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Promoting and Selling the Role of the BA

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.

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