There are no spoons

Or, a short rant about the (BA) universe

I’m often reminded of that scene in The Matrix where Neo meets that kid with the spoon. You know the one … There’s a kid sitting on the ground with a pile of bent spoons on the floor in front of him. The kid picks up an unbent spoon and bends it with his mind while Neo watches.

Kid: Do not try and bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead… only try to realise the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Kid: There is no spoon.
Neo: There is no spoon?
Kid: Then you’ll see, that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.


Is this vignette relevant?

Maybe. Let’s find out …

Looking for spoons

Let’s be honest, the business analyst role is largely a response to the economies of scale.

When projects or products are above a certain level of complexity, it makes sense to bundle up the analysis-type tasks and assign them to a single person. Doing this means the developers have more time to develop stuff and managers have more time to manage.

And the Business Analyst role was born! 👶

Except business analysis is fundamentally an activity. One that does not actually require formal training (though it can help) or accountability tied to a single person. Rather, it’s mostly common sense and curiosity.

But that hasn’t stopped us from formalising things.

The problem is, we humans like simple concepts. Black vs. white, left vs. right, agile vs. waterfall, dos vs. don’ts, good vs. evil, Buffy vs. the Big Bad … I could go on.

We love simple. We like putting items into tidy little boxes to avoid having to think about them further. We do it with people, we do it with things, and we do it for work. It makes it easy on our little pea brains. 🧠

Business analysts are no different.

We categorise requirements. We analyse and group stakeholders. And we standardise our business analysis process. All to make things “easier”.

While these standardised processes can be helpful and instructive for newbie BAs, there are limitations to how well they actually work in practice.

In my experience, standardised approaches tend to fail quickly outside of idealised situations. Standardised processes are fine for BAU, but break under pressure.

And more importantly, the organisation and/or client’s goals will always trump my 12-step process for requirements elicitation.

And isn’t that actually the right outcome?

Our tools and methods tend to be highly focused around our processes and outputs, and less centred around the project or the outcome the organisation is looking for.

When we talk about business analysis process, it is our process we’re talking about, not the end-to-end delivery of value. We categorise items and stakeholders according to our classification, not the organisation’s. We talk a lot about format of our artefacts and not the value realisation.

Much of it is role focused.

In our efforts to formalise and establish credibility, we have ended up imposing.

In practice, that’s not how life – and certainly not how work – usually works!

We haven’t just looked for spoons. We made our own spoons. And in the process we’ve forgotten that the spoons aren’t real and don’t bend.

There are no spoons

What is needed on a project and how we can move things forward is so dependent on the situation, the environment, and the team. Everything we do depends on the context. This is why I love story-mapping as a tool! It is flexible, it solves multiple problems, and the artefact produced is useful in a wide variety of situations and environments.

It is flexible; It bends.

I know all roles do a certain amount of navel gazing, and we business analysts are no exception. But I think we should stop trying to shape a role for ourselves, and bend ourselves around the work – whatever that work might be.

We should fit into the project, not expect the project to fit around us.

Business analysis is an instrument, not a purpose. A fact we sometimes forget.

In short: the kid is right, there are no spoons.

Yeah, but I never said there were spoons!

Most likely you’ve got to this point and are wondering who I’m arguing with.

It’s me
I’m the problem it’s me!

This is my own call to action to do better.

At work I focus on moving things forward. And when I’m writing for Jimmy, I should do the same for business analysis. So I plan to do less writing on the BA role itself, and more writing on how to use business analysis on projects, products, and within organisations to get good stuff done!

In short, I want to focus less on the spoons.

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!


And for anyone paying real close attention, Magritte’s The Treachery of Images is also pretty applicable to this rant! BAs tend to work on the representation of the thing and not the thing itself!