How Can a Business Analyst Move From One Domain to Another?

Reader Question 1:How easy or how difficult is it to move from one domain to another? For example, if a BA wants to move from finance domain to health care domain (and vice versa), what are the challenges and obstacles h/she has to face? I have experience in the benefits industry. If I want to go to the finance industry, what are the challenges that I have to face?

Reader Question 2: Does the domain knowledge plays a vital roles for BA before getting into any projects? Also how do BA’s overcome the challenges when moving from one domain to another domain (from manufacturing to aviation etc)?

Is the path from one domain to another tangled or clear?

Kent’s Reply:

A good understanding of the business domain in which you are working is critical to your success as a business analyst, primarily because one of your main roles is to understand what problem(s) the organization is trying to solve and how the project(s) on which you are working can solve those problems.  In order to understand the problem space, you have to understand the domain.

That is not to say that you have to have in depth domain knowledge going into the project.  If you have a general understanding of how business works, and you have the necessary inquisitiveness to seek out understanding of the specific domain, you can be successful as a Business Analyst.

(That being said, you will run into job postings that require prior business / industry domain expertise, and this can impact your job search.)

Many of the challenges involved in changing domains have to do with developing a thorough understanding of the new domain so that you can gauge the criticality of the problem and identify characteristics of a desirable solution.  The best way to deal with those challenges is to invest some time getting familiar with the new domain on your own.  In addition, understanding your organization’s particular view of the industry is always helpful.

Look for industry association websites and glean as much information as you can for free. If you believe you will be in that domain for the long haul, it may be worth it to join, but don’t feel compelled to do so.  I have shared some examples below for the domains mentioned in the questions.  Keep in mind that the domains suggested are quite broad, so you will want to see if there are more specific industry associations relevant to the organization at which you are working.

Determine if you have anyone in your network that works, and is knowledgeable, in that industryMeet them for lunch or coffee to get more of an informal understanding of how things work in the industry.  If they have a lot to offer, establish an ongoing mentoring relationship with them.

Search the business press (Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Fortune) for news stories about the industry in general or the company with which you will be working in particular.  These sources of information will be more objective views of what is currently going on in the domain when compared to the professional associations.

If the organization for which you are working is publicly traded, read through their SEC filings for an understanding of their financial position and hints at their strategy, at least what they are willing to share with their share holders, the government and the general public.  These are usually found on the investor relations section of the organization’s website.

In my 15 years as a consultant, I have worked at ten organizations in seven different industries and found the above steps very helpful in becoming quickly acclimated to the new domain.  I also found that my fresh perspective to the domain allowed me to ask “why” questions quite often while staying under the cover of seeking to understand rather than asking because I think the current activity is just plain silly.

Take advantage of your fresh perspective to drill down to the root cause of the particular problem you are attacking and understand what the real cause.  People who have been involved with a particular domain or organization will tend to make a lot of assumptions and not fully delve into whether they are solving the right problem.

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Comments

  1. If you want to move across domains, you need to focus on the Analysis portion of the BA title. Everything Kent says is useful in preparing for any project, but it does not take very long. What matters is being able to analyze a piece of a business organization or process what ever it is using some consistent techniques.

    Remember, even one company has many domains. My first job was with a life insurance company, but it was several years before i worked in insurance. I started in mortgage investments (because insurance companies invest money), then real estate, stocks and bonds, stockholder reporting, general ledger accounting, even chargeback of IT costs. Each time I started in a new domain, it usually happened quickly (“OK Dave, here’s what’s next”) and i started with little knowledge, but I learned enough about each area to analyze it and deliver requirements, cost-benefit analyses, RFPs and so on.

    Now I work as a consultant that where I average about two weeks at a client, starting with scope and finishing with requirements for a project when I am done. One time it is new bank deposit products, next it is web delivery of medical journals, next it is marketing for a food service company, then managing test results for a pharma company, then…well, you get the picture.

    So, know what you are going to do, ans you will learn wat you need to know as you go.

  2. Kent, David, even though I agree with what both of you said, in my opinion the biggest factor defining how hard or easy it is for a BA to move from one domain to another is the level of competition (i.e., number of qualified candidates with experience in the target industry).

    In my experience, regardless of what we BAs think about how important previous domain knowledge is/isn’t, most hiring managers will choose a skilled BA who has already worked in the specific domain over a skilled BA without that experience. Even though learning about the domain from industry associations may help, it usually won’t tip the scale if there is another strong BA with work experience in the field competing for the job.

    Often, a BA without domain experience is hired because there aren’t many eligible candidates with the desired experience. This happened with me twice, being chosen to work in a project in a domain that was completely new for me, and being told later by the client that they knew they would have to hire someone without domain knowledge because of the almost nonexistent pool of candidates with that type of experience. (Implicit in their comment was the fact that if they could have gotten a talented BA that didn’t have to spend time getting up to speed in the domain knowledge, they certainly would have.)

  3. Adriana,

    Absolutely true, if not exactly the topic at hand.

    I have always believed this is true because most managers can’t determine the skill level of a BA — we are about the most misunderstood group of people in any company — so they go with domain experience as the only criteria.

  4. Akarsh MG says:

    @Kent – I posted the Question # 2 in the bridging the gap in September 2010

    You have mentioned some great points, i believe in too it’s good to have domain knowledge to ask more number “Whys” to stakeholders to understand the requirement thoroughly also to provide great suggestions.

    I posted that question as i work on Manufacturing domain when i was exploring job opportunities on Business Analysis usually lot of companies are not ready to provide the opportunities that easily into a new domain as they are very specific on their domain requirements (even though i have good amount of experience on Business Analysis ). In searching new job on Business Analysis into new/different domain has given me big challenges.

    Thank you for sharing the links.

    @David – I agree with you understanding a new domain does not take very long , just that i have found it hard to move to a new domain in different organization as they have straight away rejected saying we need people with specific domain experience.

    @Adriana – I think you made the perfect point on “level of competition ” and also i agree on the associations may help on the basic need but might not serve the required purpose for change of domain.

    As of right now I may be was not “at the right place at the right time” to get hired into new job without domain experience

    • Alan Jones (Scotland) says:

      Changing domain can be difficult as employers expect you to have a reasonable amount of relevant experience. It requires a bit of luck
      In my case it came down to a combination of availability and general broad experience of determining requirements. The project I joined was running late and needed a BA ASAP; I told them I could start tomorrow but would prefer the day after.
      What I did do on arrival was to learn fast. I took the opportunity to research using the internal Intranet to find out what was going on. I was then able to asked questions such as how does this project affect project X – questions that no-one else was asking. As mentioned in other posts you can, with caution, play the newbie card and get people to explain things in a broad context
      Best of luck Alan Jones (Scotland)

    • nidhi (India) says:

      @Akarsh – I am on the same boat buddy … trying to move to newer domain internally and outside organization…. Domain is what they want doesn’t matter if the person is not from technical background or not…. a total non-techie person will work as system analyst since he/she is Domain SME /functional consultants … when they prepare SRS good knows how developers understand what they have to develop now…

      I am techno-functional and covert business and IT requirements well but that does not suffice industry need they need Domain SME or programmer.. sigh..

      or become a programmer analyst .. the person is basically a developer who is asked to work as BA to gather client requirement and assign work to self and their team to develop the solution… the worst part is these people fail to understand business side of it and they deliver a code without understanding the need of it…. they are programmers and speak all technical words which causes a gap in understanding… thereby taking up change requests when business actually tests them during UAT…well happy to know there are not much bugs but we asked for x and u developed x+z or y.

      @Adriana and alan – Yes competition is huge and recruiter can’t compute how that BA is better then other (except ur CBAP etc ) … if u havn’t worked on particular domain they simply won’t call candidate for an interview..

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