Leonardo da Vinci has been described as the archetypical renaissance man. He was a man of unquenchable curiosity, unmatched imagination, and is arguably the most diversely talented person who has ever lived. Certainly known for his painting skills (The Mona Lisa, The Last Supper), his appetite for knowledge did not stop there. He branched out into other professions as well: sculptor, mathematician, inventor, writer, engineer, musician, and cartographer to name just a few. I would add to that distinguished list the role of business analyst. I believe there are a few lessons we can learn from Leonardo both in his approach to life and work.
The most obvious connection of Leonardo and business analysis is his documentation. It has been found that he did over 100,000 drawings and 6,000 pages of notes. He was thorough, detailed, and he used a combination of approaches; text, models, diagrams, sequences, stories, prototypes, all things that we do today. Now many might argue that Leo (it is what his good friends call him you know) was a scientist and of course, scientists do these things as well (they wear the hat of business analysis). However, scientist Frtijof Capra did an exhaustive study on Leo’s life and found that what differentiated him from other scientists like Galileo, Newton, and the like was that he integrated the arts – painting, soft skills, humanism. Fritijof stated that Leonardo was a systemic thinker, ecologist, and complexity theorist; a man with a strong desire to work for the benefit of humanity. So what can we, as business analysts, learn from Leo in our work today? Here are four points that I think we should all consider for our futures in business analysis. Leo practiced them and so can we.
1. Systems Thinking. Looking at the dynamic complex whole of your organization. We need to stop looking at work life and our applications as separate, disparate things but rather they are fully integrated ecosystems that can become healthy or unhealthy when the developed requirements impact them. No more should we think about the change we are making to a module or an application without thinking through the impact to the ecosystem (the other modules, applications, people, structures, processes). And this will not be easy to do. Yes, the analysis is something you can easily do, but getting others on board to do the right thing when all they want is what they want for their little piece of the puzzle. You can be a systems thinker but not everyone else will be. They will focus on their piece of the pie. Which is why you need to be a complexity theorist.
2. Complexity theorist. As a complexity theorist you will think about the impacts of your project on the organization, how they will adapt to the changes being made, and how they will cope with uncertainty. Clearly systems thinking will help you take steps down this path – in a good way. We, as business analysts, should not resolve ourselves to statements like “it is a government mandate so you have to do it” or “it is what your requirements stated.” We have to manage behaviors and not just content. The interactions between people and systems can be explosive so you must consider the behaviors in advance, set rules, expectations, and guide people where you need them to go. Being a business analyst is not just eliciting requirements, documenting them, and handing them off to a developer. You must be an influencer, a leader! We must put ourselves out there as leaders to help both our organization and its people to achieve their goals. It requires that you do so with humanism.
3. Humanism. I could probably just stop at the word ‘ethics’, however I will expand the frame of reference that we need to care. We must respond to both individuals and groups equally, fairly, and care for the agency of human beings regardless of age, religion, sex, race, orientation, or status. Now because we care, it does not mean that we can be stagnant in our approach to business analysis. We must push forward with new ideas that will benefit future generations of humanity. We must make progress.
4. Progress. Leo was a visionary. He pushed the envelope. Progress could be described as the pursuit of overreaching. Leo constantly was overreaching and he thought of helicopters, parachutes, ball bearings, machine guns, diving suits, tanks, and even robots long before they would become a reality. Why was he intent on progress? Because he cared about the future of humanity and his pursuit of knowledge and progress was his contribution to that effort.
Business analysis, like our organizations, is ever changing. What can you do to push the envelope? How can you sculpt, paint, invent, engineer, and write the future of business analysis in your organization? How can you be the Leonardo da Vinci of business analysis at your company?