Our relationship with our manager has a massive impact on our work, health and happiness. What makes a good leader for BAs and what can we learn from bad bosses?
PMs are often attracted to their role because they are skilled at delivery. It is very difficult to balance the competing demands of meeting delivery milestones with nurturing and developing individual team members. Having the combined roles of line-manager and delivery-manager puts project managers in an unenviable position, and if the performance evaluation of the PM is primarily concerned with project delivery, it is clear which role will take precedence.
Some of the worst examples of PMs managing BAs include:
- Treating the BA as deputy PM
- Assuming the BA wants to become a PM
- ‘Hoarding’ the BA on their project, despite requests to expand horizons and develop
- Vetoing analysis tools and techniques the BA wants to apply
- Preventing the BA from speaking/presenting to senior stakeholders, reducing the visibility of the BA and unintentionally (or intentionally) taking credit.
If the person doing these things is also your line manager – how can you address the behaviours or find appropriate support?
Where a BA is line managed by their PM, there needs to be recognition that there are two different relationships at play. The ‘best’ outcome for the project (BA assigned 100% of the time, forever) is unlikely to be the best outcome for the individual BA. PMs will sometimes have to put the needs of the individual above the project, or risk losing them from the organization entirely.
BAs may want to partition meetings or request separate ‘line management catch-ups’ which have more emphasis on personal development and wellbeing and less on project delivery.
The PM/BA relationship works best when they are a professional partnership. The roles have different skills and approaches, but are working towards the same delivery goals. This can be severely compromised if the PM is the only ‘boss’ for the BA.
Product managers and product owners sometimes find themselves managing BAs. They may also want to ‘hold on to’ their BA indefinitely. They often value product knowledge over the BA skillset and expect BAs to become subject matter experts. If the only training and development opportunities they can imagine for the BA is ‘more product knowledge’, then BAs are not getting the support and encouragement they need from their boss. They may not understand the breadth of the BA role and skill set, and subsequently only allow the BA to operate in a very narrow role with a constrained set of tools, techniques and relationships.
Refer to job descriptions to keep both BA and boss focused on the wide remit of the role, not narrow product knowledge. The BA should build strong relationships with business stakeholders and relevant teams, so they have easy access to business knowledge, but don’t become the keeper of this knowledge. Encouraging regular discussion of succession planning and rotation and re-assignment normalises the idea that a BA will not stay with a particular product for the long term, and what we are providing is a business analysis skills-based service, not a product knowledge-based service.
The Absent Executive
Whilst it may be appealing on paper for a BA to report directly into a CIO or other senior executive, it comes at a price. It can be very difficult to get their time, leading to an inattentive and shallow line management relationship. The BA is often faced with the choice of a distant relationship, with irregular catch-ups and never knowing if something more important may overwrite one-to-one time OR attempting to become the right-hand-man of the exec, picking up a range of problems and projects, but is subject to rapidly changing priorities. Neither of these are particularly appealing situations and neither provides considerate and consistent line management support for the BA.
Reporting into a senior executive requires a high level of autonomy and independence. Some BAs enjoy working in this way so this can work well. However, everyone deserves to have a positive and supportive relationship with their boss and not see themselves as the lowest priority item on a very long to-do list. Investing in other meaningful relationships with more accessible colleagues may help to address the gap if a management void occurs. This could include a mentor, coach or trusted and supportive peer. Developing the community of business analysts helps to provide support and direction if there is an absence of management.
There has been a rise in the belief that ‘a good manager can manage anything’. The problem is, this is not actually true and multiple studies spanning many sectors find that:
- A manager who has skills and experience of a function leads to a higher performing function
- People whose boss has skills in their discipline are happier and are better at their jobs!
A manager who does not understand or value business analysis is the worst possible boss for a BA.
BAs can help managers to understand the role and remit of business analysts and can champion the application of repeatable, rigorous analysis to aid decision making, understand customers, avoid risks, identify opportunities and improve services. It is always worth investing the effort to raise the profile and highlight the impact of good business analysis.
Organizations with sufficient numbers of BAs (5+) should be investing in a BA leadership role such as:
- Head of Business Analysis
- BA Manager
- BA Team leader
- BA Chapter lead
- Head of profession for business analysis
Having individual BAs reporting to a range of roles and scattered throughout the organization does not allow the consistent application of business analysis, the opportunity to continuously improve or appropriate development and support of BAs.
Successful BA leaders are skilled and experienced in business analysis. They understand how to recruit and develop BAs and enable appropriate utilization and retention of BAs, saving the organization time, effort and money.
While there will be many examples of successful line management relationships from all of these roles, it is important to recognise the potential pitfalls and how they can be addressed. Not everyone is cut out to be a manager of people. Having a boss who cares about us as an individual, is interested in providing support and offering development and values the contribution we make should be the minimum we expect from our line managers.
Having a bad boss is bad for your health and career, so if you can’t change you manager, change your manager.