5 Ways to Avoid Repeating Past Project Mistakes

When we start a new business analyst job or project, it’s natural to wonder how to avoid the mistakes that plagued our previous projects and how to ensure this time is different and delivers a more successful outcome.

break-the-cycleA lot can be said for this motivation.

New projects = new beginnings.

While we can’t directly control project outcomes, the way we approach our business analysis role can have a lasting and significant effect. In this article, we’ll look at 5 things you can do differently to help your projects avoid the mistakes you’ve experienced in the past.

#1 – Clarify Your Role

The number one mistake I see business analysts make on new projects is to make assumptions about their role that lead to overlooked responsibilities or areas of requirements. I can point the finger inward here, more times than I’d like to admit.

  • I’ve unknowingly trampled on other project team members’ roles, because that was just what a BA is supposed to do!
  • I’ve failed to deliver what is actually expected, while working with my usual diligence towards deliverables that were under-valued and thereby unappreciated.
  • I’ve followed the job description to a tee, only to learn that my team needed something additional that wasn’t explicitly asked for.

If you can point the finger inward too, don’t wallow in self-blame. There is so much dialog out there about what the business analyst role is supposed to be, and jobs vary so widely among different companies that it’s easy to layer expectations on ourselves or overlook what one organization or team deems essential.

Correcting this mistake is fairly simple. Clarify your role, confirm your understanding, and ask questions when anything is not clear. Let your manager and team know what you will do when, and then deliver on your promise.

And do this not just once, but again and again throughout the project.

#2 – Engage Key Stakeholders

The number two mistake I see business analysts make is to move forward without getting all of the stakeholders on board. Sometimes the stakeholder is lurking in the corner; other times they are just too busy to meet with us. Still other times there are reasons we’d rather not meet with them. Ahem.

  • On a project with new stakeholders, it’s critical to invest extra time up front getting to know who they are, what they care about, and how they work best.
  • Even if you are working with stakeholders you know and trust, a new project is a time to deepen that relationship, establish ground rules to correct for past problem areas, and re-engage.

Even when you are facing pressure to move forward and just get the requirements done, already, you absolutely must ensure there is engagement each step of the way. Otherwise you are simply setting up a project landmine, which your team will step into when they least expect it.

#3 – Don’t Expect Perfection

I’m sure it’s not a secret to you that business analysts tend to err on the side of demanding perfect outcomes from our projects. We are trained to see what’s missing, and sometimes that blinds us from seeing what’s working.

I’ve been on my share of dismal project failures and, yes, they hurt. But I’ve also worked on my share of projects that didn’t exactly meet their original scope, quality, and timeline goals, but still delivered an immense amount of value to the business. If I only valued perfection, I’d miss out on these successes.

Perfection can also surface in how we view our meetings, milestones, deliverables, and relationships. We can’t expect our business stakeholders to perfectly provide us with every single need or requirement. Nor can we expect our technology implementers not to stray off track once in awhile when they get excited about new technical possibilities. No one is perfect. (Not even us!)

Instead of demanding perfection and experiencing a tidal wave of frustration when your project misses the mark, expect mistakes, missteps, and diversions. Watch out for them so you can respond quickly and help get your project back on track. Successful projects are delivered by teams that work around, over, and under roadblocks to be sure they do not send the project sliding downhill.

#4 – Stay Focused on the Business Outcomes

A lot of project problems surface because we lose sight of the forest while looking at the trees.

  • Bob from Accounting asks for a new report, so you spend a week or two diving into the specifics of it. Later the report is removed from scope.
  • Your developer indicates that two systems will need to work together, so you dive into the system integration requirements, only to have an alternate and more cost-effective solution approach surface.
  • Your sponsor gets nervous about budget overruns and so you hurry up and re-prioritize requirements, only to have additional budget approved.

As business analysts, we need to keep the desired outcomes of the project, otherwise called the problem to be solved, top of mind in ourselves, our stakeholders, and our sponsors. Otherwise, we risk running quickly down rabbit holes that spiral us into the world of irrelevance or our project into the world of self-destruction.

As an aside, this means if you are smack-dab in the middle of a project without clearly defined and understood outcomes, the most important work you have to do is to bring this level of clarity to your project. And sooner rather than later.

#5 – Take the Positives Forward

Finally, realize that no matter how bad a project outcome was, there are positives to take forward. Perhaps you learned a new piece of software, engaged with a new type of stakeholder, or leveraged a new analyst technique. Perhaps your project team delivered a sliver of valuable new functionality or created the underlying infrastructure that will enable bigger and better things to come.

If nothing else, you learned why a specific project was a failure, and you have something to add to your “do not repeat” file.

Take the positives with you. Just as importantly, leave the failures behind you. Your next project is not destined to be the same, unless you go in expecting it to be that way.

>>Learn More About Starting a New Business Analyst Project

Here are some articles to learn more about getting started on a new project:

Starting a New Business Analyst Job (a 4-part series to success)

How to Learn a New Business Domain

How to Build Better Stakeholder Relationships

And, this could also be a good time to revisit my Business Analyst Manifesto.

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Laura Brandenburg

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