How Can I Solidify My BA Career If I’m Not Working On Projects?

A reader asks:

My BA career path has been sporadic and not well defined. I was first put into a Six Sigma role and passed a black belt test but shortly after the company I work for discontinued the Six Sigma program. Now I am just a regular BA with Six Sigma experience but have not really learned anything else new. My current manager says we will work on projects but 4 days of every week he has me working on quick 1 day analysis and reporting that involves looking up tickets and reporting what happened.

Is there any way I can gain more experience or improve my skills at my current job to become a better BA without working on projects? It seems if you work on a project, that’s how you get noticed. Our management structure is extremely vertical so an idea that I pass up this month for improvement, does not get implemented until someone 5 months from now says something and they get the credit to work on the project. Any project time I do get is limited and managers expect results right now but I cannot provide good analysis in 1 day. So what steps do I take next?

I have been reading articles on this website and a lot applies, but I still feel like I am missing what my next target needs to be so I can get to that next level of being a BA.

Laura’s Answer:

First of all, I commend you for recognizing that the situation you are in is not a good one. So before reading further, pat yourself on the back!

And yes, there are a few posts at Bridging the Gap you should definitely pay attention to. Here are my suggestions:

But the crux of the issue sounds to be that you are in an environment that is formal in terms of its management structure, but informal in terms of its process. Things are barely managed chaos in the trenches and you don’t have support from your management to apply even basic business analysis principles.

My first suggestion for you is to take a deeper look at this reporting work your manager has you doing.

  • What is the purpose of the work?
  • What question is your manager trying to answer?
  • Why is it so important that you spend 4 days a week working on this?

And, once you answer these questions, consider the following:

  • Is there a better way to solve the problem?
  • Can you clearly document your process so it would be easy to train someone to do this work? (Often if we’re not replaceable, we’re not promotable.)

Either of the above suggestions turns your current reporting work into a project, even if it’s a project that only you are working on.

My second suggestion is to carefully evaluate the project opportunities you do have. It sounds  like you are being given some opportunities to do project work but not the necessary time to do it right. In this situation, I often find myself doing the best I can with the time I have. But this has gotten me into trouble more than once, because it ends up not being my best work and so I’m not demonstrating my value.

Another approach would be to take the time you have to start the analysis project. Instead of delivering a partial effort that might be good enough to move forward, deliver a business analysis plan that articulates what is needed to do the project right. If you can find a sympathetic project manager, she or he might be willing to help make the case to have your time freed up for more project work.

A lot of times we assume that others know we’re making compromises to meet deadlines when they really have no clue. If you can start communicating what sacrifices are being made and framing these in the priorities of the company, your manager, or the project manager, it may be that your message starts to be heard. Just be aware that you might have to do this again and again and in different language  before the message resonates.

Finally, you might also want to check out my book, Professional Development for Business Analysts, as it’s full of ideas for creating professional development opportunities out of your current job responsibilities.

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  1. I can definitely relate to the concerns. I spent 3 years doing small reporting assignments with exactly the same desire for “more”. One thing I did was stop to evaluate what it was I was doing and discovered I WAS performing many of the skills and tasks of those on projects, just to a smaller degree and often with much shorter time frames to complete the work. You’d be surprised what new things you can apply to different situations if you take a step back to get a fresh perspective on things.

    In addition to what you mention Laura, I would also suggest documenting the reporting procedure (after analyzing to make sure there isn’t a better way to get the information needed by the manager).

    The original questioner can demonstrate: 1) the analysis effort to understand the real problem necessitating the reporting and a potential solution idea and/or 2) potentially show that the BA is offering no additional value-add and that someone else can take on the responsibility (since it is now documented), freeing them up for more suitable endeavors. In fact, the documentation and analysis effort provides an opportunity to exercise the six sigma analysis and process improvement skills (ok, so maybe without the ROI calculations, etc). After this effort, a follow up conversation with the manager would be in order.

    Unless the reporting is simply a repetitive process that is done 4 days every week and the manager won’t consider having someone else perform it using the handy new procedure – that’s when I’d start looking since requests for more substantial work keep falling on deaf ears.

    That’s Tie Guy’s 2 cents.

  2. Laura has pretty much covered anything I could think of.

    I would take a step back and make sure that there are real business analyst/project opportunities available in this company. Are there?

    If not, you can either start your job hunt for a Six Sigma/BA job OR you can start looking for volunteer work in the non-profit sector that will allow you to deploy the full BA work cycle. If you do the latter you should plan on looking for work after you have made sufficient progress.


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