BA Personas – Consumer, Detective or the swindler

Recently I’ve been thinking about Business Analyst personas and their portraits. Right now I am seeing three major categories that I am calling after fictional characters I’ve either read about or have seen in the movies. Of course there are more but these are the ones that nearly jump to my head.

These personas are Johnny Mnemonic, Sherlock Holmes and Moist von Lipwig or Consumer, Detective and the Swindler

Johnny Mnemonic

Johnny mnemonic short story.jpg

In my previous project I’ve mostly tried being Mr. Mnemonic who is a data courier from the future with HDD in his head working as a mule of information. The guy literally dumps everything into his head only to forget about that once the project ends. He has to sacrifice part of his memories to remember what’s needed and stay with that information overdose until its over. Such a BA is trying to read as much as possible about a project/problem, dumping all sorts of data into head without spending enough time to process it. Being Mnemonic is like trying to swallow a Big Mac in one go. It may be possible but you won’t feel well afterwards.

The more I think about this, the less I find this approach working in real life. First of all, concepts from how many domains can a head reasonably hold? I find it difficult to believe it’s possible to keep up with knowledge from more than 3 domains at the same time because a) at some point the knowledge becomes obsolete and is no longer useful unless some maintenance work is done b) its tough and not always useful to be a repository of masses of data because that data needs to be processed and processing takes time c) the devil is in details so dumping a lot of data helps understanding the concepts but it is not possible to become an expert in a short period of time (a few weeks or a month) so that won’t allow to replace a SME on a project d) memorizing way too many things means not being able to do something else and spending time more fruitfully.

To me it makes sense to dive deep down into a certain domain on a long-lasting project or when there is interest in a particular business domain. In the reality I currently face, it is frequent that BAs either spend years on certain projects/accounts becoming SMEs in the industry and customer organization knowledge holders or on the contrary jump between projects of different sizes in different domains. Going deep does not make sense on a 4-6 months project because doing so every time will be too expensive and still does not guarantee quality BA work. I want to avoid being Mr. Mnemonic in the future on the projects I start. What is peculiar however is the root cause of willingness to become Johnny Mnemonic type of character. One of the reasons I see is the fear in not being able to speak the same language as the business guys or technical guys…project stakeholders whatever and lack of domain modeling skills. Another possible reason of why this is happening is the lack of ability to organize communication and build it so that knowledge is owned not just by one person/one BA but a growing part of the team. Finally, a symptom of Mnemonic may signal issues with systems thinking and ability to cut and slice domain into processable chunks

Sherlock Holmes

Well I can’t boast sharing the traits of this persona but the way I see it is an investigator going the other extreme. Instead of dumping as much knowledge is possible, the person spent some time on developing deductive reasoning and invested into learning very specific details to support deductive reasoning. Another important trait is the skill of observation. This is a true skill of Sherlock Holmes type of persona and it provides ability to see specifics that can support or help to determine a hypothesis. Plainly put, this is an extremely meticulous person with impeccable planning skills and a gift for observation. Sadly enough, this is not me. This character is also stifled by boring and routine tasks that may undermine the ability to solve problems.

Moist von Lipwig

Moist von Lipwig on the cover of Making Money.

For those who have not read Terry Pratchett’s “Going postal” or “Making Money”, Moist von Lipwig is a brilliant swindler, playing on fears and greed of the crowd. At some point, he is faced with dilemma of taking a governmental job or losing life. He chooses to live and becomes a very creative and remarkable manager of the postal office and then of a state bank applying all of his conman skills for the public good.

Of all the characters, this one is my favorite and the one I’d like to become one day. Not in the sense of cheating people but being able to combine the needed skills of the two characters above with creativity, empathy and humor.

A swindler or a conman at least one like Ponzi, Mavrodi, Frank Abagnale from Catch me if you can is skilled in dissecting the system and seeing its weak points. This means both observation skills and ability to be an agent of change. Through the con actions, the person challenges the system and makes it strive to adapt to the new challenges. Better security systems come up as a result of successful robberies or fear of such, fraud exists because of imperfect systems and business processes and it helps to detect such imperfections. At the same time, putting a crook at the top of the pyramid can mean one of the few options – either a very bad system with things like nepotism or a very well designed system exactly because it is designed with vile nature of humankind in mind.

A good conman needs to be empathic to understand how to approach a potential victim. A good conman also needs to be quick and witty. A good conman is also lazy and will carefully consider the pros and cons of doing something as time consuming as completely mastering a new domain. A good conman will have his favorite techniques ready at his fingertips. A good conman can be a dreamer and lead others. Sometimes this dream can be a mirage but of a really big scale.

On the contrary, a good conman needs control at least in certain points and this control should be rather strict. Also it requires having someone with an even greater con-artistry talen standing above him.

Another possible challenge with Moist is accountability in the sense that Moist-type of BA will try to avoid situations where he is accountable of something as much as possible. He will accept the responsibility only when properly motivated or controlled (where his head is at stake) and in all other situations will build the system in such a way he gets the most with minimum effort. This can be a particularly good skill when it comes down to things like MVP development to define the minimum amout of work to be done for things to work.

Alright, this is the end of this post which is rather a “speaking out loud” type of thing. Would be interest to hear of other BA profiles / personas from whoever is not bored to look through this. Next thing that would be interesting to do is try to map the profiles to popular types of projects.


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