Becoming a Great BA: Consulting Lessons from Ellen Gottesdiener

Editor’s Note: This is part 2 of my interview with Ellen Gottesdiener of EBG Consulting. In our first interview, I shared Ellen’s insights on BA learning and professional development. Today we focus on what BAs can learn from consulting about becoming a great BA. We also learn Ellen’s answer to my favorite question: “How do you see the future of the business analyst role?”

Consulting as a BA

Laura: As I understand it, a big part of your consulting role (among the other hats you wear) is to facilitate large-scale requirements workshops for clients. What challenges do you face in this role?

Ellen: As a consultant, it’s been really fun and challenging to work in multiple domains. The more organizations you learn about, the more patterns emerge. Requirements and analysis patterns become clear as you work on different projects in different organizations.

Another challenge I sometimes face is organizational readiness and patience to allow people to practice and integrate new skills.  We at EBG Consulting really see ourselves as partners. We are serious about that; we want to enable our clients to do what we do.

Sometimes our clients are challenged to line up the organizational will – both top-down and bottom-up – to maximize the value of outside help. That is, to honor the “change trough”; that means that productivity will dip initially as people try new skills. However, with patience, reinforcement, mentoring and reflection, the dip will turn into an upward spike as performance increases.

Laura: I’m sure that BAs working full-time for organizations also face this challenge. How would you recommend they approach these types of situations?

Ellen: To a BA facing organizational readiness challenges, it is important to be transparent. Tell the truth without blame or judgment. Then ask, “Am I seeing this correctly?” Be clear about the risks you face and the concerns you have.

While this might sound harsh, I think we consider moving on or away from a situation we cannot be productive and happy with. We all need to recognize that if we are not able to do the right thing, to contribute, learn and grow ourselves and deliver value – well, then it’s time to find a new situation for yourself. It’s not easy—saying ‘no’ or seeking a new but healthier reality is scary and hard. The alternative, though, can be worse.

Another option is to ask for permission to do an experiment. Try a new approach for a couple days and solicit feedback. Most of us have more influence than we realize. Quiet influence has its own power. There is power in possibilities. Always look at career challenges as opportunities.

Building the future of BA

Laura: What other consulting tips could benefit full-time BAs?

Ellen: As senior-level BAs, we are coaches and consultants. As a consultant, it’s important to stay neutral. Don’t accept the first solution that comes to you. Stay open to possibilities and outcomes from the client.

We need to be able to draw upon multiple disciplines to meet the needs of our organizations. Sometimes you need to go in multiple directions to get the full picture. Alternatively, you might need to step back and understand a problem domain or dig deep into the system architecture to understand a technical constraint.

Laura: In your role, you must see a lot of business analysis at work. What kinds of challenges do you find most common amongst the BAs and what recommendations would you have for addressing them?

Ellen: One challenge I often see is getting customer involvement. Often, we have to do things differently. I find that customer time has often not been honored in the past. This leads to the development of negative patterns such as individual interviews and sign-offs.

BAs also have a difficult time defining how much requirements are enough. They struggle to determine if the requirements are complete or not. We don’t know how to end our process, so we write everything down instead.

Mature business analysts handle both of these challenges by adapting practices for the situation. As a senior business analyst, you’ll have a toolkit and you’ll pull out the right tools at the right time. You’ll be smart enough to know what didn’t work and take the time to reflect on it and learn from it. Then you can improve it next time. New approaches can help us regain the trust and commitment from our customers.

Laura: What do you see for the future of the BA role?

Ellen: It’s not so much about the role as the work. So I’m not so much concerned about what business analysts do as what type of business analysis is being done. Business analysis work can spawn from different areas of the organization. Business analysis is all about coaching and enabling the organization to deliver value. You need to draw on all disciplines and put these practices into context for your organization.

All great business analysts are acting like product owners. That is, they are looking at a problem from multiple different views. We all need to understand whatever it is we do or build or create. This is hard to outsource.

The minority of business analysts fulfill this vision today. But it’s where we need to be as a profession.

Laura: Thanks, Ellen, for your time today. You are an inspiration to many BAs and it’s an honor to be able to share your advice here at Bridging the Gap.

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  1. I really like the phrase “Business analysis is all about … enabling the organization to deliver value”. For me it looks like making strategic things happen through tactical activities.
    Thank you and Ellen for sharing valuable reflections!

  2. nice insight from ellen, thanks laura!

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