Being a BA is Not for the Faint of Heart

You might hear others say that business analysts are difficult people. In fact, if you’ve been around for awhile, you’ve heard me say it.

Are BAs difficult people?

Or, to look at the question differently, how can business analysts, despite their best efforts, be difficult?

Actually, the reverse is true.

The least difficult of all people are attracted to the BA role because the requirements of the role itself are difficult.

What we are required to do as BAs is difficult, maybe not for us, but for those that engage us and those that work with us. And this can make us be perceived as difficult to deal with, which is why soft skills are so incredibly important for success in this role.

Let’s look at why what we do as business analysts is inherently difficult for us and for our stakeholders. Let’s understand why we are difficult.

We Have to Say “No” or “Not Now” or “That’s Last on the List.”

Part of scoping a project that can be realistically achieved (i.e. requirements that are implementable within the project’s constraints) means saying “no.” Sure, we can help our stakeholders scope out a beautiful solution and they might love us for it. But at the end of the day, we deliver value when something gets delivered and change is made. Beautiful solutions on paper might have intrinsic value, but they don’t have real, practical value. They don’t generate anything in the way of business results.

Saying “no” and helping our stakeholders prioritize is the difficult work that BAs must do.

The Ambiguous Role of the “Liaison.”

Few aspects of our role come under more direct attack than that of “liaison.” I myself have been guilty of thinking of myself as a “go between.” In reality, as I wrote in a recent StickyMinds article, titled Three Essential Elements of Business Analysis,

At our best, business analysts engender collaboration amongst diverse members of a cross-functional team involving various departments within the organization and levels in the organizational hierarchy.

Getting everyone in a room to discuss a problem and find a suitable solution requires strong leadership and advanced communication skills. Bringing together the right business and technology stakeholders and keeping the discussion at the right level so everyone is engaged and time is used wisely takes a certain finesse.

These are difficult meetings to lead and difficult to participate in. Depending on your stakeholder’s role and competency, they might feel like their knowledge is challenged, their job is on the line, or that they have something to contribute but don’t know the right way to say it.

Change is Hard.

A recent course participant let me know her key takeaway came from the fact that I asked her to use a different template than she usually would to document a business process. She found using a new template to do a familiar activity a difficult task and, in the process, she felt like she had walked in the shoes of her subject matter experts for a day. She had a new appreciation for how difficult it was for them to change the way they have always done things, even when the change would make their job easier or the process more efficient.

The truth behind this realization is that change is hard. And as BAs, we help a lot of people change.

Another student wrote to me about a project she led as a BA intern. She’d discovered an elegant solution that was going to help the business be more efficient, but she faced resistance in discovering the information and incorporating the change.

Her question: Is it always like this?

My answer: Yes, most of the time.

Even with supportive leadership and willing stakeholders, change is still hard. You will face resistance. In fact, part of the value of the BA role is working through the resistance to achieve a positive result.

For New BAs, It’s Difficult to be Difficult.

I hope I’ve made it apparent now that sometimes being difficult is just the reality of the game. We have to lead stakeholders through difficult tasks like scoping projects, understanding models, and, often the worst of it, making decisions.

Part of gaining your confidence as a BA is embracing these challenges as learning opportunities. Part of becoming a great BA is getting our stakeholders to do difficult things, love us for it, and want to work with us again.

But getting to this point means that you take the difficult road, not the easy one.

  • Instead of letting our stakeholders put everything they want into the requirements spec, we lead them through a prioritization process and help them see how prioritization helped them get more of the right stuff done (instead of just less stuff done).
  • Instead of allowing conflicting stakeholders to duke it out and asking for their decision to document in the spec, we jump in and help them work through the issue and come to a shared solution. In the process, we help elevate everyone’s understanding of the issue and of each other.
  • Instead of allowing a passive sign-off and waiting for the inevitable changes to come later in the process, we force true understanding and surface as many issues as possible as early as possible. We play the bad guy so IT or QA or the technical writer doesn’t have to.
For the right professionals, becoming a BA is a career-changing experience. In fact, for some, it’s a life-changing experience. The rewards should outnumber the challenges. Or, really, the challenges are seen as part of the fun of making a bigger and better contribution to the world’s organizations.

Being a BA is Not for the Faint of Heart.

As much as we do here to help aspiring BAs find their path and as much as I want to help as many talented professionals as possible get started in their BA careers (and if you are one of them and new to Bridging the Gap, please join our free BA career planning course), I have to be honest and let you know that being a BA is not for everyone. If the idea of working through these sorts of challenging situations and investing in continuous improvement of your soft skills, especially your communication, leadership, and relationship-building skills, is not compelling, then this is not a good career choice for you.

It’s difficult to be difficult and do difficult work. But it’s also immensely rewarding.

In the words of one of my most trusted mentors, “if it were easy, anyone could do it.”

Click here to read why your organization needs you to step up.

15 thoughts on “Being a BA is Not for the Faint of Heart”

  1. Feeling good to know that its difficult to be difficult. I have moved from application development role to BA role. In some situations I really find it difficult to stay diffcult when I need to. I am learning to say no or to get involved in some situation when required. Post really helped me to know even to stay diffcult at times is part of BA role.

  2. Hi Laura,
    Thank you for re-visiting this topic! I am always interested to find new angles on this theme – perhaps I am looking for someone to say, “BA’s are not difficult, afterall.”
    The comment from your student about using a different template was very enlightening. I, too, have felt that discomfort. A good reminder about the natural resistance we all feel when asked to do something (or think) differently.

  3. Thanks for writing this. It illuminates a very interesting fact about being a good BA. We are dogged, persistent, and determined in our pursuit of requirements that serve the ultimate needs of the relevant stakeholders.

  4. Hi Laura,
    This article is extremely helpful and explains my situations of difficulty. I recently resigned from a company I have been with for almost two years. I obtained my MISM shortly after beginning the postion which was a non-degreed postion. I was hoping to start at the ground floor and work my way up. Unfortunately, my inquistive and suggestive nature was seen as “their knowledge is challenged, their job is on the line”. This led to my decision to resign and totally focus on starting a business anlayst career. Your publication “How to Start a Business Analyst Career” is wonderful.

    1. Hi Tina,
      Thank you for the feedback on How to Start a BA Career and I’m glad you found it helpful!

      Dealing with situations like you faced is not at all uncommon for a BA – very often we are trying to eek knowledge out of our stakeholders and face a lot of resistance because people’s jobs are truly on the line.

  5. Jen Gillespie

    I really like the part of the article where you talk about the BA jumping in and helping the stakeholders. Leading them through the process and helping them work through the issues is, for me, one of the most rewarding parts of my work.

    It is truly not for the faint of heart. I find myself continually assuring my coworkers that I don’t mind diving into the “messy” projects; that is where I feel I bring the greatest value (and thus the greatest satisfaction).

    1. Thanks Jen! For an experienced BA, messy projects can indeed be the most fun because of their inherent challenges. I also find they help me see the true worth of business analysis because there is so much that can be fixed with our techniques.

  6. This explains why my transition to BA wasn’t that bad- I’ve apparently always been difficult! Whether I was previously a specialist/SME, or while I worked in QA, I have always been “that guy” that constantly questions who/what/when/why/etc. Why do we perform the process this way? Why does this field populate that field? How does this data element affect other processes downstream; and if it doesn’t, why are we so concerned about filling it?

    It’s in my nature to question the status quo, so as a BA I get to ask those questions at the beginning of the project, instead of the end.

  7. I’ve been working on a very challenging project lately, but have difficulty being difficult. It’s encouraging to know that it is just part of our job.

    1. Hi Diane,
      Welcome to the club! Good luck with your project – keep on persevering and making positive change happen in your organization. I often find that on a challenging project, taking time to invest in relationships is the most important work you can do as a BA.

  8. Doug Goldberg

    Hey Laura

    I really like this post, just as I liked the original. Your answers here remind me of a conversation I was having last week where I was trying to explain some of this to someone. My comment was that, …we make people squirm in their chairs..”. This post sheds some light on that, because it illustrates that we analysts are often forcing the nature of the thought process into uncomfortable territory when we say, “No” or asking for rationale to make a decision. We are, in essence, forcing people to think about their assumptions and ad hoc decisions they make. “Why do you need that (now)?” or “Does that really need to be in scope?”…sometimes diffcult questions when you have to actually think about them.

    1. Doug,
      Always good to hear from you! Squirming in chairs is a great visual for what I’m communicating here. Forcing people to think through their decisions is uncomfortable for them and us and it’s often more difficult than many BAs expect. It’s much easier to ask the questions than to answer them!

      Great addition to this post. Thanks for the comment!

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