As the world has become more complex, delivering real benefits and lasting value in organisations undergoing change has become much harder and more complicated. At the same time, the emerging role of business analyst has grown and developed to the point where business analysts acts as catalysts for change across a wide range of industries.
Leadership is a key skill for these influencers of change. It's not a line management type of leadership but rather one which will draw together disparate stakeholders to come to consensus on what's needed to take the organisation forward.
As the business analysis discipline has evolved, so have the career frameworks and range of roles available to analysts.
Accompanying this evolution is an increasing demand for Business Analysts to demonstrate leadership at all levels. Leadership is not something that has always come naturally to Business Analysts, who may consider it more in line with management roles. However, leadership is not just the sole province of project and business managers, and there are a number of ways analysts can develop and demonstrate these skills.
A new book, Business Analysis & Leadership tackles this topic credibly using observations and examples from experienced Business Analysts and others. Editors Penny Pullan and James Archer have avoided two key drawbacks of some other Business Analyst texts; the book doesn’t sell a consultancy method and it isn’t presented in an academic format.
It contains a cross-section of tools and techniques that will be familiar to those who have undertaken formal analysis training, but also introduces new thinking and is interspersed with personal examples and opinion pieces from the authors. It is a book for Business Analysts, written by Business Analysts, and uses a succinct and informative style that readers will appreciate.
The book is divided into parts based on the four levels of leadership a Business Analyst might demonstrate as they progress through their career.
The first part explores the essential skills a Business Analyst needs to support their organisation. The Business Analyst role is no longer that of a passive ‘requirements gatherer’ but one where requirements need to be explored carefully and cultivated. Business Analysts must have the courage to challenge stakeholder thinking to achieve this. Beyond professional skills and business knowledge, it looks at the Business Analyst’s imperative to learn well and reflect, and their ability put forward ideas and challenge assumptions.
James Archer introduces ‘facilitative leadership’, the idea of offering process and structure to a discussion rather than setting direction and giving answers. The theme recurs throughout the book and challenges the Business Analyst to consider how they can use the tools and techniques at their disposal to lead their projects.
Next the book deals with leadership within projects and how this can be achieved by negotiating stakeholder relationships. Suzanne Robertson tackles the issue of creating successful, collaborative relationships with Project Managers and Michael Brown’s chapter on Dealing with Difficult Stakeholders offers a straightforward introduction to Kilmann’s conflict model. Other chapters look at how creative problem solving techniques can be used to influence the direction work takes.
Part three extends the scope to consider leadership within organisations. It asks how the Business Analyst can influence the organisation outside of the parameters of a traditional project, by looking at the organisation’s purpose and ensuring stakeholders are prepared for change. The section makes clear that the Business Analyst’s understanding of organisational context, climate and culture can help them shape the way change occurs. Sarah Coleman provides a particularly insightful chapter on power and politics, and how influence can be built in a balanced way, while new ways of thinking about change are discussed in Emma Langman’s chapter on Systems Thinking. Ideas are drawn from key contributors in this area such as WE Deming and the controversial ideas of Vanguard’s John Seddon.
Adrian Reid’s chapter on partnering across organisations segues into the final part of the book on leadership in the wider world. Business Analysts who are active outside of their workplace can contribute to the development of their peers and become involved with professional organisations such as the IIBA. By engaging with the wider IT community, the Business Analyst can demonstrate thought leadership and influence the course the profession takes.
Business Analysis & Leadership is a timely publication and highly recommended for those interested in creating more personal impact. Business Analysts need to face the challenge that leadership brings and this book is a useful tool in giving direction to where their efforts can be focussed.
Brian Simpson is a Lead Business Analyst working in Financial Services.