Author: Adriana Beal
Among the many competencies that business analysts need to develop in order to advance their careers, the ability to manage ambiguity is undoubtedly a critical one. The rapid changes that happen internally and externally to organizations require business analysts to become comfortable acting in an environment in which uncertainty and change are constants, and timely decisions need to be made even when not all the variables are known.
How can a BA improve his/her performance dealing with uncertainty and unpredictability? This is a competency most likely to be developed through informal practices. A good start is to acknowledge that managing ambiguity well typically requires two approaches: working to reduce ambiguity and finding ways to become productive even when uncertainty is unavoidable.
By the nature of their activities BAs plays a crucial role reducing project ambiguity. Typical business analysis tasks, such as clarifying project scope, defining and communicating requirements, and making sure that each business term used is clearly defined in a project glossary, significantly contributes to reducing ambiguity in a project.
In addition to reducing uncertainty in their projects, business analysts are also instrumental in helping the team remain productive amid ambiguity. Examples of steps that a BA can take to achieve this objective include:
- Assisting the project manager in establishing ground rules, roles and mechanisms to foster productive discussions and interpretations of business needs and solutions;
- Prioritizing and organizing issues to reduce the distraction caused by too many unknown factors;
- Making an effort to establish a common understanding of project goals among different stakeholders so conflict is replaced by cooperation.
Finally, BAs can also become more skilled at managing ambiguity by accepting criticism as learning. Leaders who manage ambiguity well understand that they will make mistakes and adopt the attitude that failure only happens if they choose not to learn from the experience. By being open to making mistakes (which are bound to happen in situations that aren’t black and white), and choosing to interpret the criticism as learning, a business analyst can become significant better at managing ambiguity over time.
This post from the website Better Projects talks about how Google is not afraid to fail, and what BAs can learn from the company:
We BAs could learn a lot from that kind of mentality about failure. No requirements document will be perfect on its first (or often even fifth) version. No screen mockup can encompass all the needed functionality and interaction. No use case can cover all possible directions that a user may go. Yet despite knowing the limitations, we should not just toss up our hands when we don’t get it right on the first try. We learn what our customers really need and next time, we get it right. We look for that elusive ‘killer app’ that will win approval from our customers so we have it ready for them, exactly when they need it the most.
This is certainly a good mindset for BAs to adopt while working under highly ambiguous circumstances.
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