The Hidden Problem of BA Managers

As a profession, business analysis has come a huge distance in the last decade. Most Business Analysts now understand how to elicit good requirements, want a defined project scope, can write a good requirement, understand and use either User Stories or Use Cases, know how to negotiate agreement between business and technical partners, and so on. What the profession takes for granted today was hard to find 10 years ago.

During this time it was easy to find me arguing about how poor the business analysis profession was practiced. Far too many BAs did not have the right background, competencies, techniques, tools, or training. We were floundering as a discipline because we did not know what we were doing. Tony Chen heard me one day and said it was all about poor expectations [from supervisors and management]. I’ve thought about this over the last few years and I think he hit the nail on the head.

The International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) is a central reason why the profession has improved so very much. They have provided a number of great things for Business Analysts. We now have a Business Analysis Book of Knowledge (BABoK) and a competency model, a great repository defining the scope of our role and tool for understanding the strengths & weaknesses of a practitioner, respectively. They provide webinars, a monthly newsletter, certify training firms, promote conferences, and even offer certification. The most valuable offering that we, as a professional organization, might have, however, is the opportunity to meet and exchange ideas in person through our local chapters.

It is this networking between BAs making the biggest impact. Even though I can read the details about some technique or tool in a book, being able to ask a peer how it works for them makes all the difference in the world. I still learn from articles and white papers, but discussing this with other BA accelerates my learning far more than reading a second article ever could. It is the connection we have between our peers that has led to the professional revolution.

This combination—a central body providing guidance and the network between people in the BA role—is the primary reason we have improved. We have given ourselves a better definition of who we are and we have been improving to meet our definition. We have set our own expectations and we are growing because of it.

But we are still missing something. While a small few managers do have great expectations, most do not have a strong enough understanding of the discipline and the benefits to have well-defined expectations. One of the most common conversations I have with BAs is about explaining our role to those who would manage us.

Part of my standard rant mentioned BAs being managed by supervisors who did not understand the function or how to supervise it1, which just underscores Tony’s point. The poor expectations started with leadership.

As much as we have improved our profession in the last 10 years, especially the last 5, we still have a long way to go and I think one of our biggest hurdles is helping BA Managers2 understand their function.

Many BAs have been busy learning about their profession and sometimes arguing for more resources to continue their self-improvement. A few have done a good job explaining their role and what the expectations should be for BAs. Not everyone feels so equipped. Not every boss wants to listen to employees explain what the role is and isn’t. Not every boss has the time to figure this out; they already have a full plate.

The IIBA has recently recognized the need to help BA Managers in their new compilation, Managing Business Analysts. Published last fall, it is the first resource I know of to help our supervisors.

A few years ago, Allan Dunn asked me if he could buy me lunch and introduce me to another BA Manager. I had spent much more time in my role than she and he thought we might benefit from a conversation. Our lunch was one of the best meetings I had that year. I grew from both learning about her experience and sharing my own.

I soon realized this was a missing part of what every BA Manager needed; a network of peers. All of which leads me to say I am very happy to announce we are building a network of BA Managers here in Dallas, TX.

As the new president of the IIBA Dallas Chapter, one of the very first things I have done is organize a networking event solely for BA Managers. Our chapter’s premier sponsor, MDI was happy to to sponsor a very nice luncheon, paying for 15 managers to come together and network with each other.

As part of this networking luncheon, we are restricting all vendors and anyone who does not manage BA from attending. This is an event for peers to come together and help each other. It’s not about BAs directly, though we’ll benefit. It’s about giving BA Managers a chance to accelerate their personal learning, from someone who is living with the same sorts of issues.

A nice bonus for the inaugural event attendees is our special guest, Kevin Brennan (@BAKevin). Kevin is Chief Business Analyst & EVP for IIBA and a contributing author to Managing Business Analysts.  He’s agreed to speak for a few minutes, take questions from participants, and offered to give everyone their own copy of Managing Business Analysts.

If you manage BAs in Dallas, then please drop me a line. I cannot promise a seat at our first event, but I can certainly place you on the invite list for our next one.


1: I don’t care if you have performed the BA role. I believe the best managers are found in those who care about their team, not in those who once did a specific job.

2: I also don’t care if your title is Business Analysis Manager, Development Supervisor, Director of Business Analysis, or Janitor. If you have a staff of people, dedicated to understanding the business & defining software / system requirements, and your role involves, hiring, reviewing, and growing them to meet the needs of the business, then you’re a BA Manager.


Other parts in this series on BA Managers: 
Part II—Business Analysis Managers Should Care About IIBA Chapters
Part III—IIBA Chapters Should Care About Business Analysis Managers

A special thanks to Neil Bazley, IIBA Vice President of Chapters (@neilbazley) for his early review and advice on this series.

  1 Comment

  1. Lori Witzel   •  

    Jeffrey, although I’m running to a meeting, just had to leave a “heck yeah!” and “good on ya” re: helping connect BA managers to help them meet the challenges they face. Will reach out re: educational calendar for IIBA Dallas.

    In 2012, there will be more content and info coming via and our blog which might be useful for BA Managers as well…stay tuned!

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