My friends and family know me as the IT guy. You know, fix the Computer, get the media server working. But, only a few know what I do. Oddly enough, It is only a part of what I do. In fact, I feel I’m more of a problem solver than just an IT guy. Not that there is anything wrong with that.
So, what do I do exactly? By trade, I’m known as a Business Analyst.
What is it?
When I tell people what I do, 90% of them ask “so, what is a Business Analyst?”. I can’t blame them really, as the role of Business Analyst has only been around for the last decade (or thereabouts).
To quote the International Institute of Business Analysts (IIBA):
Business Analysis is the practice of enabling change in an organizational context, by defining needs and recommending solutions that deliver value to stakeholders.
So, in English, what does that mean?
The Business Analyst plays a role as facilitator (read: translator), between the business and technical worlds, to help determine a way forward.
To do this, they:
- Need to understand what does everything do, and why do we need it;
- Highlight pain and areas to improve;
- Work with the right people (architects, developers, subject matter expert determine how might the problem can be solved.
Here’s the real catch – the answer doesn’t always have to involve a technical solution. Often, the most effective change can be a simple process change.
So, why have this role? Can’t the technical people, or even the Project Manager, handle the client facing work?
In the past, developers haven’t been known for their people skills. This partially gave birth of the Business Analyst role. Today, developers are fairly good communicators, so it’s less of a problem. But, like the developers themselves, the Business Analyst brings a set of unique skills to the table. This includes:
Focus. Everyone has a role to perform on a project. There is little value in overloading work on a few resources; it will only end badly. The engagement and analysis tasks often require dedicated resources, as there is invariably a lot to do to satisfy the customer.
Technical skills. Would you ask a Lawyer to bake you a cake for a living? No, because they don’t possess the right skills. Likewise, you don’t ask a developer to elicit requirements, or draw an end-to-end process model. Nor would you expect to either.
Engagement. Any IT change requires constant engagement, between the Business and IT, to ensure that everyone on the same page. The Business Analyst can maintain the conversations that ensure everyone is in sync.
The tough questions. Any Business Analyst worth their weight in salt will always challenge, in order to ensure the customer is happy with the outcome. This means they must ask the tough questions, constantly and consistently. Do you want this? Is this the right way? Why is this so? Is there a better way?
What does good Business Analysis look like?
For me, a good BA can do these things.
Communication Skills. I cannot stress enough the importance of good communication skills. It must combine both listening, speaking and comprehension. Show confidence and understanding, but use wisely. Sometimes, more is less.
Business Acumen. Not only do you need to understand the business you work in but have the skills to quickly learn the business you work in. Work with the experts to understand what you’re working on, but don’t try to be the expert. Remember, build relationships that sustain beyond the assignment.
Agility. This s not just focused on the semi-default means to deliver IT initiatives; this is more the adjective of being agile. Expect things to change, and often. Be on top of that change, or face peril.
The ‘Doer’. This is nothing more frustrating than people waiting for something to happen. More often than not, people who wait for action will miss
Combine these with technical skills, and you have yourself a good BA.
What doesn’t it look it?
I’ve talked a lot about what a good Business Analyst look like, so it;s only fair that you know what one doesn’t look like. If you see the following traits in a Business Analyst, they’re doing it wrong.
Poor communicator. Actually, I don’t know of many roles in Business where you would survive, without communication skills.
Challenging the norm. One of my favourite questions in interviews is “Why?”. I don;t think this question can be asked enough. A good business analyst challenges the norm, and will find a way to do things better. It requires some bravery, however success will soon follow.
My way. There is nothing worse that someone telling you that they know best.
Focus on technology – you might be good at problem solving, but if you can’t think outside of the tech, then Business Analysis is nor for you.
Poor delivery. if you over commit and under deliver, or deliver the wrong thing, you will quickly lose your customer. Commit to what you can achieve, then wow your customer when yu exceed their expectations.
Thoughts for the future?
One thing is certain – there will always be a need to engage with the customer, understand what they need, and help determine a way forward to success. Whatever this role may be called in the future, the role is endearing across the ages.