Survival Guide for the BA Consultant – Top 10 Techniques
This article describes survival techniques that can be used by anyone who has an office job, but focuses on consultants, and in particular, business analysts.
Business analysts are generally in contact with more members of an organization than other consultants, since they interact with both IT and business personnel and are often called upon to explain to senior management the business requirements, solution options, and the alignment of the solution with the business. The manner in which business analysts interact with these different types of people is critical if solid working relationships are to be established.
1) Be Courteous
It’s good to know your stuff, but no matter how good you are or how many books you’ve written, if you are perceived as being difficult to work with, people will find ways to avoid you. If you’re a contractor this will result in, at best, the non-renewal of your contract, or at worst you may find yourself being escorted off the premises by security. If you’re an employee, you may find yourself tasked with a make-work project that requires minimal interaction with staff. Either way, the outcome will not be pleasant, so make an effort to be courteous and pleasant with your colleagues and you will find your day to be more enjoyable and the people that you need to interact with will want to talk with you. Remember, you’re never too important to be nice to people (John Batiste).
If you are an experienced business analyst, you probably have lots of great advice to offer and lots of stories to share. The challenge is to limit the sharing of your personal experiences and to spend more time listening than talking. The saying that you have two ears and one mouth so you should do twice as much listening as talking speaks volumes.
Are people looking at their watches when you drone on and on about yourself? Look for signs of interest or disinterest in the people that you’re speaking with, and adjust your delivery accordingly. Listening to someone explain something that they know about is a great way to get that person onboard.
It’s a tough pill to swallow, but you may not be as interesting as you think you are and not everyone is going to want to listen to your war stories. You’re not going to learn anything if you’re talking, so put your ego aside and start listening.
3) Remember Names
Have you ever been introduced to someone and then immediately forgotten their name? You’re not alone. As a business analyst, you will meet many people that you will interact with on a regular basis, so you may as well get to know them. That begins by not just remembering their faces but by remembering their names. There are lots of techniques that you can learn in order to remember names, and we won’t go into all of those methods save for one: When you are introduced to a person for the first time, repeat the name by saying “Hello Jennifer”, or “Hello Peter”. This will emphasize the name in your memory.
Remembering a person’s name is not just good form, it gives you a leg up on those who don’t remember, either because they’re not able to or can’t be bothered. It also serves as a message to the other person that you are interested in them and what they have to say, and you are more likely to get quality information from this person that will help you do your job.
Forgetting someone’s name, or making a guess, is something to avoid, but if you forget it’s best not to guess – just apologize, admit that you’ve forgotten, and move on.
4) Research the Organization
Equipping yourself with knowledge about the organization will demonstrate to your clients an interest in the organization and will also enable you to adjust your approach in order to be compatible with the organization’s culture and work environment. Some factors to consider when researching an organization are:
- Organization size and the number of employees
- Organizational structure, culture, and mission statement
- Organization history
- Working conditions and work environment
- Main products, services, and programs
- Annual sales, funding sources, annual budget
- Location of headquarters and other office locations
- Internal job descriptions
- Dress code
- Morale of employees
5) Make Your Ideas Your Client’s Ideas
As a business analyst, especially as a consultant, you are hired to use the experience that you have acquired over the years to deliver innovative and creative solutions. Your goal is to contribute to the successful delivery of the project or the organizational initiative. You are not looking for a promotion, but your client might be, and if the project or the initiative that you are working on is successful, the chances of your client being promoted, or at least recognized, are elevated. This may be warranted because if your client was smart enough to hire you, and you delivered, then that deserves some recognition. Therefore, try to be humble and make it your mandate to make the people who hired you look good by letting them take the credit for your work. If you put those around you first, this will be noticed, your client will love you, and you will be rewarded with respect.
6) Deliver Beyond the Expected
Your client has more than likely indicated to you what is expected from you and you will, of course, make those deliverables your priority, but that doesn’t mean that those should be your only deliverables. As an experienced business analyst, you know that there may be other areas that will need to be addressed, and as long as you are not treading into someone else’s area of responsibility, you might consider identifying these areas to the client. Consider for example a business analyst who was asked to develop a series of process models describing a particular business area. This particular person was hired because she has experience in process modeling, but she also has experience modeling business information, and knew that if each of the process models identified the information that is used or created, there would be added value for the client. The business analyst spoke to the client, made the pitch to develop a logical data model, and delivered more than was expected of her.
Exceeding your client’s expectations doesn’t always have to have the “wow” factor. There are many less grand ways that value can be added to the service that you provide. By thinking outside the box and avoiding the status quo, asking yourself if there is a better way to accomplish the tasks that are at hand, and keeping in mind the best interests of your client, you will exceed your client’s expectations.
7) Make Friends with Admin Assistants
Although the administrative assistant holds one of the lowest paying jobs in an organization, they play a key role in its success. They are usually the first person in an organization to answer the phone. They are responsible for booking meetings, arranging documents to be signed, and locating specific documents.
They are the gateway to the executives of the organization, and they have the power to help or hinder you as they choose. If you treat them with respect they are more likely to make things happen for you. Like any person, when they are treated well they will respond in a positive manner. It’s just all the more important to treat the administrative assistant respectfully, because they can make or break you.
8) Make the Difficult Client Your Friend
If you work long enough in an office environment you will eventually find yourself having to work with someone who is difficult. This is a person who will irritate you by either being uncooperative, disagreeable, unfriendly, or outright caustic. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it is just a matter of time, and if it has happened to you, it will probably happen again, so it is a good idea to equip yourself with a few ways to manage this type of person. The first step is to realize that there is always an underlying reason that makes the difficult person difficult. It may be due to an insecurity, a perceived sense of a lack of respect among their colleagues, or problems that they may be having in their personal lives. Whatever the reason, you do not want to add to their stress by becoming a threat to them. A natural tendency is to avoid such people altogether, but before you revert to this, there may be a better way. Instead, draw them into a conversation where they do not feel threatened. The manner in which you engage them needs to be gentle, and the topic needs to be carefully chosen, but the main point here is to make them feel valued. If you don’t know the person, then you have no reason to doubt that they can make a valuable contribution to the task at hand. If on the other hand you are acquainted with the person and know that they may not be that helpful, you will need to find a way to gracefully minimize this person’s impact on the project and the team members.
9) Proofread all client-ready documents
We are all writers and readers with the need to be understood and to understand, and therefore, writing in an effective and efficient manner is important. Written materials such as formal documents, slide decks, handouts, and emails that you produce are a direct representation of you and the quality of your work.
With spell-check, there is no excuse for spelling errors, and poor grammar can contribute to confusion and create additional work in order to clear up misunderstandings. Learn to “write right” either by taking a course on business writing or at the very least picking up a book on the subject. A book that I refer to often is The Elements of Style (William Strunk and E.B. White). When your client reads a document that you wrote they will have one of two thoughts, and it will be either good or bad – a document is rarely thought of as middle-of-the-road, and why take that chance anyway? This is your time to shine, so you might as well put everything into it and wow them.
10) Sometimes “Good Enough” is “Perfect”
Up until now, we have talked about being better at what we do as business analysts. We have talked about talking less and listening more, remembering people’s names, being humble and not seeking validation all the time, greeting people in the morning (when all we really want is to be left alone with our emails and our coffee), working with grumpy people, writing awesome documents, and so on. But sometimes, it’s ok to take a break from this drive to be the perfect business analyst and be satisfied with who we are. The suggestion is not to revert to sloppiness, but rather to strike a balance between what is desirable and what is achievable. The perfect document, for example, that is never shared is far less helpful than one that is 80% quality, since the extra 20% may not be worth the time required to achieve it.
We all want to survive in the office environment. But most of us want more than to just survive – we want to thrive. We want to feel good about the work that we do and we want to have good working relationships with our colleagues, and in order to do that we need to recognize that human relationships are just as important as technical know-how. By implementing any or all of these survival techniques, you will see positive changes in the quality of your deliverables and how you work with the people around you.