Q1:: What are the necessary skills for today’s Business Analyst?
A1:: In order to do this question and answer justice, I have to step through many layers and dimensions of the role. It’s not as simple as a checklist of 10–15 skills or characteristics, but I am more than happy to walk through the skills as they relate to the many varying definitions and interpretations of today’s Business Analyst.
First, imagine separating the majority of Business Analyst skills into 4 quadrants: (a) interpersonal/soft skills (b) analytical techniques and methods (c) domain knowledge and (d) technical literacy.
A2:: I can name a few common variables, and I think it will give you a general idea of the many variables that define the type of BA needed for a job. The IIBA (International Institute of Business Analysis) identifies 3 groupings of Analyst Roles: Strategic Analysis, Tactical Analysis and Operational Analysis. That’s just one of perspective.
It could depend on what part of the organization BA’s are assigned – do they report to the business or to I.T. It could depend on whether the BA’s just collect the requirements or whether they are assigned to the full Software Development Lifecycle. It depends on whether they have a hybrid of project manager, documentation, and QA testing roles in addition to the BA responsibilities. If an organization has centralized versus decentralized BA’s, it could affect their role. Some BA’s are aligned with and specialize in a specific Business Line or Product Line. Other BA’s might be expected to have transferable skills and generalized knowledge of the business. Some business analysts are not expected to document technical design. Other BA’s might be expected to write pseudo code or even do the actual configuration for an application.
The methodology used could affect the BA role – waterfall, iterative or agile. The project type COTS (commercial off the shelf), custom build, infrastructure, hardware, middleware, user facing, regulatory, integration, reporting/data warehouse, portal, process improvement, business development etc.
So needless to say, each role needs to be researched, and there are several questions you need to ask to understand what is expected for that specific role.
Q3:: Even though there are a several variables, can you expand upon the 4 quadrants you outline in Q1?
A3:: Interpersonal and Soft Skills was the first quadrant. That list includes facilitation, Communication (oral, written, presentation), Thinking Skills (Enquiry, Information Processing, Creative Thinking, Evaluation, Reasoning), leadership, organization, team building, influencing, conflict resolution, navigating political and cultural nuances, negotiation decisions, negotiating competing needs, building trust, conflict management, consensus building and garnering buy-in from a group. One of the reasons they are considered soft skills is because they aren’t just learned to master. Soft skills take practice, life skills, experience, relational and attitudinal skills. This is often hard to gauge in a typical interview. [IMPLICIT, TACIT]
Q4:: The second quadrant which is analytical techniques and methods are more tangible and easy to measure, so some might say this is what employers and managers focus on, correct?
A4:: Employers have made that mistake in the past, thinking hard, tangible skills were more important than softskills, but the reality is that Soft Skills will make or break your career. The key is to understand that all of the quadrants are equally important. Use your strengths to get you a position but know and work on your weaknesses.
Hardskills are rule-based, scientific/mathematical/logical, predictable, procedural. [ EXPLICIT] BA Models and Diagrams: SWOT, Fishbone Diagram, Context Diagram DFD, Process Decomposition, Process Flow, Entity Relationship Diagram, Use Case Diagram and Template, Story Board, User Stories, Report/Screen Templates and Prototypes. Basic desktop tools for business analysts are MS Word, Excel, MS Visio. Dedicate tools exist but if an organization doesn’t have these tools be prepared to use basic desktop tools to serve the same purpose. Advance BA Tools: Requirements Management Tools (Requisite Pro, Top Team, Blueprint), Defect Tracking Tool (ClearQuest, Quality Center), other option tools (prototype tools, business process modeling, data entity diagrams, rules tools). Techniques include structure workshops known as join application design (JAD) sessions, iteration planning, and demos.
Q5:: The 3rd quadrant is “Domain Knowledge”, is this the same as being a SME (Subject Matter Expert)?
A5:: A Business Analyst should have domain knowledge but should not be labeled an expert! Domain Knowledge can be as broad as having knowledge of an industry or as narrow as being knowledgeable of a specific product or system. Increasingly, the industry is steering away from labeling Business Analysts as subject matter experts because even if they were former ‘practitioners’ in the area of focus, they aren’t currently active practitioners nor will they be the end users or consumers at the end of the project. Furthermore, declaring yourself an expert is an oxymoron, because you don’t know what you don’t know.
It is a great asset to have deep knowledge or a specialty but just caveat that the people who are active practitioners are the immediate and de facto experts. The industry is moving toward collaborative intelligence teams, and therefore the BA helps with facilitating bringing people with the various levels of knowledge and perspectives. In that framework, you don’t have to know everything, but build that network of different people who have insights into the many facets of the business.
To develop your knowledge in an area, here are some steps: (a) learn the language and vocabulary (b) identify the people who are considered the experts and find ways to connect with them (c) get the right credentials that validate both your education and experience (d) create your brand, name recognition. This can be done by volunteering, participating in conferences, taking a position within the appropriate professional organization; (e) garner internal and external accolades – accolades from industry organizations, journals or educational institutions (f) establish oneself as an “influencer” based on a following. Today’s social media provides a variety of avenues to establish yourself as an influencer. The key to being an influencer is being relevant, staying current through blogging and other social media, and even self-publishing.
Q6:: So the 4th quadrant is Technical Literacy, so this sounds simple or is the answer as elaborate as the previous 3 quadrants?
A6:: This one is pretty simple. It is important to have a general understanding of software systems and a command of the language and jargon (including abbreviations). Basic knowledge of servers, databases, and client side technology, augmented with solid logical, systems-thinking will do. The caveat is software and systems changes quickly and often. You have to find sources like reliable blogs that will help you stay current. Also, keep in mind that the software and system components and jargons will vary by organization and even by projects within an organization.
Q7:: There is a lot to consider, it’s almost overwhelming. How do you narrow it down, especially when you are still in the process of acquiring and developing your skills in the various quadrants?
A7:: Doing a Gap Analysis of your skill set and then finding a role that both leverages what you are already capable of and at the same time provides you the opportunity to grow into your new skills is a Win-Win starting point. Analysis roles and opportunities cover a large landscape that includes but isn’t necessarily even limited to I.T. The roles requiring analysis skills don’t always even go by the title of business analysis. Enjoy the discovery, the learning process and the journey as you find the right match for you!
Guest Blogger: Jacqueline K. Sanders-Blackman Co-Founder & COE of Technology Expresso STEM Media, Senior Instructor for B2TTraining.com.
TechnologyExpresso.com is a niche information provider and promoter of STEaM Opportunities (with an emphasis on the “T”). Technology Expresso works with organizations, corporations, schools and other news outlets to help mainstream success stories in order to close the digital disconnect among the under-served.