What does a Business Analyst do?
Business analysts help solve organisational problems. When an organisation needs to solve a current or future problem it is a business analyst’s job to help facilitate a solution. That solution may be introducing new technologies, processes, or strategies. Technology is not the only solution.
Business analysts help by working with stakeholders to define their business needs and elicit their requirements for what must be delivered. They then document the requirements in a useful way for the team that will eventually deliver the solution.
One of the business analyst’s main responsibilities is to ensure these requirements are understood by all relevant stakeholders so that the right decisions can be made. This is done by writing clear requirements and creating data models, process diagrams and wireframes that will further support the organisation’s needs.
Business analysts also determine what additional information is necessary, what key details are missing and the potential impacts and challenges to the solution and/or other projects. They offer guidance and advice on what requirements and solutions will best fit an organisation’s needs, now and into the future.
Working closely with key business decision makers and implementation teams, business analysts ensure the solution developed will meet the organisation’s requirements in an acceptable and sustainable way.
Business analysts never perform just the one task.
- Analyse business needs
- Define a business case
- Elicit information from stakeholders
- Model requirements
- Validate solutions
- Project management
- Project development
- Quality testing
What a business analyst ‘does’ greatly varies depending on what project he or she is working on, what stage of the project they’re in, the stakeholders involved or even the organisation itself.
Ultimately, the business analyst is responsible for solving a business problem and creating value for an organisation.
It’s not just about the title ‘business analyst’.
A business analyst does not have to be called a ‘business analyst’ to do what a business analyst does. Many perform business analysis activities as part of their existing role – data analysts, process analysts, change managers and user experience specialists all exhibit business analyst behaviour.
Business analysts are information conduits.
They often engage with a wide and varied range of stakeholders – from managers to end users, vendors to customers, developers to testers, subject matter experts, architects and more. All these stakeholders have different needs, goals, and knowledge of the business.
It is the business analyst’s job to bring all this knowledge together, analyse the information gathered and provide a clear understanding and vision for everyone to work with.
The business analyst is a conduit between technology specialists and the business stakeholders.
Business Analysis in the Organisational Context
Business analysis can be performed at the strategic, tactical and operational levels within an organisation.
Strategic business analysis identifies opportunities for improvement. Tactical business analysis flushes out the details of defined projects or initiatives. Operational business analysis deals with the evolving daily changes in the life of any change process.
Therefore, these could be three different careers although they share a great deal of common techniques. As the business analyst, you need to be aware of the level at which you are working to utilise the business analysis techniques for maximum returns.
Strategic Business Analysis
Strategic business analysis is about engaging earlier in the lifecycle, pre-business case, participating and bringing critical analytical thinking earlier, enabling effective implementation downstream.
It encompasses all of the pre-project work to identify business problems, define business opportunities, develop a business case, and recommend whether to initiate a project.
This level of business analysis is methodology independent for the most part. This is because it has not a lot to do with software development. The only impact is the form in which the outcome is expressed.
If a traditional methodology is in place, strategic business analysis delivers business strategies, goals, and objectives and develops project scope and business requirements.
In an agile methodology, strategic business analysis defines the high-level requirements of the project in terms of themes and epics.
Those performing this level of business analysis need a broad set of tools and techniques to ensure that the resulting projects support the organisation’s business goals and objectives.
- Performing enterprise analysis
- Performing capability analysis
- Identifying business opportunities, threats, strengths and weaknesses
- Analysing business problems
- Developing business specifications
- Brainstorming potential solutions
- Performing feasibility and risk analysis
- Comparing alternatives to identify pros and cons
- Applying cost benefit analysis
- Scoping change initiatives based on organisational parameters
- Developing a business case for change
Tactical Business Analysis
Tactical business analysis starts when the organisation initiates a project or initiative that will result in change for some subset of the organisation.
The purpose of tactical business analysis is effective communication between those affected by the change and those responsible for instigating the change.
- Understanding business goals, objectives, strategies, and the business requirements that drive the project
- Enforcing the project vision and scope
- Identifying and maintain contact with a wide range of project stakeholders
- Expressing business needs in terms appropriate for the chosen software development methodology
- Interviewing various stakeholders to capture user stories, epics, and/or individual requirements
- Translating business problems and opportunities into desired project outcomes
- Analysing epics/user stories and/or stakeholder requirements to ensure compliance with business requirements
- Managing and communicating the intent and consequences of epics/user stories and/or stakeholder requirements to the business and technical community
- Using diagrams or models to ensure effective communication between all involved parties at the appropriate level of detail
Operational Business Analysis
Operational business analysis is the level most concerned with the business use of information technology.
During software development and maintenance, operational business analysis ensures that an evolving IT solution meets the changing needs of the business community.
If the software product is a purchased package, this level deals with analysing how to manipulate the configuration to achieve the stakeholder requirements.
Otherwise, operational business analysis decomposes user stories or stakeholder requirements to identify solution and transition requirements.
- Elaborating user stories and/or stakeholder requirements to identify solution functional requirements
- Decomposing stakeholder requirements to identify measurable non-functional requirements
- Grouping user stories and/or solution requirements into a variety of buckets for validation
- Facilitating requirements gathering workshops, iteration planning sessions, and story elaboration meetings
- Identifying and prototyping user views, data entities, data elements, and interfaces
- Using diagrams or models to ensure effective communication between all involved parties at the appropriate level of detail
- Presenting well-structured user stories and solution requirements
- Analysing elaborated solution requirements for clarity, completeness, and consistency
- Defining transition requirements based on the impact that the proposed solution will have on the organisation and each stakeholder
Business Analyst Specialisations
Quite often business analysts will perform a combination of specialisations, and the common thread here is that the business analyst is responsible for solving a business problem. They must ensure that their delivery satisfies business needs in an optimal manner, while considering the strategic direction of the organisation.
Business Analyst (Business Facing)
Business analysts who work on the business side help facilitate consensus with stakeholders and solve business problems. They:
- Understand the needs of multiple stakeholders.
- Facilitate negotiations of requirements between stakeholders.
- Elicit business requirements.
- Identify as-is and to-be business processes.
- Facilitate stakeholders in visualising the future and how they will need to change to support the future.
Systems Analyst (Requirements Analyst)
Systems analysts focus on analysis – as opposed to elicitation – and includes:
- Creating, analysing and validating functional specifications.
- Facilitating design sessions to define the solution.
- Delivering systems design including data migration rules, business rules, and wireframes.
Domain Specific Business Analyst (Subject Matter Expert)
Domain business analysts focus on specific industries and require years of experience and in-depth familiarity within a particular domain. Common industries requiring specific expertise include banking and finance, insurance, health, and telecommunications. This means that the business analyst must understand the organisational context before ever speaking to a stakeholder. Instead of eliciting all the requirements from stakeholders, the business analyst is the source of many requirements.
Functional analysts have in-depth knowledge of how a functional area of business works and develop expertise in the processes and systems used by their stakeholders. Common areas include accounting, sales, marketing, human resources, and information technology – anywhere processes and systems are standard from one organisation to another.
Tool-Specific Business Analyst
Some roles require expertise in specific tools and technologies that are used in the business. These tools are not part of the business analyst’s workflow such as modelling and requirements management tools. Common examples of tools specific knowledge include enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management and finance systems. It can be valuable to an organisation if the business analyst understands the functions, features and customisation options that these technologies offer to ensure that the business is fully leveraging the capabilities offered.
Business Intelligence Analyst
Business intelligence analysts support the strategic direction of an organisation through projects that enable the business to access and visualise information for better decision making. They usually have a background in data-related work. Expertise includes data management, data interrogation, data warehousing, data analytics and visualisation, and report development. They can also analyse processes and communicate with business stakeholders.
Business Process Analyst
Commonly, if change occurs in an organisation, there is also process change. A business process analyst identifies business process problems and ways to improve existing processes, and they help to implement process changes. They will also design new processes from the ground up. They will work closely with stakeholders and will often see the changes through to the end. This is an important role in seeing new systems implemented and operational within the organisation.
Many organisations blend the business analyst role with another role in the organisation. These blended roles come with their own challenges and risks including spreading individuals too thinly, i.e. not allowing the individual to experience all aspects of a role.
- Project manager / business analyst
- Business analyst / test engineer
- Business analyst / developer
- Product manager / business analyst.
There is a lot of discussion and debate around the role of the business analyst on agile teams and whether the business analyst is relevant or obsolete.
We could content that in business analysis, agility is a mindset having nothing to do with the framework in which the practitioner of business analysis works.
In other words, an agile business analyst is agile whether he or she works on a scrum team, any other agile team, or no agile team.
Where there is no defined business analysis role, a business analyst will often transition to the role of product owner – or they adapt their role according to organisational need and how agile teams are constructed within their organisation.
In the pure agile context, the requirements of the customers are managed by the product owner, who is also responsible for creating written requirements, in the form of user stories, and conveying the understanding of the requirements to the development team.
The Business Analyst Job Description
The Role of the Business Analyst
With the support of experienced people, an organisation’s capacity to adapt and manage continual change through innovation is vital to business success and profits. Organisations need to achieve goals through projects that translate customer requirements into new strategies, processes and services, and products. And that’s where the role of the business analyst comes in. BA’s make it all happen more efficiently.
The business analyst’s main job description is assisting businesses to implement change in a cost-effective way. They do this by determining the needs of a project or program and through rigorous consultation with company directors, project managers, managers, business owners, subject matter experts and anybody impacted by the changes.
The role of the business analyst is often thought to be one of just implementing technology solutions. However, their job description is not confined to implementing systems. There are many business analysts who help the business improve the operational procedures, business processes, and financial structure.
They are also involved in implementing strategies. For instance, business analysts may be involved in developing roadmaps for the better acquisition, management and reporting of information to support decision-making.
Or they may develop organisational blueprints that describe an organisation’s services, processes, applications and infrastructure. This blueprint would in turn be used to analyse the impact of proposed changes.
Typical Functions of a Business Analyst
The business analyst can perform many functions. Here are some of the tasks a business analyst may perform as part of their job description.
- Business case development. The business analyst may be required to assist in preparing proposals where options are assessed and a recommendation for change is put forward for approval by a board or committee.
- Requirements planning and management. A business analyst is often required to scope and plan the activities and deliverables that a business analyst will produce during a project and the methodologies and techniques they will use.
- Requirements elicitation. The common methods for eliciting requirements is through workshops, formal meetings and informal conversations, review of existing documentation and systems, and through business process mapping.
- Requirements analysis and documentation. Business analysts use specific techniques and questions to bring out the required information and ensure that requirements are clear, complete, consistent and unambiguous. Requirements are documented in formats that communicate clearly to the various stakeholders.
- Capture existing business processes and proposed changes. A core skill of a business analyst is business process mapping. Although this skill is not always required of a BA, it is often the method used to capture detailed requirements for proposed changes.
- Stakeholder communication. Stakeholder communication is the core of business analysis. A successful project hinges on the effectiveness of the business analyst’s communication with the various people involved in the project. A business analyst must have a good understanding of the types of engagement activities (e.g., workshops and interviews) and how they should be utilised.
What Does A Successful BA Look Like?
Here are some of the core qualities of a successful business analyst.
- Has excellent written and verbal communication. This includes the ability to communicate with a wide variety of people across an organisation.
- Possesses the ability to solve problems, assess solutions, and present clear and relevant concepts to the business.
- Communicates in a business natural way to elicit requirements that make technology sense. This includes the ability to relate to stakeholders on their terms (and not in IT specific language) by engaging in discussion that relates to their daily business and the issues affecting them to solve their problems.
- Analyses information from different sources (e.g., workshops, interviews, existing documentation and existing systems) and models requirements in formats that communicate well with the audience.
- Listens and responds to feedback. The business analyst must listen and accept feedback. If the feedback can’t be adopted then any concerns must be raised in an open discussion. Often issues can be clarified this way.
- Manages expectations. Business analysts should be as impeccable with their word as possible. If a deadline can’t be met or a requirement must change, then a renegotiation must be made before the expectation is missed. This way the BA is remembered for good quality work, and not unmet expectations or late delivery of work.
- Is confident in asking questions. The business analyst should do their best to not make assumptions about statements made and ask questions to clarify concepts. This way the BA stays on course with the required work, not waste valuable time with stakeholders, and captures exactly what is meant for specific requirements. Asking questions, especially the “why” question, is very important.
- Is resourceful and adaptable. Every business has a different way of doing things and different definitions for similar concepts. Therefore, business analyst must learn the “language” and adapt to the organisation’s culture and methodologies and not enforce my own methodologies or way of thinking.
The above attributes are not essential for a successful business analyst, but they also build credibility in the minds of the stakeholders that the business analyst is working with.
Example Business Analyst Job Description
All business analysts have different skills and competencies. Here are some common requirements that can be found in a business analyst job description.
- Experience with developing true business cases that includes tangible (financial) and intangible benefits and costs to the organisation.
- Effectively and confidently present recommendations for change to decision makers including senior management and executive board.
- Communicate the strategic benefits of change to decision makers.
- Apply various methodologies to identify options and assess and validate a recommended solution.
- Identify “value add” opportunities and “look across” the organisation to understand where other areas may benefit or be impacted by a new initiative.
- Elicit requirements using interviews, document analysis, requirements workshops, surveys, site visits, business process descriptions, use cases, scenarios, and business analysis, task and workflow analysis.
- Proactively communicate and collaborate with external and internal customers to analyse information needs and functional requirements to produce deliverables as required, i.e., functional requirements, business requirements document, use cases, GUI, screen, business cases and interface designs.
- Communicate with technical stakeholders and “translate up” technical requirements for decision makers.
- “Translate down” business requirements into technical or functional specifications related to a proposed solution.
- Use enterprise-wide requirements definition and management systems and methodologies required.
- Possess excellent verbal and written communication skills and the ability to interact professionally with a diverse group e.g. management and subject matter experts.
- Possess strong attention to detail and analytical skills including a thorough understanding of how to interpret customer business needs and translate them into application and operational requirements.
- Use best practice questioning techniques for interviews and workshops to elicit “as is” and “to be” business processes and business requirements.
- Use best practice requirements analysis, prioritisation and modelling techniques.
- Liaise between the business units, technology teams and support teams.
- Work with project management to manage requirements, impacts on scope due to changes in requirements, and identify and mitigate risks.
- Contribute at a detailed level to project management plans.
- Assist the business to transition to new processes and technology through change management planning and implementation.
- Must be familiar with the software development life cycle.
Other possible requirements in the business analyst job description are:
- Possess experience in an Agile methodology for the delivery of solutions such as Scrum, Kanban, DSDM or SaFE (to name a few).
- Possess an industry certification such as ECBA, CCBA, CBAP, AAC, CPRE FL or PMI-PBA.
Business Analyst Contractors, Consultants and Permanent Employees
There are different ways of working for Business Analysts including contracting, consulting and as a permanent or ongoing employee.
Contract business analysts often engage in short term and full-time commitments to a specific organisation. Contractors are normally paid on an hourly or daily rate. The duration of contracts can last anywhere between 3 months to 2 years, and generally fill a need in an organisation without the organisation committing to a full-time hire. It is also a way for an organisation to trial a candidate before employing them on a permanent or fixed-term basis.
Consultants (Permanent or Fixed Term Employees)
Consultants that work for consultancy firm may work on all kinds of projects in various domains and environments. The consultant’s time is billed by the company to a client, and the consultant is often required to be onsite at the client’s office. They work for a fixed wage but there are often performance incentives and bonuses.
Independent consultants are self-employed (business owners) and typically take on short-term and part time client engagements to serve a specific business need for the client. These engagements are quite often high-level assignments and includes scoping a new project, developing strategy, or defining requirements for a specific undertaking. Independent consultants are normally paid on an hourly or daily rate.
Permanent or Fixed-Term Employees
Permanent or fixed-term employees work for an organisation for a fixed wage. They usually serve the needs of that organisation only.
The Pros and Cons of a Contracting Business Analyst
This post lists some of the main advantages and disadvantages I have identified with working as a contracting business analyst or self employed consultant.
Pros. The advantages of contracting your business analysis services are:
- You are more likely to work on a variety or projects which reduces the potential for boredom and complacency.
- You meet new challenges on a regular basis, and network with and learn from, a range people.
- As a result, you develop new skills from new challenges and people you encounter on the way.
- You usually earn more money than working as a permanent or long term tenured employee.
- There is greater flexibility in choosing when you work and on what projects, and it is easier to plan holidays if you are willing to take time off between contracts.
- You usually have the luxury of focusing on specific outcomes and deliverables for which you are employed, and not encumbered with various other unrelated tasks that take time away from your primary purpose.
Cons. The disadvantages of contracting your business analysis services are:
- You usually do not receive any kind of entitlements or benefits such as health care or employee shares. Although, I have seen cases where businesses have given contractors or consultants employee share options, these opportunities are rare.
- If your personal circumstances change, i.e., if there is a loss in your family or an illness, you are not paid for time away from work hence a potential loss in significant income.
- Contracts are usually for a short period, i.e., for 3, 6 or 12 months, with no guarantee of further work. Therefore, there may be gaps between contracts meaning that even though you are earning a higher hourly or daily rate your annual earnings may equal that of an permanent employee, or sometimes less.
- Opportunities to attend formal training, conferences and workshops are usually limited, unless you pay for it out of your own money.
In terms of financial security the cons outweigh the pros. However, I favour the advantages of a contracting lifestyle for the very reasons stated above. Further, I believe I am as only as good as my last project, which gives me the impetus to stay focussed on producing the best quality work possible, and not become complacent or lazy.