How to Get Beyond a Limited Business Analyst Role

Author: Adriana Beal

It’s common for me to receive emails from business analysts who are feeling frustrated with their current situation at work, all related to the same theme: the limited business analyst role they are given in their organizations. Frequent complaints include:

  • In my company the BA is involved in projects only when all the important decisions have already been made.
  • I’m expected to put together requirements documents without enough time to do the necessary analytical work.
  • I’m not being involved in business discussions that affect the scope of my projects.

This is clearly an example of the “medium-sized stuckness” situation described by Laura Brandenburg in her article Where is your business analyst career stuck?. These people have hit a plateau in their careers, and most likely are living a vicious cycle that reinforces itself through a feedback loop. Their work isn’t making a big impact in terms of value creation, which makes it almost impossible to change the narrow view that others have about their role and consequently elevate this role to a more influential level in the organization.

In recent articles, I wrote about the importance of making a more compelling case for management to start seeing the BA beyond the presumed role of requirements recorder, and of taking charge of your learning and career development objectives to create opportunities for yourself.

It’s a theme I feel I have to constantly go back to with BAs asking for help with their careers, and I’ve begun to suspect that the struggle many of these professionals are experiencing has to do with their too narrow definition of the meaning of “initiative taking”.

In the book How to Be a Star at Work: 9 Breakthrough Strategies You Need to Succeed (an excellent resource included in my list of  recommended books), professor Robert E. Kelley describes the problem:

In Chapter 5 on initiative, I told the story of Caren, the production specialist for an advanced materials ceramics company, who confused initiative with “initiative-lite”. Like many average performers, she mistakenly believed that finding better ways to do her job constituted initiative. She was responsible for representing her department at technical team meetings and then reporting back to her coworkers. Her problem: she could not participate in the meeting and also take good notes. So out came a tape recorder, allowing her to participate in the technically challenging discussions. In Caren’s view she had taken an important initiative.

As any star performer knows, doing a job more efficiently seldom qualifies as an initiative. If you are finding it difficult to elevate your role and become more involved in the process of driving organizational change, perhaps you need to reassess your level of initiative taking, and follow some of Dr. Kelley’s recommendations. Spend more time understanding what is the “critical path” for your organization, and what “white space” outside your regular job (but connected to this critical path) you could be stepping into to help your projects in both the local and global context. See if you can move from “horizontal” to “vertical” initiatives (instead of solving a local problem, begin to look for systemic problems that could lead to corporate-wide optimization).

BAs who really take initiative, and seek out responsibility above and beyond the expected job description, get noticed when it counts. If you become known as an individual who can use information and organizational knowledge to improve decision making and efficiencies in the organization, you will find it much easier to get involved in the discussions that were previously happening quietly at the top of the organization and taking a while to filter down to you.



8 thoughts on “How to Get Beyond a Limited Business Analyst Role”

  1. Pingback: A BA asks: how can I go from boring tasks to making a difference in my job?

  2. Gopal,

    What you say is so important, that I’ll make it the theme of my next article at Bridging the Gap!

    Just to give a quick “preview”, it’s not that I think that you are wrong, only that you have an incomplete view of things, and what is missing is something that unfortunately very few BAs have a habit of doing even though it could make a huge difference in their careers.

    Stay tuned — the next article will be posted on July 7th, and it will be great to get your feedback about it.



  3. Adriana,
    Thanks for a good discussion on “Narrow View”
    As i read somewhere, “The Narrower the view, the wider the ignorance”, You have focussed on briefing about Initiative taking, which is the question and a challenge to most of the BA’s, is really good solution and hope others value it too

    In my opinion and as per the experience gained throughout, If you get a chance to put the things to higher management or if your management listens you, you can think about taking initiative, else, its just a waste of time and energy, no doubt, it teaches a lesson though. When we think of Strategical and Tactical planning and if we can enforce the impacts, thats the greatest challenge i believe. To conclude with, As the above material brings on the necessary “Initiative taking” and “doing the right thing” into focus, I say, Treat BAs as equivalent to Project Manager and listen to them too, an advice to management,
    Correct me if wrong…

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  5. Chris, thank you for leaving your comment. I actually like combining the two responsibilities — advising and getting decisions implemented the right way.

    There are a lot of people good at having ideas and making decisions; not so many capable of executing a strategy and getting things done (the “right things”, as you say).

    In my experience, BAs that are good executors end up being highly valued and compensated — some times even more than strategists are. So, being in the business of dealing with the choices already made is not necessarily a bad career choice ;-).

  6. I have always seen this as a transition in mind-set from ‘doing things right’ to ‘doing the right things’. In my experience if you take on a project and consider it your task to do your best in the circumstances, you ‘get stuck’ in the ‘doing things right mode’. This is what earned you your place in the organization and (sometimes/most of the time; choose the applicable here) the respect and rewards that comes with it. IMHO to ‘move on’ you have to leave that all and only accept work which will contribute to the ‘doing the right things’ attitude, which means you are likely to get yourself into the more political/managerial environment. Your advisory role will be supporting decision makers to make choices, instead of dealing with the choices already made. It takes some courage to make the leap. And even more if you want to combine both responsibilities (which I find personally a lot of fun!) without your working environment knowing the difference between them. Can be, let’s say, a bit of a hassle….

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