Critical thinking: A key part of a Business Analyst's tool kit

New Thinking 26 May 2016 Eleanor Erakovic

Critical thinking is the process of objectively analysing any given situation by gathering all relevant information, then evaluating  the tangible and intangible aspects, as well as the implications of any course of action, in order to form a professional assessment.

Why is critical thinking so hard? We have the information we need to make the evaluation, understand the implications of any potential actions and made a fair and reasonable assessment. So what goes wrong? Probably a lack of critical thinking or an emotional connection or attachments to an idea or thing.

However, before starting the process of applying critical thinking to our business analysis tool kit, the most substantial and essential piece of work must be done – self-analysis. This is important because, as individuals, we will create a reaction when mixed in with other people, potentially like the reaction of dry ice in water. Here are the areas a BA needs to investigate, analyse and understand:

  • How people perceive us
  • How we change the dynamics of a group in different situations
  • Do we have an emotional interest in any given situation? If so, what is it?
  • Are we here for our own gain? If so, does that conflict with the impetus of the situation?
  • Can we work with those we don't trust, respect, like or those we love or adore effectively?
  • What are the buttons that push us to react unreasonably and how can they be managed?

Once we've analysed ourselves, we need to work on achievable objectives to apply to our personal/professional environment to ensure we can:

  • Remove ourselves emotionally from any situation
  • Always stay calm and impartial
  • Have no preconceived ideas
  • Be supportive and open, regardless of how we're feeling
  • Be above reproach
  • Be firm, but fair
  • Don't get caught up in politics or group dynamics
  • Stay objective and rational, making clear assessments and judgements 

Once we've mastered ourselves, we're ready to apply our new skills to change the dynamics/outcome/environment just by being there. To do this, there are some tips and tricks we employ to be effective:

  • Practise using a structured thinking process
  • Recognise assumptions and get them out in the open
  • Analyse why we're being consulted, who has made the request and why
  • Note any political motivations behind actions and decisions
  • Understand if emotions/personal dynamics within the group already exist
  • Quickly put ourselves in each person’s shoes to fully understand their perspective and help anticipate their motivations and reactions
  • Think on our feet and anticipate all possible outcomes and repercussions
  • Keep a check sheet of who made a decision, what it is and why they made it... ensuring it is evidence based
  • Evaluate all arguments, weigh up the pros and cons of each outcome
  • Take the position of translator or negotiator if required
  • Gently take leadership of the group if it becomes dysfunctional or stagnant

As Business Analysts, it is generally not our place to judge, but to offer guidance and an impartial assessment on any given direction or action. If our advice isn't accepted, it's our professional obligation to support the given direction or action, ensuring the decision makers are aware of all potentials – both negative and positive.

Critical thinking is difficult, primarily due to the level of self-awareness required, the skills and experience needed in a wide variety of situations and, finally, the ability to think quickly and effectively.

Every situation will involve one or more intelligent, experienced, emotional and self-gratifying individuals who will generally have little self-awareness. It's very difficult to remove emotions entirely from a situation as others are involved and their emotions will need to be taken into consideration. Therefore, thinking must be critical, not clinical.

Individuals who are able to apply critical thinking are usually highly valued and appreciated in a business environment... and a rare commodity as a Business Analyst.

Our Business Value Analysis course teaches various new skills and helps you become better at critical thinking.