Are you exploring a business analyst role and wondering if you have the required business analysis skills and experience?
What follows is the list of the most critical business analysis skills for new business analysts to bring to the table – organized into the categories of core skills, business analysis skills, soft skills, and skills that can be required for specific types of BA jobs.
Typically if business analysis is a good career choice, you’ll be able to tick off these skills (or be extremely excited to go to work right away on improving these skills just because they sound interesting).
Business analysts must be good communicators. This means they can facilitate working meetings, ask good questions, listen to the answers (really listen), and absorb what’s being said. In today’s world, communication does not always happen face-to-face. The ability to be a strong communicator in a virtual setting (via conference calls or web meetings) is equally important.
No project is without problems. In fact, the entire project is a solution to a problem. At the highest level, BAs facilitate a shared understanding of the problem, the possible solutions, and determine the scope of the project. You’ll also find BAs in the midst of facilitating teams to solve technical challenges, especially when they involve negotiation between multiple business or technical stakeholders.
Critical Thinking Skills
Business analysts are responsible for evaluating multiple options before helping a team settle on a solution. While discovering the problem to be solved, business analysts must listen to stakeholder needs but also critically consider those needs and ask probing questions until the real need is surfaced and understood. This is what makes critical thinking and evaluation skills important for new business analyst.
While communication, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills are core to being a good BA, they are not all that’s required. Let’s look at the skills specific to the business analysis profession next.
Business Analysis Skills
The following skills are specific to the business analyst role, but even as a new business analyst or someone looking to enter the profession, you’ll see it’s possible you have related transferable experience (and therefore skills) doing similar work under a different title.
(By the way, this is something I can help you do a deep dive into. Click here to learn about Getting Hired Faster, a virtual self-study course that helps you qualify for more BA jobs even if you don’t have much in the way of formal BA experience.)
Documentation and Specification Skills
While documentation or writing could be considered a subset of written communication, it’s really its own skill set for a BA. Here I include the ability to create clear and concise documentation (the latter becoming increasingly necessary in a lean or agile world). As a new business analyst, you may not have experience in a variety of business analyst specifications (that comes with time and a variety of project experiences) but it’s quite possible that your strong general documentation and writing skills will get you started.
And it will be easier to get into your first BA role if you can correlate your past experience in something very similar to a formal BA specification to the kinds of specifications required for any given position. And this is possible even if you’ve never worked in a formal environment.
Business analysts use a variety of techniques to analyze the problem and the solution. As a new BA, you might find that you naturally see gaps that others gloss over and identify the downstream impact of a change or new solution. As you mature as a BA, you’ll use a variety of techniques to conduct analysis and deconstruct the problem or solution. Examples include use cases, business process models, and decision models.
In this skill area, we see many cases where professionals have related experience in analyzing problems using different techniques. Your experience is transferable and can be expanded by applying some of the BA techniques in your current work.
A close sister to many analysis techniques is the ability to create visual models, such as work-flow diagrams or wireframe prototypes. For any given analyst role, there could be specific models you need to create. As a general skill set, it’s important to be able to capture information visually – whether in a formal model or a napkin drawing.
Facilitation and Elicitation Skills
BAs facilitate specific kinds of meetings. The most common kinds of elicitation sessions a BA facilitates are interviews and observations. In some more advanced roles, the meetings are called “JAD sessions” or “requirements workshops.”
Most new BAs have experience running very similar meetings or facilitating discussions that can is transferable into elicitation experience.
Business Analysis Tools
As a new business analyst, the ability to use basic office tools such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint should be sufficient to get you into the profession.
Other technical skills include the ability to use modeling tools, such as Visio or Enterprise Architect, requirements management tools, such as DOORS or Caliber, or project and defect management tools (there are really too many to list these days). It’s unlikely you’ll find these to be required skills for a large number of positions and they will be skills you learn on-the-job.
And as important as it is to have specific business analyst skills, no list of BA skills would be complete without the soft skills required to be successful as a BA. Let’s discuss those next.
Key Soft Skills for Business Analysts
Like the core skills, you might find that you already have many of these skills in your repertoire. However, these skills are listed separately because they may not be intrinsic to the roles you’ve had in the past. You may need to actively seek out improving in these areas as you move into your first business analyst role.
First and foremost on the list of soft skills is the ability to forge strong relationships, often called stakeholder relationships. A stakeholder is simply anyone who has something to contribute to your project and often you’ll work with many stakeholders from both the business and the technical teams.
This skill involves building trust and often means stepping into a leadership role on a project team to bridge gaps.
While BAs are not project managers, the most successful BAs manage the business analysis effort. This means that the BA is proactive and dependency-aware. It also means they manage themselves to commitments and deadlines, a skill set which can involve influence, delegation, and issue management.
A Thick Skin
BAs receive a barrage of feedback – on their documentation and proposed solutions. To succeed as a business analyst you need to be able to separate feedback on your documents and ideas from feedback on you personally.
A Paradoxical Relationship with Ambiguity
Deep down, business analysts despise ambiguity. Ambiguities in requirements specifications lead to unexpected defects. Ambiguities in conversation leads to unnecessary conflict. At every stage of a project, you’ll find a BA clarifying and working out ambiguities.
Yet, at the beginning of a project, before the problem is fully understood and the solution is decided upon, a BA must be able to embrace the ambiguity and work effectively through ambiguity. Managing ambiguity means we embrace new information and learning as it surfaces, even if it surfaces later than we’d like.
And so we’ve reached the end of the important skills for a new business analyst. But no discussion of this topic would be complete without dealing with the not one, but two 800-pound gorillas in the profession.
Skills for Specific Business Analyst Jobs
So, there are not one, but two 800-pound gorillas in the profession? Yes there are, and they are technical skills and business/industry domain expertise respectively.
So let’s look at these separate skill sets now.
First on the list is technical skills. What about SQL, .NET, Perl, and VBScript (just to name 4 of the potentially dozens of relevant IT skills in the job marketplace today)? While it’s important that a business analyst have a conceptual technical understanding as it helps you analyze the problem to be solved and communicate with technical stakeholders, you don’t need to be able write code or run database queries.
Unless you want to. If you want to there are plenty of hiring managers who will gladly take you on as a BA and a software developer.
We see technical skills in business analyst jobs for a variety of reasons, but most often it’s because the organization is looking for one person to fill two roles.
There goes the first 800-pound gorilla.
Onto the second.
Industry and Domain Expertise
What about business and industry domain expertise? Do I need to learn about the financial domain? Or insurance? Or the ins and outs of running an HR department?
How can I ever become a BA if I must learn this all first?
You don’t need to be an expert in every domain or industry.
In fact, that would be impossible.
Yes, a lot of BA jobs require special areas of expertise. If you have areas of expertise in specific domains, you can leverage your expertise in your BA career. But if you don’t have a specific expertise to leverage, you’ll just need to focus on opportunities that will value your other business analysis skills.
And with that discussion, we’ve effectively dealt with 2 800-pound gorillas. Not bad for a day’s work! But there’s one more thing I’d like you to keep in mind.
One More Thing
There is a big difference between business analysis and business analyst roles. This means that as a business analyst we might specialize in any number of skills. It also means that even if we’re experts in business analysis, we may not qualify for all business analyst jobs.
Even the most senior business analyst, the kind who would qualify for the CBAP based on their years of experience across multiple knowledge areas, would probably qualify for less than the 50% of the business analyst job roles available today.
They simply don’t have the required skills.
If you are making a career transition, the stakes are even higher. Don’t expect to qualify for more than 20% of business analyst job roles.
At first this might sound bleak. But let it sink in.
Doesn’t that take the pressure off just a little?
Instead of chasing around dozens of skills you aren’t even certain you’d enjoy using, you have permission to focus on the relevant BA skills you already have.
We cover how this kind of focus can impact your job search in our business analyst job search process.
>>Get Hired Faster
In our Getting Hired Faster virtual course, you’ll learn how to break down the business analyst jargon and deepen your understanding of the BA skills and experience you already have so you can apply to more BA jobs.