When does coaching become detrimental to project success?

I was sitting with my wife the other day, enjoying a bright summer’s afternoon and having a bit of a chat. We were discussing our experiences during interviews, and chuckling about certain questions that inevitably get bandied around during the process (yes, we are nerds!). One question that always pops up is about teamwork: are you a team player, etc, etc.  Now we both like to think of ourselves as efficient individuals, people who get things done. Hence we were amusing ourselves by hypothesising at how an interviewer would react if one of us said during an interview that I am not a team player, and that if the interviewer wanted to get something done, hire me, but if not, find someone else.

Now naturally we both believe in the benefits of teamwork, however sometimes I find that I can get things done faster if I do it on my own. In this article I don’t want to explore how delegation should occur on BA teams (that is for another day, and requires a different skill set).

Instead I want to pose the question:

When is coaching fellow BA’s a hindrance to the overall success of a project?

In the majority of instances, coaching is important

Coaching is an important aspect of growing team members. We all learn from each other, and different experiences make us better analysts. Coaching benefits both parties, the coachee learns more efficient skills, while the coach receives a number of softer, qualitative benefits and also learns skills around communication, expectation management, delegation etc.

The coaching process improves the organisation too. It creates better BA’s within the company, whether those BA’s are part of permanent or virtual teams. Future projects will be better managed and analysed because the overall skills within the organisation have increased. But what about a current project?

What about the minority of instances?

Coaching takes time and unfortunately not many people have the luxury of learning outside of the job. Of course there are examples, many of which are addressed on this site under the ‘Help a BA’ section, where coaching is done outside of the job. But that is different to on-the-job coaching. What happens if you could get things done faster without having to coach someone? What happens if you could get a task done in half the time it takes a BA who is learning something new (soft or hard skills)? Some projects have extremely tight deadlines, such as when a new legislative act brings about changes to core processing systems. Can coaching really be possible on every project?

Please don’t misinterpret what I am trying to say. I wholeheartedly believe in coaching. I think that it is an essential aspect of team dynamics. I would just like to debate whether it is always appropriate, and whether certain projects can afford to have BA’s coaching other BA’s. Of course not all projects will actually result in any coaching taking place (as not all projects will have BA’s learning new skills), but where the possibility does exist, I wonder if it’s worth asking the question: Can this project afford for any coaching to take place?

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  1. Thanks Michelle. You raise an interesting point. I think that organisations that hire contract BA’s should treat those BA’s as regular employees – in my experience it is when the BA really feels a part of the team that the benefits are realised (I really don’t like the us vs. them approach of some consultants).

    When external BA’s are hired, the organisation has realised that they have a scarcity of skills. I think that organisations sometimes naively think that just by hiring someone (contract or external consultancy) their work is done. They will need to invest some time in getting the BA’s up to speed, in coaching them about the softer aspects of the project and organisation (because I assume the core BA skills are already there, hence why they hired the BA!).

    The difference between this and the situations outlined in the article is that realisation of scarcity of skills – there was an explicit decision to take on additional resources and therefore dedicated time needs to be planned to ensure proper knowledge transfer. When one already has the capacity and the knowledge, just not evenly distributed across the team, that is when the questions need to be asked about whether one can afford to plan for any coaching to take place.

  2. Michelle Swoboda says

    Hi Ryan, this is a great article and I have enjoyed reading it and the comments following. I have a couple of thoughts – all the companies I have worked for have had regular weekly BA sessions to talk about various projects, where you are at, what roadblocks, is your project affecting any of the projects that the other BAs are working on. This is extremely valuable to all of us and can also be used for coaching through a challenge or suggestions for ways of approaching a task.
    As a contract BA, I am always getting up to speed as quickly as possible and learning the best practices of each company. I welcome coaching but this is a challenge as the other BAs, PMs etc. do not know my track record. They know that I have been hired because I say I deliver but they need me to prove myself. My current employer has us taking an hour/week to meet and discuss high level project overviews/concerns and then a product knowledge session based on BABOK. This is a very valuable one hour for all of us.
    So, I am wondering if anyone has any thoughts on coaching the contract BA. It should be done – but how? I am always open to learning, feedback and discussion – but without the background – how do you do this effectlvely?

  3. mike Lachapelle says

    Ryan, thanks for the very interesting thoughts. I concur with your dilemma of balancing corporate goals of improving the capabilities and effectiveness of staff, against the timeliness and deliverable schedule of the project. That is why the front end planning to any BA work is so important.

    I have approached the concept of ‘team’ at work from my experiences in sport. The core strength of a team is built on two aspects, reliability and support. Everyone on the team has to fulfill their responsibilities and your team mates have to know they can rely on you to do your work effectively. However, at any time, a team member has the right to ask for support if struggling with something, and you as a team member have an obligation to help, so the team can be successful.

    But even within that concept there are constraints on how much ‘new’ learning can be passed along to less experienced members of the team. This is where planning is so vital. The short amount of time it takes to do front end planning allows you to have a clear scope, review what resources are available, or assigned to the project (and coincidentally how much support any member may need), and the schedule of deliverables (what time you may or may not have for growing the BAs’ knowledge).

    I once had a confrontation with a boss who wanted us to turn a 3-day intensive review session on our draft document with an outside consultant, into a learning opportunity for new BAs. His position was based on his responsibility to grow the BAs in the group. Our concern, the review was of 4 months of work in 3 days, where most of the conversations would be way over the heads of new BAs (this was a business architecture deliverable). It took a major effort to make him understand he was jeopardizing the project by adding in an objective that hadn’t been included in the plan. He never quite forgave me, but he backed down when I indicated it would be his responsibility if the project went off the rails on the delivery schedule.

    Coaching is an essential part of development and team work, but it is always second to effective delivery of the project. That is why front end planning is so critical to projects – it is there one can assess the pressures and spaces for growing staff knowledge and experience.

  4. Thanks for the comments guys, sounds like there is agreement that consideration should be given to this topic for each project.

    @Bob, I really like the idea of posing this question to the stakeholders. I fully support openness across organisations, and I think that this is a fantastic way to create an awareness of the need for BA coaching on projects. If they say that timelines are more important than coaching, then at least it has been clearly expressed and not whispered in the corridor.

    @Dave, I use a scale to determine how long a task will take depending on the experience of the BA. So my planning upfront will result in different timelines depending on the resources, but I always speak to the PM about these options (as you suggest). What I need to do more is tie this in with a conversation with the business stakeholders.

  5. Dave Schrenk says

    One of my full time responsibilities is to coach our entire BA workforce on BA best practices and I constantly run into resistance from project managers and, sometimes, the BAs themselves because their main focus is on delivering the project solution. They often feel that they don’t have time to learn and try a new BA technique. Because they are on permanent teams, this results in the BAs repeating the same BA practices and not learning and gaining experience with other practices that, in the long run, might make their team and their team’s projects more efficient and effective.

    While employee development is one of our corporate goals, I understand and accommodate the desire to deliver timely project solutions. When offering my coaching services, I try to focus on the added value that can come from trying certain BA practices on specific projects: less requirements churn, improved quality, less change requests, etc.

    I like the idea of asking the project sponsors and stakeholder is they can allow for a little extra time in the project for coaching and trying something new. I have a feeling that many would be willing if the benefits mentioned above were explained to them.

    In the meantime, I am trying to offer my services at the front-end of the project when the initial estimate is being prepared. If I can whisper in the ear of the PM and the BA that by doing X (e.g., use cases), they will get Y (e.g., less chance of missed requirements), but it might take Z extra time, at least they can build that extra time into their estimate to allow for the coaching and the use of a new technique.

  6. How about asking the stakeholders for their requirements – in terms of the degree of capability uplift they want a particular piece of work to deliver into the organisation? Of course, this kind of query might come as a surprise at first, but I find it helps encourage an engineering approach to such issues. Posing this kind of query might also kick off a debate between the various stakeholder constituencies about priorities (e.g. learning vs delivery, and the appropriate balance). But that kind of debate is no bad thing, either.

    – Bob @FlowchainSensei

  7. Absolutely you must ask yourself at the onset of a project, given the expectations of the business and the known variables – do I have time to coach on this project?

    Once you have that answer in mind it is exceptionally important that you set that expectation to those staffing the project as it will affect their decision on what additional resources to assign to the project.

    It’s a bit of a double edged sword, deciding against coaching especially on a project where the experience is slim in the organization – not coaching will mean that the organization will gain little value in their employees, as you will be the only one gaining what would likely be valuable experience. When a similar project comes up again likely you will be the only resource that has the required skill set.

    If you can push deadlines and take the time to coach another resource through doing new tasks and helping them gain experience, that is beneficial to both the company (gaining experience in their employees) and to you because there will be more people to share the workload when a similar project starts up later.

    It will come down to the needs and attitude of the business, if the attitude is ‘get it done as fast and as cheap as possible’, then likely you will not have time to coach, if the need is mandated (like legislation changes) then the business may not have control over the timeline, and this could cause coaching to be eliminated. If the business is not constrained by an outside force, and sees benefit in growing their employees (unfortunately not as common as we all hope it is) then you should always be coaching and helping the junior staff expand their experience and toolset.

    For the record we as BAs should ALWAYS want to choose to coach, but aware that some situations will not allow it, and be flexible to adapt to whatever the needs may be.

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