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Author: Kathleen B. Hass, PMP

Fostering Team Creativity: The Business Analyst’s Sweet Spot

FEATUREOct23rdThe 21st Century BA Series From Tactical Requirements Manager to Creative Leader of Innovative Change

As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.

—Bill Gates, American business magnate, philanthropist, author, and is chairman of Microsoft

The need for effective team leadership in the business world can no longer be overlooked. Technology, techniques, and tools don’t cause projects to fail. Projects fail because people fail to come together with a common vision, an understanding of complexity, the right expertise, and effective methods and tools. Team leadership is different from traditional management, and teams are different from operational work groups. Successfully leading a high-performing, creative team is not about command and control; it is more about collaboration, consensus, empowerment, confidence, and leadership.

Effective Teams

If a business analyst is to step up to the task of becoming a credible project team leader, she must have an understanding of how teams work and the dynamics of team development. Team leaders cultivate specialized skills that are used to build and maintain high-performing teams and spur creativity and innovation. Traditional managers and technical leads cannot necessarily become effective team leaders without the appropriate mindset, training, and coaching.

                                                A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

            ––Margaret Mead, American cultural anthropologist, author, lecturer

Teams are a critical asset used to improve performance in all kinds of organizations. Yet business leaders have consistently overlooked opportunities to exploit the potential of teams, confusing real teams with teamwork, team building, empowerment, or participative management.[i] We cannot meet 21st-century challenges––from business transformation to continuous innovation––without high-performing teams who are comfortable with turning uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity into innovation.

The Power of Teams

Examples of magnificent teams are all around us: emergency responders, symphony orchestras, and professional sports teams, to name just a few. When we see these teams in action, it feels like magic. These teams demonstrate their prowess, creativity, accomplishments, insights, and enthusiasm daily and are a persuasive testament to the power of teams. Yet the business project environment, especially the IT project environment, has been slow to make the most of the power of teams. It is imperative that business analysts who aspire to develop into creative leaders understand how to unleash this great power.

New Product Development Teams

Business success stories based on the strategic use of teams for new product development are plentiful. For example, 3M relies on teams to develop its new products. These teams, led by product champions, are cross-functional, collaborative, autonomous, and self-organizing. The teams deal well with ambiguity, accept change, take initiative, and assume risks. The company has established a goal of generating half of each year’s revenues from the previous five years’ innovations and the other half from new products not yet invented. 3M’s use of teams is critical to meeting that goal.[ii]

Another success story is Toyota, despite the company’s engineering problems that led to unprecedented recalls in 2009–2010. Toyota continues to boast the fastest product development times in the automotive industry, is a consistent leader in quality, has a large variety of products designed by a lean engineering staff, and has consistently grown its U.S. market share. Teams at Toyota are led by a chief engineer who is expected to understand the market and whose primary job is vehicle system design. The chief engineer is responsible for vehicle development, similar to the product champion at 3M.[iii]

Economists have been warning us for years that success in a global marketplace is contingent upon our capability to produce products on a tight schedule to meet the growing demands of emerging markets. The same is true of projects to develop software products and solutions for business problems, to improve business performance, and to use IT as a competitive advantage. It’s not enough to deliver projects on time and within budget, and scope; it is now necessary to deliver value to the customer and wealth to the organization faster, cheaper, and better.

The Wisdom of Teams

For the business analyst who is struggling to understand how to build high-performing teams, a must-read is The Wisdom of Teams by Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith.  The authors talked with hundreds of people on more than 50 different teams in 30 companies to discover what differentiates various levels of team performance, where and how teams work best, and how to enhance team effectiveness.

Wisdom lies in recognizing a team’s unique potential to deliver creative results. Project leaders strive to understand the many benefits of teams and learn how to optimize team performance by developing individual members, fostering team cohesiveness, and rewarding team results. Katzenbach and Smith argue that teams are the primary building blocks of strong company performance.[iv]

The Stages of Team Development

As a member of the project leadership team, the business analyst is partially responsible for building a high-performing team and fostering creativity and is fully responsible for building a high-performing requirements team and proposing innovative solutions. To successfully develop such a team, it is helpful to understand the key stages of team development. We use the classic team development model from Bruce Tuckman as a guide, since the Tuckman model has become an accepted standard for how teams develop.

The Tuckman Model

The Tuckman model that outlines the five stages of team development—forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning—has become the gold standard for studying team dynamics.[v]As a team transitions from one stage to the next, the needs of the team and its individual members vary. A successful team leader knows which stage the team is in and skillfully manages transitions between the different stages. The following figure depicts the typical stages of team development.


Stages of Team Development

In the forming stage, participants are introduced when the team is established and also as new members join the team throughout the project. The goal of the project leadership team in this stage is to quickly transition the individuals from a group to a team. During the forming stage of team development, members are typically inclined to be a bit formal and reserved. They are beginning to assess their level of comfort as colleagues and teammates. There is likely to be some anxiety about the ability of the team to perform, and there might be hints about the beginnings of alliances between members.

During this stage, the project manager’s job (with the support of the business analyst and other project leads) is to encourage people to not think of themselves as individuals but as team members by resolving issues about inclusion and trust. Team members may wonder why they were selected, what they have to offer, and how they will be accepted by colleagues new to them. Individuals have their own agendas at this stage because a team agenda does not yet exist. It is during this stage that the team leaders present, and give the team members the opportunity to refine, the team vision, mission, and measures of success. Allowing the team members time and opportunity to express their feelings and collaborate to build team plans will help members begin to make the transition from a group of individuals to an effective team. During this stage, team members form opinions about whom they can trust and how much or how little involvement they will commit to the project.

Storming is generally seen as the most difficult stage in team development. It is the time when the team members begin to realize that the task is different or more difficult than they had imagined. Individuals experience some discrepancy between their initial hopes for the project and the reality of the situation. A sense of annoyance or even panic can set in. There are fluctuations in attitude about the team, one’s role on the team, and the team’s chances for success.

The goal of the team leaders in this stage is to quickly determine a subset of leaders and followers and to clarify roles and responsibilities so that the team will begin to congeal. Individuals will exert their influence, choose to follow others, or decide not to participate actively on the team. For those who choose to participate actively and exert their influence, interpersonal conflict might arise. Conflicts also might result between the team leaders and team members, particularly if team members believe the leadership is threatening, vulnerable, or ineffective.

It is important to realize that conflict can lead to out-of-the-box or out-of-the-building thinking (described in Chapter 4), so the team leaders should encourage new ideas and viewpoints. For team leaders who do not like dealing with conflict, the storming stage is the most difficult period to navigate. Although the inevitable conflict is sometimes destructive if not managed well, it can be positive. Conflicting ideas, raised in an environment of trust and openness, leads to higher levels of creativity and innovation.

The job of team leaders is to build a positive working environment, collaboratively set and enforce team ground rules that lead to open communication, and gently steer the team through this stage. The common tendency is to rush through the storming stage as quickly as possible, often by pretending that a conflict does not exist, but it is important to manage conflicts so they are not destructive. It is also important, however, to allow some conflict because it is a necessary element of team maturation. If new ideas are not emerging, and if team members are not challenging each other’s ideas, then creativity is not happening.

Norming is typically the stage in which work is being completed. The team members, individually and collectively, have come together and established a group identity that allows them to work effectively together. Roles and responsibilities are clear, project objectives are understood, and progress is being made. During this stage, communication channels are likely clear, and team members are adhering to agreed-upon rules of engagement during exchanges. Cooperation and collaboration replace the conflict and mistrust that characterized the previous stage.

As the project drags on, fatigue often sets in. Team leaders should look at both team composition and team processes to maintain continued motivation among members. Plan to deliver short-term successes to create enthusiasm and sustained momentum. Celebrate and reward success at key milestones rather than waiting until the end of a long project. Continually capture lessons learned about how well the team is working together and implement suggested improvements.

During the performing stage, team members tend to feel positive and excited about participating on the project. There is a sense of urgency and a sense of confidence about the team’s results. Conflicts are resolved using accepted practices. The team knows what it wants to do and is reveling in a sense of accomplishment as progress is made. Relationships and expectations are well defined. There is genuine agreement among team members about their roles and responsibilities. Team members have discovered and accepted each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Morale is at its peak during this stage, and the team has an opportunity to be highly creative.

The performing stage of team development is what every team strives to achieve. It is difficult, however, to sustain this high level of performance for a prolonged length of time, so capitalize on it while you can. The business analyst and project manager need to hone their team leadership skills to develop and sustain this most creative stage. The best course of action for the team leaders is to lightly facilitate the work: consult and coach when necessary, encourage creativity, reward performance and achievement of goals, and generally stay out of the way.

Adjourning can be thought of in the context of loss and closure. This stage of team development can be easily overlooked, as it occurs before and during a project or phase and for a short time after a project or phase is finished. During this stage of team development, the team conducts the tasks associated with disbanding the team and, to a certain extent, breaks the everyday rhythm of their contacts and transactions.

There is some discomfort associated with this stage. Surprisingly, even people whose teams have had performance issues can experience sadness or grief during this closing stage. The project leadership team should act quickly to recognize the accomplishments of individuals and the team as a whole and to help team members transition quickly to their next creative opportunity.

Traversing the Team Development Stages

The stages of team development are very much an iterative dynamic. Any change in the makeup of a team throws the team back to the very earliest stage of development, even if for a very short time. This is due to the natural evolution of teams, the addition of new members, removal of support, or changes in roles.

The balancing and leveling of power is another constant dynamic present in teams. The shifting of practical power among the core leadership team members might cause a team to revert back to the forming stage. Although this reversion might last only a short while, it is still significant; team members will have to accustom themselves to the new order. The time spent in any of the stages subsequent to the reentry into forming can vary, but make no mistake; the team will experience storming again before regaining a foothold in the norming or performing stage.

As a member of the project leadership team, you should acquaint yourself with the cycles of team development so that you can understand what the team is experiencing and manage any changes in the team’s composition or dynamics. The following table provides a quick reference on the characteristics of each team development stage.


Characteristics of Team Development Stages

Leadership Modes through the Stagesof Team Development

There are many team development models that one can use to guide team development at any given point in the project life cycle. David C. Kolb offers a five-stage team development model that suggests leadership strategies for each stage, from the team’s initial formation through its actual performance.[6]

Each stage of Kolb’s model suggests that the business analyst and project manager continually adjust their leadership styles to maximize team effectiveness and creativity. Kolb contends that a team leader subtly alters his or her style of team leadership depending on the group’s composition and level of maturity. The seasoned business analyst moves seamlessly between these team leadership modes as he or she observes and diagnoses the team’s performance. The business analyst needs to strive to acquire the leadership prowess described by Kolb. In the following table, Kolb’s stages are matched with essential leadership skills. It is particularly important for the business analyst to know when and how to assume a particular team leadership role as teams move in and out of development phases during the life of the project.


FacilitatorKolb Team Development Model

In the business analyst’s function as a facilitator (the BA’s sweet spot), the main goal is to provide a foundation for the team to make quality decisions. When the team first comes together, the business analyst uses expert facilitation skills to guide, direct, and develop the group. Skills required include understanding group dynamics, running effective meetings, facilitating dialogue, fostering creativity, and dealing with difficult behaviors. Expert facilitators possess these skills:

  • Understanding individual differences, work styles, and cultural nuances
  • Leading discussions and driving the group to consensus Solving problems and clarifying ambiguities
  • Building a sense of team
  • Using and teaching collaborative skills
  • Fostering experimentation, prototyping, emergence of many like and dissimilar ideas
  • Managing meetings to drive to results
  • Facilitating requirements workshops and focus groups.

To become more credible as a team leader, the business analyst ought to acquire professional facilitation credentials such as those offered by the International Association of Facilitators (IAF). IAF’s work has identified the following six areas of core competency required for certification of facilitators. Each area is defined in more detail.

  • Create Collaborative Client Relationships
  • Plan Appropriate Group Processes
  • Create and Sustain a Participatory Environment
  • Guide Group to Appropriate and useful Outcomes
  • Build and Maintain Professional Knowledge
  • Model Positive Professional Attitude.[7]


Transitioning from facilitator to mediator poses a challenge for new business analysts. It requires the business analyst to refrain from trying to control the team and lead the effort. The business analyst must be prepared to recognize when conflict is emerging (as it always does in teams) and be able to separate from it to mediate the situation. Although the mediator does not have to resolve the conflict, he or she must help the team members manage it. Meditation skills include:

  • Conflict management and resolution
  • Problem-solving and decision-making techniques
  • Idea-generation techniques.


Coaching and mentoring take place at both the individual and team levels. Coaching is appropriate when trust has been established among the team members and communication is open and positive. The business analyst as coach uses experiences, perceptions, and intuition to help change team members’ behaviors and thinking. Coaching tasks include:

  • Setting goals
  • Teaching others how to give and receive feedback
  • Creating a team identity
  • Developing team decision-making skills.


As the team begins to work well together, the business analyst transitions into the role of consultant, providing advice, tools, and interventions to help the team reach its potential. The business analyst then concentrates on nurturing the positive team environment, encouraging creativity and experimentation, removing barriers, and solving problems. Consulting tasks include:

  • Assessing team opportunities
  • Supporting and guiding the team to create a positive, effective team environment
  • Aligning individual, team, and organizational values and strategic imperatives
  • Fostering team spirit.


Few teams achieve an optimized state and sustain it for long periods, because such a state is so intense. At this point, both the work and the leadership are shared equally among team members. The business analyst might hand off the lead role to team members when their expertise becomes a critical need during different project activities. Collaboration skills include:

  • Leading softly
  • Sharing the leadership role
  • Assuming a peer relationship with team members.

Clearly, project team leaders need to understand the dynamics of team development and adjust their leadership styles accordingly. Once a high-performing team has emerged, it is often necessary for the team leader to simply step aside. The following table maps the variations in leadership modes to the two team development models we have presented.


As you plan your professional development goals, it is wise for you to include training in facilitation, mediation, coaching and mentoring, consulting, and collaborating.Mapping of the Team Development and Leadership Models

Best Team Leadership Practices for the Business Analyst

Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.
—Henry Ford, a prominent American industrialist, the founder of The Ford Motor Company, pioneered the development of the assembly line and mass production

The business analyst has dual team-leadership roles: (1) in general, he or she helps the other team leaders (the project manager, lead technologist, business visionary) build and sustain a high-performing project team; and (2) he or she is directly responsible for building a high-performing requirements ownership team—a team of business subject matter experts (SMEs) who take ownership of the business strategy to be advanced, the business need to be satisfied, and the business benefits to be realized by the solution. In addition, the business analyst instills in the requirements ownership team the understanding that it is their responsibility to spend enough time and energy to truly understand the business, to “think out of the building” by conducting research and analysis of the opportunity, and to collaboratively create to develop an innovative solution, as opposed to simply meeting requirements.

Who Should Take the Lead?

As a member of the project leadership team, the business analyst strives to help the team members determine who should take the lead depending on the expertise needed. For example, the project manager takes the lead during planning and statusing sessions. The business analyst leads during problem definition, opportunity analysis, solution and requirements trade-off analysis, requirements negotiation and conflict resolution, cost-benefit analysis, business requirements elicitation, solution requirements elicitation, and requirements analysis, review, and validation sessions. The project manager and business analyst may jointly lead discussions centered on issue resolution and risk analysis. The business representative should assume the lead when talking about the business vision, strategy, and benefits expected from the new solution. Then the business analyst again assumes the lead when the team is validating that the business benefits will actually be realized. Likewise, the lead architect or developer (or both) leads discussions on technology options and trade-offs. The challenge is for the core leadership team to seamlessly traverse through the leadership hand-offs so as not to interfere with the balance of the team.

The Requirements Ownership Team: A 21st Century Imperative

The business analyst’s leadership role undoubtedly involves forming, educating, developing, and maintaining a high-performing requirements team and keeping the team engaged throughout the project. The first task is determining the appropriate business and technical representatives needed to navigate through the requirements activities, then securing approval to involve them throughout the project. This is no small task, since business teams are accustomed to providing minimal amounts of information to project teams about the requirements (and these often are phrased in terms of the solution instead of the business need), and then sending the team off to do the real project work. The business analyst uses her influence, negotiating skills, and credibility to secure the participation of key business SMEs throughout the project. This involves building a strong relationship with the business owner, who is often the project sponsor, as well as other key business leaders who are influential in committing the essential SMEs.

As the requirements team comes together in workshops or other working sessions, they will inevitably pass through the same team development stages as the larger project team. The business analyst must navigate the team through the challenges of each stage of team development. The goal for the business analyst is to optimize the dynamics and expertise of the business SMEs to foster an innovative and creative atmosphere for determining business opportunities and solutions. Remember: business analysts are not note takers—they are creative leaders.

What best practices should you as the business analyst employ as the requirements team leader?

  • Meet face-to-face with business representatives, customers, and end users early and often.
  • Devote time and energy to guide the requirements ownership team through the stages of team development, changing your leadership style as the team moves in and out of stages.
  • When forming the requirements team, utilize the core team concept (small but mighty collocated teams that work collaboratively). Involve key technical SMEs (architect, lead developer, application portfolio manager) in the key working sessions of the requirements ownership team.
  • Spend enough time training requirements team members on the requirements practices and tools the team will use so that they will be comfortable with the process before they jump in head first.
  • Build a solid, trusting, collaborative relationship among the project team members and the requirements technical and business SMEs.
  • Bring in additional SMEs and form subteams and committees when needed to augment the core requirements ownership team.
  • Establish a requirements integration team to structure requirements into process groups and to manage interrelationships among requirement groups.
  • Encourage frequent meetings among the core requirements and project team members to promote full disclosure and transparency as the inevitable trade-off decisions are made.

It is not enough for the business analyst to develop requirements engineering knowledge and skills. It is also important to understand—and use—the power of teams, which leads to much more creative solutions.

Creativity: A Right-Brain Pursuit

A creative team that comes up with brilliant ideas is one of the most valuable resources any organization can have. If you want to give your creative team the best possible chance for success, give them clear ground rules and then let them run free.
—Bill Stainton, TV executive producer, speaker, author

At this point, you might be questioning our assertion that business analysts should serve as creative leaders. You might be thinking that analysts are just that—analytical, logical, methodical, questioning, reasoned, and rational. Isn’t this left-brain stuff? In fact, the business analyst needs to learn how to optimize both sides of her brain. How is the business analyst to become a creativity catalyst? By using creativity-inducing tools and techniques that make use of structured, proven problem-solving and decision-making methods (left brain) and cleverly augmenting them with investigation, experimentation, and yes, experiencing a little bit of chaos along the way (right brain).

As business analysts rise to the top of their game, they will skillfully learn to balance both the left and right sides of the brains of their SMEs (see below) in addition to their own brains. They will inspire teams to invent, imagine, and experiment. But they also will have a keen understanding of the business opportunity, the customer desires, the market window, and the executive team’s tolerance for ambiguity and research. The seasoned business analyst will instinctively know just the right moment to end experimentation and have the team put a stake in the ground. They will understand the concept of last responsible moment decision-making (i.e., do not shut down experimentation and lock into a design until it would be irresponsible to delay solution construction any longer; a delay would mean that the solution would be suboptimized and the opportunity lost.)


Right Brain vs. Left Brain Preferences

Getting There: From Ad Hoc Group to Working Group to Creative Team

According to Bill Stainton, whose presentations combine “business smarts with show biz sparks” (this is a great mental model for the creative business analyst leader), the only difference between creative and non-creative people is that creative people believe they are creative.[8]Stainton suggests that it is the job of the leader of a creative team to make its members believe that they too are creative. The leader of innovative teams does this by providing:

  • Direction. Set down boundaries, rules, and clear targets for the team. Some believe rules and boundaries limit creativity. In fact, clear targets focus us on the task at hand and liberate us to be creative.
  • Freedom. Do not tell your team how to achieve the targets. Creative people need the space to “play, explore, and discover.”
  • Stimulation. Creative people thrive in an inspirational environment, but their creativity dies in a sterile one.[9]

Commonly Understood but Little-Used Practices

The team leadership practices leadership consultant Don Clark suggests are well known, but they are not implemented often enough. A great team leader is constantly assessing the extent to which his team possesses these critical elements:

  • Inspiration: Continually reinforce the importance of the creative process to the organization as well as the value of the opportunity at hand.
  • Urgency: Develop and maintain a sense of urgency; this keeps the creative juices flowing and time-boxes decision-making.
  • Empowerment: Keep the team informed; challenge them with fresh facts and information. New knowledge just might redirect their effort or rekindle their creativity.
  • Togetherness: Teams need formal and informal time together to build constructive relationships and trust each other. One team member remarked, “We did our most creative work on a sailboat.” The team leader serves as the catalyst that brings the team together.
  • Recognition: Recognize accomplishments and communicate enthusiastically about successes. Insist on working toward small wins to sustain motivation.
  • An overarching goal: Although your team might have a number of goals, one of them must stand out as nonnegotiable.
  • Productive participation of all members: If certain members of the team are not truly engaged, the team decisions will not benefit from their perspectives, and the team may miss out on creative ideas. Communication, trust, a sense of belonging, and valuing diversity of thought and approaches are all elements that encourage full team participation. Diversity is a vital ingredient that fosters team synergy. If team members are not all engaged in articulating new ideas and challenging each other, the team has not yet reached its most creative point.
  • Shared risk taking: If no one individual fails (we all sink or swim together), then risk taking becomes a lot easier.
  • Change compatibility: Being flexible and having the ability to self correct.[10]

Collaboration: The Glue That Binds Creative Teams

Perhaps the most essential element of great innovation teams is collaboration. Jim Tamm, a workplace expert specializing in building collaborative work environments and the co-author of Radical Collaboration, tells us that collaboration does not magically happen. He contends that collaboration is both a mindset and a skill set—both of which can be learned—that can make a big difference to a company’s bottom line. After almost two decades of teaching collaborative skills in highly challenged and hierarchical organizations, Tamm discovered five essential skills for building successful collaborative environments:

  • Think win-win. Foster a positive attitude among your team members; recruit and reward people who are fun to work with and aren’t afraid of (and in fact, actually welcome) challenges and hard work.
  • Speak the truth. Dishonesty is toxic in the workplace. Always be open and honest, and expect others to do the same.
  • Be accountable. Take responsibility for your performance and interpersonal relationships. Focus on innovative solutions—the hallmark of successful teams.
  • Be self-aware—and aware of others. Work hard to understand your own behaviors, and work just as hard to diagnose and optimize the behaviors of your team.
  • Learn from conflict. Expect and capitalize on conflict—it happens whenever people come together. The secret to success is to use the conflict to learn and grow.[11]

The Innovation Imperative

Every organization—not just business—needs one core competence: innovation.
—Peter Drucker, writer, management consultant, and self-described social ecologist

The United States has enjoyed a preeminent position in the world economy for decades, largely riding the wave of success brought about by the world’s greatest innovators: Alexander Graham Bell, Henry Ford, George Eastman, Harvey Firestone, John D. Rockefeller, George Westinghouse, Andrew Carnegie, and of course, Thomas Edison. However, the 21st century brought with it immense global competitive pressure that is putting the U. S.’s economic domination at risk. Studies indicate that global innovation leadership is shifting away from the U.S., heading east to the emerging markets of China, India, and South Korea. Now is the time for us to revisit tried-and-true innovation skills and practices and once again seize competitive advantage. Business analysts are well positioned to play a vital role in this effort as they work with teams across the enterprise.

Innovation Is a Team Sport

According to Jon R. Katzenbach, author of Teams at the Top, and Stacy Palestrant, a team is “a small group with complementary skills committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and working approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.”[12] It may be easy to define what Katzenbach calls real teams, but they are very hard to build and even harder to keep going.

Sustained Inspiration

Katzenbach and Palestrant write that teams can initially sustain their inspiration, motivation, and drive if they are presented with a compelling performance challenge. As BAs begin to work on mission-critical innovation projects, they are undoubtedly presented with a compelling performance challenge. At the outset, teams seem to ride on the wave of their instincts and desire to do good work. Real teams, however, succeed only if their leaders make sure the team members consistently apply what is referred to as the essential discipline. In a situation where performance challenges are changing rapidly, which is almost always the case in today’s Internet-speed business cycles, it behooves team leaders to continually assess team health and instill team discipline.[13](*Is this entire paragraph based on Katzenbach & Palestrant? If so, insert new note.)

A Team Culture of Discipline

As Jim Collins writes in Good to Great, it is important that organizations build a culture of discipline.[14]It is a commonly held misconception that the imposition of standards and discipline discourages creativity. A project team is like a start-up company. To truly innovate, the team needs to value creativity, imagination, and risk-taking. However, to maintain a sense of control over a large team, we often impose structure, insist on planning, and institutionalize coordination systems of meetings and reports.

The Entrepreneurial Death Spiral

As we have discussed, the risk of requiring too much rigor is that the team becomes bureaucratic. Collins calls this the entrepreneurial death spiral. He contends that “bureaucracy is imposed to compensate for incompetence and lack of discipline—a problem that largely goes away if you have the right people in the first place.” The goal is to learn how to use rigor and discipline to enable creativity. Great teams (think emergency responders and surgical teams) almost always have rigid standards; they practice the execution of those standards over and over again until they become second nature; and they work hard to examine each performance and improve the standards based upon experience. So, as Katzenbach tells us, “Team performance is characterized at least as much by discipline and hard work as it is by empowerment, togetherness, and positive group dynamics.”[15]

Quick Team Assessment

Jim Clemmer writes, “Despite all the team talk of the last few years, few groups are real teams. Too often they’re unfocused and uncoordinated in their efforts.”[16]Clemmer developed the following set of questions based on his consulting and team development work. This team assessment and planning framework can be used to help newly formed teams come together and get productive quickly or to help existing teams refocus and renew themselves. Use this simple approach to assess team performance by having your team develop answers and action plans around each question. Perhaps add a question or two about creativity, innovation, and operating at the edge of chaos.

  • Why do we exist (our purpose)?
  • Where are we going (our vision)?
  • How will we work together (our values)?
  • Who do we serve (internal or external customers or partners)?
  • What is expected of us?
  • What are our performance gaps (difference between the expectations and our performance)?
  • What are our goals and priorities?
  • What’s our improvement plan?
  • What skills do we need to develop?
  • What support is available?
  • How will we track our performance?
  • How/when will we review, assess, celebrate, and refocus?[17]

Putting It All Together: What Does This Mean to the Business Analyst?

The lesson for the business analyst is this: work hard with other project leaders to impose a culture of discipline in your project team. Build improvements into the team’s interactions, imaginings, experimentations, problem-solving, and decision-making processes at every feedback point. Become an expert at developing and sustaining high-performing teams. To do this, you need to develop your unique leadership style, one that makes high performers want to be on your team.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.



[1]. Thomas A. Stewart, “The Corporate Jungle Spawns a New Species: The Project Manager,” Fortune (July 1995): 179–80.
[1]. Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith, The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High-Performance Organization (Boston: Harvard Business Press, 1993), 20-21.
[1]. Poppendieck, LLC, “Reflections on Development,” (accessed May 2011).
[1]. Ibid.
[1]. Katzenbach and Smith, 24-26.
[1]. Bruce W. Tuckman, “Developmental Sequence in Small Groups,” Psychological Bulletin 63, no. 6 (June 1965): 384–399.
[1]. David C. Kolb, Team Leadership (Durango, CO: Lore International Institute, 1999), 9-18.
[1] International Association of Facilitators. Online at: (Accessed May 2011).
[1]. Bill Stainton, “How To Lead a Creative Team,” (accessed August 2010).
[1]. Ibid.
[1]. Don Clark, “Growing a Team,” (accessed August 2010).
[1]. James W. Tamm, “The ‘Red Zone’ Organization,” Innovative Leader 14, no. 5 (January–March 2006), (accessed August 2010).
[1]. Jim Clemmer, “Harnessing the Power of Teams,” (accessed August 2010).
[1]. Ibid.
[1]. Jon R. Katzenbach and Stacy Palestrant, “Team Leadership: Emerging Challenges,” Innovative Leader 9, no. 8 (August 2000), (accessed May 2010).
[1] Ibid.
[1]. Jim Collins, Good to Great (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2001), 120–143.
[1] Jon R. Katzenbach and Stacy Palestrant, “Team Leadership: Emerging Challenges,” Innovative Leader 9, no. 8 (August 2000), (accessed May 2010).

Look for Next Month’s Article: Igniting Creativity in Complex Distributed Teams

[1]. Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith, The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High-Performance Organization (Boston: Harvard Business Press, 1993), 20-21.
[2]. Poppendieck, LLC, “Reflections on Development,” (accessed May 2011).
[3]. Ibid.
[4]. Katzenbach and Smith, 24-26.
[5]. Bruce W. Tuckman, “Developmental Sequence in Small Groups,” Psychological Bulletin 63, no. 6 (June 1965): 384–399.
[6]. David C. Kolb, Team Leadership (Durango, CO: Lore International Institute, 1999), 9-18.
[7] International Association of Facilitators. Online at: (Accessed May 2011).
[8]. Bill Stainton, “How To Lead a Creative Team,” (accessed August 2010).
[9]. Ibid.
[11]. Don Clark, “Growing a Team,” (accessed August 2010).
[11]. James W. Tamm, “The ‘Red Zone’ Organization,” Innovative Leader 14, no. 5 (January–March 2006), (accessed August 2010).
[12]. Jon R. Katzenbach and Stacy Palestrant, “Team Leadership: Emerging Challenges,” Innovative Leader 9, no. 8 (August 2000), (accessed May 2010).
[13] Ibid.
[14]. Jim Collins, Good to Great (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2001), 120–143.
[15] Jon R. Katzenbach and Stacy Palestrant, “Team Leadership: Emerging Challenges,” Innovative Leader 9, no. 8 (August 2000), (accessed May 2010).
[16]. Jim Clemmer, “Harnessing the Power of Teams,” (accessed August 2010).
[17]. Ibid.

Building a Mature, Innovation-Driven Business Analysis Practice

FEATUREAug7thAs businesses acknowledge the value of business analysis – the result of the absolute necessity to drive business results through projects – they are struggling to figure out three things:

(1) What are the characteristics of their current BA workforce, and how capable does their BA team need to be?

(2) What is needed to build a mature BA Practice?

(3) How are we going to get there? 

This article focuses on #2: What is needed to build a mature BA Practice? See Exhibit 1: BA Practice Maturity Framework.  Key concepts include:

  • Mature BA Practices
  • The Daunting Road Ahead
  • Cultivating Mature BA Practices
  • BA Practice Maturity Assessment

In previous articles we introduced the comprehensive BA Practice Maturity Framework. The journey begins with an acknowledgement that business analysis is a critical business management discipline for the 21stcentury.  Realizing that it takes investment and resources to build a new business management practice, our framework calls for a proven, structured approach coupled with expert change management skills.  Our framework involves a three-pronged approach to build a mature BA Practice, develop a competent BA workforce, and establish a BACOE to plant the seeds and steer the course.  This chapter focuses on building a mature innovation-driven BA Practice.


Mature BA Practices

To steer the course, we once again make use of a model, the BA Practice Maturity Model (Exhibit 2).  As you can see, the model is in strict alignment with the BA Individual and Workforce Capability Model introduced previously.


The maturity levels of the BA Practice Maturity Model are described below (Exhibit 3).



 Exhibit 3: BA Maturity Model Description

The Daunting Road Ahead

As you can see in Exhibit 4, there are many elements that need to be in place to implement a mature BA Practice.  So, it begs the question: how are we every going to get there, and how fast can we get there? 


Cultivating Mature BA Practices

A BA Practice Maturity Assessment Process and Practice Improvement Program are essential tools used to build a mature BA Practice. Together, they provide validated, accurate information about the current state of BA practices, accompanied by recommendations for improvement and support along the journey.  In addition, the assessment determines the readiness of the organization to accept and support the new BA practices and formation of a BA Center of Excellence to plant the seeds and steer the course.  Specifically, the assessments:

  • Measure the ability of your organization to repeatedly deliver new business solutions that meet the business need and result in the expected benefits
  • Provide a foundation and guidance for advancement of practices through prioritized, sequential improvements
  • Provide an indicator of how effective your organization is in meeting business objectives and executing strategy through successful implementation of new business solutions

BA Practice Maturity Assessment

  • What is it?
    • An independent appraisal of organizational practices
  • Why do it?
    • Provides a foundation for advancement
  • How is it used?
    • Determines where we are today; where we want to be in the future
  • How is it conducted?
    • Uses an appraisal process based on assessment best practices
  • BA practices assessed against what?
    • Current capabilities are compared to a BA Practice Maturity Model based on BA industry best practices

Assessment Components

The scope of the assessment needs to be broad, encompassing the following components:

  • BABOK® Standards: BA Planning & Monitoring, Elicitation, Requirements Management, Enterprise Analysis, etc.
  • BA Metrics
  • BA Tools
  • Knowledge Management
  • BA Practice Support & Governance
  • Change Management
  • BA Competency & Career Management
  • BA Training & Support
  • Project Selection & Prioritization
  • Customer Relationship Management
  • BA Center of Excellence Effectiveness

Assessment Approach

The approach to conducting an organizational maturity assessment can be formal or informal.  In either case, it is multi-dimensional, and includes planning meetings culminating in a kick-off session, administration of an assessment instrument, review of project artifacts and deliverables, accompanied by a series of interviews and focus group sessions.  Information is synthesized, organized, validated and documented in a data summary report and an assessment findings and recommendations report containing a two-year roadmap and action plan for immediate next steps.   

Formal or Informal Assessments

The BA Practice Maturity Model can be used as the basis for several types of assessments as described in the table below (Exhibit 5).  Depending on how far you have come in your journey to cultivate mature BA practices, we recommend the most appropriate evaluation of your BA Practice. 


Assessment Deliverables

There are two key assessment deliverables:

  • The Data Summary Report
    • Overall Maturity Rating
    • Maturity Rating for each component
    • Strengths
    • Opportunities
  • The Findings and Recommendations Report and Executive Presentation
    • Detailed findings
    • Detailed recommendations
    • Roadmap to close the gaps
    • Action plan to implement recommendations

Sample Assessment Results



Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

The 21st Century BA Series – From Tactical Requirements Manager to Creative Leader of Innovative Change

As businesses acknowledge the value of business analysis – the result of the absolute necessity to drive innovation through projects – they are struggling to figure out three things:

  1. What are the characteristics of their current BA workforce, and how capable does their BA team need to be?
  2. What is needed to build a mature BA Practice?
  3. How are we going to get there? 

This article focuses on #1: What are the characteristics of our current BA workforce and how capable does our BA team need to be?  Also see our March and April Blogs for more information on BA proficiency.

How capable do I need to be?

Your challenge is to close the gaps in your BA capabilities to meet the needs of your organization’s complex 21st century projects.  What will it take?  Are you up to the task?  Reading some of the comments from recent articles, many organizations are still keeping their BAs in very tactical roles. And recent research conducted by Ravenflow confirms we have a lot of work to do to become strategic analysts.

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The Challenge: Close the Gap in BA Capabilities

For BAs to elevate themselves into strategic analysts and be seen as valuable corporate assets, they need to start grooming themselves right now to be prepared to meet their organizations’ needs.  The trends are promising:  “Your future business/technology analysts will be the most valuable business analysts, because they can single-handedly turn business-requested IT-delivered applications into tomorrow’s dynamic business applications,” write Schwaber and Karel of Forrester Research, Inc. [i]

How do I know if I am Capable Enough?

Your organization needs to ensure it has appropriately skilled BA workforce possessing the capabilities needed to successfully deliver innovative products and new business solutions that meet 21st century business needs.  So how do we gauge individual and workforce BA capability that is commensurate with project challenges?  More and more BA Practice Leads and Managers are conducting an assessment of their entire BA Workforce Capabilities taking into account the complexity of their portfolio of projects.  Projects typically fall into four areas, with complexity growing as we move from left to right in the model below, which describes the project levels: (1) operations and support changes delivering enhancement to current business processes and technologies, (2) projects creating new or changed processes and technologies, (3) enterprise change initiatives that implement strategy to transform how the organization does business, and (4) innovation and competitive focused initiations to forge new ground.

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Competency vs. Capability

It’s not just about competency (what you think you can do or your score on a multiple-choice knowledge assessment); it’s ALL about capability:

Ensuring your competency level and capability to perform is commensurate with the complexity of your current and future work assignments, andAbility to perform to achieve forecasted project outcomes and resulting business value within your organizational context.

To determine the characteristics of your current projects and your BA capabilities (and those of your BA peers), the BA Individual and Workforce Capability Assessment identifies your capability gaps, and proposed a plan to close the gaps.  The knowledge, skills, techniques, and capabilities behind the model are based on the latest industry research about business, leadership, complexity, innovation, and creativity.  In addition, it is in alignment with the IIBA® BABOK® Version 2 and the IIBA® BA Competency Model Version 3.

So, how capable do you need to be? The Answer: It Depends…

… on the complexity of your current and future work assignments. So let’s examine the model in a little more detail.  The Applied BA Capability Model is four-tiered; each tier requiring different BA competencies based on the project complexity, the innovation required, and the focus of work assignments.  As you move across the model from left to right, projects become more complex, and therefore, more sophisticated capabilities are required for success. The four tiers include four levels of business focus:

  1. Operations/Support Focus
  2. Project or New Product Focus
  3. Enterprise/Strategy Execution Focus
  4. Competitive/Future Strategy Focus

Level 1: Operations/Support Focus

These BAs typically spend their time doing BA activities for relatively low complexity projects that are designed to maintain and continually improve current business processes and technology.  Many BAs operate at this level, since studies show that IT organizations spend 70% to 80% of their budget and resources just to “keep the lights on” – maintaining business as usual.  This only leaves 20% to 30% of resources left for innovation.  IT organizations have been trying to flip this ratio for years, and many are succeeding.  Hence, fewer BAs will be needed at this level, and more will be needed for more strategic, innovative projects.

BAs working to at this level need to view the effort as a large project looking at the entire system; examining the opportunity to creatively change and improve rather than looking at the task as simply fixing bugs or problems. Prioritize change requests based on business value.  Once a systems and business-value approach is used, opportunities for innovation begin to emerge.

As legacy processes and systems age, these business analysts are becoming more and more valuable since they are likely the best (and often, the only) SMEs who fully understand the legacy operational processes and technology.  As application modernization efforts emerge, these BAs are invaluable, working closely with Business Architects to document the current state of the business supported by the applications undergoing modernization.  The analysts assigned to these tasks are typically Generalists and Business Systems Analysts, positioned from entry-level to senior business analysts.

Level 2: Project / New Product Focus

Project-focused BAs work on moderately complex projects designed to develop new/changed products, services business processes and IT systems.   This focus area typically includes senior BAs who are IT-Oriented BAs and Business-Oriented BAs, positioned from entry-level to senior business analysts. It is a little clearer how business analysts can foster innovation when working on a project to develop something new, whether it is a new product, process, or service.  However, even with a project focus, it is easy to use “inside the building” thinking (see previous article) and allow the requirements SMEs to simply define requirements to rebuild what we already have with only minor enhancements.  Business analysts that allow this to happen will undoubtedly be thought of as “note takers” as opposed to “trail blazers”.  Don’t let it happen to you!

To foster creativity at the project level, it is your job to establish an environment where the creativity of your team members can surface and thrive.  Once the team of SMEs has a shared vision, target, and objective, the business analyst encourages the team to create something new by imagining what could be, inspiring each other, collaborating, brainstorming, and experimenting.  As you encourage team members to view each other as unique individuals with valuable contributions to make, participants will start “getting it” and “getting with it” and the business analyst can then quietly step into the shadows and let the team do its thing.  Understand that if your team members are not challenging each other and building on each other’s ideas, they have not yet made it “into the zone”.  In this case, they likely need more prodding and encouragement from the BA as expert facilitator, collaborator, and innovator.  Caution the participants not to be critical or judgmental, but to use conflict positively to spawn differing perspectives and new combinations of ideas.  Hone your innovation-inducing facilitation skills on moderately-complex projects to train yourself for the big leagues.

Level 3: Enterprise / Strategy Execution Business Focus

These BAs are operating at the enterprise level of the organization, ensuring that the business analysis activities are dedicated to the most valuable initiatives, and the business analysis assets (models, documents, matrices, diagrams etc.) are considered corporate property and are therefore reusable.  Enterprise analysts focus on the analysis needed to prepare a solid business case to propose new initiatives to execute strategy. They also work on highly-complex, enterprise-wide projects and programs, typically managing a team of senior BAs.  This focus area typically includes experienced, high-level BAs who are Enterprise Analysts and Business Architects.

As business analysts demonstrate their skills they are in a position to communicate that innovation is everybody’s job; it is not just up to a few super stars or senior BAs to foster creativity.  For business analysts that are working on enterprise transformation initiatives, the need for innovation is even more critical.  Here the stakes are higher, the investments bigger, the rewards greater, and the risks larger.  It is at this level that business analysts need to be on their game, familiar with and comfortable with innovative work sessions. 

It is a delicate balance between instilling a culture of discipline in the team and smothering creativity.  The business analysts who have mastered creativity techniques do deliberate things not to be too controlling, such as, not sitting at the head of the table; not getting into prolonged conversations with only one or two people; insisting on full participation, summarizing and sharing your own opinion only after full discussion has taken place.  The techniques you select need to be customized to your team composition:  mind-mapping for left brain thinkers; brain-writing for right-brain thinkers.  Make your team meetings fun, exciting, and yes, you may even need to “perform” a bit.  Spend ample time planning how you will facilitate meetings to ensure you have lots of tools in your toolkit, experimenting with them until the team begins to gel.

Level 4: Competitive / Innovation Focus

When you are operating at the corporate level, you are truly at the pinnacle of your career. The stakes are the very future viability of your organization.  Business/Technology Analysts are recognized business domain and technology visionaries who serve as innovation experts, organizational change specialist, and cross domain experts. Business/Technology Analysts focus outside of the enterprise on what the industry is doing, formulate the future vision and strategy, and design innovative new approaches to doing business to ensure the enterprise remains competitive, or even leaps ahead of the competition.  Business/Technology Analysts convert business opportunities to innovative business solutions and translate strategy into breakthrough process and technology.  To focus on heavy duty innovation, very high-level BAs who are Enterprise Analysts, Strategists, and Business/Technology Analysts are needed whose sweet spot is business/technology optimization.

Complexity, Creativity and Innovation– The Major Leagues

When the business analyst is working at the enterprise level or as an innovator focused on competitive advantage, this really is the big leagues.  There are many business practices that the business analyst engages in to turn new products or services, and new business processes, into a source of competitive advantage.  In fact, most people who perform these practices are not yet thought of as business analysts, often operating at the executive level, carrying the title of strategic planner, product manager or portfolio manager.  Indisputably, when individuals and groups are engaged in the activities described below, they are very much carrying out business analysis pursuits. [ii]

Decide What to Build to Seize Competitive Advantage

What we build today determines our place in the market tomorrow.  To determine the most valuable products to build, all of the enterprise analysis activities the business analyst leads come into play including: decomposing strategic goals into measureable objectives, conducting competitive and customer analysis to determine the differentiators that will make your organization stand out; defining the business need and assessing capability gaps to meet the need; identifying the most creative and innovative solution, defining the solution scope and approach; determining when to release the new product, and how to manufacture and support it; and finally, capturing the opportunity in the business case to secure investment funds.

Capitalize on Complexity to Breed Creativity

Business Analysts need to learn to capitalize on complexity to bring about creativity.  What do creative leaders do?  They use their adept facilitation skills to set the stage for a diverse group of experts to traverse through the Continuous Innovation Loop.

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Continuous Innovation Loop

Certain behaviors are required to traverse the Continuous Innovation Loop.  A new discipline is emerging called, “Complex Leadership.” It was introduced early in the 21st century, and is based on the application of complexity theory to the study of organizational behavior and the practice of leadership.  What do complex leaders do?  They let the solution emerge as they engage in unique leadership behaviors that foster innovation.  This involves four steps:

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With so much riding on the results, companies must invest in the most valuable projects, providing value to customers and revenue to the company.  However, studies reveal that few companies have effective portfolio management processes.  The emerging roles of the enterprise and competitive-focused business analysts, serving as the complex leaders we need, have got to fill this gap in organizational capabilities by being the vital link between opportunity, innovation, investment, and value creation.  To do this the business analyst brings together an expert team of individuals who are system thinkers and enjoy working in ambiguity, and leads them to break old rules and paradigms to discover breakthough ideas.  Perhaps one of the reasons we don’t have effective portfolio management is because not enough business analysts are leading these important activities.[iii]

The Applied BA Capability Assessment – How does it Work? 

Using an Applied BA Capability Assessment provides the information you need to baseline your applied capabilities and prepare your own learning and development plan. For a group of BAs, it can serve as valuable information to develop your organization’s professional develop program.  The results provide a basis for BA workforce adjustments and/or realignment, training requirements, professional development activities, and specific mentoring and coaching needs.

Benchmarking: How You Compare with BAs Working on Similar Projects

The BA Applied Capability Assessment provides the opportunity to participate in a multi-dimensional assessment.  The assessment collects basic demographic information about you, e.g., years of experience, time spent on BA activities versus project management or more technical tasks, amount of BA education, and capabilities performing BA work.  It then compares the state of your BA capabilities to your peers and to BAs in the same industry.  The information on how much time you spend on BA activities provides a view as to your actual capacity to deliver new business solutions. In addition to the benchmark report, you receive a customized professional development plan to guide your BA performance improvement and career development efforts.

Not Your Typical Competency Assessment

This is not your ordinary multiple-choice-type self-assessment using a rating scale. This approach provides an interpretive frame of reference to analyze your assessment responses; this assessment process exhibits strong reliability and validity when you respond candidly to each question. The following chart compares the BA Applied Capability Assessment approach to traditional competency assessments.

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Sample Results

The reports you receive are customized to your specific work situation and provide you with relevant, prioritized recommendations to help you focus your learning and development efforts.  If you use our online assessment, your customized reports arrive via email in PDF format. You may request a telephone coaching consultation or email consultation if you have any questions about your results and professional development recommendations. For organizational BA Workforce Assessments, organizational results and individual BA coaching sessions are performed at your place of work.

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Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

[i] Carey Schwaber and Rob Karel, The New Business Analyst, Forrester Research, Inc., April 8, 2008

[ii] IBM Corporation. Turning product development into competitive advantage. Best practices for developing smarter products. IBM Executive Brief: Developing Competitive Products, July 2009, p 5.

[iii] Jim Brown, The Product Portfolio Management Benchmark Report: Achieving Maximum Product Value, Aberdeen Group, August 2006.

BA as Creative Leader: What’s All the Fuss About?

Leadership is like genius, it is one of those concepts that is recognizable when you observe it in action, but is otherwise somewhat difficult to define.  And creative leadership is even harder to define because we haven’t been focusing on it in the context of business, unless we are talking about new product development.  But creativity and innovation in the business world is not just about product innovation.  It is also about innovative business relationships and alliances; ground-breaking processes that bring about efficiencies needed to be competitive; pioneering global supply chains and teams that take advantage of talent around the world; inventive technologies that blow away old models (think Kodak not converting to digital cameras quickly enough); modern approaches to public/private partnerships, and drastically improved project management and business analysis practices.

Leadership has been defined as:

  • The art of persuading or influencing other people to set aside their individual concerns and to pursue a common goal that is important for the welfare of the group; 
  • The ability to elicit extraordinary performance from ordinary people;
  • The capacity to integrate the goals of the organization with the aspirations of the people through a shared vision and committed action; and
  • The ability to motivate people to work toward a common goal.

While there are no gauges by which we can effectively measure the value of leadership, leadership is often the factor that makes one team more effective than another. When a team succeeds, we often remark about outstanding leadership abilities; when a team fails, the leader is likely to receive the blame.
Leadership is all about people. And it is about influence: it always involves actions by a leader (influencer) to affect (influence) the behavior of followers in a specific situation or activity. Three factors must be present for true leadership to take place:

  • Certain inherited characteristics that impart the inclination to become a leader;
  • Learned knowledge and skills about becoming a leader; and
  • The right situation that presents itself.

What does all this talk about Leadership have to do with Business Analysts?
So why are we talking about leadership with respect to BAs?  Because my posit is this: business analysts are well positioned to fill the gap in creative leadership at all levels of organizations.  To place themselves in leadership roles, BAs who have an inherent leadership disposition should begin now to elevate their role to one of creative leader: (1) to create the appropriate learning opportunities and (2) to influence their current situation and environment to be seen as that creative leader. I am laying down the gauntlet: challenging seasoned BAs to become creative leaders.

21st Century Leadership
In decades gone by, leadership in the business world was considered the province of just a few people that controlled the organization. In contrast, in today’s demanding, challenging, and ever changing business environment, organizations rely on a remarkable assortment of leaders that operate at varying levels of the enterprise. 21st century leadership looks very different from that of previous eras for several reasons:

  1. The economic environment is more volatile and complex than ever before;
  2. Much of the work is accomplished in teams, so there is a stronger than ever necessity for more leadership at differing levels of the organization; and
  3. Lifelong learning is at the heart of professional success. The most valuable employees will no longer stay in narrow functional areas but will be likely to work broadly across the enterprise.

As we transition from the traditional stovepipe, function-centric structures to the team- and project-centric workplace, we are seeing the emergence of creative leadership at the nucleus of 21st century business models. Work has been transformed from multiple workers performing a single task (many of these jobs have disappeared due to technology and outsourcing) to networks and teams that perform multiple activities on multiple projects, creating, inventing and re-inventing.  And 21st century projects are exceedingly complex so that we cannot manage them with the traditional command and control leadership style.
21st Century Change
Virtually all organizations of any size are investing in large-scale transformations of one kind or another. Contemporary changes are about adding value to the organization through breakthrough ideas, optimizing business processes, and using information technology (IT) and the Internet as a competitive advantage. These initiatives are often generated by mergers or acquisitions, new strategies, global competition, or the emergence of new technologies.

Other programs are launched to implement new or reengineered business systems to drive waste out of business operations. Still others are spawned because of the need to innovate, adapt, or evaporate.

While today’s organizations are engaged in virtually hundreds of ongoing projects of varying sizes, durations, and levels of complexity, many are trying to reduce the number of trivial projects to invest in more critical, game-changing strategic initiatives. Since business strategy is largely achieved through projects, projects are essential to the growth and competitive survival of organizations. They create value as a response to changes in the business environment, the competition, and the marketplace.
Management versus Leadership: Who has the Power?
There are subtle differences between management and leadership, and how each amasses power and strength.  The differences manifest themselves in how individuals motivate others.  Managers have subordinates, while leaders have followers.  Managers are often risk averse; whereas, leaders are risk seekers. [1]

Management is about Operating Effectively
Management know-how involves establishing and executing a set of processes that keep complicated systems operating efficiently. Managers have authority by virtue of their title and position.  Key facets of management involve strategic and business planning, budgeting, organizing, staffing, controlling, and problem solving.  Organizations tend to implement management processes to impose discipline and to control the looming chaos.  The predicament then turns out to be about the avoidance of becoming too bureaucratic so as to squash creativity and innovation.  Some say management is just about keeping bureaucracies functioning, so they often resist change that leads to innovation.

Leadership is about Changing Effectively
Leadership is a different set of processes, those that create a new organization and change it when the business environment shifts. Leadership involves establishing direction and aligning, motivating, and inspiring people to produce change. The irony is that as new entrepreneurial organizations grow to a sustainable scale through creativity and innovation, managerial processes need to be put into place to cope with the growth and control the unruliness.  As the organization succeeds and managerial processes are put in place, self-importance and arrogance break the surface and a strong culture that is dead set against change emerges.[2]  Whereas, 21st century creative leadership is all about welcoming and embracing change – in fact, creating disruptive change.  The astute and influential business analyst is primed to play a strong role in resolving the inevitable tension and conflict between resistance to change and the need to innovate.

To Lead is to have Strength that Inspires People
And then there is power.  Power is something that is bestowed on an individual by someone else that imparts the authority to get things done even when others resist; whereas, leadership is about inspiring people to want to get the same things accomplished that you do, and enabling them to do it.  Val Williams, executive coach, tells us that:

Power is often tied to position: being a CEO, a manager, partner, judge, parent, senator.  If you have power, you can impact the lives of others. Strength is not dependent on any position: The concept of strength implies not what you can do to others; but what you can create from your own resources. Where power sometimes motivates people through fear, strength leads people through inspiration. Strength connotes charisma, attractiveness. People more naturally follow a strong person. They are motivated to act by something beyond that person’s title.[3] 
Strength is very much like leadership.  People want to follow a strong person, one who is credible, attractive, results-oriented, and fun to work with.  Effective project leaders, including the business analyst, are effective at their craft through leadership and strength, not through power and authority. 

BA Leadership at the Project Level
BAs are in a leadership role in projects.  Informal straw polls that I have conducted in multiple companies indicate that project leadership is now shared between the PM and BA.  For complex projects, leadership should also be shared with the business visionary and the lead technologist(s). Indeed, every time a BA facilitates a group she is in a leadership role.  It is the context of the facilitated session that determines whether the results are incremental changes to business as usual, or innovative changes to the way we do things.

BA Leadership at the Enterprise Level (the Corporate, Strategic Level)
It is at the corporate level that we are experiencing the biggest gap in business analysts as creative leaders.  It is at this level that enterprise-focused BAs have the best opportunity to ensure the organization is being creative and innovative.  The Enterprise Analysis led by corporate BAs fill the yawning gap in capabilities between strategy and execution. Also see our Blog: for more information on BA proficiency at the corporate level.

The business analyst who is working at the corporate level provides information about opportunities to executives to develop a portfolio of valuable projects. The BA relieves the organization from what is called the burden of analysis that is needed, but often missing, to envision, experiment, and prototype to identify truly innovative solutions prior to investing in new change initiatives.  The Enterprise BA fosters the inspiration and a collaborative environment to bring about innovation.  I call this ICI-notBAU: Inspiration, Collaboration, Innovation-not Business As Usual.

Transitioning to World-Class Project Leaders
The talents of the Enterprise BA are more critical than ever to keep the focus on the business innovation. However, many companies fail to involve their best BAs at the corporate level in determining the most innovative solutions.  Too often, they keep BAs involved in eliciting tactically-focused, detailed requirements for projects, without spending enough energy on creativity and innovation prior to project execution. For BAs to be considered creative leaders operating at the corporate level, they must transition their skills, competencies, focus, and influence as depicted in the table below.

Apr3 Kitty1With so much riding on successful projects, the business analyst is emerging to fill the gap in creativity, analyze the business and the competitive environment, and provide the expert facilitation needed to achieve ICI-notBAU; the project manager has risen to the role of strategic implementer; and cross-functional leadership teams have become management’s strategic tool to convert strategy to achievement.  When the project manager and business analyst form a strong partnership with the business and technology teams, organizations will begin to reap the maximum value of both disciplines. As the business analysis and project management disciplines mature into strategic business practices, so must our project leaders evolve into strategic leaders of change.

It’s a  BIG Cultural Change

Finding the Creative Solution

Mature organizations devote a significant amount of time and energy to conducting due diligence and encouraging experimentation and creativity before rushing to construction.  These due diligence activities take the form of: enterprise analysis, competitive analysis, problem analysis, and creative solution alternative analysis performed prior to selecting and prioritizing projects. This new approach involves a significant cultural shift for most organizations – spending more time up front to make certain the solution is creative, innovative, and even disruptive.

The Business Analyst as Change Agent: Changing the Way We Do Projects
Culture in an organization is durable, because it is the way we do things around here. Changing the way we determine solutions to business problems, select projects, develop and manage requirements, and manage projects while focusing not only on business value, but also on innovation is often a significant change for organizations. Change is hard, and change takes a long time. But the need is urgent! We need to step up our game.

Rita Hadden, specialist in software best practices, process improvement, and corporate culture change, provides us with some insight into the enormity of the effort to truly change the way we do projects.[4] Hadden suggests you must have a management plan to deal with the technical complexity of the change and a leadership plan to address the human aspects of the change (I call this the Political Management Plan).

Creative leaders need to understand the concerns and motivations of the people they hope to influence. They ought to clearly define the desired outcomes for the change and how to measure progress, assess the organization’s readiness for change, and develop plans to minimize the barriers to success. The goal is to create a critical mass so BAs in the organization integrate creativity into their projects.  Therefore, to become leaders in their organizations, business analysts need to learn all about change management – becoming skilled change experts.

The Business Analyst as Visionary
The BA needs to document the vision in the business case and infuse a common vision into the team and all key stakeholders. A clear vision helps to direct, align, and inspire actions. Without a clear vision, a lofty transformation plan can be reduced to a list of inconsequential projects that sap energy and drain valuable resources. Most importantly, a clear vision guides decision making so that every decision that needs to be made is not arrived at through unneeded debate and conflict. Yet, we continue to underestimate the power of vision.

The Business Analyst as Credible Leader
The BA needs to develop and sustain a high level of credibility. Credible business professionals are sought out by all organizations. People want to be associated with them. They are thought of as being trustworthy, reliable, sincere – and creative. The business analyst can develop his or her credibility by becoming proficient at these critical skills, all of which should be part of your learning and development plan:

  • Thinking holistically; looking at the entire ecosystem surrounding the company and business process
  • Facilitating teams expertly
  • Setting direction and providing vision
  • Practicing business outcome thinking
  • Conceptualizing and fostering creatively
  • Building strong relationships
  • Using robust communication techniques  
  • Building high-performing teams
  • Listening effectively and encouraging new ideas
  • Seeking responsibility and accepting accountability
  • Focusing and motivating your group to achieve what is important
  • Managing complexity dimensions to reduce project risks
  • Welcoming changes that add value to the solution.

The Business Analyst as Trusted Leader
The BA needs to be trusted – capable of being believed. Above all, a BA must strive to be a reliable source of information. Credibility is composed of both trustworthiness and expertise.  In addition, colleagues often judge credibility on subjective factors such as enthusiasm and even physical appearance. At the end of the day, professional presence, ethics and integrity are the cornerstone of credibility.
Creative Leadership is Different
Creativity has always been important in the world of business, but until now it hasn’t been at the top of the management agenda.  Perhaps this is because creativity was considered too vague, too hard to pin down. Or even more likely, because concentrating on it produced a less immediate dividend than improving execution, it hasn’t been the focus of management attention. Although there are similarities in the roles of manager, leader, and creative leader, there are subtle differences as well. The table below shows the distinctions between these roles.




Creative Leader

Define what must be done



Planning and budgeting

n  Short timeframe

n  Detail-oriented

n  Eliminate risk

Establishing direction

n  Long timeframe

n  Big picture

n  Calculated risk

Establishing breakthrough goals and objectives

n  Envisioning the future mission and direction

n  Forging new strategy

Create networks of people and relationships

Organizing and staffing

n  Specialization

n  Getting the right people

n  Compliance


Aligning people

n  Integration

n  Aligning the organization

n  Gaining commitment

Aligning teams and stakeholders to the future vision:

n  Innovation

n  Urgency

n  Out of the Building expectations

n  Political mastery

n  Global teams

Ensure the job gets done

Controlling and problem solving

n  Containment

n  Control

n  Predictability


Motivating and inspiring

n  Empowerment

n  Expansion

n  Energizing

Building creative teams 

n  High performance

n  Trust

n  Empowerment

n  Courageous disruption

n  Innovation

Exhibit 4-4: Comparing Managers, Leaders, and Creative Leaders

A Culture of Creativity

Since creativity is the ability to produce something novel, we have long acknowledged that creativity is essential to the entrepreneurship that starts new businesses.  But what sustains the best companies as they attempt to achieve a global reach?  We are now beginning to realize that in the 21st century, sustainability is about creativity, transformation, and innovation.  Although academia has focused on creativity for years (we have decades of research to draw on) [5] the shift to a more innovation-driven economy has been sudden – as evidenced in the fact that COEs today lament the absence of creative leaders.  

As competitive positioning turns into a contest of who can generate the best and greatest number of innovations, creativity scholars are being asked pointed questions about their research.  What guidance is available for leaders in creativity-dependent businesses?  How do we creatively manage the complexities of this new global environment?  How do we find creative leaders, and how do we nurture and manage them?  Does every project solution need to be innovative? The conclusion of participants in the colloquium, Creativity, Entrepreneurship, and Organizations of the Futureat Harvard Business School was: “one doesn’t manage creativity; one manages for creativity.”[6]  Management’s role is to get the creative people, position them at the right time and place, remove all barriers imposed upon them by the organization, and then get out of their way.

Innovation: the Real Business Need
We are challenging BAs to re-think their approach, to not just record what the business is doing or wants to do, but to operate as a lightening rod to stimulate ICI-notBAU To do so, business analysts are also re-thinking the role of the customers and users they facilitate, looking upon them as a creative resource that can imagine, invent, and re-invent.  Good, sometimes great ideas often come from operational levels of organizations when workers are given a large degree of autonomy. 

To stay competitive in the 21st century, CEOs are attempting to distribute creative responsibility up, down and across the organization.  Success is unsustainable if it depends too much on the ingenuity of a single person or persons, as is too often seen with start-ups that flourish for a few years and then fall flat; they were not built to last, to continually innovate.  It is no longer about continuous improvement; it is about continuous innovation.  It is the BA who works across and up and down organizations – getting the right people at the right time and in the right place – to fan the flames of creativity. If not the BA, then who?

What does Creative Leadership look like?
There are many distinguishing beliefs and characteristics in the observable behavior of creative leaders.  According to John McCann, educator, facilitator and consultant, creative leaders:

  • Believe in the capability of others, offer them challenging opportunities, and delegate responsibility to them
  • Know that people feel a commitment to a decision if they feel they have participated in making it
  • Understand that people strive to meet other people’s expectations
  • Value individuality
  • Exemplify creativity in their own behavior and provide an environment that encourages and rewards creativity in others
  • Are skillful in managing change
  • Emphasize internal motivators over external motivators
  • Encourage people to be self-directing.[7]

Constructive Dialogue
McCann poses the question: “So where can creativity, ambiguity, tension, and decisiveness come together in a healthy environment that regards the integrity of the individual and the value of the organization equally?”  He then makes the case that this is accomplished only through constructive and well-facilitated dialogue, precisely the BA’s trade craft.[8] 

The value of lively discussion is that it encourages an exploration of ideas and shared learning about what is possible. Groups of individuals with differing perspectives can be more insightful, more effective than can individuals. The IQ of a team has the potential to be much greater than the IQ of one person.  Better decisions are almost always reached by groups of diverse thinkers than by individuals.  According to McCann, this coming together of creativity, ambiguity, tension, and decisiveness is accomplished through the skilled and credible facilitator (who but the BA?) who sets the stage for groups to engage in productive dialogue.  The BA is perfectly positioned to be that credible leader and facilitator who sets these conditions in motion that lead to creativity: Participants are willing to have their beliefs examined and reexamined;

  • Participants look upon each other with respect and realize the benefits that come from open and candid discussion; and finally,
  • There is a facilitator who holds the context and allows everyone to participate equally.[9]

Expert Facilitation
The business analyst as creative leader combines open dialogue using expert facilitation and creativity-inducing tools (discussed in future articles) for stimulating the sharing of unique ideas.  Just as the IQ of the group rises higher than that of any one individual, the CQ, creativity quotient, can potentially be much greater as well.  Therefore, organizations desperately need BAs who can encourage creativity and help groups raise their CQ. 

An Art and a Discipline
As BAs learn to use expert facilitation as their foremost creativity-inducing tool, they are prudent to take into account the views of John Kao, director of the Idea Factory and author of: Jamming, The Art and Discipline of Business Creativity. According to Kao, for individuals to feel they are truly responsible for their own decisions, they must be instilled with what Kao calls a “Creativity Bill of Rights.” When performing their craft, BAs instill these beliefs:

  • Everyone is creative.
  • All ideas deserve an impartial hearing.
  • Creativity is part of every job description.
  • Shutting down dialogue prematurely and excessive judgment are fundamental transgressions.
  • Creativity is about finding balance between art and discipline.
  • Creativity involves openness to an extensive variety of inputs.
  • Experiments are always encouraged.
  • Dignified failure is respectable; poor implementation or bad choices are not.
  • Creativity involves mastery of change.
  • Creativity involves a balance of intuition and facts.
  • Creativity can and should be managed.  The expert BA instinctively knows when to bring the dialogue to a close.
  • Creative work is not an excuse for chaos, disarray or sloppiness in execution.[10]

Thinking “Outside the Building”
“The greatest future breakthroughs will come from leaders who encourage thinking outside a whole building full of boxes.”
Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Arbuckle Professorship at Harvard Business School and author of  SuperCorp (Crown, 2009).
So, what kind of barriers do we expect to encounter when BAs make an attempt to become the creative leader organizations need today?  There is a formidable set of customs that exist in any organization that the creative leader must learn to penetrate.  In her Harvard Business Review column, it is the cultural barriers that Rosabeth Kanter calls “inside the building thinking” that may pose the strongest obstruction to innovation.  While we are all familiar with “out of the box” thinking, Kanter pushes the envelope and asks us to consider both “inside the building” and “outside the building” thinking. 

Inside-the-building thinking is the hallmark of establishments, whose structures inhibit innovation. Once the architecture is set, vested interests divide up the floors and reinforce existing patterns and practices. Even change-oriented inside-the-building thinkers take organization and industry structures for granted. They pay most attention to similar-looking competitors in markets already served. They focus on enhancing the use of existing capabilities rather than developing new solutions to emerging problems.[11] 

What does this mean for the skilled and credible facilitator who sets the stage for groups to engage in productive dialogue?  Business analysts have got to be cognizant of the fact that their first inclination – and the first tendency of their groups of stakeholders – will be to limit their options by focusing on similar companies doing comparable things.  So it is up to the business analyst to beware of and encourage the group to penetrate the inside-the-building boundaries.

What does a Real Focus on Innovation Look Like?
Kanter provides us with a few examples:

  • New product development companies place engineers in customers’ facilities to shorten feedback loops for rapid prototyping of new products.
  • A bank in Brazil increases its attractiveness to top talent by mounting crime-reduction and cleanup efforts in bank neighborhoods.
  • To speed innovation, one company identified consumers’ needs by living in people’s homes.
  • Interconnected systems can transform life outside, as well as inside, school buildings to improve learning. In one low-income community, a network of nonprofit organizations focusing on the entire ecosystem of a student’s world has demonstrated dramatic improvements in school performance and college attendance.
  • In health care, we see many examples.  Primary care, family medicine, and nurse practitioner groups performing work that is typically done in hospitals. Paraprofessionals administering screenings and immunizations. Public schools serving as frontline disease prevention and monitoring centers. Clinics operating in retail drug and mega-retail stores. 
  • Innovation teams set apart from business operations teams that accomplish real transformative improvements in record time.

Kanter urges us to use system thinking and open mindedness when working with stakeholders to innovate, solve a problem, or seize a new opportunity.  To unleash creativity, BAs have got to challenge their stakeholders to use not only systems thinking, but also complexity thinking and out-of-the-building thinking, to look at the entire ecosystem that surrounds their organizations.  It is then that we have set the stage to bring about lasting innovation.

Putting it All Together: What Does This Mean to the Business Analyst? Becoming a Creative Leader

“Leadership is the capacity to mobilize people toward valued goals; that is, to produce sustainable change — sustainable because it’s good for you and for the people who matter most to you.”  Stew Friedman, Author, Professor, Innovator

Stew Friedman, Practice Professor of Management at the Wharton School, former head of Ford Motor’s Leadership Development Center, and author of “Total Leadership: Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life posed this question to business leaders across the country: “What kind of leadership do we need now?”  The most often response was: adaptive, flexible, and innovative.   Because of the ever-present sense of turbulence in most of our lives these days, the leadership attribute that comes to mind most often is the means for dealing with chaos. According to Friedman, it boils down to this: playful creativity.[12]  Friedman’s philosophy is reasonably straightforward.  Friedman believes that leadership can exist in every person, regardless of the organizational level or title.[13]

Creative leaders produce sustainable change.  We have provided lots of food for thought as you strive to become the creative leader, and strive you must because creative leadership is gravely needed for your organization to survive.  Your power will come from your professional presence, your credibility and expertise, and your ability to inspire groups to get creative things done – to bring about disruptive change.  As organizations mature in their use of business analysts, you may derive some of your power from positioning in the company, but without a doubt, it is through creative leadership that you will thrive.

Look for Next Month’s Article: How Capable Do Business Analysts Need to be to Ignite Creativity?

Don’t forget to leave your comments below. 

[1] Val Williams. Leadership versus Management. Online at: (accessed August 2010).
[2] John P. Kotter, Leading Change (Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 1996).
[3] Val Williams. Leadership: Strength versus Power. Online at: (accessed August 2010).
[4] 3. Rita Chao Hadden, Leading Culture Change in Your Software Organization: Delivering Results Early (Vienna, VA: Management Concepts, 2003).
[5] Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. The Creativity Crisis. (Newsweek, July 19, 2010), 44-50.
[6] Teresa M. Amabile and Mukti Khaire. Creativity and the Role of the Leader. (Harvard Business Review: October 2008) Online at: July 2010).
[7] John M. McCann. Leadership As Creativity: Finding the Opportunity Hidden Within Decision Making and Dialogue (National Endowment for the Arts) Online at: (accessed July 2010).
[8] Ibid.
[9] John M. McCann. Leadership As Creativity: Finding the Opportunity Hidden Within Decision Making and Dialogue (National Endowment for the Arts) Online at: (accessed July 2010).
[10] John Kao, Jamming, The Art and Discipline of Business Creativity.(New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1996)
[11] Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Column: Think Outside the Building (Harvard Business Review, The Magazine: March 2010). Online at: (accessed August 2010).
[12] Stew Friedman. Become a More Creative Leader – Think Small. (Harvard Business Review, Blogs: June 15, 2009). Online at: (accessed August 2010).
[13] Marci Alboher. Hot Ticket in B-School: Bringing Life Values to Corporate Ethics. (New York Times, May 29, 2008). Online at:  (accessed August 2010).

From Tactical Requirements Manager to Creative Leader of Innovative Change

The Adaptive Business Analyst – As Complexity Increases, the BA Adapts

The world, she is a’changin’.  The Internet has made everyone on the globe hyper-connected and has transformed virtually all industries: publishing, broadcasting, communications, and manufacturing.  Did you know that just a few short years ago:


Didn’t exist


Was a sound


Was a prison

A Cloud

Was in the sky

An Application

Was something you used to get into college


Was a parking space


Was a typo[1]

Fast forward to now.  Traditional work has been commoditized.  Anyone with an idea and a little moxie can use their laptop to set in motion a virtual new entity.  You can go to:


For product design

Alibaba in China

For low-cost manufacturing

For delivery and fulfillment

Craigs List

To do your accounting

To do your logo[2]

If this isn’t bad enough, the heart and soul of middle class jobs are disappearing in the U.S.  Consider this: When Apple began manufacturing the iPhone, the company estimated that it would take nine months to find 8,700 qualified industrial engineers in the U.S. to oversee and guide the 200,000 assembly-line workers eventually involved in manufacturing iPhones.  In China, it took 15 days.[3]  Result: we lost 200,000 iPhone manufacturing jobs.

Many believe that these and many other traditional jobs are not coming back to the U.S.  So, what are the jobs of the future?  We probably don’t even know what to call them, but they will definitely require creativity, innovation, invention, and lots of complexity.  Even today, many companies in Silicon Valley do quarterly reviews of their key project leaders because they can’t wait to find out they have a poor BA or PM.  Many U.S. companies report they can’t find the employees they need.  American businesses also report that U.S. workers that are available are too expensive and too poorly educated as compared to workers in India, China, South Korea and many other countries.

What does all this Mean to the Business Analyst?

Employers are looking for critical thinking and an ability to adapt, invent, and reinvent; collaborate, create, and innovate; and an ability to leverage complexity to compete. Standout companies are using projects as the hotbed of creativity – so that means BAs and PMs have to step up their game.  According to the 2011 CHAOS Report from The Standish Group, only 37% of projects delivered on time, on budget, with required features and functions. 

  • The Cause: Gaps in enterprise business analysis and complexity management 
  • The Cost: USD 1.22 trillion/year in the US and USD 500 billion/month worldwide in IT  project waste 
  • The Opportunity Cost: “If we could solve the problem of IT failure, the US could increase GDP by USD 1 trillion/yr.”  according to Roger Sessions, a recognized expert in enterprise architecture and author of Simple Architectures for Complex Enterprises.

We need to fundamentally change the way we do projects so that 80% of projects are on time, budget and scope (see Figure 1).  But we also need to focus on innovative solutions, not incremental changes to business as usual.  And we need to bring about value to the customer and wealth to the organization – otherwise, why are we investing in the project?  This is where the BA comes in – constantly focusing on value and leveraging complexity to foster creativity.


  Figure 1: New Project Approach

Does the business analyst role change, either significantly or subtly, with highly complex projects? If so, how?  Our framework for dealing with complex projects consists of four distinct activities (see Figure 2):

  1. Diagnose Project Complexity
  2. Assign Competent Leaders
  3. Select the appropriate project management approach
  4. Manage complexity dimensions

This article in the series will examine steps 1 – 3.



Figure 2: Project Complexity Framework

 Step #1: Diagnose Project Complexity

The first step in understanding the level of complexity of your project is to assess each complexity dimension.  Use the Project Complexity Model depicted in Figure 3. Facilitate your project team leads to agreement on which cells most closely describe your project for each complexity dimension.  Then apply the project complexity formula to determine the complexity profile of your project.  In my experience, the actual complexity of projects exceeds the team’s initial assessment prior to applying the model.


Complexity Dimensions

Project Profile

Independent Project

Moderately Complex Project

Highly Complex Project

Highly Complex Program “Megaproject”


Size: 3–4 team members
Time: < 3 months
Cost: < $250K

Size: 5–10 team members
Time: 3–6 months
Cost: $250–$1M

Size: > 10 team members
Time: 6 – 12 months
Cost: > $1M

Size: Multiple diverse teams
Time: Multi-year
Cost: Multiple Millions

Team Composition and Past Performance

PM: competent, experienced
Team: internal; worked together in past
Methodology: defined, proven

PM: competent, inexperienced
Team: internal and external, worked together in past
Methodology: defined, unproven
Contracts:  straightforwar
Contractor Past Performance: good

PM: competent; poor/no experience with complex projects  Team: internal and external, have not worked together in past
Methodology: somewhat defined, diverse
Contracts: complex
Contractor Past Performance: unknown

PM: competent, poor/no experience with megaprojects
Team: complex structure of varying competencies and performance records  (e.g., contractor, virtual, culturally diverse, outsourced teams)Methodology: undefined, diverse Contracts: highly complex 
Contractor Past Performance: poor

Urgency and Flexibility of Cost, Time, and Scope

Scope: minimized    Milestones: small
Schedule/Budget: flexible

Scope: achievable 
Milestones: achievable
Schedule/Budget: minor variations

Scope: over-ambitious Milestones: over-ambitious, firm 
Schedule/Budget: inflexible

Scope: aggressive
Milestones: aggressive, urgent
Shedule/Budget: aggressive

Clarity of Problem, Opportunity, Solution

Objectives: defined and clear     Opportunity/Solution: easily understood

·Objectives: defined, unclear
Opportunity/Solution: partially understood

Objectives: defined, ambiguous
Opportunity/Solution: ambiguous

Objectives: undefined, uncertain    Opportunity/Solution: undefined, groundbreaking, unprecedented

Requirements Volatility and Risk

Customer Support: strong 
Requirements: understood, straightforward, stable
Functionality: straightforward

Customer Support: adequate  Requirements: understood, unstable
Functionality: moderately complex

Customer Support: unknown
Requirements: poorly understood, volatile
Functionality: highly complex

Customer Support: inadequate
Requirements: uncertain, evolving
Functionality: many complex “functions of functions” 

Strategic Importance, Political Implications, Stakeholders

Executive Support: strong
Political Implications: none
Communications: straightforward
Stakeholder Management: straightforward

Executive Support: adequate
Political Implications: minor
Communications: challenging
Stakeholder Management: 2–3 stakeholder groups

Executive Support: inadequate 
Political Implications: major, impacts core mission 
Communications: complex
Stakeholder Management: multiple stakeholder groups with conflicting expectations;  visible at high levels of the organization

Executive Support: unknown
Political Implications: impacts core mission of multiple programs, organizations, states, countries; success critical for competitive or physical survival
Communications: arduous
Stakeholder Management: multiple organizations, states, countries, regulatory groups; visible at high internal and external levels

Level of Change

Organizational Change: impacts a single business unit, one familiar business process, and one IT system
Commercial Change: no changes to existing commercial practices

Organizational Change: impacts 2–3 familiar business units, processes, and IT systems
Commercial Change: enhancements to existing commercial practices

Organizational Change: impacts the enterprise, spans functional groups or agencies; shifts or transforms many business processes and IT systems
Commercial Change: new commercial and cultural practices

Organizational Change: impacts multiple organizations, states, countries; transformative new venture
Commercial Change: ground-breaking commercial and cultural practices

Risks, Dependencies, and External Constraints

Risk Level: low 
External Constraints: no external influences 
Integration: no integration issues    Potential Damages: no punitive exposure

Risk Level: moderate
External Constraints: some external factors
Integration: challenging integration effort 
Potential Damages: acceptable exposure

Risk Level: high

External Constraints: key objectives depend on external factors
Integration: significant integration required
Potential Damages: significant exposure

Risk Level: very high
External Constraints: project success depends largely on multiple external organizations, states, countries, regulators
Integration: unprecedented integration effort
Potential Damages: unacceptable exposure

Level of IT Complexity

Technology: technology is proven and well-understood
IT Complexity: application development and legacy integration easily understood

Technology: technology is proven but new to the organization
IT Complexity: application development and legacy integration  largely understood

Technology: technology is likely to be immature, unproven, complex,  and provided by outside vendors
IT Complexity: application development and legacy integration poorly understood

Technology: technology requires groundbreaking innovation and unprecedented engineering accomplishments
IT Complexity: multiple “systems of systems” to be developed and integrated

Figure 3: Project Complexity Model 2.0

© Kathleen B. Hass and Associates, Inc.


Then apply the formula below, Figure 4 to diagnose the complexity level of your project.


Highly Complex Program


Highly Complex Project

Moderately Complex


Size: Multiple diverse teams, Time: Multi-year, Cost: Multiple Millions


2 or more in the Highly Complex Program/Megaproject column

Organizational Change: impacts the enterprise, spans functional groups or agencies, shifts or transforms many business processes and IT systems


3 or more categories in the Highly Complex Project column


No more than 1 category in the Highly Complex Program/Megaproject column

3 or more categories in the Moderately Complex Project column


No more than 2 categories in the Highly Complex Project column and

No more than 2 categories in the Moderately Complex Project column


No categories in the Highly Complex Project or the  Highly Complex Program/Megaproject  column

Figure 4: Project Complexity Formula

© Kathleen B. Hass and Associates, Inc.

Step #2: Assign Competent Project Leaders

Complex projects require seasoned leaders, and the use of a shared leadership model (see Figure 5).  The core project leadership team consists of the PM, BA, Chief Architect, Development Lead and a Business Visionary, each taking the lead when a particular expertise is needed.








Figure 5: Shared Leadership Model

Once the project complexity is known, it is imperative that appropriately skilled and experienced individuals are assigned to key leadership positions.  Obviously, BAs need more sophisticated skills as they move from low complexity projects, to enterprise, strategic and innovation projects. The first order of business is for the organization to understand their BA Workforce.  Check out the blog site: posting on March 5th entitled “Calling All BA Practice Leads!”  It discusses how BA Practice Leads ensure their organizations have an appropriately skilled BA workforce (see Figure 6) possessing the capabilities needed to successfully deliver complex new business solutions that meet 21st century business needs.

Figure 6: BA Workforce Capability Model

The BA Manager or Practice Lead then assigns BAs (and working with other managers, assigns other project leaders) based on the complexity profile of the project at hand (Figure 7).  If the project leads’ capabilities are lower than the complexity of the project requires, it is almost certain that you will have a challenged and/or failed project.

Figure 7: Make Appropriate Leadership Assignments

Step #3: Select the Project Approach

As projects have become more complex, project cycles have evolved. Project cycles models are not interchangeable; one size does not fit all. Project cycles can be categorized into three broad types:

  • Linear: used when the business problem, opportunity, and solution are clear, no major changes are expected, and the effort is considered to be routine. A linear cycle is typically used for maintenance, enhancement, and continuous process improvement projects. It is also used for development projects when requirements are well understood and stable, as in shrink-wrap software development projects.
  • Adaptive: used when the business problem, opportunity, and solution are unclear and the schedule is aggressive. An adaptive cycle is typically used for new technology development, new product development, or complex business transformation projects.
  • Extreme: used when the business objectives are unclear or the solution is undefined. An extreme cycle is typically used for research and development, new technology, and innovation projects.[4]

Figure 8 shows the differences between linear and more adaptive methods.

Linear Methods

Adaptive Methods

  • Industrial-age thinking
  • Plan based
  • Distinct life cycle phases
  • Tasks completed in orderly sequence
  • Assumes predictability
  • Lays out development steps
  • Stresses the importance of requirements
  • Only firm basic requirements that are not expected to change (aka high-level requirements) and a release plan up front
  • Many rapid planning and development cycles
  • Produces small batches of tailored products on a tight schedule
  • Evolution of requirements with each planning and development cycle
  • Constant evaluation of the evolving product
  • Constant evaluation of the value of functions in backlog

Figure 8: Linear vs. Adaptive Methods

As we move along the complexity continuum from independent, low complexity predictable projects to highly complex projects with lots of uncertainty, we also move along the spectrum of project cycle types. A linear approach works for a simple, straightforward project; whereas, adaptive, and extreme approaches are used to manage the uncertainties of increasingly complex efforts (see Figure 9).

Figure 9: Project Complexity Mapped to Project Cycle Approaches

© Kathleen B. Hass and Associates, Inc.


Low-Complexity Projects: Traditional Waterfall Methods

The traditional role of the business analyst does not need to change much to successfully execute activities on low-complexity projects. The linear Waterfall Model is appropriate (see Figure 10). However, to optimize the business analyst role, it is wise to adopt some of the principles of agile and iterative development for even low-complexity endeavors:

  • Prototype for requirements understanding, to reduce risk, and to prove a concept
  • Involve the business and keep the business analyst as a member of the core project leadership team throughout the project
  • Continuously validate, evolve, and improve requirements throughout the project.

Figure 10: The Waterfall Model

Moderately Complex Projects: Agile Methods

There’s no question about it: agile methods expedite the product development process, especially for products that are software intensive. Agile is an adaptive, streamlined model, based on having only essential people work in tight-knit teams for quick and efficient results (see Figure 11). As we’ve seen, one very important member of the team is the business analyst; if companies hope to achieve strategic goals, they need someone who is focused on the business value expected from the project outcomes. The business analyst provides guidance before funds are invested, during a project, and after the solution is delivered. She continually focuses on the evolving business requirements and serves as the steward of the business benefits.[5]         

Figure 11: The Agile Model

Through leadership and collaboration, the project manager and business analyst guide the agile team, ensuring that it is both efficiently and effectively run and that it adds significant long-term benefits for the company with each iteration. The business analyst plays close attention to the original business case, recommending the project be terminated when the ROI has been realized.


Firm Basic Requirements

A business analyst’s main priority when she is first attached to a specific project is to elicit firm, basic business requirements (what we used to call high-level requirements, which outline the breadth of requirements and which we do not expect to change), to collaboratively determine the most feasible solution, and then to categorize releases into valuable features and functions. Then each release is initially described in enough detail to determine its cost versus its benefits, thus developing an ROI for each release.

Knowing what it will take to deliver each individual component of the solution as well as what the return will be to the organization, the development team can then build components or features based on business value, delivering the highest-value features first. As the project moves through the release schedule, the business analyst elaborates the requirements in enough detail to meet the development team’s needs for each release.


An Eye on the Business Value

As an agile project progresses through its life cycle, the team continually learns new information. It becomes clearer how many resources will be needed to perform detailed design, construction, and tests for each release, how much risk there is to the project, and how the risk needs to be managed. Accordingly, it is important to go back and check original assumptions about business value and costs to develop and operate the new solution to see if they are still true, or if the original business case has been compromised.


Validation after Every Release

By being involved during the development process, business analysts can validate that new components are actually meeting business needs and that the business case is still sound. They also take information to other groups outside of the agile team to further corroborate that the inevitable changes have the support of other stakeholders.


Organizational Transition Requirements

The operational environment needs to be analyzed and assessed before the solution components are implemented. Perhaps there will be a need for reorganization, retooling, retraining, or acquisition of new staff. Working with management, the business analyst helps to ensure the organization is prepared for the impact of the changes and can support the release plan. That way, when the complete solution is delivered, it can be operated efficiently and effectively.


Lighter Requirements

Agile requirements are typically “lighter” than those developed for linear project models. Requirements are visually documented whenever possible. The wise business analyst uses modeling to manage complexity. Less formal user stories (a high-level description of solution behavior) may suffice, as opposed to use cases.


Advanced Skills

Advanced skill development is required for business analysts who are working on agile projects. They need to develop new or higher-level leadership skills, including expert facilitation, coaching, collaborative decision-making, and team development. The analyst also needs to have a good understanding of software architecture and be proficient in decoupling the breadth of the solution from the depth of the solution into feature-driven requirements.

Highly Complex Projects, Programs, and Megaprojects: Extreme Methods


Welcome a certain amount of complexity and churn because it creates a chemical reaction that jars creative thinking.

—Colleen Young, VP and distinguished analyst and IT adviser, Gartner, Inc.

Highly complex projects offer the greatest opportunities for creativity: complexity breeds creativity. But the business analyst must understand the nature of complexity to leverage complexity to foster innovation. Complexity is one of those words that is difficult to define. Some say complexity is the opposite of simplicity; others say complicated is the opposite of simple, while complex is the opposite of independent.

Since complex projects are by their very nature unpredictable, it is imperative that the project team keep its options open as long as possible, building those options into the project approach. This approach requires that considerable time be dedicated to researching and studying the business problem or opportunity; conducting competitive, technological, and benchmark studies; defining dependencies and interrelationships; and identifying potential options to meet the business need or solve the business problem. In addition, the team experiments with alternative solutions and analyzes the economic, technical, operational, cultural, and legal feasibility of each option until it becomes clear which solution option has the highest probability of success. When the opportunity is unclear and the solution is unknown, traditional linear approaches simply will not work.


Last-Responsible-Moment Design Decisions

On highly complex projects, it is important to separate design from construction. The key is to use expert resources and allow them to spend enough time experimenting before they make design decisions; the construction activities will thereby become much more predictable. Linear methods might then be appropriate during the construction phase of the project.

Models for adaptive project management are still emerging. We suggest two that are designed to provide iterative learning experiences, adapt and evolve as more is learned, allow analysis and experimentation to determine solution design viability, and delay decision-making as long as possible (that is, until the last responsible moment, the point at which further delays will put the project at risk): the adaptive evolutionary prototyping model and the eXtreme project management model. There are significant differences between the adaptive and eXtreme approaches (see Figure 12).

Adaptive Methods

eXtreme Methods

  • Many rapid planning and development cycles
  • Produce small batches of tailored products on a tight schedule
  • Constant evaluation of evolving product
  • Constant evaluation of the value of functions in backlog

·         Keep your options open

◦      Build options into the approach

·         Discover, experiment, create, innovate

◦      Analyze problem/opportunity

◦      Conduct competitive, technical, and benchmark studies

◦      Brainstorm to identify all possible solutions

◦      Analyze feasibility of each option

◦      Design and test multiple solutions


Figure 12: Adaptive vs. Extreme Methods


Evolutionary Prototyping Model

The keep-our-options-open approach often involves rapid prototyping—a fast build of a solution component to prove that an idea is feasible—which is typically used for high-risk components, requirements understanding, or proof of a concept.

Evolutionary prototyping is quite effective for multiple iterations of requirements elicitation, analysis, and solution design. Iteration is the best defense against uncertainty because with each iteration, the technical and business experts examine the prototype and glean more information and certainty about functions that are built into the next iteration.

The strength of prototyping is that customers work closely with the project team, providing feedback on each iteration (see Figure 13). If requirements are unclear and highly volatile, prototyping helps bring the business need into view.


Figure 13: Adaptive Evolutionary Prototype Model

© Kathleen B. Hass and Associates, Inc.


eXtreme Project Management Model

An extreme project is a complex, high-speed, self-correcting venture during which people interact in search of a desirable result under conditions of high uncertainty, high change, and high stress.

—Doug DeCarlo, author and lecturer,

Extreme Project Management

eXtreme project management is sometimes also called radical project management. Some equate it to scaled-up agile methods. The approach consists of a number of short, experimental iterations designed to determine project goals and identify the most viable solution. As in the agile model, eXtreme project management requires that the customer be involved every step of the way until the solution emerges—a practice that involves many iterations. Like the iterative Spiral Model, the eXtreme model terminates after the solution is found (or when the sponsor is unwilling to fund any more research); the project team then transitions to one of the other appropriate models. One variation of the eXtreme Model spends a considerable amount of time in discovery, then prototypes, then transitions to modular development (see Figure 14).

Figure 14: eXtreme Model

© Kathleen B. Hass and Associates, Inc.

Challenges will arise at every turn, because it can be difficult to:

  • Know how long to keep your options open
  • Build options into the approach without undue cost and time
  • Gather the right group of experts to discover, experiment, create, innovate, and:

◦      Analyze the problem/opportunity

◦      Conduct competitive, technical, and benchmark studies

◦      Brainstorm to identify all possible solutions

◦      Analyze the feasibility of each option

◦      Design and test multiple solutions.


Operating on the Edge of Chaos

Conventional business analysis practices that assume a stable and predictable environment encourage us to develop all the requirements up front, get them approved, and then fiercely control changes. As we have seen, conventional linear project cycles work well and should be used for predictable, repeatable projects; however, this approach has proven to be no match for chaotic 21st-century projects. Figure 15 compares the characteristics of projects on which conventional linear practices can be successfully used with the characteristics of projects that require a more adaptive model. A blend of the linear, adaptive, and eXtreme models is almost always the answer. The trick is to know when and how to apply which approach.

Conventional linear approaches work well for projects that…

Adaptive approaches work well for projects that…

Are structured, orderly, disciplined

Are spontaneous, disorganized

Rely heavily on plans

Evolve as more information is known

Are predictable, well defined, repeatable

Are surprising, ambiguous, unique, unstable, innovative, creative

Are built in an unwavering environment

Are built in a volatile and chaotic environment

Use proven technologies

Use unproven technologies

Have a realistic schedule

Have an aggressive schedule; there is an urgent need


Figure 15: Conventional vs. Adaptive Approaches

What exactly does it mean to operate on the edge of chaos?  Complex systems fluctuate between a static state of equilibrium and an adaptive state of chaos.  If a system remains static, it will eventually result in paralysis and death.  Whereas, if a complex system is in chaos, it is unable to function.  So, here is the genius of complexity: it breeds and nourishes creativity, as complex systems adapt to changes in the environment for survival.  Complexity scientists tell us that the most creative and productive state is at the edge of chaos.  (Refer to figure 16.)  Therefore, complex project teams must operate at the edge of chaos for a time in order to allow the creative process to flourish.  The business analyst assigned to a complex project must use adaptive business analysis methods to foster an environment where creativity is possible.  The next article in this series explores the business analyst as creative leader of complex projects who are living on the edge.

Figure 16: The Edge of Chaos: the Most Creative State

Putting It All Together: What Does This Mean to the Business Analyst?

A business analyst who is an asset to highly complex projects is comfortable with lots of uncertainty and ambiguity in the early stages of a project. She leads and directs plenty of sessions of brainstorming, alternative analysis, experimentation, prototyping, out-of-the-box thinking, and trial and error, and encourages the team to keep options open until they have identified an innovative solution that will allow the organization to leap ahead of the competition. The BA who does not embrace complexity does so at her own peril.

The articles in this series are adapted with permission from The Enterprise Business Analyst: Developing Creative Solutions to Complex Business Problems by Kathleen B. Hass, PMP. © 2011 by Management Concepts, Inc. All rights reserved. The Enterprise Business Analyst: Developing Creative Solutions to Complex Business Problems

About the Author

Kathleen B. (Kitty) Hass, PMP

Senior Practice Consultant                   

Kathleen Hass & Associates, Inc.  

Email: [email protected]



Twitter:  @ BA_Assessment @KathleenHass1                           

Kitty is the president of her consulting practice specializing in enterprise business analysis, complex project management, and strategy execution. She is a prominent presenter at industry conferences, author and facilitator.  Her BA Assessment Practice is the gold standard in the industry. KHass BA Assessments:

  • Appraise both BA organizational maturity and individual/workforce BA capability based on four-stage reference models
  • Present results that are continuously examined for reliability and validity by Lori Lindbergh, PhD, Senior Researcher and Psychometrician , Lorius, llc                              
  • Benchmark results against a global data base of BAs performing comparable work
  • Align with the IIBA BABOK® and the BA Competency Model®
  • Align with standards and best practices for quality and fairness in educational and psychological assessment
  • Are based on the skills and knowledge needed to work successfully on the complexity of current project assignments
  • Examine critical relationships between competency, project complexity, and project outcomes.

In addition to assessments, Kitty’s expertise includes implementing and managing PMOs and BACOEs.  She has over 25 years of experience providing professional services to Federal agencies, the intelligence community, and Fortune 500 companies.  Kitty is a Director on the IIBA Board and Chair of the IIBA Board Nominations Committee.  She has also authored numerous white papers and articles on leading-edge business practices, the renowned series entitled, Business Analysis Essential Library, and the PMI Book of the Year, Managing Project Complexity – A New Model.

[1] Tom Friedman, Michael Mandelbaum, That Used to be us: How America Fell Behind in the World it Invented and How we can Come Back, 2011.  

[2] Ibid., p. 134.

[4]. Robert K. Wysocki, Effective Project Management: Traditional, Adaptive, Extreme, 4th ed. (Indianapolis: Wiley Publishing, Inc., 2007), 48.

[5]. Kathleen B. Hass, “An Eye for Value: What the Business Analyst Brings to the Agile Team,” Project Management World Today (June 2007), 1-5.