The “A” in BA Does Not Stand For “Anything”
Do you ever find yourself so busy on your projects that you can’t possibly keep up, yet you realize you’re not really doing any Business Analysis ? There could be legitimate reasons: A project is in crisis, and you’re just doing what’s needed to put out fires. Or you’re filling in for an unexpected vacancy on the team. But sometimes the BA role is just not well understood or is poorly defined. If you’re new to business analysis, it’s easy to fall into perpetual “side jobs” that hinder your BA career development.
Let me get one thing straight before expounding on this point. I do not suggest that a BA should never do anything that is not a “formal” BA accountability. In my decades as a BA, I have happily undertaken responsibilities outside of the conventional BA role on many projects. I have built timelines, managed schedules, led teams, coordinated testing, written lines of code, etc. while wearing the BA hat. When an emergency or critical deadline demands, everyone should contribute what they can. But going off script to meet an occasional challenge is very different from falling into a routine of activities that aren’t developing your BA skill set. If you’re a BA who really wants to be a BA, and you’re relentlessly buried with work that doesn’t involve much Business Analysis, you might have slid into one or more common traps:
Trap # 1: The Documenter
Creating solid documentation is an essential BA strength, and you’ll build heaps of it in your career. If you’re really good at documentation, you might find yourself being asked to document “extra” things that have nothing to do with your project activities.
For example, Project Manager X says: “Yes, Sandy should document that, but her documentation isn’t so great–could you take of that for her?” Or PM X says, “I know the Customer Service backlog is not part of this project, but could you maybe help Joe document how to manage the CX inbox?” Or you start getting invited to meetings outside your project scope and asked to take minutes because “you’re so good at it”. If you love these extra activities, or the recognition is great, or you’re learning valuable things along the way, Awesome!! Carry on. But if you’re spending all your time documenting and not exercising other BA muscles, you might want to reconsider the value of The Great Documenter label.
Trap #2: The Communication Facilitator
Strong communication and facilitation are fundamental BA skills. A BA is often the team “glue”, pulling people together, facilitating discussions, bridging communication gaps between stakeholders and negotiating consensus. So, when is that a bad thing?
It’s counter-productive when nobody talks to anybody else unless the BA initiates and facilitates the discussions. I’ve worked on many projects where tech developers and testers working on the same build never talked to each other unless I connected them. A well-established Agile team rarely has this problem, but many projects are resourced by disconnected part-time contributors, and too often a BA becomes the only connection between them.
Another common scenario is business stakeholders who operate departmental silos, despite interdependent processes. When multiple business stakeholders are brought together on a common project, I expect to facilitate joint sessions as we work through the vision, business needs, scope and processes. But as an initiative progresses, it becomes absurd when EVERY conversation between business stakeholders needs to be scheduled and facilitated by the BA, even a small decision that requires only two directors to talk to each other for five minutes. But it happens SO often ☹.
If you find team members don’t communicate at all without you driving them there, start discussions on how discussions can happen without you—at least some of the time. Otherwise, a large and complex project will have you facilitating meetings ALL DAY, EVERY DAY. And you will do almost nothing else.
Trap #3: Status tracker
A BA is usually at the centre of everything. You confirmed the scope and requirements; you’re guiding business decisions; you’re validating the solution design and reviewing the testing coverage. You have a finger on the project pulse. The project manager is buried in financials and/or politics and everyone starts asking you about the project status.
You didn’t see it coming, but you somehow became the project LEAD. You’re tracking and reporting status on everyone’s project activities. If you’re enjoying yourself, smile and report. If your career path includes project Management, SMILE extra WIDE and EMBRACE the opportunity. But, if your new responsibilities are monopolizing your time and you’re longing for your user stories, context diagrams or process flows, start discussing how you can regain a focus on Business Analysis.
Trap # 4: The Slush Bucket
Just like it sounds. This really is the sinkhole. In some organizations, the BA role is ill-defined or nonexistent. The “A” in BA becomes “Anything” and is often “Administration”. The BA is asked to schedule other people’s meetings, manage all project documentation, organize social events, handle new team member orientations, create the project team logo, draft other people’s communications, prepare other people’s presentation materials, etc. When this happens, the “A” in BA rarely involves Analysis. If you really want to be a BA, falling into this trap will not help you get there. That doesn’t mean you never volunteer or graciously accept a request to help when needed. But if your role as Office Factotum is leaving you no time for Business Analysis, you’re not developing your BA career no matter how helpful you are.
The role of a BA is varied and means different things in different organizations. If you LOVE what you’re doing, it really doesn’t matter how your work fits a BA job description that does or does not exist. If you’re assigned tasks outside of your BA role and they align with your career path or interest, give thanks and grab the opportunity 😊. But if you really LOVE business analysis and want to keep progressing in the BA role, watch out for these common traps that can stifle your BA career development. If you’re frustrated about not really working as a business analyst, have some direct conversations with your leader and plan a path back to some real Business Analysis.