Why everyone should have a mentor

I’ve written the following article for BA Connections, the IIBA newsletter. It’s coming out in June but I wanted to give you a sneak preview:

In this article, I’d like to explain why I think mentoring can be so valuable in helping you through the professional development minefield. I will share a story to illustrate how a mentor could help you both avoid mistakes and accelerate the development of the most relevant skills.

How workshop time wasters kill your credibility

My story is about a business analyst who had sole responsibility for running a series of workshops for the first time.

He’d done all the preparation he could:

  • he had completed the process models he wanted to review
  • the room was booked
  • the participants had confirmed their attendance along with a few who had been forwarded the invite
  • he had the whiteboard, projector, flipcharts and pens


He ran the workshop and felt that it was acceptable but there was definitely room for improvement.


There seemed to be a lot of people in the room with opinions about what was wrong or what needed to be considered.

However, when he asked for a definitive answer to a question there was silence. Or someone would refer to another person who needed to be consulted who wan’t at the workshop.

Some of the attendees liked to talk at length about the issues but didn’t have any useful input on how to resolve them.

He came away with a lot of issues that needed to be resolved. He had to speak to a lot of people and set up smaller meetings to resolve the issues that had been raised.

Often he would have to return with decisions that were proposed and agree it in the workshop environment.


So what had he done wrong? How could he could improve his results in the workshop?

Many of you will have some ideas about what could have been done differently.

Perhaps he should have reviewed the list of participants to make sure all required subject matter experts were required.

Maybe he wasn’t controlling the attendees. No-one should be allowed to attend who doesn’t have a clear role in the workshop – don’t allow any passengers!


If he had access to an business analyst experienced in running workshops, a discussion of only a few minutes could have saved him hours of followup meetings.

More importantly, he would have started the workshop with confidence, managed it effectively and would have earned the respect of the attendees.


If you haven’t guessed already – that business analyst was me!

It was ten years ago and I like to think I run better workshops these days(!) but I still benefit from experienced guidance now as much as I would have done then.


Your mentor will provide personalised, expert guidance and support

I firmly believe that access to a mentor can transform your professional development. You can benefit from a quick consultation on a challenge like the story described above. The biggest benefits, however, come from building a longer term relationship with a mentor.

The mentor who knows the context (e.g. the project, the company) and has a strong relationship with their mentee can ask just the right questions. He/she will know when to help their mentee find their own answer and when to make suggestions based on their experience.

One of the biggest benefits of a mentor is their flexibility. You can ask your mentor to provide guidance on your business analysis plan; give you feedback on a deliverable or advise you on what book you should read to understand a new technique.

Training courses are written to deliver a specific skill. Usually there will be a case study but it is unlikely to be related to your industry and certainly won’t recognize the challenges you face in your organisation. Sometimes they can be customised to suit a particular organisation but that adds to the expense.

Don’t misunderstand me, I believe training is important and is most cost effective at delivering new skills rapidly to a group.

Your mentor, on the other hand, will understand your specifc situation and can adapt their guidance to suit your needs.


Where next?

There are several places you can locate a mentor. You should start by looking at any schemes run by your organisation.

If your organisation doesn’t run a scheme you could consider starting one.

An alternative is to enourage your local Chapter of the IIBA to set up a mentoring scheme. It is a big task to set up a proper mentoring scheme so a simple alternative would be to ask the Chapter simply to provide a forum for mentors and mentees to meet.

I am providing a paid professional development mentoring service. If you would like to learn more, please download this PDF or read how I have helped my mentees and meet my hand-picked mentors in this article – Accelerate past your professional development obstacles.


In this article, I provided a brief story taken from my own experience of what can go wrong when you are lacking experience. I explained how a mentor provides personalized, timely, expert guidance and how this can be benefit you. I explained how only mentoring can deliver a truly personalized approach. Training is effective at rapid delivery of a one size fits all approach to a group.

You may have an alternative view on mentoring or have a mentoring story you’d like to share. If so, please share it below by adding a comment.

About Alex Papworth

3 Responses to “Why everyone should have a mentor”

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  1. Faye says:

    Thanks Alex, your website was very helpful and encouraging. After a particularly frustrating day as a BA trying to explain what a BA does and how their project could benefit from letting me in, I needed some positive words. Thanks.

    • Alex Papworth says:

      Hi Faye
      I’m glad this article was a boost for you. Keep plugging away and don’t forget to see things from your customer’s perspective.

      What are the problems that they have (and perhaps continue to suffer from) where you can help?

      Don’t try to sell them ‘you need a business analyst’ but ‘You’ve got problem X and I can solve this for you by doing Y’. Now, that WILL get their attention!


  1. Stephen E Smith Lawsuit…

    Why everyone should have a business analyst mentor | businessanalystmentor.com…

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