Solve the Problem by Making it Bigger

blog-Nine-Dot-1The title is quirky, but not a joke or a slip. Many intractable problems are intractable because the problem being considered is too small. Many performance problems fall in this category. For an example, consider a project team that is under-performing. They have lots of change requests. They're over budget. They've blown timelines, angered customers - you name it, they've messed it up. Management steps in and finds that the business analyst on the team is the worst offender. All the problems in the project can be traced back to requirements that are badly written, late, or just plain wrong. In an effort get the project back on track, Management decides to bring in a very senior and experienced BA to take charge. The novice BA - Our Little Failure - remains on the team to assist Our Hero, and to provide continuity.

Unfortunately, this corrective action doesn't fix the problem. Our Heroic BA fails just as hard as Our Little Failure.

blog-Nine-Dot-2In this example the solution to the problem was a more competent BA - except the solution wasn't really a solution. The problem remains. This means the project's problems must stem from something other than a lack of BA competence.

Perhaps the customer organization is a hideous and chaotic mess and they are changing their requirements at a moment's notice and demanding that the project team adapt. Perhaps the contract negotiated between the customer organization and the project organization expressly forbids the BA from having follow-up meetings with stakeholders "to minimize non-billable time at the client organization." Perhaps there's some other factor (or factors) that hamper performance, but which have nothing to do with the competence of the BA.

If Management is competent, Management will recognize that they asked "Who is to blame?" when they should have asked "What factors hamper performance?"

If Management is incompetent, Management will hire someone even more competent (read: expensive) and continue to fail.

If Management is using the business analysis talent they've hired, Management would not have blamed 'Our Little Failure' in the first place.

Business Analysts have a responsibility to expand the problem scope when the problem is unsolvable in the current scope. This does NOT mean scope creep is good or that project managers are bad or anything beyond that one statement.


Business Analysts have a responsibility to expand the problem scope when the problem is unsolvable in the current scope.


This responsibility can be very difficult to bear. It is not absolute: you may have to choose where and when you spend political capital to achieve the greatest effect.

Still, it is your role.

Julian Sammy

A passion for business performance has driven Julian’s decades-long, evidence-based exploration of human behaviour, emerging technology, and information science. His insights are often surprising, and are shared in a provocative, engaging style in print and in person. Julian has delivered inspiring and informative keynotes, created and delivered many track sessions, and advised senior managers and executives from many industries. As the Head of Research and Innovation for IIBA, Julian led a global team of volunteer researchers in the creation of a scientifically testable theory of business performance. As a member of the Core Team developing the next version of A Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK® Guide) for IIBA, he drove the collaborative development of the Business Analysis Core Concept Model — a work that is so fundamental to the profession that it is the foundation for the new definition of the profession. In March 2014 Julian Sammy and Kathleen Barret co-founded MicroMarketplace, to get on-demand expert advice to managers, one hour at a time.