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Linda Erzah, CBAP
Linda Erzah, CBAP

Business Analyst: The Neutral Convener

Part of my job as a Business Analyst, it is my responsibility to facilitate business process analysis meetings with a group of very knowledgeable folks. As I stood in front of my audience, I couldn't stop thinking: "What if I don't understand what is going on here? What if I can't comprehend the issues at hand? What if i steer this group to an outcome that is completely irrelevant to the issues at hand?"

I was hired in the public health industry at the time and prior to that, I worked in the gaming industry, healthcare, computer software and hardware. I started out the meeting with the objectives and outcomes of the meeting and proceeded to asking them a high level question: "What is the objective for Activity #1" (We had already brainstormed on the various activies performed in the public health arena); which started a discussion in the room full of PhDs, Directors, and a few MPh. As I listened, it started to become clear to me what were the issues... Questions started forming in my head, I wanted to know more and dig more into what they were saying. I wanted to understand what this person meant by one thing and if that understanding was similar with others. I wanted to know what the accronyms spelled out and I wanted to know more...

They each had different knowledge and sometimes they called the same report with different names.

When they first arrived in the room, each person knew that they were in this group to bring out the commonalities of their business processes and work toward developing common set of requirements for future systems. But each had different knowledge and experiences (or at least they thought it was very different and very complicated than those of their counterparts)So each one came with their own understanding, definitions, acronyms, knowledge.. etc.
As their Business Analyst, I had confidence that I could lead them to a common understanding but how was I going to do that, not having a background in the public health? Let's talk about the difference between the vertical and neutral convener BA.

Have you ever heard of a vertical Business Analyst? This new term describes a Business Analyst who has specialized in one industry and has a solid background and understanding in the industry. Most recruiters, hiring managers and others have this concept that a good BA is the one that has specialized in a particular industry. The BA are being strongly encouraged to stick to a particular industry in order to become well acquainted with its culture, language, processes.. etc. Not having the please to stick to one industry, I can only speak of the benefits of the neutral convener role that the Business Analyst must play in defining, analyzing and modeling the business and/or requirements.

A neutral convener Business Analyst is defined as one who has no bias or stake in a particular subject or issue at hand. This person does not benefit from the outcome of a project or meeting. Their job is to guide, motivate, build a bridge, bring peace, listen, elicit information, and lead discussion to a desired outcome. This outcome can be based on a methodology or can be defined by the owner of the project or meeting.

With this definition at hand, the BA who is a neutral convener:

1. will help elicit full and candid information from stakeholders
2. will make participants feel free to be more candid with someone who has no vested interest in the project.
3. will maintain confidentiality, if a stakeholder requests it, while still integrating the stakeholder’s views into the recommendations.
4. will define, analyze and model a process based on complete and accurate information, strengthening the conditions for constructive dialogue.
5. will be effective in engaging diverse stakeholder groups and organizing constructive dialogue and negotiation processes. This can help provide an effective vehicle for subsequent discussions on the substantive elements of your project.

There are many other benefits to having a Business Analyst as a neutral conevener. Since some of the outputs of business analysis can be used as input to other processes such as training new hire, a BA with industry bias, will have difficulties relating to those who do not understand the industry, its culture, language and standards.

I still don't know what the benefits of being a vertical BA are. I challenge those in this position to comment on this blog and let us know the benefits of this direction.

Linda Erzah, CBAP

This entry was published on Jan 26, 2009 / Linda Erzah, CBAP. Posted in Business Analysis. Bookmark the Permalink or E-mail it to a friend.
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posted on Friday, February 27, 2009 9:44 AM
Totally agree!. Something else to always be aware of is the "human dimension".
Have a look at the following post that describes how human nature can influnce change management initiatives.

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