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I was a software developer for twenty years before moving into management. For most of my programming career I did not work with Business Analysts (BAs); in fact the very concept of the position seemed odd, as properly understanding the intended purpose of the software I was writing just seemed to be part of my own responsibility as software developer. Indeed, the first two BAs I worked with did little to convince me otherwise.

After moving onto the management career path, I very briefly (for about four months) worked with a BA who was quite superb at translating business needs into something that gave the development team instant understanding of what they needed to do; so I at least now understand the value a BA can provide. But I didn't work with him for long enough to work out why and how what he did was so effective.

I currently manage a team of developers. As a software manager I am comfortable with providing guidance, feedback, and coaching to software developers and testers, as I either worked in those roles myself, or very closely with others in those roles, so I understand what is required and how to get the most of people in those positions.

We have a BA who we work with daily, but who is technically part of a separate team and reports to another manager. I do not feel that this BA delivers any meaningful value at all, he just attends meetings and writes Word documents which do not improve the developers' understanding of what they need to do; they still have to go and work all that out themselves anyway. I have fed this back to his current manager but never received any response, and I don't know what that manager did with the information I provided.

I expect an upcoming reorganisation to put this BA into my team so that he reports directly to me. On the plus side, this makes sense as he works so closely with my team anyway, and gives me the opportunity to coach him to improve. Unfortunately, I do not feel that I understand the BA role well enough to effectively coach him on how to do it better: I only know that what he is doing now is basically worthless. I want to say "be more like that other BA I once worked with!" but that is not very helpful guidance...

  • How do I effectively coach someone to improve, when I do not myself have a strong understanding of the role I am coaching?

Note: I have been talking about BAs and software development above, but I expect the question applies equally to any other position, career, skillset, and industry.

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  • good question... i got 2 years of Software development experience with 2 college degrees in it and now they expect me to manage 17 interns from 3 different IT backgrounds 2 i don't know anything about :|
    – A.bakker
    Dec 16 '20 at 9:03
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There are a few steps you can take when this person becomes part of your team.

  1. Tell them what you expect in terms of output from a BA, based on what the BA you liked did. Discuss where the gaps are between what he is delivering and what you expect. Set up goals for them to bridge (some of) those gaps and ask them to come up with a proposal on how to reach those goals.
  2. Figure out the training budget for this person and figure out which trainings they can/should follow to improve on those gaps.
  3. Reach out to the BA you liked and ask them if they can help you out, either by giving you guidelines on what to focus on, by telling you which trainings are useful or by asking him if he can chat with the new BA in your team for a while. Ask for resources where you can learn more about the role and study.
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I very briefly (for about four months) worked with a BA who was quite superb at translating business needs into something that gave the development team instant understanding of what they needed to do; so I at least now understand the value a BA can provide.

How do I effectively coach someone to improve, when I do not myself have a strong understanding of the role I am coaching?

Clearly, you need to educate yourself. And the "how" depends on your style of learning, and your personal abilities.

One way would be to talk with someone having the right expertise. That might be the BA you worked with, whose work you admire.

Another way would be to find a mentor within your company. That might be your boss, or perhaps another manager.

You might do some reading or take some BA-related courses yourself, as a way to improve your own BA skills and be able to better understand how to coach one.

Remember that in general, you don't need to be an individual with specific role expertise to manage someone in that role. You need to have a general understanding of what could make your team more effective, and use that understanding to guide the individuals toward that effectiveness.

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