What does a Business Analyst do?
Table of contents
- Definition of the term Business Analyst
- The real world practical interpretation of the role of the Business Analyst
- Daily tasks a Business Analyst performs
- Two challenges a Business Analyst commonly face at work
- Can anyone be a Business Analyst?
- Business Analyst certifications
- Where do Business Analysts work?
- Where does the Business Analyst fit in the organisation?
- Four (4) career path options for the Business Analyst role.
- Four (4) common software types a Business Analyst uses
The Business Analyst job function is becoming more common and wide spread within the workplace. Business Analysis as a professional skillset is also more popular. But what is it exactly? During this article I will describe the role of the Business Analyst from a variety of different perspectives. I provide you with insights into what a Business Analyst actually does day to day. I discuss what it is like to be a Business Analyst and what it takes to become a Business Analyst. But let’s start with the basic definition of the term.
Let’s see how Wikipedia defines the term Business Analyst:
someone who analyzes an organization or business domain (real or hypothetical) and documents its business or processes or systems, assessing the business model or its integration with technology.
The International Institute of Business Analysis defines the term Business Analysis as:
the practice of enabling change in an enterprise by defining needs and recommending solutions that deliver value to the stakeholders.
These definitions gives a conceptual (albeit slightly) academic definition of Business Analysis. I will aim to describe what a Business analyst does in more practical, real world terms in this article.
If we take a more practical view of the role of the Business Analyst, lets consider this metaphor:
You can compare what the business analyst does to what a police officer investigating a crime does. Let’s say a crime is committed in a small town. There are a number of witnesses that comes forward to tell police what they believe they saw happened. Each witness gives their view of the crime and what happened. The police officer documents, interprets and pieces together the information from each witness. Once all the witnesses gave their views, the police officer analyses the information. The police officer prepares a brief of the evidence and tries to solve the crime. The police also works with other experts to do this and prepare a case for a particular outcome. A potential outcome: A criminal is charged and the case is solved!
So how does that relate to the role of the Business Analyst?
Typically a BA becomes aware of a potential business problem / need (the crime) identified by business stakeholders (witnesses). The Business Analyst’s role (similar to the police officer) is to elicit all the relevant information from the stakeholders. The BA then collates, analyses and formulates a set of requirements reflecting the details of the business needs.
In the project world, we refer to business needs as ‘requirements’. The Business Analyst then works closely with project delivery stakeholders to find a suitable solution to meet those business needs. The BA applyies a wide array of analysis techniques and processes to achieve a desirable Business analysis outcome. This process can be varied and applied using different project methodologies and techniques. The BA selects techniques based on their suitability for the particular type of business need and solution requirements.
The Business Analyst spends a lot of their time communicating with the business stakeholders. This is to understand their business needs in more detail. The BA applies different analysis techniques such as interviews, workshops or observation type techniques. The Business Analyst works interactively with stakeholders to continuously delve deeper, affirm and re-evaluate the validity of requirements.
There is a point in the process where the stakeholders will be able to confirm that their requirements are understood but first the BA documents, verifies and validates the requirements in a formal walk-through sessions with the stakeholders.
In an Agile methodology, the BA performs the same tasks but will break down information into smaller chunks. The key difference is that these smaller chunks are processed in an iteratively way.
The Business Analyst performs the following common types of tasks:
- Stakeholder communication and collaboration in relation to defining requirements. This could include individual meetings, interviews, workshop facilitation, prototyping or a combination of these and other analysis techniques.
- Elicitation activities to identify, formulate and confirm requirements.
- Documentation of all business analysis findings in various models and text based descriptions.
- The Business analyst will work with stakeholders and project delivery teams to prioritise the implementation of requirements. They also work together to, address any changes requested to requirements. the BA will generally maintain and manage the requirements through the life cycle of the project or solution delivery.
So the daily tasks are very varied for a BA, which is part of the appeal of performing the role of the Business Analyst.
Although everyone experiences challenges some of the more unique challenges a Business Analyst faces include the following:
Challenge #1: Managing change to requirements.
This must be the number one challenge any BA faces in their every day role. This happens when stakeholders requests changes to the business needs or requirements they agreed earlier in a project. Although this might sound harmless enough, the challenge comes in for the Business Analyst when there are impacts on other requirements or solution components. The impacts needs to be analysed and addressed as a result of changes. Often the stakeholders doesn’t have a full appreciation of these impacts and this can cause some friction and frustration. However, change is an accepted fact within the project world, and in the life of a Business Analyst but can become a bigger challenge than it needs to be when the organisational environment doesn’t manage changes to requirements in a formal or structured fashion.
Challenge #2: Expectation management
The world of the business analyst is at times quite conceptual and abstract and this can cause some misaligned expectations in terms of Business Analysis outputs. I have often seen people expecting something a little different in terms of output or the format for an output when delivered by the BA. This happens most often because different teams and organisations follow slightly different methodologies and documentation expectations vary. It is therefore important to manage this challenge by agreeing a Business analysis approach and artefact template / format upfront to minimise this as a challenge during the life cycle of a new project.
So now that you have an idea of what the BA does, the next question would be: can anyone do it? The short answer is “yes” but there is a few considerations to keep in mind.
3 Considerations to include:
Consideration #1: Education and qualification
It is possible to learn how to be a Business Analyst by up-skilling yourself with professional endorsed training. Start this at any time of your career and you can utilise some of the skills you have from a previous career to apply in your role as a BA.
Consideration #2: Nature of the job
The experience of working as a BA can definitely be very rewarding, positively challenging and varied but it also comes with a lot of uncertainty and continuous change. If you prefer routine in your work and predictability then I wouldn’t recommend you become a Business analyst.
Consideration #3: Aptitude:
This role focusses on details and it requires a natural talent for understanding and working at quite a low level of detail. It also requires excellent communication and effective collaboration skills with a diverse spectrum of different people every day. So if you enjoy detailed work, analysis and finding solutions for tricky problems which involves a lot of communication and engagement with others, then this might be for you!
Here I summarise the most popular BA certifications in the market today.
The International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA®) have the following professional certifications for core business analysis available:
- ECBA™ – Entry Certificate in Business Analysis
- CCBA® – Certified Competent Business Analyst
- CBAP® – Certified Business Analyst Professional
The International Requirements Engineering Board (IREB®) have the following professional certification for core business analysis (referred to as Requirements Engineering) available:
- CPRE® Foundation Level
- CPRE® Advanced Level
The Project Management Institute (PMI®) have the following professional certification for a project business analyst role available:
- PBA® – Project Business Analyst.
The world widely accepts and recognises all the above certifications. You should do research to find the best professional business analysis certification for you. Search job vacancies in your country and see which are most often asked for in your part of the world.
Business Analysts typically work in any industry where there are software solutions being implemented or where improvements are needed to business processes, methods or strategies. Some common places where you will find that there are a lot of people who work as Business Analysts are in the private sector within financial, insurance, software or banking sectors. There are also a huge number of Business analysts working within the public sector across all areas of government. So the sky is really the limit in terms of the type of company you can work for if you are a Business Analyst.
A question that may not be asked that often is: Where does the BA fit within the organisation? Now, it is important to make some allowance for variances within different organisations to answer this question. In general Business Analysts forms part of one of these two types of environments:
- Project environment: Here the BA is in a project team and they focus to deliver a specific outcome or solution
- Operational environment: Here the BA works in operational team and analyses, strategises and reports on information.
In every instance of my career I was always associated to a project or two. My focus of my role was to contribute my business analysis skills in delivering a solution to the business. The role of the Business Analyst in both these two main general scenarios is a very hands-on, practical role. In most cases it is not a traditional leadership or management role.
The career path for the BA can take many different forms. This is because it is such a diverse set of skills you develop whilst being a Business Analyst. It is also because you can find yourself within difference niche areas of an industry or organisation. I will list a few common career path options that many Business Analysts pursue. They will first build their career from being a junior Business Analyst up to being an experienced senior Business Analyst. Let’s have a look at some career path examples:
Career Path Option #1: Business Analysis Team Manager
As with any practical hands-on role, there is always the option to progress and aim to become the team manager. This is the common way to climb the corporate ladder. This is the same for the Business Analyst and a logical first step for embarking on a leadership position.
Career Path Option #2 Project Manager
A lot of people tend to think that becoming a project manager is a natural next career progression. In my opinion however, this is not really the case. The role of a Business Analyst and the role of a Project Manager is very different. This is why in many cases it is not a seamless transition for a BA. The abilities and natural talents of the person working as a BA is different from that of a Project Manager. Unless you are already more of a Project Manager by nature whilst being a BA, I don’t see this as logical career step.
Many people look at the role of the project manager as the next level “management” role. It happens because they are working in a project team and get the impression that this is what they should aspire for next.
Career Path Option #3 Client Engagement Manager
As I mentioned earlier in this article, the typical Business Analyst will spend a lot of time managing stakeholder relationships, expectations and requires a strong ability to communicate effectively. If you enjoy this part of your role when you are a Business Analyst (BA), then this might the type of avenue you should explore as a career profession.
Career Path Option #4 Specialist Business Analyst
Last but not least on my list here, I would like to highlight the option to specialise your Business Analysis skills and knowledge and excel by solving bigger, more challenging problems within an organisation. There is plenty of scope in terms of what constitute Business Analysis and business problems to keep you interested and challenged as a career BA.
Now these 4 primary career path options are just that. They are general and by no means the only options. The benefit of being a BA is that you are exposed to a wide variety of stakeholder types, subject matter areas and organisations and industries, that it really opens up opportunities for you to focus on a path that appeals most to you. So, don’t feel you should try and push yourself down any one of these general career paths.
For the purposes of providing you with an overview of what Business Analysts (BAs) do, I think it is worth outlining the software tools that they would most commonly use to perform their roles as BAs. I include the main categories here with some selected common examples:
Software type #1: Office and productivity tools
Just like any other office based role, the Business Analyst uses word processor software, spreadsheets and presentation software very often. Examples would be the Microsoft Office suite of products, Google docs or Apple products.
Software type #2: Communication tools
With the rise of remote working, the BA uses not only email to communicate (although this is their bread and butter in many situations), but they also use remote working software such as WebEx, Zoom etc. These tools are used to engage with stakeholders for requirements elicitation meetings, interviews or even online workshops. Other communication tools that are commonly used in the Business Analyst’s daily life, is instant message software, examples include: Instant Messenger, Skype for Business etc.
In recent years, the application of collaboration tools have become very important and central to the role of the BA. They often use tools such as Jira and Confluence to create and elaborate requirements (or user stories as it is commonly known) with the benefit that all teams can be up to date with exactly what the status and progress is for a specific requirement in the life cycle to delivery. Other example tools include Trello boards, Slack, Google docs, and others where documents and requirements are tracked in terms of delivery and progress. These tools are growing and becoming more popular and sophisticated than ever before.
Software type #4: Modelling tools
I left this type of software for last because it is such an important category. The entire success of a BA ability to communicate the intent and detail of a business need or requirement relies on the BA’s ability to convey information using different types of modelling techniques. In order to do this, they need modelling software to create diagrams, wireframes, prototypes and designs of concepts and information. Example software commonly used for this purpose include: Creately, Microsoft Visio, LucidChart, MicroGrafix Flowcharter and these days there are a number of free online tools available too.
You will now perhaps be able to answer the question of “What does a Business Analyst do” with more certainly and clarity and I hope you are intrigued to explore the role of the BA further. As you can see it is the type of career that could really keep you challenged and interested for a long time with its variety and diverse skillset requirements.
If you wanted to learn more about pursuing a career as a BA, feel free to download this free eBook “Success secrets for the Business Analyst’s Mind” and learn more about how you too can be a successful Business Analyst enjoying a fulfilling career.