Common Problems Faced by Business Analysts and Possible Solutions

“ There will always be faults in any individual, even the most effective and successful. If you focus only on avoiding faults to the extent that you ignore your strengths and their development, you will be making a major mistake. On the flip side, if you have a fault, try to fix it. Don’t ignore it using the excuse that you’re developing your strengths. – Dr. William Cohen

Business Analysts are communicators and facilitators brought on projects to elicit requirements by sifting through masses of information and relating these requirements to the technical team. This role is extremely vital but comes with unique difficulties that every BA should know about and endeavour to rise above. Being aware of the pitfalls that come with the profession will prepare you to tackle them when they arise.

This post is about some of the challenges Business Analysts face on the job and the steps that can be taken to address them.

Challenge ♯1: Paralysis By Analysis
The very nature of our job implies that we are faced with a massive amount of information to process within a short period of time. This can easily result in a situation where the BA does not know where to start or stop. Over-analyzing occurs when the BA:

  • Asks questions repeatedly to get clarification
  • Seeks to confirm requirements again and again
  • Stretches the analysis phase instead of approaching it iteratively
  • Develops more artifacts and models than required.

Solution: Analysis should be an iterative process as opposed to a long, drawn-out process of trying to clarify all requirements upfront. Personal organization skills like prioritization and time management come into play here. The BA should filter out unnecessary detail and present only the information that is necessary to produce a working solution.

Challenge ♯2: Knowledge and Skills
Business Analysts often have to work in the twin worlds of business and technology. These are 2 vast fields with multiple areas that the BA is expected to keep a tab on. Focusing on one aspect will be to the detriment of another. How does the BA with a technical background attain an acceptable level of competency in the business domain? How does the BA with a business background attain some level of competency in the technical domain? How does the BA keep up with expected changes when moving from a structured systems analysis & design environment to one based on object-oriented analysis and design? How does the BA manage the transition from a Waterfall to an Agile/Iterative methodology? There’s always a learning curve to contend with.

Solution: BAs should continually strive from day one, to learn about the business, the industry and available technology. Certifications in specialist areas can also increase the BA’s knowledge and command of the domain area. It’s not an easy journey and there’s no one path to getting the knowledge and skills you need. The challenge is real but can be surmounted with time, training and experience.

For hiring companies, finding the right BA can also be challenging. An employee should not be thrust into the BA role without the right tools or training. BAs should be provided with the opportunity to nurture their skills and a clearly defined career path they can aspire towards.

Challenge ♯3: Power
As Scott Ambler stated in his article “Rethinking the Role of Business Analysts: Towards Agile Business Analysts”, BAs often have undue influence over project decisions. As BAs, our role in interfacing with business users to elicit requirements and sort through masses of information is critical to project success. How do we ensure that we do not become a barrier between IT and the business? How do we ensure that facts or requirements are not misinterpreted? How do we eliminate the bias that comes from pre-conceived notions? How do we avoid favouring certain requirements while playing down others?

Solution: Ethics requires an understanding of what is right and wrong. All decisions made should be obvious to stakeholders and the reason for these decisions should be transparent. BAs should also ensure that stakeholders are treated fairly. Fair treatment implies that stakeholders are not deceived in any way about the outcome of decisions.

Challenge 4: Uncooperative stakeholders
On the flip side of information overload is a situation where stakeholders clearly do not want to share information with the business analyst. The BA should not take this personal. A stakeholder can be uncooperative for a number of reasons as illustrated below:

Some Reasons Why Stakeholders are Uncooperative

Solution: I once worked with an uncooperative stakeholder who clearly didn’t want to share any information concerning how she did her work. She kept shifting the goal post and would not schedule a firm date to meet. After several unsuccessful attempts at getting her to commit to a date, I asked her for the templates/documents she made use of. She didn't have any choice but to share these documents, which contained most of the information I needed. If a stakeholder is uncooperative, altering your technique or approach might help.

If you are able to establish rapport with stakeholders by identifying a common area of interest, they’re more likely to be open to sharing information. Begin each meeting or workshop session with an icebreaker to ensure that everyone is completely relaxed and clear on the objectives and benefits of the project.

As time goes on, share success stories and anticipated benefits of the project with stakeholders to gain their trust, confidence and support. As a last resort, if the stakeholder is still not forthcoming, consider escalating to a higher authority who might be able to encourage the desired behaviour.