Planning your BA Succession

This post originally appeared on on January 19, 2010.

If you’ve ever been a manager or above in a corporation, you’ve probably been exposed to the concept of Succession Planning. The basic idea is that all managers should have some idea of who is willing and able to step into your shoes once you are promoted into a new position or change your career focus. Its the job of the manager to groom and train a junior team member to be the manager’s backup as a way to let that junior team member see if they are ready and willing to take on more responsibility.

Even though I’m still fairly new to management, this concept is something that made a lot of sense to me when I was only a BA. It is something that I think is often overlooked within our profession as BAs do not generally manage people, projects or teams. However, we do manage requirements, which like people, projects and teams, generally do not go away just because we move on in our careers. Succession planning is just as important for BAs as it is for managers.

Setting everyone up for success

I remember when I was leaving my first BA job and the planning that I did to get my replacement ready to take over once I had left. About six months before I submitted my letter of resignation, I had spoken with my director and explained I was ready for a new challenge. I had been on the same project for four years, had learned just about every area of business in that division. I had no challenges left before me, and the new system that would serve the two business areas that I was there to represent had already been implemented and was good to go.

My frustration was that no one took seriously the thought I would leave. Management did not plan for my departure, even though I had told them I wanted out. They were unable to believe I would actually leave because I had been with the company for seven years and there were very few jobs in the local area that could pay me as well, had comparable benefits and gave me any opportunity for growth. The problem was, that last benefit, the one for growth, was only slightly more than nothing at that company. The company itself was stagnating, people were being let go all over the organization and the project had at least 2 more years left before it was complete. My internal options were few, and my management knew it.

So, it was time to go. I spent six months deciding what I wanted to do and thinking about how I would go about leaving. I worked the network of BAs and consultant friends I had met over the prior four years and found an opportunity that I just couldn’t pass up. But now came the hard part, actually pulling the trigger on leaving.

It turned out to not be that hard at all. A quick letter, a few visits to various managers and directors and I was done. I served two and a half weeks notice, wrapped up my remaining action items, turned over my keys and walked out the door… well, it wasn’t quite that easy. Thankfully I had thought ahead and had most everything ready to go before I ever turned in that resignation letter.

The show must go on

First, I did a few things to cover the company. Understand that while I felt the company had let me down in not planning for my succession, I had invested so much of my life in seeing that project succeed, that I couldn’t just walk away. It was my first project as a BA and under no circumstances could I allow my departure to cause the project to falter. Someone had to step up and do the work I had been performing for the prior few years.

Thankfully, my successor was someone who at that point had been working with me for two and a half years. During that time I spent numerous hours, explaining why the system worked the way it did, what each of the business areas around the globe believed was important and making sure he knew the key players for the project. He was my shadow at times, following me for his first year, then owning his own piece of the project pie, with me as his team lead.

The next thing I did was to ensure that all of my open tasks were either complete or in a state that could be assigned out to someone else to complete. I spent weeks getting ahead of the project plan so that there would be plenty of slack in the plan to absorb my replacement’s learning curve. I created pages and pages of documentation, covering all aspects of the requirements and system, categorized and searchable, so my knowledge did not just walk out the door with me.

Lastly, I left on good terms. While I was frustrated, I did not allow that frustration to disrupt the relationships and friendships I had built. I made sure that my replacement, but not his boss, understood that contacting me after I had left the company was not a problem. Over the next couple of years, I did field questions about why specific decisions had been made and suggestions on what I might do were I still with the company. Not only did this help meet my goal of ensuring the project did not falter, it also kept me in the loop about the status of the project and the friends I made at the company.

Last call

But succession planning isn’t just about the company, its about the BA as well. It doesn’t have to be about leaving the company, it can mean moving to another division. Its about making sure the BA gets just as much out of the transition as does the company.

The first suggestion for personally getting as much as you can out of the transition is to back up your work prior to submitting your resignation. Some companies reject the idea of allowing a team member to stay during a time of transition and request you leave immediately. If you haven’t backed up your work onto a device you own, you have no record of your work while you were at the company.

This is a tricky proposition, though. The documentation you created is likely proprietary to your company. They own it. However, you created it; it is your work. Selling that work to another company, giving it away freely online or at worst, providing it to a direct competitor is wrong. Using that same information for a portfolio of work is usually acceptable. If you are concerned about your employer’s policy on this matter, make sure you consult your HR and/or Security team for a clear statement of policy.

One of the great, and bad, things about leaving a company is not seeing the same people every day. Its bad if you really liked working with them, but it is great as well because they can be an amazing wealth of quality feedback as you begin a new phase of your career. People are often more willing to give you honest feedback if they know that they won’t have to look at you every day after they let you know what they think of your work. Make sure you ask a wide range of people, those you worked closely with and those you only worked with on occasion, those you get along with well and those you do not and those who were your customers or your teammates. Feedback that only comes from a single source or very similar people may not give you a full picture of your strengths and weaknesses.

The last suggestion I have is to spend time with your mentors, especially those who have transitioned a few times themselves. When I left that first BA job, I made sure to schedule 2 meetings with my mentor in my last weeks at the company. I knew that my mentor had been with several companies over his career and I knew that his advice on not only making a transition but on work in general was sound. To this day I think about that final discussion and treasure the advice he gave me.

So what about you? Have you scoped out the person in the organization you want to replace you when you move to a different position? Who do you want to replace when they move on? What steps have you taken to ensure that the transition is planned and on schedule?