The Way of the BA: Dismantling the Ideal of the Perfectionist

“Embrace being perfectly imperfect. Learn from your mistakes and forgive yourself, you’ll be happier.” – Roy Bennett

The path towards business analysis mastery is a long and complicated one, and is often beset with many pitfalls. One of the most important lessons any business analyst can learn is that there is no such thing as perfect.

Perfect (adj.);
excellent or complete beyond practical or theoretical improvement.

The work we do as business analysts is, by its very nature, antithetical to the idea of perfection. We consistently search for areas to improve and refine processes, techniques, practices and tools. We repeatedly challenge clients to transform and develop from their present position because we understand that for an organisation to remain as they are leads to their stagnation and decay. We are agents of, and ambassadors for, change.

The Way of the BA is one of maintaining a balance between driving change and consistency in approach. We set baselines in place for the practice of business analysis. We use standardised approaches to analysis and design, and rely on established methods and tools to accomplish our objectives. Yet there is a tension between the need for consistency and the willingness to explore new ways of working. The best BAs and clients recognise this and manage their approach to embrace both sides. However, this desire for self-improvement stands in contrast to a desire for perfectionism in oneself. The two are not necessarily the same, nor should one be used to justify the other.

There is a tendency for some colleagues to focus too much on the refining of our output for clients and customers. Furthermore, there are some client organisations for whom it seems nothing is ever quite right. At no point is anything ever good enough, and there is a constant desire to chisel and chip away at designs and documentation for the smallest incremental improvement. Version numbers of documents steadily tick upwards and drafts are in a seemingly constant iterative cycle of change-release-change-release with seemingly no end in sight.

This is frustrating for both the business analyst as they pursue an unobtainable end state, as well as for the client, who sees time and effort being wasted while little actual end product is delivered. Furthermore, the perfectionist is often hyper-critical of the work of others; they see artefacts and documents which fail to reach their unrealistically high expectations as substandard.

It is the height of hubris to think that any human can achieve or attain perfection; to do so implies that there is no scope or aspect for development in themselves or their accomplishments. If one cannot find a single iota of imperfection in themselves, they are either God or dead. If an organisation believes that they do not have any aspect of how it operates which can be improved, every BA – and by extension, every change management professional – has become irrelevant. Perfectionism has its roots in some deeply damaging views and behaviours.

Brené Brown writes,

“Perfectionism is a self destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.”

Michael Law says the following in respect of perfectionism,

“At its root, perfectionism isn’t really about a deep love of being meticulous. It’s about fear. Fear of making a mistake. Fear of disappointing others. Fear of failure. Fear of success.”

Perfectionism is the enemy of progress – the need to eliminate any and all flaws can often come at the cost of seeing new opportunities for growth and development. Perfectionism leaves no room to fail, and therefore no room to change and grow. There is a peace that can be found in failing, and knowing that you have the chance to do it better the next time around. Aiming for perfection can lead to paralysis in achieving anything, as fear of failure hinders one from doing anything at all.

Humanity, in all its aspects, can only advance through change. Change is fluid and constant in its shifting and expanding nature. Change can only be accepted if we recognise that being better is something that we can and should be aspiring to and inspired to achieve. This is in contrast to perfectionism, which aims to find its end state in a fixed idea that can never be accomplished.

We will do well to understand that true balance is not found in perfectionism, but by choosing to embrace change – that is the Way of the BA.

– André

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