Thursday, 03 September 2020 08:00

Thinking Outside of the BOKs Professional Inclusivity Beats Silos

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As business analysts, we’ll often come across situations in our organizations where everything seems so siloed.

Processes fail because different teams fight over the work or, more usually, try to throw work over the fence without understanding the needs of other teams.  As change professionals, we strive to take a holistic view, looking across the organization to achieve the best possible outcomes.  We model processes, we navigate conflict and we balance tricky stakeholder perspectives.

It would be easy for us to think that these types of silos are things that are built by “other” people.  It would be easy to assume that as BAs we are somehow “objective” and would never build or reinforce invisible boundaries between teams or professions.  We might conclude that it’s those awkward stakeholders who cause all the problems, after all we see across teams and see a broader picture…

I’m sure nobody would really make this set of assumptions, but you might recognize elements that resonate with your work.  The idea of the BA being ‘objective’ and somehow detached is a fairly common one, but there are serious questions over how ‘objective’ anyone can really be. Ultimately don’t we all view the world through the lens of our experience?  In the dim and distant past I’ve conducted work in call-center environments that (in my view) utilized targets and incentives very poorly.  Management in many call-centers has moved on a lot since then, but I still find myself making assumptions based on my prior experience.  Would I see and observe call-centers in the same way if I hadn’t had that experience? Would I ask the same questions and frame the situation in the same way? Probably not, we all have cognitive biases that get in the way.

Of course, I’m at least aware of how this particular set of experiences might color my view, and being aware of a ‘lens’ is perhaps the first step to seeing past it.  However, this raises a further interesting question: Given we’re just as fallible and subject to cognitive biases as our stakeholders (we are human after all), what other ‘traps’ do we fall into?

Watch Out For Change Silos

If you want to make a group of BAs laugh, ask them “What does a Project Manager do?”. The ‘healthy tension’ between the PM and BA community exists for all sorts of historical reasons, and although I’m probably guilty of using that exact joke in the past, I’m coming to realise it’s a cheap and unhelpful shot. In project and program environments organizations need someone to manage the project, and need at least some elements of that ‘healthy tension’. Yes, many PMs do things that frustrate BAs (the number of times I’ve had a deadline imposed upon me, rather than discussed with me…) but I’m certain BAs do things that frustrate PMs too (see Christina Lovelock’s fantastic article ‘when BAs go Bad’ for a few examples).  Shouldn’t we seek to collaborate, share and cross-pollinate rather than build our identity around ‘not being PMs’? 

Realistically, in today’s change initiatives (whether they run as projects or not, and whether they are waterfall, agile or something in between) we’ll need to collaborate with a whole range of different disciplines: User experience, researchers, data scientists, business architects, testers and many, many more.  Having a clear delineation of responsibility is importantwe need to know who does whatbut does that really have to be down to someone’s title?  With an increasing expectation that we will be T-Shaped professionals, surely it’s beneficial for knowledge and experience to permeate into our world from others, and vice versa?  How exciting is it to ask “what happens when you blend business analysis and User Experience” or “How could elements of Systems Thinking be relevant for us as BAs?”. When ideas, experience and knowledge flow across the boundaries, surely everyone wins?


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Thinking Outside of the BOKS

Ah, but what about the BOKs, I hear you say! The Bodies of Knowledge. Don’t they reinforce silos and drag us back towards tension and competition?  That certainly isn’t how I interpret the situation. Taking the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK) Guide as an example, a business analyst is defined as:

“Any person who performs business analysis tasks described in the BABOK Guide, no matter their job title or organizational role”  (BABOK v3, emphasis added)

This implies that there may be many people doing elements of business analysis who don’t identify as business analysts.  It’s an inclusive definition recognizing that in reality roles blur and what is ‘best’ for a situation depends on context. Additionally, we might take our ‘BA hat off’ temporarily and borrow ideas/techniques from other disciplines. 

Let’s seize upon this inclusivity and invite others in, show them what we know but also consciously learn from them.  If we appreciate that in most cases the constraints and silos are in our own heads and with mutual will we can overcome them, perhaps we can become smarter and more effective change practitioners. 

I’m willing to try. Are you?

PMBAGLOBAL EMBANNER

“If you’re interested in meeting other change professionals from different industries and professions, check out the Project World * Business Analyst World conferences.  You can hear speakers from both the PM and BA professions!”

Adrian Reed

Adrian Reed is a true advocate of the analysis profession. In his day job, he acts as Principal Consultant and Director at Blackmetric Business Solutions where he provides business analysis consultancy and training solutions to a range of clients in varying industries. He is a Past President of the UK chapter of the IIBA® and he speaks internationally on topics relating to business analysis and business change. Adrian wrote the 2016 book ‘Be a Great Problem Solver… Now’ and the 2018 book ‘Business Analyst’

You can read Adrian’s blog at http://www.adrianreed.co.uk and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/UKAdrianReed

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