As business analysts, we want everything to be comprehensive. We want our documents to be clear and complete, the tops of the backlogs well-groomed, and we like to create lists.
And so it happened that when I was defining the business analyst mindset in my book three years ago, I came up with a list of twelve principles:
However, once in a while somebody would ask: “What’s a BA mindset?” and I would struggle to express it succinctly. How about one sentence, instead of a list of twelve items?
So I gave it some thought: considered the twelve principles and the common thread in them, remembered all the brilliant business analysts I’ve met before, reflected on the best projects from my experience, and looked for a common pattern.
Here is what the business analyst mindset means for me in a nutshell: it’s taking responsibility for thinking when identifying solutions for business problems and needs.
What does it mean — taking responsibility for thinking?
It means not relying on someone else to do all the thinking.
It means thinking instead of taking things at face value or as presented to you.
It means taking charge of the analysis instead of taking orders.
It means using cognitive abilities, logic, and common sense to extract meaning, infer, reframe, relate, and conclude.
It means using empathy, emotional intelligence and understanding of human nature to listen and hear what is being said, and what is not being said.
It means taking initiative to research, compare, seek gaps, acknowledge inconsistencies, investigate new possibilities, allow for different explanations, and assess the results of this analysis.
Analysts are not scribes and order takers. They don’t just “interview” and “elicit” to “document” and “share”. They must think independently.
They evaluate, classify, sort, relate and compare the information.
They derive new conclusions from multiple opinions and sources of information.
They weigh data based on the sources they got it from, and assess potential biases.
They identify and discard irrelevant, uncover and explore hidden but relevant.
Think of your own experience working on challenging, non-trivial problems. What strategies helped to tackle a particularly frustrating conundrum?
When a business stakeholder describes a problem, the business analyst mindset motivates you not to take things at face value.
Instead, you think about whether it makes sense.
You consider what other aspects of the problem need more investigation.
You ask whether there may be other explanations for what is happening, and what is the bigger context of the issue.
When someone tells you “write down my requirements”, the business analyst mindset helps you keep a clear head and expect that this information may not equate to requirements.
What you get may be somebody’s pain points and a wish list, a stakeholder’s view of a potential solution based on their prior technology experience.
When your agile team is discussing the next iteration and taking a narrow view of the functions and features being designed, the business analyst mindset bothers and nags you.
It whispers that a broader view of the solution is required.
Even if your product owner seems satisfied, you speak up if you are concerned about the integrity of the overall solution design – in other words, you think of the big picture.
When you listen to different stakeholders express their views and agendas, the business analyst mindset helps you be objective – look from above – think from multiple perspectives, and understand how and where they can meet.
A business analyst that can think independently and encourage the team to think with them is one of the most important success factors for any business change.