“So what you do is you take the specifications from the customers and you bring them down to the software engineers?”
— (Office Space)
Do you ever feel like your role as a business analyst closely parallels that of Tom (the hapless Innotek employee in the movie Office Space)? Are you relegated to being an order taker, destined to faithfully record what your stakeholders tell you they want on their projects — and ultimately taking the blame when the projects don’t deliver their expected results? Or does the business analyst role ask you to collaborate with business and technology stakeholders, determine the right solution, and act as a trusted advisor to your organization’s leaders?
Unfortunately, I see many business analysts stuck in the role of order taker. In a series of blog posts, I’m going to explore how you can move into the latter, more robust role — one where you are seen as a management consultant, helping the business solve problems and contribute as a valued partner, uniquely positioned to make the greatest impact.
Any successful consultant will tell you that a prerequisite to being able to solve a problem for a client is the ability to identify and correctly articulate that problem. Many would argue that this ability — to clarify the nature of the problem and communicate it effectively to the parties involved — is a key skill of the management consultant.
As a business analyst, you are already equipped with a tool to help achieve this key skill and you probably have experience using that tool in a variety of problem areas. The tool I am referring to is, of course, the problem statement. The problem statement is a framework that states and describes a problem in its current state and clarifies what a successful solution will look like.
If you haven’t seen a problem statement, it looks something like this:
The problem of [describe the problem]
affects [the stakeholders effected by the problem]
The impact of which is [what is the impact of the problem on those stakeholders]
A successful solution would [list the critical benefits or key capabilities that the solution – however implemented – must have to be successful]
The problem statement not only helps you drill down on the real problem, but it identifies the parties, describes how they are impacted by the problem and identifies potential success criteria.
The next time that your business partner or manager is faced with a challenging problem, go ask some questions. Why is this a problem? Who does it affect? How do we measure the impact? Then sit down and try to write a problem statement. Once you think you have a handle on what’s going on, schedule a few minutes with the owner of the problem and let him or her know your thoughts on the problem. Share your problem statement and the process that you used to get there.
This is the first step in demonstrating that you can and will use your skills and ability to solve business problems; that you can and will contribute as a valuable partner who can make a significant impact on your organization; that you are more than just an order-taker.