Why it’s important to market our value

Earlier this week I spent two days at BAWorld Denver. It was an amazing event. It’s great to spend a few days immersed in topics related to business analysis and chatting with other BAs. I met lots of great professionals and have a list of take-aways that spans a few extra pages in my conference notebook. Just thinking about those two days gives me a warm fuzzy. If there is a BAWorld near you, definitely check it out.

Now, my “Becoming a Promotable BA” didn’t get quite the attendance I was hoping for. But those who attended were amazing and offered great insights from their careers. Amongst at least a few that ushered themsleves over to the business rules session, there seemed to be a bit of guilt in learning about “being promoted” instead of “hard skills I can use to do my job better.”

This helped me realize that while I titled my talk about the result — the promotions and all the fun stuff that happens when you are a great BA — I’m really talking about how you get there.  How are you going to take some new abstract knowledge on business rules and actually use it to make a difference? How are you going to add more value to your projects so that you are assigned to more interesting ones? It’s the “how you get there” that attracts interest and I had, alas, let it slip my mind why it’s so important to talk about our value.

Then, today, I received a strong reminder. Many thanks to @MrAlanCooper for the following two tweets.

What did @rotkapchen have to say? Ah, a few things, but they aren’t quite so nice. In fact, way back when I had to shut down a blog post here because her comments about requirements templates had become  inflammatory. I abide by the policy that if I wouldn’t let it happen at a dinner party in my living room, it’s not going to happen on Bridging the Gap either. I don’t invite people over and let them throw insults at my friends. You can read the comments if you wish or just get a flavor of the tone below.

While I’d love to say this is an isolated instance, this Twitter conversation represents the fact that there are others talking about business analysts as if it’s a load of crap and business analysts as change-resistant requirements documenters. This is an important perspective to understand. Like it or not, there are grains of truth in these comments. Grains representing individuals BAs who were focused on finishing documents as opposed to discovering value or protecting their role as gatekeepers instead of communicators. Even if these harsh statements don’t reflect you, there might be things you do that support these types of perceptions (something I’m speaking about next week at WI-BADD).

With a bit of trepidation, I’m reopening the discussion. I’m not quite sure what’s going to happen. Maybe you’ll read this post and shrug your shoulders and click away. Or maybe I’ll stir up a new fire. Heck, it is Friday afternoon, why not have a little fun? This time, I won’t put it out. i.e. this comments section on this post is not my living room. And while you can write what you wish, barring obscenities and spreading false information, I’d highly suggest you apply your own internal filters and treat others with respect, attempt to absorb their perspectives, and learn from what you read.

I’m mostly interested in hearing from BAs. How do you react to this negative perception of our craft? How do you do you work in such a way that you are above such criticism?

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  1. Thanks again Ted. I do often find that individuals have worked with poorly qualified BAs in the past and that skews their perception. In fact, that was one of the impetuses behind starting this blog in the first place. I would also not say that the vast majority of BAs don’t have the best of intentions through their work. Instead, I would say that the opposite is true. BAs most definitely have good intentions, even when they are producing documentation that may not lead to results!

    I think your story is a good one and I’ve often found myself taking on outside tasks to embed myself in an organization. Our skill set prepares us for so much. Nice work on the posters and fliers — there are so many different ways to communicate!

    Thanks for sharing and for your encouragement.

  2. I was using ‘troll’ in a loose sense of the word, namely as in someone who is more concerned with pushing their own agenda and perspective than they are with fostering true conversation and understanding.

    Sure, there are plenty of BAs I’ve worked with over the years that are more concerned with the documentation than in producing results. Never will I argue that, but neither will I argue that the vast majority of BAs are that way. Most of the BAs I’ve worked with *want* change and actively seek out how to make things better for our stakeholders. The twitter user you quote doesn’t seem to want to see that BAs can add value, only to push the point that they feel we don’t. It makes me wonder if they’ve ever worked with a great BA and if they had, would they still feel the same or are they so jaundiced at this point that even the best BA in the world fail to change their opinion? In the end, we add value as we can, within the constraints of our organizations, then let history write the story as to how well we did.

    That’s not to say we can’t take an active role in promoting our ability to add value, though. The best way I’ve found over the years to do this is to have skills that no one else has, that you can use on behalf of your business area. As an example, there is an internally developed application at my company that hasn’t received a lot of press yet. My VP had me create some posters pumping up the software and related service so that they could be on display next to the system at a recent company conference. Posters generally are not part of a BA’s job description, but they touted a great tool which I had elicited requirements for and done a lot of the UI design. The operations group loved it and took the fliers by the handful. We now have people lining up to purchase the software, all because we took the time to show the value that had already existed for over a year. Would they have seen the same value without the posters and fliers? Possibly, but having something to take with them, something that gave a focused message about the value I had already helped provide, reinforced the message.

  3. Ted, That’s an interesting take…it’s been awhile since I learned about the term “internet trolls” and I didn’t necessarily think to apply it to this situation. I do believe I am adding value, both as a BA and as a mentor of BAs. That’s not in question for me. Where I challenge us all to struggle and work a bit harder is in how we position that value so that others can understand. Now, of course, there are those who enter the conversation with an open-mind and there are those who you will never convince no matter how hard you try. Your advice to let the trolls be is probably good and might even be taken. 🙂

  4. Ah, the internet trolls… if ever there was a species that needed to be hunted to extinction, this would be the one. (No, I’m not advocating hunting people, just their bad behavior.)

    That said, don’t let it get you down Laura. This appears to me to be nothing more than people who want to cause controversy to ‘shake up the world’ in hopes everyone will come to see their way as the one true way. This is the religious zealotry of the 21st century. You have people who are arguing with you saying that requirements are not the real thing and ‘proving it’ by using language as a false argument. Its like watching people argue over whether you call little, sugary confections ‘cookies’ or ‘biscuits’.

    In the end, it all comes down to need. Requirements, as traditionally thought of, are nothing more than textual, verbal or visual representations of a need. If no one needed anything, there would be no projects and we’d still be trying to figure out how to make fire, not doing massive system implementations. Those criticizing your thoughts are doing nothing, at least from the arguments I read in your links, using different methods to express needs. Where they fail is in understanding that people and organizations are all different and the way a need is expressed and accepted in one place can be dramatically different than how needs are expressed elsewhere. Both methods are necessary, depending upon the context of the situation.

    Don’t let it get you down; you’re not going to please everyone and I suggest you don’t try. You do fill a need in this world, so keep what you’re doing. Let those with an axe to grind sharpen it elsewhere.

  5. Karie — some wonderful words of wisdom. I appreciate your contributions.

    And while I maybe do feel a bit attacked, I definitely didn’t put this out there to rally the forces. More to help us all see how if we stay too internally focused on what makes us great, we might win some battles but lose the wars. These perceptions are out there, best to be aware of them and deal with them head on.

  6. I think unfortunately in any profession, there are detractors and someone is able to find a reason not to value it. Unfortunately, sometimes people are unable to have an open, honest, non-attacking discussion around that which immediately puts members of that profession on the defensive. And once you get to a defensive stance, you can’t get beyond that to listen to any points no matter how valid they might be.

    It’s true, proving the value of business analysis can be difficult. We keep hearing reports about the high percentage of project failures being attributed to poor, missing, incomplete requirements. Unfortunately, what I’m also noticing is that companies are not providing the support, training, mentorship, and leadership for their business analysts. So many BA’s are on their own, reinventing the wheel each time and trying to figure it out. Hopefully, those BA’s that want to succeed despite a lack of company support are seeking out help and knowledge from resources like this blog. (BTW, So excited about what the IIBA is doing to reach out to companies in addition to the BA’s individually.)

    So we struggle as a whole. But that doesn’t mean that what business analysis brings to the table isn’t valuable. We are not order takers. Our job is to drive to the underlying problem or need…and keep in mind, that much of the time, your client doesn’t even fully understand this themselves when they are asking for a “solution”. You have to play detective, you have to keep digging deeper. But if you can do that, if you can understand the problem, the solution will be much better than just giving them what they asked for.

    Ah, got off track there a little bit. Ultimately, it’s a difficult road to try and defend what you feel will truly, honestly add benefit. But regardless of how anyone might feel about it, I really wish people could have an open discussion without personal attacks or malicious-feeling emotion.

    One final thought – feeling attacked is downright awful! But Laura, you continue to challenge us to grow and strengthen ourselves and our skills. Keep doing what you’re doing! We may not always agree on every point (although I bet we agree most of the time), but I respect that you HAVE a point and are willing to put it out there. We are all better for it.

  7. Jenny,
    Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I do agree that it’s in the approach and the approach can cause dissonance when collaboration and open-mindededness is what’s necessary. It really true that the tone of the message (which varies greatly between online and in-person) can put you in a negative stance and then you fail to see the point that is being made. I actually think, having reflected a lot since this situation last year, that Paula makes many great points and many of them are the same points I’m trying to make here at BTG. I just still call the output of my work requirements and that seems to be a red flag.

    As you know from working with me, this is also my mantra:

    “In other words: As much documentation and process as is required, but nothing more.”

    And, just to add, it’s got to be just the right documentation to solve whatever communication pain point will otherwise prevent project success.

  8. I see I’ve been called to the carpet again. Alas, the negative energy. It’s probably just not worth it to put up a fight.

  9. Jenny Nunemacher says

    But as for the “dissonance” issue, again I think it depends on what is necessary. A certain amount of friction usually occurs as positions are established and clarified. That questioning and challenging helps that process. However, manufactured dissonance to the point of acrimony seems counter productive. And if the parties involved are no longer communicating because they are feeling attacked or belittled then I would call that a CollaborationFail. There is a difference between being challenged and being attacked and it is important to know the difference, especially if your game plan is to create friction to get at the core of an issue.

    By the same token, those feeling attacked must also do a self-check to make sure that they haven’t stopped listening and hearing something that might be valuable. But having done that, I think it is acceptable to agree to disagree respectfully.

  10. Jenny Nunemacher says

    Thanks for that background. I think Kevin Brennan’s post made the same points that I have been considering this week. I particularly like the part about the role of the analyst and UX designer distilling the users’/business information into identifiable needs. That is certainly more than “gathering requirements” and requires perception and analytical skills. And also discretion and communication skills to understand and deliver that analysis in a way that is meaningful and useful. Sometimes the situation calls for a highly collaborative and interaction design session which involves the whole team at every point. Other times, it may require a more formal documentation effort. In other words: As much documentation and process as is required, but nothing more.

  11. Thanks for your comment, Jenny. You might want to check out this post on Paula’s site (@rotkapchen) for some context on her position: http://www.fastforwardblog.com/2009/09/08/embracing-creative-dissonance/

    She also has a “requirementsfail” list on delicious: http://www.delicious.com/iknovate/RequirementsFail

    Also, Kevin Brennan summarized a recent conference session from Alan Cooper on the topic of BAs: http://www.bainsight.com/?p=185

  12. Jenny Nunemacher says

    It is really hard to be attacked so openly. I have not followed either of these two, so I’m not sure where they’re coming from. (Laura — or @rotkapchen — would you mind giving us a brief position statement?)

    In any case, it is true that there is a significant element out there which absolutely refutes the value of the business analyst. In my target market of small/medium businesses, it is something that I am keenly aware of and yet haven’t quite figured out how to overcome.

    In my case, I struggle because I realize that injecting a business analyst is very often seen as introducing unneeded “process” or an extra information node which needs to be incorporated and by which would slow down the development process. And when the business analyst requires a price tag, it is a tricky sell to a small startup who has wicked-smart developers and product owners already. And I really can’t blame them for taking that position.

    I spoke with Daren May of Aspenware after their presentation at BA World on Tuesday, to ask about my quandary. I wish I had taken better notes of that conversation, because my recollection of it is distressingly poor now! In any case, his approach is to firmly insist that projects include a business analyst as the person responsible, not for process, but to best represent the business goal and business process perspective of the problem at hand and they work very closely with the product owner to understand how a solution could meet those goals at the user requirement level. The design represents the user experience (touch and feel and usability and market impact of a design). And coders are experts in technology architecture and design and algorithms for implementing business logic and data structures. All corners of this solution triangle need to be equally respected.

    Of *course* more than one role can be fulfilled by one person. But ultimately, the *role* of business analysis must be fulfilled in a successful, enduring solution.



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