Smarter ideas worth writing about.

Bring Your A-Game - Business Analysts Take a Lesson From an NBA Champion


So... maybe you are not a LeBron James fan...

Perhaps you are even a Michael Jordan die-hard, who has grown extremely tired of the comparisons. Either way, if you are a basketball fan (to any degree) you must admit that LeBron James has reached a level of greatness unmatched by anyone else currently playing in the National Basketball Association (NBA).

Once known essentially as a "perimeter-hovering, drive-to-the-basket" player, LeBron's desire to improve his post game (and subsequently become a more balanced player) caused him to seek out post game guru and NBA Hall-of-Famer Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon. LeBron was quoted in one article as saying

"...every day just trying to critique my game -- seeing ways that I can get better so I can be more of a complete basketball player on the court…" 1

Accordingly, LeBron spent multiple hours under Hakeem's mentorship. After spending this time with Hakeem, LeBron returned to his Miami Heat team with a more balanced game; he led his team to victory and earned his first championship ring. Having now earned his second ring, LeBron solidified his place in the NBA as a well-balanced, proven champion.

As business analysis practitioners, we can take a lesson from LeBron. We certainly will not be ashamed of mastering (and applying) a particular facet of analysis (a framework, a methodology, a tool, a technique, etc.). However, it is difficult to deliver championship-caliber analysis when we focus so much on our preferred areas of expertise that we are not able to perform successfully in other areas as needed. If for example a practitioner is the "Scrum BA," what happens when the organization has a special circumstance that warrants a more predictive, waterfall approach? If a practitioner is the "Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN) BA," what happens when the circumstance calls for the Unified Modeling Language (UML)? Well, this doesn't lead to certain disaster, but it does add yet another risk to successfully completing the effort and meeting the stakeholders' real needs.  

So, how do we mitigate this risk? Do we expect business analysis practitioners to be experts at all things analysis? No–of course not. However, given the breadth of the business analysis domain (and its ongoing progression), there is always something new a practitioner can learn to "up her game". Adding new skills (and maintaining a spirit of continuous improvement) puts the practitioner in a better position to recommend (and successfully apply) what stakeholders truly need–even if it doesn't involve the practitioner's preferred area of expertise. This in return supports the practitioner (and in fact the team) in moving towards the trusted advisor role.

Extrapolated from LeBron's approach, here are some simple guidelines to help a business analysis practitioner "up her game" with new skills and maintain a spirit of continuous improvement.    

  1. Critique - Periodically critique your analysis to identify missing or under-developed facets.  This involves making a self-assessment, as well as obtaining constructive feedback from others.
  2. Act - Take action to establish and mature the missing and under-developed facets of your analysis.  This involves seeking mentorship and training as needed.
  3. Apply - Successfully apply new facets of your analysis (when circumstances allow). The key here is–when circumstances allow; be careful not to forcefully apply your newly learned skills.  It is better to use an older skill that fits the circumstance, rather than to apply a new skill that does not.(Note: While LeBron has found opportunities to apply his new post-up skills, he still goes back to the perimeter and drives to the basket when needed.
  4. Communicate - As previously mentioned, you should not be ashamed of mastering (and applying) a particular facet of analysis. However, be sure that your organization, your team, your stakeholders and other pertinent parties, understand that while you are an expert in that area, you are capable of (and open to) applying something different when appropriate. So, you need not stop your stakeholders from calling you the "ReqPro BA", for example. If they have come to know you as that, it probably means you have proven your abilities with that particular tool. Just be sure they understand that you are also capable of working with other tools like Quality Center, Caliber, JIRA, Requirements Composer, Team Concert, BluePrint, post-it notes, white-boards, and so forth–if needed. (Note: As with LeBron's situation, successfully applying new facets of your game will help mitigate misunderstandings about limitations on your abilities.)

Whether a practitioner is a novice or a more seasoned veteran, these guidelines really work. I've applied this type of mindset in my own career. In the case of specifying requirements for example, many of my stakeholders and teams have communicated their appreciation for my ability to produce well-written (and useful) use cases. However, they have also watched me adjust (when needed) to represent requirements in different ways–user stories, functional statements, mock-ups, etc. Also, I am currently applying these guidelines to improve the professional component of my social media game. I am building my social network and sharing pertinent information (such as this and other articles) with my groups and connections where appropriate.

So, what are YOU waiting for? Get started! Below are a few resources to help you "up YOUR game".  Go out there and become the championship-caliber practitioner you know you can be! Then, when your next assignment calls, be sure to bring your A-Game! 



  1. Hakeem Olajuwon schools LeBron James, By Brian Windhorst