BAs are Difficult People (And So Is Everyone Else)

It was an eye-opening moment for me.  Gordon Ellison stood up and said to a bunch of business analysts “You and I are difficult people to someone.”

bas-are-difficult-peopleI had an immediate attack of self-realization when I thought back over some past interactions.  Yep, I had sure made that difficult for so and so. But just as Gordon predicted about all “difficult” people, I also had the best interest of the company and usually that person at heart.

We are all difficult in certain contexts and 99.99% of the time we are operating from the belief that we are doing the right thing.

I think as business analysts we are probably in this situation more often than most.  If we do our job well, we have spent a great deal of time thinking about and (over)-analyzing a problem. Very often, we are the most informed person in the room and we probably know it.  We’ve got an answer for everything and everyone. And we passionately want what is best for our clients and our company. Smell difficult to you?

So how can we see our way beyond our “difficultness”?  Here are some of 8 ideas for becoming less difficult in situations BAs encounter every day.

  1. If you are the type who tends to over-analyze,  you are probably difficult to people who see the forest while you have deep knowledge about the trees, so step back from the details and learn to appreciate their perspective. Consider some alternate ways of validating requirements.
  2. But you will also deal with people even more in the details than you and you will be difficult because you are trying to get them to see the forest.  Be patient. Communicate in every possible way, especially visually. (Some thoughts on using domain models as a visual.)
  3. Realize that most informed does not mean fully informed.  There is someone in the room who knows something you don’t.  And you want to know what it is.
  4. You have to take the emotions out of it. You are probably very proud of your work and the proposal you’ve come up with.  You know its strengths and weaknesses.  When you present that solution, you’ve got to step back from your idea.  Let people be critical of the solution without assuming they are being critical of you.
  5. Another way BAs tend let their emotion filtrate their work is during decision-making.  You’ve presented all the data.  You know the best solution but you are not the decision-maker.  But the stakeholder picks an alternative.  Clarify these types of discussions with a direct discussion of risks and benefits.  Ask the stakeholder for their reasoning…they might surprise you.
  6. A lot of us have just enough technical knowledge to be dangerous.  Maybe you wrote code years ago or have put up our own website.  Yea, developers hate that and it makes you difficult when you try to minimize their technical challenges.  Whatever you think you know, forget it.  Challenge, but don’t presume. And be as delicate in your approach to this area as you possibly can.
  7. We can also become quite passionate about our customer.  After all, we spend large amounts of time figuring out exactly what they want.  When the developer says “that’s impossible” or “that will take us 2 years” you might get just a little irritated and just a little difficult.  Sound familiar? These are times to negotiate and seek alternatives.
  8. As BAs, we can also be very process-oriented. Our silver lining in every failure is an opportunity to improve the process so we never have to go through that again.  Try to balance process improvement with an understanding of what works in different contexts. Unfortunately, not every problem has the same solution.

And remember…everyone is a difficult person to someone. That means you are difficult to someone.

If all else fails, check out 8 ways to be less irritating and minimize follow-up from your requirements meetings for 8 more solid tips.

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17 thoughts on “BAs are Difficult People (And So Is Everyone Else)”

  1. Michelle Swoboda

    Laura, it was great to read this article and ouch – it hit a sore spot 🙂
    Which only means that I have more work to do to understand myself and how I communicate with others.
    It is a challenge when you are in the trees and the others are not and they are unwilling to even step into the trees.
    Bottom line – I want the project to be successful and the company. I want to leave each project with everyone saying – yes I want to work with Michelle again!

    1. Michelle,
      From our conversations, I would hardly classify you as a difficult person! You seem to be very engaged with your stakeholders and able to look at things from their perspective. Yet, as you point out, we can always find ways to improve, especially when it comes to communication. It’s interesting how our desire to do our best and have our best recognized does sometimes come in conflict with creating the most successful project for the company, isn’t it?

  2. Richard Lynn Paul

    Yup! The self-analysis isn’t pretty, despite having “the best interest of… that person at heart”.

    I guess the way we got around this, is that our three Business Analysts were also three of the four people who really worked on a lot of our parties and potlucks. So it is a lot easier to be forgiving towards those who helped you have fun and a more fun-and-enjoyable job. It was easy to get along with those you spent non-work time with at said parties. The M&M’s and other candies on one BA’s desk didn’t hurt either. (BTW: Our monthly potluck was an idea or “Try This” that we came up with at the end of one interation meeting, though others might do this in some kind of retrospective meeting, depending on the “agile” methodology being used–ours was a hybrid.)

    PS. Hope my numerous posts are not making me difficult for somebody out there, Laura included. Thanks for the blog!!

  3. Brilliant, but as you said, just scratching the surface. My experience is full of poorly behaved individuals in dysfunctional organizations. Far too often, diplomacy is more important than insight. People naturally resist change, and presenting ideas can be dangerous, even self-destructive. Discretion is the better part of valor. Unfortunately, IMHO, much of the challenge of business analysis is understanding office politics and treading lightly. YMMV.

  4. That is indeed an interesting way to create alignment between business and IT and a clear sign that ensuring technology solutions meet real business needs is not a simple or direct endeavor. I have not personally witnessed BAs actually becoming part of an operational organization to gain business knowledge, though there are cases where the BA/PM staff reports up through the business as opposed to the IT team. There is risk to be managed here in that best-in-class technology efforts require a mix of business acumen and technology excellence. Ability to understand the business without the technical expertise (or authority) to ensure you are building the best possible solution can create it’s own set of problems.

    My personal experience has been to align with an operational leader who “gets it” and ensure I’m communicating with him/her regularly. Another strategy has been to job shadow, participate in business-user training, ask for demos…essentially anything I can do as a BA or technology leader to ensure I understand not just the ins and outs of the daily business processes, but why they are the way they are.

    I’d be interested in hearing more about what about the SAP IT team in India: Did they take on operational responsibilities? How did they ensure IT excellence? And from a leadership perspective, did the mindset of their executive transform into a bit of a business-oriented CIO? I would think this might evolve naturally from being responsible for IT staff.


  5. Hi Laura –

    I recently was in India and had opportunity to visit with a company that had recently migrated from Bahn to SAP. The IT leadership there did something brilliant, in my view … they took their SAP experts and caused them to report directly to business line leaders so that IT could both develop the run-the-business knowledge of IT, and so SAP expertise could become well integrated in the daily conduct of business.

    Pretty interesting step. AND it highlights a problem with today’s IT people … and BA’s often are grouped into that crowd … that BAs (and IT staff) often do not have business operational experience. What seems like a wonderful idea actually may have been conceived of elsewhere and abandoned because of some undocumented reason.

    Clearly this experience gap – together with the typical “us and them” relationship between IT and the rest of the business – sometimes makes it difficult to not be perceived as a “Brilliant Ass” (nice! … :-)). Have you seen ways that BAs can actually become part of an organization and gain business knowledge?

  6. Thanks for summing me up it a nutshell!

    I was told once that BA stands for Brillant Ass 🙂 With a smile of course.

    I hope to take some of this away with me to apply as I work.


  7. Hi Laura

    I can only agree to what you have mentioned. Sometimes BAs are light-heartedly ostracized by the rest. Not many appreciate or really fathom the meaning of the role of a BA. But then we BAs have our own misgivings as you have rightly pointed out in the article.

    Thanks for such a good article 🙂

  8. Dear Madam,

    Well to speak for my self, i sure could find a connect to your mention as Difficult people.
    But i would rather allow my self to believe that no matter how poignantly one is attached to his work the fundamental of customer first and the techno-functional insight of a BA more often scores better, with no less contribution from the development team.
    All we need to do is hone finesse to get every one going at their own game.

  9. Hi Laura,
    You know… what I could realize is that people become difficult when they think they can do other’s job better and don’t accept their own mistakes!! The worst part is making them see that if we work together, the project will be successful and we all will be very proud of OUR product…

    Very interesting article, thanks for sharing it.


  10. Thanks for your comments Ben! Definitely good to point out that shifts from the details to the big picture are often a matter of scale….and if you are facilitating a meeting most likely each person is in a slightly different place along that scale.

    Glad to hear you’ve accepted your “difficultness”!


  11. I so recognise the experience of the difficulties caused by those shifts in focus between wood and trees and back again. Oh, and don’t forget the leaves at one end and the local ecosystem at the other…

    My life’s become a lot easier now that I’ve accepted that I’m annoying!

    Excellent, excellent article.


  12. Thanks, Helen and Francisco!

    Helen, I agree, the lessons I learned from Gordie Ellison extend way beyond our professional lives. Thank you for your feedback and for the honor of redistributing the article in your newsletter!

    Francisco, I can definitely see how it would be easy for people to perceive you as difficult in a Quality Auditor role. I like your “let us do it better together” approach. Thanks so much for sharing!


  13. Francisco J.martín

    Well, my purpose when joining this group (as I am expert in production process) was try to learn from you , BA , and to understand wht is in your mind.
    This have helped me a lot , I’ll save it in my hard disk.
    Only one more comment
    As Six Sigma BB and as a Quality Auditor I have been also “difficult people” .
    ¿May be the way we face the probles?.
    …”you are doing it badly”.. is a bad approaching usually , ..”let us do it better together” … works quite much more better.


  14. This is an excellent comment on the things we need to think about and do as a business analyst. Also carries over into how we are with the rest of the family and friends. May I copy this in a newsletter for our local IIBA Chapter – Central Iowa.
    Regards, Helen B.

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