Training Business Analysts to Dare to Disagree

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ArgonDigital has increased the number of its public training for business analysts, which got me thinking: what other sorts of training do business analysts need? Having knowledge of how to write requirements, elicitation skills, tool skills, knowledge of models, etc. is definitely fundamental to what a business analyst does on a day-to-day basis. Additionally, the business analyst needs to know about the business itself. But what else does a business analyst need to know? I recently helped one of our larger customers plan a BA network event, a sort of expanded lunch-n-learn experience. We wanted a topic that would be thought provoking, and would also provide some educational experience to the attendees. We also had a number of senior leaders attending, and we wanted to provide the group with some healthy discussion topics. As I researched different topics, I came across an interesting talk on TED. For those of you who are not familiar with TED, TED is a non-profit organization devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It is a wonderful site that will definitely get you thinking. What I came across was Dare to Disagree, a talk given by Margaret Heffernan. In her talk, Margaret discusses how most people instinctively avoid conflict, however, good disagreement is central to progress. She discusses how the best partners are not echo chambers; great research teams, businesses and relationships allow people to deeply disagree. It is a wonderful talk, about 13 minutes in duration, and I really encourage you to watch it. After I watched the talk, it got me thinking. So often I have seen people who are afraid of conflict at work. Yet, our roles as business analysts mean that we need to analyze…sift through all the information that we are given or researched, and find the best solution for the problem hand. It may also mean proposing not to do a project, if the effort does not solve a business problem. It means that we need to discuss options, propose ideas that may not be popular, to do what is best for our organization. But doing all of this can be really difficult. Especially difficult if we avoid conflict. How many of us have had the experience of a senior leader walk in and lay down what they think the solution ought to be? How many people disagree with the senior leader? All too often I think our natural tendency to avoid conflict, especially with senior members of our organization, makes us sit back and say “well, she must know more than I do”, and adopt the solution presented. And this happens so often, even though there may be a better solution available. So how do we get better at disagreeing? I think it takes practice. Lots of practice. Especially since this is not something that we do naturally. I tend to start by practicing at home. My family give me lots of opportunities to practice, to look at the options to a situation, and to find the best solution. I also think we need to practice with our own teams. Work with your teams to practice this skill. Make it part of your overall professional development. In order to do our best thinking, we need to search out and find people who are not like us. By working together and having deep discussions around our disagreements, we will be able to be creative and find the best solutions.

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