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The Unexpected Leader


As an experienced Business Analyst, do you often find that your role on an IT project is often overlooked in IT solutions contract negotiations? That some IT projects do not budget for a Business Analyst because they do not have an understanding of their value? In addition, even others feel they can use other members of the team, like Project Managers, Developers, or Testers to do the job? It is our job as Business Analysts to realize, prove, and improve our leadership skills in order to demonstrate value and become a standard component of the IT project team.    

Often there are misconceptions that a Business Analyst:

  • Scribes for the Project Manager
  • Is solely a representative for the Business
  • Has only a documentary relationship with the development and testing teams
  • Should be the first person to be eliminated from a project when budget is tight, or
  • Doesn’t need to be involved until gaps are identified

Contrary to these beliefs, we can and should, be the unexpected leader in the project team or organization.

Leadership is defined as the "process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a task" [1]. Business Analysts personify this by not only working with the business to define requirements, but also by working with developers to ensure requirements are feasible, working with testers to develop scripts, and by engaging stakeholders to address issues and changes. We must know the mindsets of our team members and know what skills our teammates possess. Leadership is developed when we ensure that stakeholders have considered all avenues and needs, when we constantly nag subject matter experts with the question 'why?' to eliminate unnecessary requirements, and when we challenge our teammates for better answers. 

Business Analysts demonstrate leadership qualities through:

  • Utilizing excellent listening skills
  • Providing thought-provoking questions
  • Using imagination and creativity
  • Having the confidence to influence others when necessary

A leader demonstrates listening by doing more than simply recording what people say in a meeting and documenting the technology recommended by developers. Instead, leadership is driven by listening to the underlying business need, leveraging the development team's technological experience, and driving both the business and development groups to realize the best solution. Eliciting accurate and meaningful requirements that both parties can utilize is another necessary quality. Any Business Analyst can produce a requirements document, but a leader will create a document that contains requirements consumable by the business, developers, testers and anyone impacted by the change. This can only be achieved if, while considering the business and IT needs, we are able to drive conversation and questions to challenge those needs.

A true leader always challenges a decision to ensure a better solution does not exist.  Business Analyst should have the same mentality. The famous quote from Henry Ford, "If I listened to my customers, I would have built a faster horse" should be the motto for all Business Analysts. We must constantly ask–why is the proposed solution the best? Why is a business rule 'the rule'? Can a newer technology solve the need? Why? By driving these discussions and facilitating the conversation between the business and IT, the Business Analyst becomes the leader that can make sure the solution meets the needs of all.

Leaders are able to get others to understand and believe in what the team/organization is doing, and to guarantee that others will follow through. Our role as a Business Analyst is no different. Quite often you will hear a developer say, 'Well they (the business) had no idea this technology existed, this will blow them away' or you will hear the business say, 'I don't care how it works, just make it work'. We have to reel in both parties to make decisions together and have to 'lead' the project team to create that one understanding to get the project or task accomplished.
Education in the field of business analysis is growing. The BABOK (Business Analysis Book of Knowledge) is widely seen as the cornerstone for Business Analysis principles. Organizations such as the IIBA (International Institute for Business Analysis) and the certifications that they provide, CCBA (Certificate of Competency in Business Analysis) and CBAP (Certified Business Analyst Professional), emphasize the need for leadership. All of this combines to ensure that Business Analysts can and should be the thought leaders, process challengers, and the unexpected leaders of the IT Solutions world. Proving our leadership skills through listening, asking questions, using resourcefulness, and influencing others will help guarantee a spot on IT projects.


Blog Co-Author: Emma Schoen, Business Analyst