In a nutshell
Business Analysis is possibly the least understood job in the whole table of IT elements (Consultants didn’t make the cut!)
When most people are asked, ‘What do you do?’ they can reply with some confidence and clarity. Not so with Bee-ays, who face a particular challenge, making a complex and varied role understandable to a layperson. One approach might be the flippant, ‘I analyse businesses’, or alternatively there is a prepared elevator-type speech including statements like:
- I gather requirements
- I facilitate change
- I discover, synthesis and analyse information
- I help businesses improve their processes
- I translate business needs into system solutions
- I am a business-facing technologist and an IT-aware Subject Matter Expert
(Ed. I personally like no. 3, but I acknowledge that it is borrowed from the Business Analysis Book of Knowledge in the section, ‘Who is a Business Analyst?’ – more of which later)
These statements are all very well, and may be correct, but they sound a bit like personal mission statements and barely scratch the surface of the variety of things a BA might be called on to undertake on any particular project or assignment. They also lack any specific substance or context, they are abstract in the sense of missing the essential details of what is changing, what processes are being improved, which systems, requirements for what etc. And in all cases, how does all this happen anyway!?
Eating the elephant
This short introductory module will define the Business Analyst role as an aggregate of the following aspects:
A. Applying core concepts
Organisations are seldom stable for too long, if ever, they change, they adapt their processes (i.e. what they do) to new opportunities and imperatives, including external regulation, new technologies, competition, and the drive for greater efficiencies. For most non-trivial change to happen efficiently and effectively requires an understanding of who the stakeholders are, what their needs are, and what solution satisfies those needs. To complete the picture, change occurs within a real-world context and it provides some measurable or demonstrable value or return for the effort expended.
These 6 fundamental concepts are key to why a Business Analyst and business analysis tasks exist. Several appear as IT Elements in their own right, including needs manifesting as requirements, and solutions represented by design and user experience/UX.
B. Using tools & techniques
Business Analysts, whether they learn on the job, or increasingly undertake formal vocational education or follow a certified professional route, can make use of a huge number of techniques and methods to perform their role. These methods may be prescribed at a particular point in a project life-cycle or they could be selected as required as the most appropriate tool for the job in hand. The following short list gives a flavour of some of the most common methods, and why they are used:
(Ed. This is not the place or the time to split hairs about tools, techniques, methods and methodologies – literally the study of methods)
Balanced Scorecard – used for strategic planning and for setting and monitoring an organisation’s objectives in a number of dimensions including financial and business process.
Business Rules – capturing and analysing the policies, protocols, and criteria that an organisation and its staff use to make operational decisions.
Data Mining/Data Modelling/Data Flow Analysis/Data Dictionary – different ways that an organisation’s data are understood and represented.
Brainstorming/Interviews/Workshops/Observation – the tip of the iceberg when it comes to finding out all the things that a BA needs to know (normally carried out on behalf of a client, Project Manager or functional lead).
Requirements Analysis & Management – a big area when it comes to technology-related projects, and possibly the single must-have functional skill that a Business Analyst needs to possess (discuss!)
Process Mapping/Modelling/Management – like Data and Business Rules, Processes provide a formal notation and language for modelling what an organisation is and what it does, and by extension what IT and computer systems must do.
Typically these methods help the process of understanding and analysing the problem or solution domains and provide a structured means to gather, model and present information, and to aid communication and decision-making.
C. Demonstrating competencies
As well as these ‘functional’ skills, and a little bit of business or system knowledge, Business Analysts need to demonstrate a number of generic skills and personal qualities to perform in real-world situations. These competencies include:
- Analytical thinking
- Communication and inter-personal skills
- Teamwork & leadership skills (as appropriate)
- Influencing, negotiating & time management
(See also this blog post about some of these soft skills)
The big picture
Last but not least, Business Analysis doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The Business Analysis Book of Knowledge, BABOK for short, identifies a number of different perspectives or ‘lenses’ in which all the above can be viewed. It is outside the scope of this module to go into any detail, but suffice to say, Business Analysts should be able to apply the core concepts, demonstrate competencies, and use various tools & techniques in the following circumstances:
- Business Intelligence
- Information Technology (of course!)
- Business Architecture
- Business Process Management
And they can also get involved in training, testing, facilitating, championing, challenging, estimating, planning, managing and…consulting.
Hopefully the Business Analysts role make a bit more sense now? I don’t think this module has helped to simplify the challenge to define it concisely or completely, but then I don’t think there is a long enough elevator in the world to do that!
(c) 2015 Antony Lawrence CBA Ltd.