Have you ever had one of those days in your Business Analyst (BA) career where it feels like everyone wants a piece of you? You’re overwhelmed, it feels as though there aren’t enough hours in a day and your precious time is split precariously across numerous projects. You’re expected to be everything to everyone, with stakeholders challenging your patience and sanity at times, and with the whole situation leaving you feeling like you aren’t doing anything well.
If you are being honest with yourself, the answer is probably ‘yes’, and I, like many other BAs, have been there too.
Due to my personal experiences I’ve spent time reflecting on the BA role and the expectations of us in terms of our soft skills, subject matter knowledge, BA technique application, technical knowledge, industry knowledge, data analysis skills and much more. The list almost feels endless. This thought process led me to speak at the IRM UK Business Analysis Conference Europe in September 2018 and to facilitate workshops at the BA Managers Forum in November 2018 on the topic; ‘How to free yourself from the pressures of BA Life’.
In preparation for these events, I wanted to find out if my own feelings and experiences mirrored that of other Business Analysts, so I conducted a survey on Linkedin between July and November. In total, I collected 34 responses to completely open-ended questions around what they like and dislike about being BAs, the pressures they face and how they personally manage them.
The responses were interesting and diverse, probably due to the fact that respondents were from a mix of backgrounds, organisations and sectors and were located at varying levels of the organisational hierarchy, with job titles ranging from Junior BAs right through to Analysis heads and other senior managers.
The results have been grouped logically based on the number of times key words and themes were mentioned.
On a positive note, feedback suggested that the things we enjoy about our BA roles are plentiful, with themes ranging from the satisfaction of solving problems, understanding perspectives and business needs, shaping project and business direction and generally making a difference. Day-to-day activities were also cited such as producing diagrams and models, selecting and using BA techniques and collaborating with stakeholders. Other findings suggested that we like having the ability to be autonomous in our work and to delegate tasks. We also like applying logical thinking and creativity to achieve desired outcomes and often switch between a holistic viewpoint and delving into the detail.
Please see the survey results which show the highest number of mentions in relation to what we like about being BAs. Before presenting this slide at the BA Managers Forum, I asked both groups to shout out what they liked the most about their roles. In both sessions, the first answer was ‘Variety’ which was also the highest scoring response from the survey participants. ‘Working with others’ also scored highly and came in just behind variety and diversity.
As with most job roles, there are many pressures to deal with and alleviate. As you can see from the pie chart, Stakeholder issues (including issues with Project Managers) came in with the highest score with 10 separate mentions.
This high score in conjunction with the high score around liking ‘Working with others’ in the previous section could suggest that our stakeholder relationships can make or indeed break our happiness levels at work. Negative comments on the pressures that challenging stakeholder relationships can bring included dealing with; ‘Stakeholder tantrums’, ‘Stakeholders imposing their views’, ‘Stakeholders causing delays in providing input’ and ‘Managing stakeholder expectations’.
Time constraints came in second with one respondent explaining that there is a lack of time to complete ‘good enough not excellent’ BA deliverables. Additional high pressure time impacting issues included ‘Lack of Resource’ and ‘Competing Priorities’ as the BA role is often extended to perform other roles outside of our usual expertise such a Testing, Project Management and so on.
As you can see from the chart below, our dislike responses reported some of the same underlying themes as the pressures but with additional wider worries around the ‘Lack of understanding of the BA role’, ‘Having to prove the value of the BA role’, ‘Lack of buy in and engagement’, ‘Decision making issues’, ‘Politics’ and ‘Poor Management and Leadership’.
However, the most responses from the question ‘What, if anything makes you unhappy about your BA role?’ provided some pleasantly surprising responses as 8 individual respondents indicated that nothing made them unhappy.
Exact responses included ‘Nothing’, ‘Nothing – very happy in my role’, ‘Nothing. There are challenges and rewards, good days and hard days, but nothing actually makes me truly unhappy’, ‘Non’, ‘Nothing, I love Business Analysis’ and ‘No such’. This is extremely reassuring feedback as for a number of people, the passion for the discipline outweighs the challenges that we experience and displays a level of acceptance around the role.
For those sometimes struggling with their BA role and environment, the survey results supplied many coping strategies which naturally fell into two categories; Work Related and Personal.
Work related suggestions included; ‘Educate stakeholders’, ‘Good communications’, ‘Explain impacts’, ‘Focus on outcomes’, ‘Be realistic’, ‘Escalate issues’, ‘Stay organised’, ‘Never multi-task’, ‘Learn from experience’ and ‘Push back’.
Suggested personal coping strategies included; ‘Exercise’, ‘Mindfulness’, ‘Have good support networks inside and outside of the organisation’, ‘Humour’, ‘Banter’, ‘Positivity – keep smiling’, ‘Accept that good enough is good enough’ and a very honest response – ‘Drinking!’.
During my sessions on this topic I offered some additional ways to combat the pressures of BA life which included:
Although these coping strategies will no doubt help, it is fair to assume that there is still no ‘silver bullet’ which will allow us to cope with everything that our often complex work throws at us. We just need to do our best and continually reflect on our experiences.
At the end of this journey, I feel that I understand the evolving role much more and have come to realise that there are many synergies between us as Business Analysts. We seem to thrive on variety as long as it’s within an environment where we have control and autonomy. We want to make order out of chaos and enjoy being agents for change and watching successful transformations take place. Our desire to do as much as possible and be involved in as much as possible needs to be carefully balanced against our well-being to ensure that we don’t take on too much and lose the love for the role.
Many thanks to the survey participants.