Business Analysis & Leadership

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Photo of the editors
James Archer and Penny Pullan, editors of Business Analysis and Leadership

Business analysis has come of age. If change programs are to be successful, then problem solving, stakeholder engagement, business cases and situational analysis are essential. So comes in the BA role to “challenge, lead and influence” according to Debra Paul in the Foreword to this book.

Edited by Penny Pullan and James Archer, Business Analysis and Leadership is a multi-author book for business analysts wanting to develop their leadership skills.

And if you are a project manager who doesn’t really know why your project team has a BA onboard, then this book will help explain what value they will add. In short, as Suzanne Robertson explains:

“The project manager is primarily concerned with facilitating the activities necessary to get the project done. The business analyst’s primary concern is to understand and communicate the work of the business and to make recommendations for improving that work. On the surface the two roles are very different, but the most successful projects recognize that there is a lot of important overlap.”

Leading when you aren’t in charge

Business Analysis and Leadership book  cover

The book is (obviously) focused on leadership. However, formal authority on the project is likely to reside with someone other than the BA: the project manager, sponsor or another senior manager.

BAs work alongside these people and challenge where necessary. In fact, lots of people in the project team have the opportunity to lead when they are not in a position of hierarchical power, so if you are a project co-ordinator or junior member of the PMO team this does not discount you from managing upwards and leading from the position that you have.

Leading in these situations looks like “taking responsibility, proactively working with others to understand what’s needed and to inspire and influence others towards a common goal,” according to the editors.

The book is split into 4 parts:

  1. Leading yourself
  2. Leading projects
  3. Leading in organizations
  4. Leading in the wider world.

I enjoyed the last section best, perhaps because it resonated most with me and was the least specific to the BA role. However, the whole book was enlightening. Leadership is a ‘soft’ skill and you’d expect there to be a lot about softer topics.

The book covered influencing in detail as well as how to deal with office politics and career progression – topics of relevance to anyone in a project environment.

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Managing the complexities of the office environment

In one of the chapters, Sarah Coleman writes:

“Technical knowledge and commercial knowledge are ‘hygiene’ factors: these are the professional things that you have had to do, learn and experience in order to get as far as you have. But these are only the ‘entry-level’ requirements for senior positions… Understanding the business, the market and the product portfolio are certainly important, but the next step up to senior and board level is a little different.”

She goes on to say that leadership and strong relationships at all levels are essential skills for managing office politics and building your career in a positive fashion. Kevin Brennan takes this a little further:

“If you find that people are discounting your knowledge, oddly enough, it can be more effective in turning that impression around for you to gain more knowledge of their job than to get better at your own.”

The book is amazingly interlinked despite having multiple authors. The chapters could be read in isolation but, unlike other multi-author books, it works as a whole too instead of as a collection of papers.

It’s also illustrated attractively, which makes the diagrams easy to understand.

Hopefully in 5 years this book will be out of date and the traditional role of business analyst as requirements gatherer will be long gone. Maybe we’ll have also shaken off the view that stakeholders are difficult.

As Michael Brown writes in a chapter that challenged my own perceptions:

“Stakeholders do not start off as ‘difficult.’ I suggest that they become difficult, usually as a result of what the person engaging with them does (or doesn’t do)…You get the difficult stakeholder you deserve.”

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