Jonathan Kupersmith (aka “Kupe) is the Director of Client Solutions at B2T Training and is a prolific writer within the business analysis profession, hosting a blog and frequent webinars at BATimes. Recent topics include: You Need Desire to Be a Desired BA and Will the Real BA Foundational Skills Please Stand-up.
Kupe provides an undercurrent of positive motivation for the BA community and helps direct our energies toward what’s most important. Kupe and I had the opportunity to talk about challenges BAs face in selling their value and how to overcome them.
Laura: How did you start your business analyst career?
Kupe: I graduated with an accounting degree and was working in accounting when I failed the CPA exam. I realized this was not the right career. I was also a PeopleSoft power user and was working with the IT team on projects. Project work excited me and when openings opened in IT I started applying.
Laura: What are the challenges in selling the value of requirements analysis?
Kupe: Analysis is fluffy. People want to see results. Agile is actually helping business analysis because it drives early definition and validation. But even outside an agile environment, it’s a good idea to get something in front of your stakeholder early in the process. A common mistake is for a business analyst to hold an elicitation session, go away for two weeks, and then present a long document for review. Validation needs to be iterative. Even if what you show them is not perfect, just keep iterating. Too many companies are still waterfall to the point of not engaging their stakeholders.
Another challenge in selling the value of analysis is that stakeholders don’t understand the process and get frustrated. You hear comments such as “I told you what I wanted already, why are you asking me these questions?” Some stakeholders expect to have one conversation and be done. To counteract this, the business analyst needs to set expectations about the process. The reality is that questions come up during analysis and you need to go back and have follow-up conversations.
Laura: It sounds like communicating BA value centers around being visible and transparent. I think a lot of business analysts are challenged by this because it involves changing the way they’ve done things in the past and seems like a risky endeavor.
Kupe: I agree. I coach people into being comfortable taking risks. Don’t be afraid that if you do something you are going to lose your job. I was once teaching to a group and I pushed the fact that if a project goes off kilter, you need to get the project redirected or canceled. Someone said “that’s a career-ending move here.” If you have that attitude you will never do great work. You are responsible for a successful project that stays on track. The alternative is that you watch your company waste a lot of money on the wrong projects and you’ll lose your job anyway because the company can no longer pay the bills.
Laura: You work for a training company, how do you recommend that professionals with the opportunity to participate in formal training get the most out of it and bring the most value back to their organizations?
Kupe: As a training provider we have the responsibility to educate, motivate, and help drive behavior change. I sit down with BA managers and tell them “you are about to spend a lot of money, let’s put a structure in place to be sure it provides the benefit you are looking for.” In the ideal situation, managers provide structure and the climate for employees to use the training immediately following the session.
For individuals, I tell them that something in this class is going to inspire you. As a result of this training class, identify a pain point and try a technique that will help you address it. If it’s successful, people will recognize that. Then move on to the next one. Incrementally improve and before you know it, you’ll have transformed the way you do business.
Laura: I think that’s great advice. With so much opportunity for training available these days with webinars, podcasts, blogs, and books, there doesn’t seem to be a lack of knowledge but rather with experience. Do you have an example of a BA overcoming the resistance to change within their organization?
Kupe: When trying to implement change to a process, it is important to start small. As an example, I was coaching a business analyst on a project where we really needed to get a good understanding of scope before flying down through the analysis. There were multiple points of resistance to trying something new within the organization. So I coached the BA and helped him use the technique without telling anyone. We practiced doing a contextual diagram together and he went back to the stakeholder to ask the questions that resulted from the analysis. Many techniques that you learn are analysis tools, not necessarily deliverables. Not every document or diagram you create has to be reviewed by a stakeholder.
Laura: It sounds like the number one rule for a BA is “know thy stakeholders”. Validate early and often, but validate in a way that suits them. And along the way, you’ll create value and be perceived as valuable.
Kupe: Yes, yes, yes. It is all about the people. As a BA you need to have a deep understanding of the people you work with and adapt your style to fit them. Much of what we do comes down to building strong trusting relationships.
Laura: Thank you so much for your time today and for your contributions to the BA community. We really need leaders like you as we take steps to advance our profession.
Kupe: You are very welcome. Thank you for the effort and enthusiasm you bring to our profession. I can have conversations like this all day any day. Are you available tomorrow?!