‘Secrets’ of Top-Notch Business Analysts

Estimated reading time: 3 mins

The title references a post on the CIO.COM website back in May this year. The article in question is called ‘Six Secrets of Top-Notch Business Analysts’ written by Thomas Wailgum. I’m looking at this specifically to basically challenge why the six behaviors described in the article are referred to as ‘secrets’. To me, they look like the entry level criteria of Business Analysts in today’s IT environment.

So first lets take a look at these so-called secrets. They are:

  1. They understand the specific business problem that software aims to solve.
  2. They are diplomats, translators and negotiators.
  3. They can see the forest through the trees.
  4. They understand technology’s potential and its limitations.
  5. They have credibility with business colleagues, often gained through previous work experience.
  6. They are "people persons."

I think Thomas has hit the nail on the head regarding the skills that a contemporary Business Analyst. However, are they really ‘secrets’ or entry-level skills in the world of Business Technology? Let’s have a look at each one:

1) They understand the specific business problem that software aims to solve.

A BA must have the business context and an understanding of the business problem to contribute – otherwise aren’t they just well paid scribes? A BA must be able to articulate the problem within the business context or they will not add value.

2) They are diplomats, translators and negotiators.

This is true of *everyone* in Business Technology. BAs will be dealing with emotional business people and logical IT people – there requires sensitivities in bridging this gap. BAs must be able to talk both languages and engage with both communities or they will appear to go native and find it tough to be effective. This is what life as a BA is all about; this isn’t a nice to have.

3) They can see the forest through the trees.

A BA must be able to see the big picture – this is the same as point one really. If you have the full business context then this comes by default. I don’t think this is a skill possessed only by a select few BAs – they must all have it. In today’s world, and keep the growth of BPM, SOA and the industrialization of IT , then point solutions really don’t have a home.

4) They understand technology’s potential and its limitations.

Crikey if BAs don’t possess this behavior then all hell will break loose! BAs must know the boundaries of their organizations technology so they don’t talk out of their butt when approaching delivery teams with proposed solutions. Not having this skill means there will be circular conversations that waste time. Understanding technology’s potential is a no-brainer. If a BA doesn’t have a grasp on how the technology can change, then the business will stand still.

5) They have credibility with business colleagues, often gained through previous work experience.

Aha… maybe not a skill that I see in all BAs so maybe this could be a ‘secret’ then. BAs have to be able to engage with colleagues effectively so that they can be challenging and to the point. Too often I see issues being skirted around when the BA doesn’t have good relationships. BAs have to be active in the relationship – not passive.

6) They are "people persons."

This is true – it is also essential. The language of business is often fraught with in-precision and emotion, so a BA must be able to read people. BAs without empathy and Emotional Intelligence definitely struggle to get the potential from their role. Much of the information available to a BA in an engagement goes unsaid unless the BA extracts it . A BA must look for the visual cues to know when to ask the right question and when not to. What’s more a BA has to be able to gauge the technical level of people without asking really dumb questions – to translate and negotiate the BA must pitch at the right level.

So what I am saying is that the CIO.COM article is good in the sense it captures what makes a top-notch BA, but my challenge is that in today’s climate, they are essential ingredients . What BA can maintain a sustainable position without them?

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2 thoughts on “‘Secrets’ of Top-Notch Business Analysts”

  1. Simon i am a BA in Hong Kong and i think this is a nice post on your blog. The job as BA has become very demanding during last 5 years because busines skills are now very important and to be frank the person skills are even more important now. I like CIO.COM blog and you make some good comments about these are not secrets but very necessary. Well done to you. John

  2. simonstapleton

    @John: thanks for the compliment John and I agree that over the last 5 years the BA profession has come under pressure to build people skills more than ever before. Business Technology means that BAs are key to bridging the IT/Business gap.

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