In my day to day life, I am an IT business analyst, yet when someone asks me to describe the key skills required by a business analyst, my mind starts racing, trying to pull together my thoughts. You see, being asked what skill are required to do what you do every day is a tough question – to me, they don’t necessarily feel like skills, they’re just something that I can do, that I take for granted.
So I thought I would make some time to sit down and really nail down the skills required of a business analyst.
The first and most important skill for a technical business analyst is the ability to convey complex topics to a non-technical audience. This is particularly important when it comes to risk management, as you explain to the senior management why a company-wide change is required to enhance information security. The likelihood is that they’re not very well versed in technical topics, the only way to attain their buy in, is to ensure they understand at a holistic level, why your proposed change is required.
Another skill, which centres around communication is the ability to turn blue sky thinking and loose requirements into a real concept. Let me give you an example, in the past, marketing has asked me for ‘a mobile app to enhance customer experience with a great user interface that handles all their account management’. That’s all the detail I was given. As a business analyst, it is my job to extract that detail through questioning the stakeholders and to put together proposals (including cost and time frame) to present back to the marketing team, to ensure that their requirements are going to be met by that proposal.
In addition to simply asking questions about the proposed solution, as a business analyst it is very important to always ask ‘why?’ – you see, in many situations, the business stakeholder hasn’t thought through their ideas in their own mind yet, they don’t really know what they want and they don’t really know why they made certain decisions, I guess it just seemed like a good idea at the time.
It’s our job to question decisions that don’t sound quite right, to ensure that we propose the right solution for the business, rather than the right solution for that particular individual at this point in time.
The next skill is one that you may not think fits here – project management. In most organizations the lines are blurred between project managers and business analysts. A good project manager needs to understand the project progress at a detailed level to be able to convey it back to stakeholders, so they must go through the same analysis and knowledge building phase as a business analyst. On the other side of the fence, a business analyst must understand budget, deadlines and project goals to be able to propose a solution that meets both the project constraints and the customer requirements.
The final skill I am going to discuss today is the ability to say ‘no’. Once you have completed the requirements gathering phase and you’ve begun development on your new product or solution, you need to manage scope creep. It is inevitable that someone will think of something that they’d like added to the product half way through the project. It’s your job to assess how much effort it would be to make that change, assess the urgency and priority of that change and to ascertain whether it’s going to make the cut or whether it should be included in a future project.