotely experts), any random person who worked in IT but couldn't code, people who have done a bit of testing but feel like upgrading their job title, people who collect requirements but have no analytical skills or ability to solve problems, third rate project managers, operational managers who have can't find any other job, project administrators etc...

As a BA on a new system told me after struggling to understand even the most basic technical terms told me, "...no I'm not technical, I'm a business analyst."
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0 # Vickie 2014-02-23 22:29
Thanks for finally writing about >Business Analyst | BA Times
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