Is email the business analyst’s friend or foe? – Ryan Knapton 0

Posted on 27, April 2011

in Category practitioner experience

Picture this if you will: It’s a Monday morning after a long weekend where you took Friday off to get out of the city. You were consequently out of 3G coverage which resulted in no mobile phone reception, and therefore no email access. Back to Monday – you start your email application, and you have 113 unread emails.

Do you:

  1. panic and hyperventilate, black spots start to appear in your peripheral vision,
  2. head straight to the kitchen, coffee will be your only saviour,
  3. knuckle down, and start going through the emails in the order you received them, or
  4. wish you lived in the 60’s when life was carefree?

Avoid this overwhelming email situation

Firstly, if you have that many unread emails as a BA, you are not managing your client or project team’s expectations very well. Everyone on the team should be aware that you have taken some time off (as everyone is entitled to) and therefore would not send you emails (other than a few CC’s). All too often I send emails to team mates, only to receive an out of office. This can sometimes be for leave for an entire week, and no one had any idea! It is extremely important to make sure that everyone knows when you will not be in the office; there is no shame in going on leave.

But regardless of who you inform, there will inevitably be a number of emails that you will have to work through. How you handle these will probably come down to your personality. But I think that there is something to explore here, because how stakeholders manage their emails could help you in managing them.

Decide whether to speak or to email

We all know people who prefer a 5 minute chat over sending an email. Some people are just wired that way – a short conversation suits them. We also all know other people who prefer to send a short email, allowing you to respond in your own time rather than being constrained by the immediacy that a telephone call requires.

The thing is, in my experience, the majority of people who prefer email over calls are younger people. This may be because the younger generation grew up with technology such as text messages and email as the norm, while the older generation grew up making calls. Or it might be because generally, the older generation have more responsibilities and require more immediate responses – they spin a lot of plates and when they have a thought that requires feedback, they require it now, and not sometime tomorrow.

Regardless of the reason, it is important to realise that these differences occur (between generations or between personalities) when working as a BA. In my experience, BAs tend to be younger than the subject matter experts from whom they work with on projects, and therefore inherently work differently. The BA may prefer to send a short email, whereas the business representative may prefer it if you popped round to their desk for a quick chat, or had a 5 minute call. It’s very important to pick up on the subtle (or not so subtle!) cues that you will get from various stakeholders as to their preferences, because then you can harness these preferences to get the most out of the stakeholders for the project.

Choose to make valuable use of tools

Email has revolutionised the workplace. It’s hard to remember organisations without it. But it has only been commercially used for the last 20 years. And while everyone can use email, don’t underestimate the impact that it plays on one’s formative years. Individuals who grow up with email as their primary communication method will think differently to people who have had to adjust. Not everyone is the same. But the good BA knows this, and adapts to suit their stakeholders.

As with all tools, one needs to best utilise the right tool at the right time. Email is merely a communication tool, and its successful use depends on the situation in which it is utilised. Use email too often and its effect may wear off. Write long, lengthy emails constantly, and you will find people will stop reading them. However if you intersperse conversations with email, choosing the right time to send a written question, delicately deciding who would prefer an email over a phone call, using email for agreement at key stages, I think that you will find email to be your biggest friend as a BA. That’s until you next go on leave…

This article originally appeared on Bridging the Gap on 22 December 2011. Click here to view the original article.