What is your biggest challenge as a business analyst?

My main challenge has always been with adapting to peoples’ various styles of communication. Especially with people that communicate in a very cryptic or terse manner. Technical challenges always seem somehow less confronting when having to grapple with arguably the most dominant feature of business analysis work. Communication.

In the past, I found one way to improve interactions between myself and others was to understand the various personality types or temperaments (e.g., see Wikipedia on the Four Temperaments). When I was faced with a certain type of person I would know how to respond or communicate accordingly. However, this meant that I was constantly looking outward for answers and relying on my own judgement; a judgement that is strongly influenced by my personal experiences. Trying to understand the complexities of human behaviour is never easy.

Recently I read a powerful little book called The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. In a nutshell, it explains four rules of thumb to set you on the path to personal freedom and happiness through releasing self limiting beliefs. The Four Agreements overrides the need to look outward for the answers to personal challenges and explains a simple code of conduct to apply in everyday life.

The Four Agreements is not a text book on computer science and it is not a book about business analysis. However, I have taken the book’s message and applied it in a general context to the work of a business analyst. The Four Agreements are:

1. Be impeccable with your word. Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Do not use the word to speak against yourself or others… Do not criticise or gossip. Always do what you say you are going to do, and if the plan changes, communicate with the relevant people. This way you manage expectations and you show respect for yourself and others. Sometimes changing the plan can be hard especially if an important deadline is looming. However, my personal philosophy is that it is better to be remembered for good quality work.

2. Don’t take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality… Business analysts are agents of change, they ask a lot questions and get knee deep in other people’s business. Understandably, people get defensive, and sometimes say upsetting things. There are a multitude of reasons for people’s behaviour and they do not relate to you. In these situations be aware that there may be tension in a person that is caused by trust issues concerning your project, and not you. This is worth carefully investigating as the issues they have may create a big impact on your project.

3. Don’t Make Assumptions. Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings… Making assumptions about a statement a person has made can be problematic and may lead to misinterpretation of business requirements. Instead of assuming, ask questions to solve a problem and state what you need to progress your project. Asking questions will bring clarity and help you get to the root cause of an issue.

4. Always do your best. Under any circumstance, simply do your best… Do not punish yourself if plans do not go as expected or a deliverable needs a re-write. Learn the lessons and apply them next time. Keep your head up and move forward with a quiet determination to improve on your work. Always doing your best means that you cannot say a bad word against yourself or others. There is never any blame, just room for improvement.

The Four Agreements has helped me put aside a lot of time wasting and self limiting thinking around my work and personal life. As a result, my confidence and my sense of authority and influence as business analyst has increased remarkably.

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