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How to be a Good Business Analyst

Business Analysis is a wide and varied field (what is Business Analysis?). Depending upon the industry, and the level and type of BA role, the experience can be very different. Consider, for example, the issues for a Business Analyst in healthcare (where efficiency and patient safety are key drivers) to those in the video games industry (where "finding the fun" is a commonly stated objective, and producing unique experiences is high on the priority list). Further contrast those with working in a scientific field, for example at CERN's Large Hadron Collider, where results and timescales are often uncertain.

As you can appreciate, every Business Analysis assignment will be different, but there are common qualities that make a good Business Analyst. The most important thing you can do as a BA is to listen and then tailor your approach to the specific needs of your current environment.

1. A good Business Analyst has the right approach

Effective Business Analysts are good listeners, communicators, problem-solvers and analytical-thinkers. They will identify dependencies, gaps and conflicts in requirements, and have the interpersonal skills to bring together those people with conflicting and overlapping requirements to obtain consensus or amicable compromise. They have respect for the points of view of their stakeholders, whilst looking for the business beneficial, cost-effective path to the best possible solution.

Business Analysts know how to find the answers to questions and are tenacious in finding them. They plan carefully and involve the right people at the right time. If they are blocked, they are resourceful in finding ways around these blockers. A good BA will work through challenging situations to negotiate or facilitate a solution.

2. A good Business Analyst has the right skills

Good BAs have a range of skills, which can be learned. Some are soft, interpersonal skills; some are analytical modelling and structuring skills. These form a "toolkit" on which the Business Analyst can draw as appropriate. The soft skills include Facilitation Techniques, Negotiation, Active Listening, and Presentation. The analytical skills form the basis of the BCS Diploma in Business Analysis and include analysis of the external and internal environment of an organisation, process and data modelling techniques, and approaches to choosing the right solution options for the business in line with its overall Mission and strategy. However, a good Business Analyst will not allow the tools and process to override their empathy with the customer and user community, or to get in the way of communication.

3. A good Business Analyst works to create ownership of the solution and the requirements

Requirements capture and management are at the heart of the Business Analyst's daily work. A good BA is in an unusual position of facilitator, guardian, champion, negotiator, but not owner, of the requirements. If the true customers and users do not feel ownership of the requirements, any solution based on them may not be fully accepted.

A good Business Analyst will recognise and capture requirements. They appreciate the right level of detail to record at different points in the lifecycle of a project or change. They capture requirements from the right people – everyone has an opinion, but the actual operative of a particular process (rather than their manager) knows best what they do day-to-day. The empowered manager can then make a decision on what is acceptable.

4. A good Business Analyst analyses the requirements!

Some Business Analysts feel that they are expected to be technical authors who write down whatever the customer asks for and nothing more. However, a good BA can do much more. They will work hard to understand the real requirement or need behind the customer's requests and they have techniques such as "5 Whys" and User Stories to help.

This does not mean rejecting what the user asks for; often a requirement will first emerge as a solution, e.g. "I need a report of all debtors". If we ask why, we might be told "so that I can focus on the top 100 debtors, out of the 1000s we have – it's a real problem how much debt we carry!". The good Business Analyst not only asks for the report to be provided in the right sequence and level of detail, but also looks earlier in the process to see just why so much debt is being carried, and whether the cause of the problem can be removed.

It is often very difficult for individuals working in an organisation to maintain a perspective which spans across an organisation's activities. The BA is in a unique position to do this, and can present this to help individuals appreciate their effect on the value chain of the organisation or product from supplier to customer. This helps in resolving conflicts and ensuring that when the solution is delivered, it is understood and owned by its stakeholders.

5. A good Business Analyst strives for clear and effective communication

Clarity does not mean getting sign-off on a requirements specification and then pointing customers back to it whenever they ask for change. Often, these specifications are written in too much detail too soon, before users can imagine the solution they need. Sometimes the language in which they are written or their sheer size ensures that they are never fully read or understood.

A good Business Analyst does not hide behind sign-offs and huge documents. They use their analysis techniques to drill into details, ask relevant questions and gain "buy-in". They also work to the appropriate level of detail, as understanding emerges.

6. A good Business Analyst builds trust

A good Business Analyst sets clear expectations at the outset of a project by ensuring that stakeholders are clear about the objective in relation to the overall strategy of the organisation. They may use facilitated workshops to ensure the vision is clear to all, and will ensure that the message is presented and backed by the right level of sponsorship / support from decision makers within the business. As a result of this initial clarity, the Business Analyst can ensure that they are not lured into making promises they cannot keep for the evolving solution. In this way, they will consistently follow through on their commitments to the business, which will help to build trust.

A good BA also takes care not to break confidentiality agreements or "gossip" about one area of the business to another. Business Analysts are privy to much information which could cause jealousy, unrest and dispute if heard and half-understood by others. They must learn how to avoid being drawn into the "rumour mill".

7. A good Business Analyst is a proficient planner

A good Business Analyst is not a project manager, but they do need to understand how to plan and manage their Business Analysis activities. They need to be proactive and aware of dependencies, commitments and deadlines.

They need to get stakeholders involved at the right times and in the right ways, and to be aware of business deadlines, trends and patterns. They must keep track of scope, cost and time, in order to ensure delivery of the best possible business value for the optimal cost and time.

8. Good Business Analysts continue to grow

Good Business Analysts are not content to do the same things, in the same way, in every situation. They are sensitive to the needs of their customers, who include users of the process they seek to improve but also developers, testers, implementers, post implementation support staff (such as the service desk) and managers at all levels. Having the flexibility to adapt to the needs of these different audiences improves the effectiveness of a BA.

What makes a good Business Analyst great is having the interest to continually expand their analysis toolset, but also to keep up to date on their understanding of the business and its market, and to keep abreast of the changing face of technology.

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