14 December 2012

The frustrating thing about the label "business analyst"

Put your hand up if you want more fun at work!
For the last several years the business analyst role has been hyped as one of the most in demand roles in industry; the pathway to better It solutions, improved business processes and untold wealth. At the same time Linkedin has been telling me that interest in the role has been declining for t least the last 2 years.

At the same time I have had conversations with project managers, hiring managers and recruiters about what we are calling the 'two tier' business analyst market. At one level there are people who are capable at drawing flow charts and other diagrams, and can create lists of requirements, but are not particularly useful, and often decried and an imposition applied by 'head office' that need to be paid for at the expense of someone else who would make a better contribution to the team's goals.

At the other end of the spectrum there are these renaissance characters who are able to do the above, but also manage people through change, do a good job of product and project management, coach project and stakeholder team members, act as scrum masters, create and deliver training and just generally get stuff done.
Pete and Ed running a UX workshop for our local community
The later are often consultants and contractors that find the limits that hierarchical corporate cultures impose frustrating. They gravitate to projects where there is a sense of urgency and where the stakes are high enough for the organization to allow them to transcend the notional boundaries of the job description.

The term "business analyst" gives a pretty clear indication of the focus of the role; analysing businesses so that  people can better understand how they work and how they should be changing (often in the course of IT, product or process improvement projects.) This implies that the role is most valuable where people who operate the business today don't understand it sufficiently to plan for the future.

A fish and chop shop won't be needing a business analyst in the near future. At least not at the going rates.

But is this enough? And are there better ways to understand the business? Knowledge management, internal social media, organisational designers, more mature IT platforms and good old fashioned management are all conspiring to deliver better access to information, in competition to the BA.

Another consideration; Is understanding how the parts of the machine interact enough to plan for the future? We are in an age where transformational leaps need to be made frequently and sometimes with little certainty about whether they will work out.

Analysis is not enough. Synthesis is required. To synthesize knowledge and use it in a truly valuable way you need to work from values and principles and you need to be considering things like your mission and purpose. How often do things like this get addressed when analysts perform their role? Not frequently enough I expect.

We don't need to have a corporate mission to do this. You as a human being have values and principles which are probably already guiding the way you do work. You may or may not be aware of them but they are there. The same applies to your personal mission and sense of purpose. Take a moment to reflect on what is important to you and when you are comfortable with it start letting yourself be more confident in doing the work you do do in the way you think is most valuable for the people you care about.

When I started working as an analyst I used to describe my job as a 'customer advocate'  because I felt like my job was to go in and advocate the customer's needs and perspective when we were on business improvement projects. I am still doing the same thing, although I have expanded my view to include staff and community advocacy.

I wonder if Customer Advocate will ever catch on as a job description?