Business analysis skills, capabilities and business knowledge
Skills of a business analyst
Business analysis is a big subject and so, not surprisingly, business analysts require a wide range of skills to make them effective.
Essential skills for the business analyst can be divided between hard and soft.
Hard skills are the techniques needed to analyse, model and design business systems.
Processes, Data and Rules
The core set of hard skills relate to the modelling, analysis and design of:
- Business processes
- Business data
- Business rules
These interrelated skills are at the heart of business analysis and are a core element of business and enterprise architectures.
Certificated training, such as with the BCS and IREB schemes can give you a grounding in these topics but it is worthwhile seeking more advanced practical training plus other ways of developing your knowledge. I recommend starting with 'Workflow Modelling' by Sharp and McDermott.
Another core skill for a business analyst relates to requirements, their
- Discovery (requirements elicitation)
Requirements generally come from issues with one or more of the business processes, data and rules.
These things give context to requirements and make them more readily understandable and testable.
Solutions to business problems are generally defined in terms of business processes, data and rules.
All providers of business analysis training offer courses in requirements, sometimes referred to as requirements engineering.
Once again, these courses will give you a grounding in the subject although some of the ones that I have seen have contained content that does not appear to be consistent with standard practices.
Once you have obtained a certificate from one of the providers I recommend that you seek to advance your career by acquiring more information from recognised authorities with international reputations.
Books written by these authorities are an excellent way of developing your knowledge. I recommend that you start by reading the following:
- Mastering the requirements process: Suzanne and James Robertson.
- 'Software requirements' and 'More about software requirements': Karl Weigers
- Software Requirements - Styles and techniques: Lauesen
These books have stood the test of time and provide valuable insights and practices.
Soft skills are sometimes referred to as people skills or communication skills.
Soft skills can be learned and practiced although there is often less emphasis by employers in training their staff in these things.
That's a great pity because business analysis is, above all, a people job. Great soft skills are key to the success of any business analyst.
BAs need to be great communicators, relate well to the stakeholders, be able to negotiate and, where necessary, take the lead.
Negotiation may be thought of as 'getting to yes' whilst helping stakeholders to avoid backing themselves into a corner that can't get out of without losing face.
At the same time, BAs sometimes need to be able to say no.
- Not everything is possible, even if important stakeholders want it to be
- Not everything can be done tomorrow.
Soft skills include:
- Effective interviewing.
- Making presentations that support decision making
- Facilitating workshops to get agreement on things
- Meeting participation and leading
- Leading teams to success
- Written communication
One of the most important skills for the BA is simply listening.
Improving your soft skills
You can pick up useful ideas and practices from the many books available on these subjects.
However, it is worth looking for opportunities to obtain training that allows you to practice the skills, watching videos of yourself performing them and getting feedback from expert instructors.
The business analyst defines requirements for change.
A change project delivers that change based on the requirements.
The requirements in turn define the scope of the project.
There is therefore a close link between requirements and project management / leadership.
The work of business analysis and project leading is not necessarily or exclusively done by people with the job title or business analyst or project manager.
Often, team members will work cooperatively to deliver these things.
The skills needed for project success include:
- Project management and leadership
- Establishing terms of reference
- Team (people) management
- Planning and estimating
- Progress tracking
- Managing priorities, including changing priorities
- Reacting effectively to changes
The BA should also have knowledge of different project approaches, e.g.
- Linear such as waterfall and V model
- Iterative and incremental such as the various agile approaches, e.g.
Agile and business analysis.
There is a lot of discussion about agile thinking and practices in business analysis.
Agile, in the sense that we understand it today, was originally associated with approaches to programming whether programmers worked directly with business stakeholders, apparently removing the need for business analysts and project managers.
The use of the word agile has crept into all, or virtually all, business practices.
In my opinion, the need for the basic skills in business processes, information, rules and requirements is probably greater than it ever has been. Best practice in these areas has been acquired over time and is still highly relevant.
Agile today is so extensive that it is difficult to come up with simple definitions. However, it is very much associated with working practices and approaches to projects.
The most well-known of these approaches are probably Scrum and Kanban.
The focus is on the team and direct communication.
The bigger question about agile in the early days was "Will it scale?"
To help you answer that question, take a look at the following websites:
To succeed in large agile projects, I suggest that you combine the following:
- Knowledge and experience of best practice in the 'hard' techniques
- Understanding of project leadership and management practices, including Scrum and Kanban
- Outstanding soft skills
The business analyst may well become a specialist in a particular business sector, e.g.
- Banking and finance
and so on. There's a lot to pick from.
Some business analysts will become specialists and experts in a tiny section of a sector.
However, all BAs must actively seek to expand their general business knowledge. For example,
- How to prepare a business case
- Awareness of different organisation structures
- Understanding strategy: a business analyst absolutely must be aware of the strategy of the organisation they work for
- Who the customers are
- The value proposition of the organisation they work for
The effective business analysts will have at least some of the following characteristics and abilities:
- See detail of a situation in relation to the big picture
- Able to identify the root causes behind the symptoms of problems
- Enjoy solving problems
- Able to abstract and generalise situations rather than being stuck in specifics and detail
- Differentiate between problems and solutions
- Empathy and understanding of and for the business stakeholders and colleagues; your customers and partners