The Elevator Speech... for the BA

In business, there is this phrase, “the Elevator Speech1.” It refers to a fortuitous meeting with someone of business importance, having the person’s brief attention (30 seconds), and taking the opportunity to influence the person via a profound statement or a quick summary about something important to us. For example, a BA walks into an elevator, is joined by an executive, and suddenly the executive asks the BA, “So, what are you working on these days?” (Sounds like the start of a joke ... ...).

Most business analysts, due to their project success focus, think of requirements management when questioned about their work. So the BA responds by describing the features of a business solution that the BA is currently working. The BA seldom mentions the associated business benefits with the work (i.e. why the work is vital to the business). Unfortunately, the BA ignores the first rule of conversation: know your audience. The executive asking the question is more likely to understand and be interested in the business value provided by the work, rather than the solution features.

Requirements Management Focus2

As stated above, the typical BA response is “I’m working on a project that is providing new and enhanced features to our customers. Today, customers can only obtain information on their accounts by calling our customer service center. We are working on a website that will provide direct customer access to our order database. With this access, customers will be able to directly inquire on the status of their accounts including adding and changing their product orders without calling the customer service center.” The typical executive reply, “Great, keep up the good work.”

As the BA response states, the focus is on requirements – new and/or enhanced features, not the business benefits for which the project was initiated.

Benefit Management Focus3

But suppose the BA responded citing the business values: increased revenue, reduced cost, maintained compliance, or increased employee/customer/constituent satisfaction. Below are four possible BA benefit management responses and take note of the underlined words.

  • “I’m working on a global project that is adding $20M in revenue to the business in the next 3 years. This work is aligned with our strategic plan and confirmed by the stakeholders.”
  • “I’m working on a local project that is saving the business $10M over the next 5 years. This work is aligned with our strategic plan and confirmed by the stakeholders.”
  • “I’m working on a regional project that is ensuring that the business is avoiding $5M in U.S. government fines, possible litigation and even incarceration by being in compliance with new federal/state laws effective next year. This work is aligned with our executive policy to always be in compliance with existing laws.”
  • “I’m working on a state-wide project that is expected to increase constituent satisfaction from a survey rating of 4 to 9 by the end of year. The team is enhancing the usability of our public products and services to be aligned with the stated direction issued by our elected/appointed officials.”

Now the BA is addressing the executive’s interest with an effective “elevator speech.” Note that the first three are private sector examples: two discretionary with the third non-discretionary. The fourth example reflects the public sector. All are in the SMART4 format (underlined words).

  • Specific – what/where: saving, revenue, fines, global, regional, state-wide, local
  • Measured – how much (unit): currency ($), survey rating (1-10)
  • ​Achievable – who: proven technology, saving/revenue confirmed by stakeholders as realistic
  • Relevant – why: contributes to the strategic plan, executive policy, government compliance, industry standard, consent decree, audit
  • Time-bound – when: this year, over 2 years, 3 years, 5 years


BAs need to be more business success focused (i.e., benefits management), rather than just project success focused (i.e., requirements management). Don’t get me wrong – BAs need to be focused on both and collaborate with project managers. But my observation is that most BAs today are solely requirements management focused; I base this on student feedback from teaching many business analysis training courses over 15 years.

  • Note the focus of the BA certification (PMI-PBA®5) promoted by the Project Management Institute (PMI) covers only requirements management while the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) offers a Certified Business Analyst Professional (CBAP®6) which is more comprehensive covering benefit management, requirements management, and more.

The BA focus transition from project success to business success is not difficult. In fact, the alignment shift uses the same requirements management tool – traceability7, but with benefits in mind. In benefits management, BAs uses traceability to link business benefits to the requirements (benefits map) to stay within the SMART objectives of the business case8.

In requirements management, traceability is a mitigation tool for preventing requirements scope creep9. BAs use traceability to link business needs to requirements in order to stay within the time and money of the project scope. With a benefits map, the BA can cite the impact on the business case (cost benefit analysis10) if and when requirements change. And we all know requirements change.

Better Results

Now when the executive asks, “So, what are you working on these days?” the business focused BA responds by citing the business benefits of the work, not the solution requirements. Gaining the executive’s interest, the executive may now invite the BA for an extended conversation in the executive’s office.

Author: Mark Monteleone, CBAP, PMP, CSPO, CBA

Mr. Monteleone holds a B.S. in physics and an M.S. in computing science from Texas A&M University. He is certified as a Project Management Professional (PMP®) by the Project Management Institute (PMI®), a Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP®) by the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA®), a Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) and Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO) by the Scrum Alliance. He holds an Advanced Master's Certificate in Project Management and a Business Analyst Certification (CBA®) from George Washington University School of Business. Mark is also a member of the Association for the Advancement of Cost Engineering (AACE) and the International Association of Facilitators (IAF).

Mark is the President of Monteleone Consulting, LLC and author of the book, The 20 Minute Business Analyst: a collection of short articles, humorous stories, and quick reference cards for the busy analyst. He can be contacted via -


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Garysheth posted on Monday, November 13, 2017 3:07 AM
Thanks for this article, Mark! I really find this helpful and somewhere I know I am being too focused on my project's and my business unit's success, but if it isn't articulated effectively when interacting with senior management, then we're not showing how our work adds business value. Thanks again!
Serj Kornev posted on Thursday, November 16, 2017 1:58 PM
Thanks for the vivid reminder Mark - as BAs, we should always keep the business objectives in mind and be able to present these to executives on short notice.

That said, I would recommend to use just one traceability matrix holding a mapping between different levels of requirements, with business requirements (inc. objectives/problems, benefits and other metrics) being the top level.
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