Finally, we are back after an all-inclusive summer break, bringing you more career journeys and professional insights.
And we kick off the Autumn with an interview today from a business analyst. It is a career choice shrouded in much mystery and, dare I say, confusion – I know from the work that I do that many individuals struggle to understand exactly what the job involves and how business analysts fit into organizations. This is a real shame as it is a dynamic new(ish) career area which would suit many graduate and career changers alike, yet is so often ignored in favor of more traditional choices.
Today’s interview features Caroline, an experienced business analyst who talks about her way into the career, describes the role she does and breaks down the main skills and qualities that she feels is needed to be successful in this area. Ideally, we will all now be a bit better informed!
Thanks so much for your contribution, Caroline:- )
So, briefly, what is your job?
I am a Lead Business Analyst for a financial services company. I like to think of my role as an internal consultant and I help define and bring shape to business problems and the requirements for the solutions to those problems. I also help ensure those solutions meet the needs of the organization and are aligned with the organization’s strategy. I typically work on large business change programs and can be responsible for producing some or all of the following:
- Scope definitions
- Business Target Operating Models
- Business Process Models
- Requirements Specifications
- Stakeholder Plans
- Feasibility studies and Business Cases to secure funding
I am responsible for ensuring the business requirements accurately mirror the needs of the business, will meet the scope of the program along with any constraints such as time, cost, and quality. I also manage the delivery of the requirements all through the lifecycle of the program through design into build, test, and implementation and onwards to measure that the normal benefits have been delivered.
Now I also lead a team of Business Analysts and I’m also responsible for managing the workload and task assignment for the team, putting together plans for analysis activities and monitoring and reporting progress. I also work with my team, providing support and coaching to help build up their skills and experience.
There is an often-cited set of statistics regarding venture failure and helpless requirements definition and the cost of fixing errors introduced by helpless requirements in the late phases of undertaking delivery. This is the place business analysts add the most value by bringing structure and rigor to the requirements gathering and management process, helping clearly define the scope, a clear set of requirements that adhere to the scope thus increasing the chance of successful delivery.”
How did you get into it?
“After graduating and having a couple of temporary jobs, I realized I liked improving processes, although I didn’t know that was what I was doing at the time. I returned to University to complete a Masters’s degree in IT and then joined an IT services company as a graduate trainee ‘Consultant’. I tried a couple of different roles, security consultancy, test management, bid management, and business analysis. The business analysis was my favorite so I built up my experience and then left to work for my present employer as a Business Analyst. That’s a fairly typical course. Most of my colleagues are also degree qualified.
Now, there are also specific qualifications such as the ISEB diploma in Business Analysis and the IIBA CCBA and CBAP. I have the ISEB diploma.”
Describe a typical day.
“I start off looking at my ‘to do’ list and my scheduled meetings to see what preparation I have to do. A typical day sees me talking to stakeholders, perhaps an interview or a workshop after that I’ll write up any notes and send them out to make sure my recollection is right and follow up any actions. This is important, as it will form the basis of the requirements I produce. Then I might have a team meeting to catch up with the team’s progress and generally find out how everybody is. Business Analysts like to talk……
Today, I’ve spent a bit of time researching some system changes to understand the impact on customers and colleagues and delivered some documentation describing the changes for a non-technical audience, reviewed some documentation created by my team, and provided some consultancy input to another strategic program.
I’ll also update my plans and take a gander at the following stages – who do I need to speak to straight away and schedule any meetings or workshops that are required.”
What do you appreciate most about your job?
“The variety of the role. I deal with individuals at all levels from Directors and Heads of Function downwards and no two assignments are ever the same. It’s also quite a flexible role and I often work from home as increasingly I work in teams in diverse locations across the nation and abroad.
It’s also satisfying to see a program you have helped shape and define the requirements for delivery and see the new systems in use and improving the way organizations work.”
And the least?
“Business Analysis is a relatively new discipline and not every person understands what we do and the value we can add.
Sometimes the objectives of the work I do are to improve efficiency, decrease costs and that can result in changes to peoples’ jobs or job losses, yet you have to think of the bigger picture, as the alternatives could be much worse.”
What are the common misconceptions that individuals have about the work you do?
“I know how to fix computers. And that anyone can be a business analyst.”
What are the main skills you need to work as a business analyst?
“This can be separated into two areas; general and technical. The key general skills are:
- Great communication skills – verbal, written, and non-verbal. Often it’s as much about what individuals don’t let you know. You also need to be able to vary the way and methods according to the audience and you have to be able to gain rapport and build trust. Closely linked are presentation and facilitation skills.
- Curiosity – I spend a great deal of time asking questions or thinking about what questions to ask and you need the kind of mind that wants to know how things work, what the issues are, and how they can be improved. Sometimes you have to think like a small child and ask why… ……
- Flexibility – There’s not a one size fits all approach and you have to be able to see where you need to change for a given situation. And you have to be able to think on your feet for example if a workshop isn’t going great and you won’t get the same individuals in the room for 3 months.
- The ability to make the complex simple, and break down problems into simpler chunks. I’m often the middle man between business and IT so I have to make business concepts understandable to a technical audience and technical concepts understandable to a business audience.
Technically, the following are useful:
- Modeling skills such as business process models, setting diagrams, UML and case models, data flows, and so forth.
- Requirements elicitation and analysis
- Requirements management and traceability
- Understanding of the venture lifecycle
- Data Modeling
It does vary by organization. Many have their change methodology, which will influence which standards and tools are used. Some individuals also see domain knowledge as important, I don’t as often that can hinder that ‘big picture’ view and a good business analyst will get up to speed in another domain quickly. I’m all for cross-pollination of ideas!”
Disclose to us a little about the benefits that come with the job.
“It’s paid. The private sector tends to pay better than the public and the pay and benefits also vary depending on the kind of employment – permanent or contract.
As I’ve said earlier, Bas will in general be quite sociable and I work with a great team. We provide a great deal of support and informal mentoring and coaching which makes for a supportive and collaborative working environment.
There are real opportunities to make a difference to the way an organization work which, is satisfying and the variety means there are little boredom and repletion.
It’s an exciting time to be a BA as the role develops and matures. Many companies are now setting up dedicated practices or centers of greatness and investing in training. There is a clear progression from junior analyst through to a Lead BA and then onto practice management. It’s also a good course into consultancy and a good grounding in the skills needed for successful business management.”
What advice would you give someone wanting to break into this career?
“Most of my colleagues have a degree in either business, IT, or science and either started in IT development or testing.
Don’t look with disdain upon roles like testing – it’s a good way to get a foot in the door and understand what makes a good set of requirements.
Take a gander at www.modernanalyst.com or www.batimes.com or www.theiiba.com for further information and training schemes.”
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Either leading a Business Analysis practice or moving into business strategy consultancy.
AND JUST FOR FUN…
First in the office or last to leave?
Often both, as I work a compressed week.
Tea or coffee?
Staff canteen or packed lunch?
Usually the canteen as I’ve not had time to make my sandwiches.
The lift or the stairs?
Out after work or straight home to bed?
Neither – off home to spend time with my family before bedtime. Back when I first started after university I was most often discovered with my colleagues ‘networking’.