Ambiguity on projects is inevitable. You’re either dealing with it right now, or you will on an upcoming project. You’re going to run into a situation where no one knows what the next steps are or what things are supposed to do, and your team might look at you and say, “So, what do we do now?”

Change is Inevitable. Growth is Optional.

Many times, the answer to those questions are not readily available, and while these ambiguous situations are sometimes frustrating, sometimes fear-inducing, and sometimes just annoying, keep in mind that more than anything, they are opportunities. And as business analysts, it’s our job to eliminate that ambiguity.

Define your mindset

By definition, ambiguity means that there isn’t a clear direction on how to proceed. But if you change the view point slightly, ambiguity can mean that there is an opportunity to create something new or create an innovative solution that exceeds the customer’s expectations.

Transparency can be your best friend. Let your team know what information you have. This will help to narrow down the scope of what you’re looking into and help the team focus in on what’s actually important.

As a business analyst, these situations provide an opportunity to showcase our real value to our clients and to the teams that we work with on a day-to-day basis.

When starting a new project, generally there are lots of unknowns and unclear situations, especially when navigating the discovery stage of a project. I tend to think about an artist getting ready to create a sculpture, walking up to a large block of granite for the first time. There is an idea in the artist’s head, but it’s unclear to everyone else looking at the rock to know how it’s going to end up.

As the business analyst, our job is to eliminate the ambiguity and unknowns—or to keep chipping away at the block of granite until we have a clear and well-defined sculpture. Rather than a hammer and chisel, we have questions and the process to help us formulate the best path forward for our clients.

Ask simple questions

When we come to a crossroads and no one is sure of what to do next, its best to fall back on the process and simply ask some questions. Start by asking yourself, do I have enough information to move forward to the next phase of our project? Does my teammates have enough information to complete their tasks? If not, what information do they need? What outstanding questions do they still have? Who do we need to talk to in order to answer those questions?

Transparency can be your best friend. Let your team know what information you have. Share your understanding of the current situation with your client. Get confirmation or a list of additional questions from the group, and then share that info to the larger audience. This will help to narrow down the scope of what you’re looking into and help the team focus in on what’s actually important.

Appeal to your audience

From the client’s perspective, it wants a team that will guide where it needs to go. If the client had all the answers, there wouldn’t be much need for a strategic partner. Instead, any solution implementer could get the job done.

It’s not just big ideas that make the project successful—many times it’s a simple answer to a complex question, a clearly defined path forward, or the refinement of that big idea to ensure the solution has a applicable purpose.

Also, in many cases, clients are so focused and busy running their business, they don’t have time or the background to give guidance on what the solution should be or how it should be created. From the team’s perspective, they want a confident teammate who is reliable with answers to their questions, and they want someone that can help navigate the unknowns.

It’s not just big ideas that make the project successful—many times it’s a simple answer to a complex question, a clearly defined path forward, or the refinement of that big idea to ensure the solution has a applicable purpose.

In either scenario, these are great situations to be able to provide value to clients and our teams, and to help drive innovation on the projects. It’s an opportunity to get out of the but-this-is-how-it’s-always-worked mentality, really think through the problem, and figure out why it’s there is the first place.

Is it solving another problem? Is it providing customer value? If the answer is no, then the item in question may not be necessary.

By asking simple questions, we can solve complex problems. More than that, we can take advantage of the experts in every domain and ensure that we’re getting the best answers for the right questions.

Keep your audiences in mind while navigating these situations. Designers are going to have different needs and different questions than engineers, and the information and level of detail we provide to each group should be different. Same goes for our clients. They have different needs than our internal teams and have a different level of understanding of the solution than solution architects might.

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So, next time you find yourself dealing with the unknown, take advantage of the opportunity. Prove the value you bring to the project and look for ways to drive home innovation.

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