Challenges of the Business Analyst

The work of a business analyst is to develop an understanding of business process and model them.  Usually the work is associated with a project whose objectives are to change or improve a process.  Often these processes are quite complex and the analyst must get the information from many sources.  Usually much of the information and ideas for improvement are in the heads of key users of the processes being studied.  The challenge of the analyst is to get a good understanding of the process from these people. 

This task presents the analyst with many difficulties.  A business analyst often encounters people who are not ready to cooperate for many reason. 

  • Lack of understanding of the project
  • Impatience, "I've told four other people the same information."
  • Fear of having their job automated
  • Fear that their lack of expertise will be exposed
  • Opposition to the project
  • Previous bad experience with analysts
  • Person is already overwhelmed by their job, no time.

These can be summarized by saying the person is not ready to cooperate.  So how should the analyst proceed. 

I have found that the first step in any meeting between people is the development of rapport.  The people need to feel comfortable with each other as people.   How many times have you been meeting with somebody and things go very poorly and you had the premonition in the first twenty seconds.  Likely no rapport has been established between the people. 

Once rapport has been established it will then be possible to address the concerns of the person.  If you try to address the concerns without rapport you will be like ships passing in the night.

Establishing rapport can be thought of two people getting on the same wavelength or feeling comfortable with each other.  Building rapport is a skill that can be developed and requires some work. 

You need to have some information about the person you a going to meet with.  If you have mutual acquaintances, you might get some information about the person's likes and dislikes, job history, personal situation, interests, etc.  The idea is to find something that you share in common that is not controversial that you can talk about.  Often people will talk about the weather or share a cup of coffee which is a start but often not enough.  Often if you are in the person's office, you will see pictures or other decoration which reveals their interest.   Often something related to the business or people you know in common is helpful but remember the subject is something you will agree on.  Politics and religion are not safe ground.

Having established rapport, the next step is to be clear bout the purpose of the meeting and get an agreement on the agenda, including the time frame.  Here is where you address any concerns that you detect. 

Although you will be anxious to get down specific details, I strongly recommend to stay at a higher level for a while.  Ask open questions that find out the person overall view of the project and how it fits in with their interest.  An open question like "Tell me what you think about ……….?" or "Could you give me a little of your background?"  Once you have some context for the information, you will be much better evaluate the answers knowing some of the biases of the person.

Often the person's reluctance will stem from little or no understanding of the project.  Without a context the information you glean from the person may be totally off the mark and misleading. 

If you have started the conversation and you feel that you have lost rapport for some reason.  Gradually re-establish rapport.  One technique I use is to summarize where we are so far and get agreement on that.  If you detect, reluctance, ask "Do you have some concerns?"  Keep the question very open and listen carefully what the person says.

Another problem that arises between systems people and the rest of the world is that we use a lot of jargon and short forms that are foreign to others.  Using those words, reminds the person we are in different world or world apart.  NO RAPPORT.   Listen to the words the person uses to describe something and use the same words.  If they have a name for a function, use that name.  If they have a name for a process, use that name.  Stay away from the technical jargon we all slip into in the IT world.  "The ETL process of EDW is critical to Micro-strategy software.  We need to understand how to normalize your data so we can drill down and across."   If you thought I was from the moon before, I just moved to Mars.

I will write some more about business analysis later but remember stay in rapport.  You will be amazed how quickly you can get the information you need when you are in rapport. 


  1. Modern Analyst Reply

    Hi Jim,
    Great post on the challenges faced by the Business Analyst. Developing a good rapport with all the stakeholders is key to all analysts.
    Best regards,
    – Adrian

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