BA’s need to learn question tennis before they end up as dead as Rosencrantz and Gildernstern

One of my favourite plays is “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead”. It is the story of two confused people who are friends (?) with Hamlet (and minor characters his story).

Question tennis

One of the best scenes in the play is when the two characters play a game of “question tennis”. It is worth watching this short video if you haven’t seen it.

The idea of the game is to keep asking questions so the conversation is always in the other player’s court. So each player must answer every question with a question. If they mistakenly answer with any other response then the other player wins the point.

But how does this relate to being a BA? Well, this is where I think a lot of BA’s run into trouble.

Questions in stasis stay in stasis

It is very common for a BA to ask a stakeholder a question the stakeholder does not know the answer to.  Then the stakeholder leaves the question for the BA to answer, but the BA does not know the answer so he or she parks it to be answered later.

But of course the question will not get answered since nobody is attempting to answer it. So the BA needs to learn to hit the question back to either the original stakeholder or someone else.

So when the BA hits a dead end then he or she should respond with “who can help with this?” then they should formulate and pass on the questions they have as soon as possible. Otherwise the issue seems accumulate more related questions until the BA ends up in a state of temporal stasis (ie they are frozen in time).

Questions with inconvenient repercussions lead to infinite delays

Many questions result in people finding out that they will have to make a trade-off between to related desires. But humans hate making trade-offs to they will subconsciously answer inconvenient questions with vague responses, general discussion points or responding questions.

Unfortunately, since the original question started to unearth some things people want to avoid, the vague responses will sit with the BA until the issue becomes urgent and then everyone will wonder why the BA is not doing anything, while to BA will think that he or she is waiting for more concrete information from somebody (or several people).

Once again the best thing the BA can do is hit the question back quickly. In this case the best solution is probably to ask very concrete and specific questions that will allow very little wriggle room.

The stakeholders will often respond vaguely two or three times in a row but persistent, concrete questions will eventually lead to the right outcome.

Interesting points

Often when a question is asked, a stakeholder will respond with “That raises an interesting point” or “I guess the real question is …”

Of course in both cases the response is not really a response to the questions but rather a potentially new question. So the best thing the BA can do is to immediately ask a question back, either to come back to the original issue or to explore the point just raised. Failure to do so will leave the ball sitting in the BA’s court.

In all cases

In all these cases and many more you might be able to think of, the best thing the BA can do is to ask clear questions of specific people as soon as possible when a question bounces back on them.  They may need to hit the question back several times, or even redirect it several times, but failure to come back with a questions means the BA will start to come under pressure to find the answers what people assume are outstanding questions.


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