Follow us...

Leadership Starts With You: How to Mentor a New Business Analyst

By Laura Brandenburg, CBAP, Host of Bridging the Gap
 
Leadership can mean many things to many people. To me, leadership means you are the one to step up to challenges, create positive change, and make things happen. Leadership roles are rarely given. They are taken, volunteered for, or stepped into.
 
One such opportunity to take on a leadership role is when a new business analyst joins your team or a colleague approaches you about getting started in the business analysis profession. While it can be easy to see helping a new business analyst as just one more thing that you don’t have time to do, I’d suggest reframing it as a leadership opportunity. There are many, many benefits to you as a mentor, from formalizing what you already know (when you try to explain exactly what happens in something like a requirements review meeting, it is rarely as obvious as it seems) to reliving some of what you’ve learned over your career by seeing the frustrations and challenges of a new business analyst.
 
You’ll also be helping this new business analyst get a solid start, be more effective on their projects, and solidify their role. And that can mean good things for your BA organization and it is part of growing the profession of BAs as a whole.
 
We’ve looked at why mentor a new business analyst. But how do you actually do it? Let’s look at the four phases you’ll step through as you support a new business analyst gaining confidence in their role.
 
Phase #1 - Job Shadowing
 
Many new business analysts, even those with formal training, have never been to a requirements review meeting or seen a real-world specification. Allowing them to sit in on your meetings gives them a critical opportunity to see how a typical set of business analyst tasks works in action. Your mentee can get an even bigger benefit out of this activity if you review the purpose of the meeting and what went into planning it beforehand, and take a few minutes afterward to retrospect about how things went. Allow them to learn from your process. As a side benefit, you’ll most likely find yourself learning from what you share as rarely do we take the time to think through everything we do and why we do it.
 
Part of job shadowing could also involve reviewing your specifications. Again, some context will make this more meaningful, so walk them through the purpose of the document, how you’ve elicited and analyzed the information in the document, and what the next steps are. Allow time for independent review and questions.
 
Phase #2 – Assign Supporting Tasks
 
BAs often complain about filling the roles of note-taker and meeting facilitator. Mentoring a new business analyst gives you a perfect opportunity to assign them a supporting role while also freeing up your energy to focus on facilitating the session. 
 
Ask your mentee to take notes for you and write them up afterward. You’ll get a first hand perspective into how much they are taking away from the meeting and be able to recommend other learning opportunities to fill any gaps in understanding.
 
Other beneficial support tasks include updating models or requirements documentation and creating a first draft of a simple model or section of a requirements document.
 
Phase #3 – Assign Independent Tasks, Review Their Work

Once a new BA is able to support you successfully, it’s time to give them independent tasks that they can own from beginning to end. You may assign them a use case on a bigger project you own or assign them to lead the BA effort on a smaller project. 
 
Many new BAs will be nervous and appreciate your attention and feedback. Here are some ideas that allow for independent work and review cycles to instill confidence.
  • Collaborate together on a business analysis approach and list of elicitation questions.
  • Shadow their meetings and provide feedback on how each session went and ideas for improving any shortcomings.
  • Review their deliverables ahead of stakeholders and provide suggestions for clarifying wording, analyzing the requirements, or finding missing requirements.
While constructive feedback that helps them improve their work product is important, so is acknowledgement when they get things right on their own. And that leads us to our next phase.
 
Phase #4 – Be Available for Questions and Concerns
 
At a certain point, your new business analyst will no longer be new and the intensive mentoring phase will be over. That doesn’t mean that they won’t have questions and benefit from reaching out once in awhile. Make yourself available for questions or concerns. This can come in the form of a weekly meeting to review active projects or the explicit expectation that the BA drop by if a challenging issue arises.
 
In this phase, you’ll want to step back from always giving direct advice and ask the BA to work through the challenge on their own, with your support. Instead of telling the BA what to do, ask them what they’ve already done to address the issue and why that didn’t work out. Ask them what they think they should do and, then, if appropriate, validate their approach. Often issues at this stage are more about confidence than lack of good ideas. Sometimes it’s nice just to have someone validate you are on the right track.
 
Speaking of which, even though you are the senior BA on the team, turn the tables once in awhile. Raise a challenge or concern you have with your work with your mentee. Who knows, they may have a great idea you haven’t thought of!
 
Leadership Starts with You
 
In my work helping BAs start their careers, I meet so many talented professionals who have been metaphorically thrown into the deep end of the pool and expected to sink or swim. These individuals are often in new roles, new domains, and working with new stakeholders—all at once. It only takes a few minutes and opens the door to helping out a new business analyst. (Although it will take much more time to be an effective coach and mentor.)
 
Helping a new business analyst is a first step toward more senior BA and BA lead roles, or even management if that’s where you find yourself headed. It’s also extremely rewarding work, both in seeing the success of the person you help and in realizing the value of what you’ve learned and experienced so far in your business analysis career. 

©iStockphoto.com/kabliczech 
 
About the Author: Laura Brandenburg, CBAP is the author of How to Start a Business Analyst Career, the host of Bridging the Gap, and offers a BA career planning course (it’s free) to help you start your business analyst career.