One of the biggest problems in the business analyst profession is that people expect us to be the experts. Over time, as we grow in a role within one organization, we build more domain knowledge and expertise and our area of focus can become increasingly narrow. Our managers come to expect us to become experts and in the process of being experts we become more efficient.
As a BA consultant/contractor, I’ve been hip-hopping organizations so frequently, that I’ve rarely faced the “problem” of application expertise. When you are new, you are simply not the expert. And I have been lucky to find myself in completely new domains, facing new challenges, and new areas of knowledge to explore.
All of a Sudden I Had a Little Expertise to Offer
Then I was assigned a small enhancement project to help our marketing team scope a change they needed within Google Analytics for some reporting. Even though I use Google Analytics weekly to track the stats on this blog, I didn’t get the sense that I was being assigned as an expert, just that they wanted some more detail before they put the usual IT expert on the chase.
OK. No problem. I read the background information, come up with about 4-5 elicitation questions and get on the call for the meeting. But then through the course of the discussion, I realize that I know exactly how to solve the problem. A short discussion to validate that my solution would work in their environment and “ta da”, problem solved. No one from IT needs to get involved. I feel pretty darn good about myself.
I share this story because I would guess that many of us really like to be the experts. And when you are not hip-hopping from one contract to another, you’re not in the situation, like I am, where you can force yourself not to be the expert.
It’s Fun to Use Your Expertise and Solve a Problem
It also is very evident that you’ve added value to your organization. When I left that 45 minute meeting, there was no doubt in my mind that I had just earned my “billable time”. I knew I had. Not only had I given marketing the solution to their challenge, but I had saved at least a couple hours of management and development time coordinating the resources and investigating the problem. I had potentially saved countless hours of building a custom solution to the problem if the team had lacked expertise in the tool and the solution I happened to know about had not been discovered.
The Danger: Getting Stuck in an Area of Expertise
But where does this take my BA career? In my situation, I’m relatively safe for awhile. There are so many projects that this wee bit of application expertise I’ve been able to muster will not be pigeonholing me into a certain set of projects. Of course, I’m sure I’ll be the first one to get the next Google Analytics question and this could turn up a nasty project on my plate at some point, but it’s probably not going to cause a lot of headaches. It’s not going to limit my experience on this contract. But what if, like many of you, I was the expert on Salesforce.com or SAP or a company’s proprietary system that a host of people use everyday to do their jobs? If there were enough projects and small requests to keep me busy within my area of expertise, I’d probably be stuck for awhile.
And I think that’s where many of you find yourselves at this current point in time.
My point? Well, as we look at the world of business analysis and see a host of jobs that require industry and domain expertise and ask whether or not this is right for the profession, I want to challenge you to also look at yourselves.
There is a certain lure of being the expert.
It’s not that it’s wrong.
But it is limiting.
If you want to be a grow in the business analyst profession, you will not always be the expert. You will bring expertise in the ways of business analysis: elicitation, analysis, specification, and validation. You will be an expert communicator and problem solver. But you might not always be the expert or be able to solve the problem on the spot.
And actually, there’s more value in being able to facilitate a smart group of people solving a problem than to jump in and solve it yourself. You can solve much bigger problems this way. But first, you’ve got to let go of your expectations that you can be (and should be) the expert.
A good question to ask yourself is: “Are my strengths grounded in my domain or technical expertise or my business analyst competencies?”
Learn to Backseat Your Expertise
Non-experts ask good questions (and even some “stupid” ones) with confidence. And they get interesting answers.
You’ll learn how do ask the right questions and use other techniques so you can succeed in situations when you are decidedly not the expert in my Essential Elicitation Skills course – this is a virtual course that includes three live webinar sessions and individual feedback on your elicitation plans.
(And if you are the expert? Many course participants are. They learn to fake non-expertise and have much more interesting requirements discussions as a result.)