BA à la modes!

Illustration of 9 items in a grid. In the first row there is a chess piece, a delivery truck, and a panic button. In the second row there is a magnifying glass, a microscope, and a pot plant. In the third row there is a folder, a phone, and a artist's palette.

Or, a non-process-based approach to thinking about BA work ...

For those of you who follow me on LinkedIn, you’ll know that a couple of months ago I shifted teams within the same company. While my title remained the same (Senior Business Analyst) my day-to-day job changed wildly. Where previously I was doing detailed technical analysis and documentation, I was now doing crisis management and design. Where one BA role is strategic, the other is delivery focused.

The stark differences between the roles got me thinking about ways of working and BA process, a topic I’ve mulled previously without much success.

Several years ago now (okay that’s an outright lie it was closer to a decade ago), I tried to map out all BA work into one massive decision tree that would help me work out how to tackle any situation. I envisioned an amazing flow-chart that ended with “requirement gathering” or “Prioritise the backlog” or some other actionable directive.

It was bound to fail spectacularly and unsurprisingly did!! 📄👉🗑

The actions we business analysts take are dependent on the situation and are guided by what we’re trying to achieve at that point in time. Which makes total sense since we operate in complicated environments.

But I don’t just want to give up and say “it depends” to everything. There are patterns in amongst the chaos of the role!

In particular, I’ve noticed that there are some common “BA modes” I tend to operate in. I don’t play them all in every role, but there are patterns in how I’d approach pieces of work. For example, I do things very differently when I am in crisis mode, and there’s a difference between facilitator mode and communication mode!

The more I played with this idea of “modes”, the more I realised how helpful it was as a framework for discussing business analyst work.

Here’s my hypothesis: being more conscious of the BA modes we are operate in can help us be more deliberate about how we approach a problem or situation! It could also save us from the “all BA processes are requirements processes” trap which I think leads to our value being unrecognised in many organisations 😔.

At the very least, understanding BA modes can help us talk more meaningfully about our work, and enable us to discuss the parts of our job that are less process oriented, like documentation, or design!

So without further ado, let’s talk BA modes …

Draft BA modes

The BA modes I’ve identified are:

📱 Communication
🗂️ Documentation
🔍 Investigation
🪴 Facilitation
♟️ Strategy
🔬 Analysis
🚚 Delivery
🎨 Design
🔥 Crisis

I want to dig into each in turn but—like any good clean fun—some explainers first!

  1. Modes are not individual to a BA role or job; a BA might operate in many modes over the course of an engagement!
  2. Outputs and activities might be more common in particular modes, but are not exclusive to a mode.
  3. In general, a piece of work will want you to operate in a particular mode.

In short, modes are just a way to label and talk about our work, with a focus on what we’re trying to achieve, and the way we tackle our work, rather than the specific activities or artefacts we might produce while doing so.

Let’s start with the most tedious but perhaps the least surprising …

Documentation mode 🗂️

The purpose of documentation mode is the persistence of information.

When in Documentation mode, the BA is a chronicler of what has happened, what was discussed, and what was agreed, all for future reference. Objectivity is vital; the BA is explaining events, and not constructing a narrative.

Common activities undertaken in this mode include:

  1. Recording details and documenting requirements
  2. Compiling meeting minutes
  3. Cataloging information
  4. Organising and filing
  5. Writing reports

In documentation mode, the focus is on facts.

Investigation mode 🔍

The purpose of investigation mode is discovery.

When in investigation mode the BA is a detective, hunting down evidence and turning unknowns into knowns! This involves finding and following leads, collecting evidence, interviewing people who might know more, identifying patterns, and researching possible causes. The outcome? We know much more about a problem than we did!

Common activities undertaken in this mode include:

  1. Undertaking research
  2. Writing problem statements
  3. Conducting interviews with SMEs
  4. Collecting facts and data
  5. Synthesising evidence and drawing insights
  6. Doing root cause analysis

In investigation mode, the focus is on a problem or issue.

Strategy mode ♟️

The purpose of strategy mode is identifying a direction.

When in Strategy mode, the BA is a coach, helping the business envision a future state and identify the things they need to focus on to help them achieve it. But the strategic BA isn’t wishy washy, they support the business to determine real options, and help identify actionable steps that will move the org in their chosen direction.

Common activities undertaken in this mode include:

  1. Identifying long-term business goals
  2. Defining business strategies
  3. Providing strategic recommendations
  4. Developing business cases
  5. Conducting enterprise analysis
  6. Assessing market trends or competitor analysis

In strategy mode, we are future focused.

Delivery mode 🚚

The purpose of delivery mode is the coordination of activity!

When in delivery mode, the BA focuses on supporting the team to build and implement the chosen solution. This involves elaborating and refining work, making plans, defining value, identifying dependencies, and monitoring outputs to ensure that the solution is fit for purpose.

Common activities undertaken in this mode include:

  1. Project planning
  2. Breaking down work and tasks
  3. Refining backlogs and estimating effort
  4. Monitoring delivery
  5. Verifying outputs
  6. Conducting user training

In delivery mode the focus is on output.

Crisis mode 🔥

The purpose of crisis mode is clarifying next steps.

When in Crisis mode, the BA is adaptive and responsive, but calm. The BA acts as information infrastructure across the crisis response team to filter and surface information when required. They minimise potential damage, identify risks and assumptions, and help shape next steps.

Common activities undertaken in this mode include:

  1. Undertaking rapid options analysis
  2. Engaging in tactical action planning
  3. Doing crisis communication and management
  4. Supporting contingency planning

In crisis mode, the focus is on the immediate tactical response.

Facilitation mode 🪴

The purpose of facilitation mode is building consensus.

When facilitating, the BA enables all stakeholders to share information and perspectives, navigate conflict, and build consensus. The BA creates an environment conducive to collaboration, helping the team make real progress towards a shared goal!

Common activities undertaken in this mode include:

  1. Planning and running workshops
  2. Facilitating consensus-driven decisions
  3. Moderating discussions and keeping people on track
  4. Encouraging participation
  5. Guiding brainstorming sessions
  6. Mediating conflicts

In facilitation mode, the focus is on alignment.

Design mode 🎨

The purpose of design mode is the creation of a defined solution!

When in design mode, the BA contributes their knowledge and understanding of the problem space to the formation of a clear, rational solution to the problem. The BA is most commonly tasked with ensuring the solution is conceptually coherent, and aligned to business objectives.

Common activities undertaken in this mode include:

  1. Ideating
  2. Prototyping
  3. Wire-framing
  4. Creating new process flows
  5. Synthesising

In design mode, we are solution focused.

Communication mode 📱

The purpose of communication mode is awareness!

In Communication mode, the BA makes sure that everyone has the information that they need, in a format they can understand and use! This means crafting key messages, story telling, and summarising the details in a way that is accessible to all audiences!

Common activities undertaken in this mode include:

  1. Creating comms plans
  2. Drafting summaries
  3. Publishing information
  4. Speaking publicly
  5. Doing presentation
  6. Diagramming and doing visual design

In communication mode, the focus is on stakeholder needs.

Analysis mode 🔬

And last but very much not least, the purpose of analysis mode is understanding.

When in Analysis mode, the BA evaluates and decomposes systems and information into composite parts, categorises the pieces, and ensures that information is complete and coherent. In analysis mode the BA goes deep on a topic to understand the interrelationships between all the moving parts, and to clarify how they work together to form the whole.

Common activities undertaken in this mode include:

  1. Decomposing systems and information
  2. Identifying interdependencies
  3. Synthesising information
  4. Checking for completeness and consistency
  5. Conducting thought experiments

In analysis mode, the focus is on building a clear picture.

Modes in practice

All make sense in theory?

In practice, it’s all a bit more squishy than what I’ve outlined above. The lines between modes aren’t rigid and in one org an issue being identified might trigger a BA to go into investigation mode, when in another org the same issue would require crisis mode to solve!

But you can typically work out the mode you should be in from the output you’re expected to achieve. If they want you to help determine a direction, you should be operating in strategic mode! If they just want to work out the tactical next steps, it’s crisis mode time! Oh they want to make sure everyone understands the upcoming changes, well that means it is time to switch into communication mode!

The power of thinking of your work in modes is that you can be much more laser focused on the thing that really matters in this situation and avoid getting distracted by all the other (potentially best practice) things that you could be doing in this situation!!!

But there are some things to keep in mind. Just as mixing the scrum master and PO roles on a team leads to some less-than-desirable outcomes, mixing modes tends to limit the effectiveness of each. We’ve all experienced how difficult it is to facilitate and document at the same time, or worse, facilitate, analyse, and document a workshop. So, knowing your current mode, and sticking to it, is usually sensible.

And I’m also pretty sure not all BAs will do all modes. At minimum, I’ve noticed that BAs have their own preferred modes, and look for work that leans towards spending time in the mode they like working in. I have a personal preference for Crisis, Investigation, and Facilitation mode. And honestly, I avoid Documentation mode as much as I can. 😂

How does this fit with my BA Approach?

Y’all will know I’ve previously done thinking about my BA approach which is summarised as Analyse ↔ Connect ↔ Do. These BA modes might sound like a whole new concept, but the two concepts work together surprisingly well—they’re just two different levels of abstraction and all part of the same approach.

Where analyse-connect-do is the most abstract—it’s a principle based conceptual approach to all BA work—BA modes are more granular—the operational layer if you will!

A triangle showing 4 layers. The top layer is labeled 'Approach', the second layer is labeled 'Modes', the third layer is labeled 'Playbooks?', and the bottom layer is labeled 'methods & tools'.

Analyse, Connect, Do can be mapped to the modes as well! Some are pretty obviously associated with one part of the approach:

  • Analysis mode is unsurprisingly mostly Analyse
  • Facilitator mode is almost all Connect
  • Documentation mode is mostly Do

But others are a mix:

  • Design mode is Do with some Connect
  • Communication mode is Connect, and some Analyse
  • Crisis mode is potentially everything all at once, but with urgency!

So to the question “how does this change my approach”, the answer is “it doesn’t!“. But it will change how I’ll talk about things, and who knows … maybe this is the basis for some BA playbooks in the future?

Final words

The intent for this article isn’t to present a finished product and walk away, but rather to propose and to share where my thinking had got to thus far!

In previous iterations of the modes (shared on LinkedIn) I didn’t have analysis mode called out explicitly and when challenged about that offline, couldn’t defend it so I reversed course! I believe the resulting list is better. It is likely that future challenges might change up the modes I’ve proposed in which case, I’ll revise this article!

So if you read the list and have a hmmmm reaction—I’d love to know about it!

Hey, tell me what you think!

Please do hit me up on LinkedIn or by email if you have any feedback! I’m always up for difficult questions, and I’d love to know what you think of this article!