BA: How to Avoid Impostor Syndrome


In parallel with my day job, I teach an online course for business analysts on writing better requirements. Invariably, the most skilled participants of the course are the ones who seem less confident when submitting their assignments. “Please let me know if this is not what you expected”, or “I hope I understood the assignment correctly” are phrases I typically get from these participants, while the weaker BAs typically write “here’s my assignment for Lesson 3”, without any caveats.

This anecdotal experience is not surprising, if you consider the evidence that the impostor syndrome is worst among high performers. But suffering from impostor syndrome is not helpful for business analysts. Confidence (as opposed to overconfidence) is an important success factor for a BA. Regardless of their status as employees, consultants, or contractors, business analysts have clients (even if just internal ones: business and technical stakeholders, delivery team) who they need to be able to influence in order to steer their projects in the right direction. A BA who is constantly “waiting to be found out as a fraud” is unlikely to exude the necessary confidence to have his or her ideas heard.

Ok, but how do you avoid the impostor syndrome? I confess that I very rarely suffer from it, but being close friends with very accomplished people who constantly do, I got curious to understand why these professionals, with successful trajectories similar to mine, often feel like a complete fraud about to be exposed.

I’m convinced that now I know the answer: the difference between these successful professionals and me is that I’ve always used meaningful performance metrics to monitor my performance. This means that over time I was able to accumulate irrefutable evidence about my performance that tells me I’m doing well, and there’s no reason to feel like an impostor. And since most managers aren’t good at providing feedback (both my friends and I would typically get a “you are doing great” comment, without any specifics around what we should be doing more of, and which areas could be improved), my own performance measurement system became a critical tool to give me the answers I needed to continue to improve over time.

With a good set of performance measures in place, you no longer have to wonder how well you are doing, whether your work is of sufficient quality, and so on. And while greater responsibility that comes with career progression can certainly increase our internal doubt and fear of failure, having a measurement system in place can help you understand your strengths and weakness in your new role as well, and allow you to course correct much faster if something isn’t going as well as you expected.

If you tend to question your competence when starting a new job or new project, try this approach to see if it can get rid of the impostor syndrome. The key is to find a small set of meaningful measures that represent good indicators that you are doing your job well and delivering value to your organization. After all, it’s less likely you’ll start doubting your abilities if you’re consistently hitting low numbers in requirements defects found in reviews, and in change requests caused by flawed requirements, while meeting all project deadlines. These are examples of good performance metrics to track, so you can start fixing any performance issues and build the confidence that comes from delivering great results in your business analysis career.

Use performance metrics to focus on the value you bring, not on attaining perfection, and you’ll start to realize that you are worthy of the success you’ve achieved and the accolades you’ve earned.


Author: Adriana Beal has developed a successful career in business analysis and product management, having conducted investigation of business problems, defined winning solutions, and written requirements documents for a large number complex software projects. Her most recent ebook, Tested Stakeholder Interviewing Methods, was designed to help BAs get the critical information they need to specify high-quality solutions. She is also the coach of Crafting Better Requirements, a program that has helped hundreds of business analysts improve their requirements documentation and communication skills, and the author of Measuring the Performance of Business Analysts, an ebook that has been adopted by dozens of BA managers interested in improving the performance measurement systems in their organizations.


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Adriana Beal posted on Saturday, February 23, 2019 3:11 PM
Since a professor said he'd send students here, I thought I'd share some additional examples of performance indicators high performers can use to fight impostor syndrome. If the answer for these or other questions that may be more applicable to your circumstances is "yes", use them as evidence to counter any feelings suggesting that are a fraud and don't know what you're doing:

At work:
- Do people tend to seek out your opinion in topics you didn't necessarily had to be involved in, or ask meeting organizers to include you in meetings where important decisions will be made?
- Do project sponsors and project managers try to recruit you when they need to form a project team?
- Have you had a manager from another department invite you to apply to a job they are trying to fill?
- Have you had a former manager ask if you'd like to join their new company?

In school:
- Do professors jump at the opportunity to write you a glowing recommendation letter, be your mentor, connect you with potential sources of internship?
- Do fellow students ask you to be their study partner?
And so forth.
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