Author: Ryan McPherson

Smart Business Analysts Ask the Obvious Questions

“Never make assumptions” is some of the most popular advice given to business analysts. How not to is the obvious question that so rarely seems to have an answer included.

But let’s rewind and approach this from an entirely different angle. Let’s talk about asking obvious questions like that instead. Now I know we’re all fond of the saying “there are no stupid questions,” but we all know that twinge when we worry for just moment that a question might be too obvious. There are a bunch of reasons to ask these questions, though.

The first is to remove the stigma of expertise. Once people assume you’re an expert, they stop telling you things that they think you already know. This is maybe the most dangerous type of assumption: the kind others make on your behalf. You don’t know these assumptions are being made, and you have no way to discover them as they’re occurring. You might catch them in a requirements review session, or you might catch them in user acceptance testing, or you might catch them after you go-live. If you’re asking me though, I’d rather catch them much earlier than any of those touchpoints. If we make a point of verbalizing our thoughts when we catch ourselves thinking something like “this probably means”, we are actively encouraging people to talk to us like they’re training us, rather than as a peer.

Dispelling the illusion of expertise can also be vital in relaxing the room. When people are dealing with someone they perceive to be an expert, some folks will feel pressure to keep up with the expert, or to demonstrate their own expertise. This can often be exacerbated when their manager is in the room. Lots of people are understandably uncomfortable with having their experience and expertise being outshone in front of their boss. This can manifest in all kinds of counterproductive behaviours, but even if it doesn’t, why would we ever want a stakeholder, subject matter expert, or user to feel intimidated? This co