Rucksack Rules: What A High-School Bag Tells Us About BA Identity

Picture of a student wearing a rucksack on one shoulder
Image Credit: © AntonioDiaz — stock.adobe.com #66584536

Although it was more years ago than I like to admit, I can still firmly remember my time at high-school (or ‘senior school’ as we call it here in the UK).  As with most schools, there were cliques and divisions, and it was a time when everyone was finding their identity and trying to prove how ‘cool’ they were.  As is common in the UK, my school had a prescribed uniform, so there were very few ways that identity could be outwardly expressed.  Some people chose to shorten their ties (rebels!), and others covered their exercise books in colourful wallpaper (shocking!).  However, one way identity could definitely be expressed was with the type of bag that you carried.

Of course brands of bags were an issue—certain brands resonated with the sporty kids. Others with those obsessed by fashion.  I got through many bags, but would often have a rucksack.  However, there was always one rule with rucksacks: You absolutely, must never ever ever be seen wearing a rucksack using both straps!  The socially ‘correct’ way to wear it was on one shoulder only.

As I think back to this example, it brings a smile to my face as it just seems so ridiculous, and even more so when I trace back the reason.  As far as I can remember, this started when we saw a group of students from another school, all with rucksacks, and all of whom were wearing rucksacks on both shoulders.  As an immediate way of differentiating ourselves from the ‘outsiders’, the new rule became ‘don’t wear a rucksack on both shoulders!’.    Just pause and think about that for a moment: I actually made myself more uncomfortable, and made myself look objectively more ridiculous just to meet some form of collective identity.  Wow, I’m really glad I grew out of that type of ridiculous behaviour….

… Except, I’m not sure that I have.  I found a picture of myself from my mid-twenties recently, with a backpack on, and guess what—I was wearing it on one shoulder.  This ridiculous, inconsequential experience in high-school followed me around for a decade.   Perhaps moral philosopher and pop-punk lead singer Jaret Reddick was right when he sang “High School Never Ends”.  Yet,  I’m an analyst, I’m logical—why on earth didn’t I question this conditioned and learnt behaviour sooner?

Identity is More Important than We Realise

Organisations and disciplines have their own ‘rucksack rules’ too that create divisions between disciplines or departments, and I suspect we have all internalised some of them.  As business analysts we often like to ensure there is a clear differentiation between what we do and what project managers do. We like to differentiate ourselves from those ‘outside’ of what we do.  And to some extent this is logical, as these are different disciplines with different skills and competencies required.  We might even describe this as ‘friendly rivalry’ that helps ensure there is suitable challenge on projects.

Yet, we have probably all been in situations where the ‘healthy tension’ between project management and business analysis turns a little ugly.  It can end up with situations where blame is thrown between the disciplines, and aspersions are cast on both sides.  PMs blame analysts for “complicating things and taking too long”.  In turn, we blame PMs for “not seeing the bigger picture and focussing on the solution too early”.  In some cases both positions are right, the key is how we work together to maximise the positive outcomes for our stakeholders.  The reality is that an individual only ever sees part of a picture; it is participation and collaboration that helps us piece together the ill-fitting pieces of the puzzle.  Collaboration involves breaking down our barriers, getting out of our comfort zones, and questioning boundaries that we have set ourselves.   This has implications beyond the PM/BA relationship—it is about how we collaborate as a cohesive interdisciplinary team of change practitioners, working together to deliver effective change that enables the best outcomes for our stakeholders and communities.

As we increasingly move towards being T-Shaped professionals, we are able to facilitate the sharing of knowledge and ideas beyond single disciplines, and in doing so we create opportunities to broaden our own knowledge and repertoire of skills.  There is so much to be learned at the edges of business analysis, and this feels like a very exciting time for our profession.  But for us to learn and progress in that direction, we need to question some of our individual, organisational, and professional ‘rucksack rules’.  This might be uncomfortable in the short-term, but it is essential for the long-term.


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About the author:

Adrian Reed

Adrian Reed is Principal Consultant at Blackmetric Business Solutions, an organisation that offers Business Analysis consulting and training solutions. Adrian is a keen advocate of the analysis profession, and is constantly looking for ways of promoting the value that good analysis can bring.

To find out more about the training and consulting services offered at Blackmetric, please visit www.blackmetric.com

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