“My performance is not great because management doesn’t understand my role and doesn’t support the BA work.”
Does this type of complaint sound familiar to you? I get comments like this from time to time from business analysts looking for help with their career, or offering an explanation of why their project is failing. However, to achieve success as a business analyst, the first step is to stop believing in this kind of excuse. Here’s a rule that should replace any excuse about lack of management support for the BA role:
Don’t ask for recognition. Earn it.
A few years ago, I was hired by a large company to join the team working on a complex project replacing a global application with multiple external interfaces. For the first time in a long period, I was just “one of the BAs”, rather than a business analysis consultant brought in for her expertise. I didn’t have any doubt that it would be harder, as an employee, to influence decision-makers, compared to being an external consultant hired with the explicit purpose to provide expert recommendations. Still, I wasn’t prepared for the level of obstacle found within the organization: not only my role, by nature, limited my access to key decision makers, but my IT managers were in dispute with management on the business side. I was asked to stay away from any direct contact with my business stakeholders, and had to rely on indirect accounts of how the business processes worked in order to specify the expected behavior of the new system.
At that point, my first thought was, “this is a job in which I’ll earn good money, but not make the same level of impact I’m used to”. I shrugged my shoulders and continued to do my best, but without any expectation of producing top quality work, or receiving accolades for superior contributions, due to the imposed constraints. Little by little, we made progress, and the project was finally completed. After the solution went live, I started working on some short-term projects for other groups, while looking for my next job. A few months later, I presented my resignation to my boss, and was entirely surprised when, shortly after, a series of instant messages started to pop up in my computer: “Are you really leaving?!?”, “Why are the best people always the first to go?”, and so on. These were messages from people on the business side, with whom I had had minimum interaction throughout my projects. To me, that development was a mystery. “These people didn’t see even a fraction of my best work!”, I thought. I connected in LinkedIn with these managers and subject matter experts, and moved back to consulting work.
A few months later, looking back at that experience, I recognized an important lesson: if we forge ahead and focus on doing the best we can under the existing circumstances, rather than complaining that the situation isn’t ideal, the quality of our contribution will end up being recognized. In that particular project, a junior BA could have achieved good performance by simply executing on what he/she was told to do. As a senior BA, I was expected to be proactive, and know what needed to be done without being told. Even with a lack of proper resources, I proactively worked to solve challenges in replacing the legacy system with the new solution, and to communicate my findings to key people on the IT side, instead of waiting for orders on what to do next. My contributions somehow ended up being exposed to the business side, which helped explain the reaction I got when I communicated my resignation.
Especially after that experience in a very limiting role, under explicit orders not to talk to my customers, it became hard for me to accept “management doesn’t understand or support the BA work” as an excuse for poor performance. Many of the BAs I know work in an environment where managers don’t have a clear picture of what they do, or aren’t willing to remove the obstacles impeding the analysts’ progress. Anyone waiting for this problem to be solved before they start performing at the best possible level is just reinforcing the notion of the BA as a “glorified notetaker”–a team member whose only job is to write down what the business wants and hand the document to the developers who will build the solution.
Reaching a point of credibility and influence requires working hard and producing quantifiable results. In 2014, to achieve better understanding and support for your role as a business analyst, don’t ask for recognition; earn it. Instead of complaining about the barriers impeding your progress, use your problem-solving skills to find ways to deliver value even in the absence of management support. Perform the necessary analytical work; challenge project assumptions; ask hard questions to surface the real business need; make a serious effort to understand what combination of critical success factors will determine a successful outcome for your project, and share it with the team. You might be surprised with the results you’ll get. Even if the structure of your current organization won’t allow you to achieve higher visibility, and access to better projects, the results will be palpable–at minimum in the form of gratitude from project stakeholders for a job well done, and excellent references to provide to future employers looking for top performers for their teams.