What is a Business Analyst?

In this post, we’re going to discuss the formal definition of a business analyst, list the key responsibilities of a business analyst, and explain why although business analyst roles can vary widely there is still an essential core of what makes a BA.

The Formal Definition of a Business Analyst

Business analysis as defined by the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) in the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK)  is:

…the set of tasks and techniques used to work as a liaison among stakeholders in order to understand the structure, policies, and operations of an organization, and to recommend solutions to enable the organization to achieve its goals.

The body of business analysis activities does not define a role. The BABOK goes on to say to define a business analyst as

any person who performs business analysis activities, no matter what their job title or organizational role may be…

and continues to reference that many roles do only some of the business analysis activities and others do business analysis activities and activities from other professional domains.

The Key Responsibilities of a Business Analyst

Primarily, a business analyst is responsible for the following:

  • Elicitation - Discovering the underlying business need to be addressed and information related to the product and project requirements, often through conversations with stakeholders.
  • Analyzing Requirements – Organizing, specifying and modeling the requirements to ensure they are complete and unambiguous.
  • Specifying Requirements - Documenting the requirements in a format that can be shared with stakeholders.
  • Validating and Verifying Requirements – Ensuring the requirements map to the real business need, are approved by all relevant stakeholders, and meet essential quality standards.

Depending on the role, the BA professional may also take on more senior-level activities such as planning the business analysis activities or managing requirements. And they may do a whole host of things not formally part of the business analysis role, such as manage the project, test the solution, or write code.

(By the way, if you think you might want to start a career in business analysis, you are probably going to want join our free BA career planning course.)

Understanding business analyst roles involves piecing the parts together

But Business Analyst Roles Can Vary Widely

The definition of business analysis allows for many different approaches to the role. It brings in professionals who work on IT changes, business process changes, logistics, or ensuring compliance with regulations. It brings in professionals who work on projects focused on integrating multiple software systems, building new software systems, and modifying existing software systems, or migrating from one software system to another. Sometimes specific industry expertise is required to be successful. Pick any attribute of a project, organization, or stakeholder group — oftentimes the business analyst role in that context is shaped around multiple attributes.

And, there are many roles that are closely related to business analysis. In What’s the difference between a business analyst and a systems analyst? we explore varying perspectives on these closely related roles and titles. In The case for business analysts over combining BA with other roles our readers discuss the pros and cons of being a BA+ (i.e. someone who does business analysis and fulfills another role, such as testing or project management).

The Core of Business Analysis

While our role as business analysts can be varied, there are a few metaphors that can keep us focused on it’s core. In The complexity of business analyst roles Nathan Caswell explores the core concept of the BA as liaison.

And, as Steve Blais has pointed out in the comments below and in an interview I did with him awhile back, business analysts solve problems for organizations. While activities, responsibilities, and qualifications might vary between jobs, this essential definition remains at the root.

>>Get Hired as a BA

Our 5-step business analyst job search process will walk you through what you need to do to get hired as a business analyst.

Click here to learn more about the BA job search process

Stay informed about new articles and course offerings.

(You'll get a free step-by-step BA career planning course too).

Click here to learn more

your details are safe with us

Books and Courses You Might Be Interested In

Comments

  1. I have found that a simple definition of the role helps. How about: the business analyst is the customer (business, user) facing member of the solution team?
    or looking at it from the other direction: the business analyst is the voice of the business on the solution team.
    Both definitions acknowledge the issue of solving business problems and place the business analyst smack in the middle of the effort. Both definitions also incorporate such varied positions as user experience analysts, human factors analysts, information architects, and can clearly include all the non-IT-projects, such as defining RFPs, creating marketing programs, deciding what new market to enter or which company to buy, or orchestrating the move of the organization into a new facility, all of which require a business analyst role.
    Where there is a solution effort there must be a business analyst involved in name or in role. Where there is a business problem, the business analyst is there to facilitate the solution.
    Simple. Straight-forward. Concise. And eminently powerful.
    =steve

  2. “Where there is a business problem, the business analyst is there to facilitate the solution.”

    Nicely put, Steve! Perhaps your statement will help people who write to Laura with this type of question start to answer the questions themselves.

    “I gather requirements and analyze them to some extent” -> is your analytical work facilitating the solution? If yes, you are doing business analysis work (and being a business analyst even if your role has another name).

    “What are the deliverables of a business analyst?” -> anything that can help facilitate the solution: requirements statements, annotated wireframes, prototypes, diagrams, executive presentations, recommendation reports, etc. depending on the particular problem and solution domains you are dealing with.

    “Is there room in the business analysis role for data analysis?” -> does the solution for the business problem requires data to be created, modified, aggregated, presented, etc.? if the answer is yes, data analysis facilitates the solution, and consequently is part of the BA work.

    And on and on. The reason for Laura’s answer to most questions, “it depends” is because there are multiple types of business problem, all requiring different paths to find their optimal solution. Different tools and techniques are required in different situations, and a talented BA will develop with time the ability to attack a wider ranger of problems with a broader perspective, addressing them with an increasingly diverse set of tools and techniques.

  3. “Where there is a business problem, the business analyst is there to facilitate the solution.”

    Agreeing with Adriana — nicely put, Steve!

    And, Adriana, you really helped clarify the pain point with this statement:

    “The reason for Laura’s answer to most questions, “it depends” is because there are multiple types of business problem, all requiring different paths to find their optimal solution. Different tools and techniques are required in different situations, and a talented BA will develop with time the ability to attack a wider ranger of problems with a broader perspective, addressing them with an increasingly diverse set of tools and techniques.”

    And because of this reality, although the pure definition of business analysis is rather pure and can be simple, the roles themselves, as I mentioned in the post are messy. With each type of business problem or prescribed technique within an organization typically comes a host of job qualifications you may see once or twice or that you may see more and more consistently across roles.

    BAs coming to the profession don’t necessarily start with a pure goal. They are looking at some possible roles and asking “would I like to do that?” or “am I qualified to do that?” And in starting to wade through the mess of possibilities it can be rather difficult to find out what a business analyst role really is.

    Thanks to you both as together you have given me another strategy for helping us all find answers. As placing the questions in context of a pure definition, just with the examples that Adriana here suggests, would lead us in a common direction.

  4. In our organization, 15 business analysts are siloed in various departments within IT reporting to 6 managers. All BAs perform business analysis but some also support applications. Therefore, only a few (5) business analysts operate on an enterprise basis, meaning that they can be assigned to any project instead of being domain focused. In aligning our processes, the BA leaders agreed that junior BAs could support applications but at the Senior level, they would slowly phase off support and be more enterprised focus. However, phasing Senior BAs off support is proving to be challenging due to a lack of resources. Do you ever see BAs involved in support? We are struggling in our endeavors to create a pure business analyst role. How can we make the best of this situation?

    In trying to create a Center of Excellence, we have created templates for requirements documentation, use cases, stakeholder analysis, use Visio as the software for flowcharting and identified a standardized process for requesting BAs and identifying the high-level scope of work to be used for prioritization. What suggestions would you have to help us mature our processes?

  5. Hi tbird,

    Thanks for your thoughtful questions. They are a bit outside the context of this post so I’m going to submit them for consideration by the Bridging the Gap authors so we can provide you with full answers in a future Help a BA post.

    Best,
    Laura

  6. Anurag Mishra says:

    A business analyst bridges the gap of understanding between business and technology to accurately define software requirements and carefully control scope.
    This role is responsible for identifying and documenting requirements and analyzing these requirements from a business perspective. They define current and future operational scenarios (processes, models, use cases, plans and solutions) and work with the client and the I/T Architect to ensure proper translation of business requirements to I/T solution requirements.

    And these are the different levels of BA Roles…
    A Business Consultant – works at a high level to analyse a Clients business and recommend and develop solutions to address their business problem
    A Business (Requirements) Analyst – works at a lower level to identify, analyse and document the business requirements and deliver work products through the project lifecycle
    A Systems Analyst or System Architect – translates the business requirements into System / Functional requirements, which are then passed to Application Developers.
    A Business Test Specialist – develops the business test scenarios and test cases for verifying that the “right system is built”, based on the requirements documents

  7. Dear all,

    This is the first time to me to contribute with you i hope to provide a good contribution as i’m acting nowadays as a business analyst for my company’s supply chain-downstream side.
    BA is the one who is have a very strong technological background and a heavy weight business understanding for multiple areas.
    From this point, he will be able to understanding the issues regarding the business processes and he also knows what is the proper solution or the road to solve these issues.
    Because of the technology side you can meet BA for SAP, Oracle, or Microsoft
    The opposit is true also, you can meet BA for logistics, supply chain, sales and marketing, or operations management
    But i think that the main skill set he must has are as the following
    Communication skills, verbal and written
    Computer skills (Excel with Macro, ERP solution, MS Visio, MS Project Manager)
    Business Subjects such as (SCM, Marketing and Sales Administration, Operations)
    After all, it is a life time knowlege and experience and it has no limit
    Glad to share my ideas
    Ehab Nady
    ERP System Analyst
    Amoun Pharmaceutical Co.

  8. Anurag and Ehab,
    Thanks for your comments. You definitely provide a few variations on the business analyst role, but in my experience they do not represent all of the variations. One challenge that new BAs face is looking at specific jobs such as “Business Systems Analyst” or “ERP Systems Analyst” and trying to marry their qualifications to the qualifications of the job. It can seem that even when one is qualified to be a business analyst, one is unqualified for many of the jobs. So, thank you for sharing your experience with the role as it helps illustrate this very point about how BA roles, although revolving around a common definition, can be very different on the surface.

  9. Deji Sofek says:

    Hi Laura,
    I have been going through your blog , and i must confess i am really thrilled, the dedication and vibes here is awesome.
    I am relatively new to business analysis and have been trying to get a second contract role ever since Jan, I have been invited to this job interview, and i have been asked to give a 10 min power-point presentation on Friday 15th march.
    Just wondering if you guys could through me some hints on this

    “As a business analyst, your influence extends across the whole project lifecycle. How can you go above and beyond an analyst role to ensure your project is delivered? Where do you see the key challenges and how will you overcome them?”

    • Deji,
      Thanks for your feedback and great to have you as part of Bridging the Gap!

      That presentation topic is very much a loaded question, as it presumes a shared understanding of the BA role for this organization.

      If I can venture to read through it (without context which is always risky) I would say that they are looking for someone who will do what it takes to make a project successful. Whatever approach you’ve decided to take, I’d recommend you include some stories from your past career experience where you went outside your formal job description to ensure your project was delivered. Hopefully your audience will be impressed by your ability to dive in and make things happen.

  10. Abhishek gaur says:

    Hi laura,
    This is my first time on bridging the gap.Though i don’t understand much of BA profile,but i would like to confirm my understandings so kindly correct me if i am wrong.

    BA’s are the person considering all through about the quality of a product as per the stakeholders and performance concerns acting.

  11. I would like to add an interisting view on the business analyst role. Although it has “business” as part of the name, I think it is important to remind everyone that, besides the business users needs, the solution defined by the business analyst has to fulfill the company support areas users as well. The best solution for the company is the one that meets balance between business users needs and support/operations users needs as well.

  12. Hi Laura
    I just discovered your site. What a terrific resource!
    I just wanted to add a note regarding the BA role vs. the practice of Business Analysis (a distinction touched on by the BABOK quote you began with) – in particular with respect to ‘agile’. Increasingly, I have seen our clients are incorporating agile approaches. One strong principle these clients follow is that there be no intermediary between the IT side and business – so the concept of the BA as an intermediary is completely abandoned. In addition, agile team members tend more to be multi-functional rather than dedicated to one aspect of the project. This does not mean that there is no place for a BA in these shops – but it does change the nature of the role. Firstly, the BA’s purpose in an agile environment is to facilitate communication between the two groups, but this communication happens while both groups are in the room – not with a BA shuttling back and forth between them. Secondly, the role may be ‘virtual’ – not a dedicated person but, instead, someone who practices Business Analysis during a project while also engaged in other activities. (E.g., in Scrum, BA responsibilities are carried out by the Product Owner and an analyst team member.) So – while a formal BA role may not exist in these environments, the practice of business analysis persists and knowledge of BA techniques is still essential.

    • Thanks Howard! I agree that the BA should not limit themselves to being an intermediary, regardless of the environment. At our best we are helping facilitate conversations between all stakeholders – and on a software project that means business and technical stakeholders. To be a mere intermediary is hopefully becoming ancient history for business analysis.

      And yes, anyone who does business analysis is a business analyst, regardless of their job title.

  13. Ehab Nady says:

    Dear all,

    It is a very good discussion about the nature of a BA role, but I don’t like the publicity of a role because having an attitude of analyzing or negotiating something is not enough to be a professional BA. Let us diffrenciate between an analytical thinking skills required to do a job wisley and the art and science of a business analysis in many business fields to enable a communication of the problem solving to all parties

    For example;
    Being very professional in negotiating a supplied quantity for a specific raw material with an external supplier, internal planners and marketer; shipping agent, and after all re-adjusting a forecast with your top-management staff for the finished goods which use this raw material makes your work complete in an excellent way
    But we talk about a BA when we talk about the steps you did, esablishing a system to be followed, document it, makes policies and SOPs, convert the procedures to software specifications, or even plan and manage its creation and implementation.

    Also, companies need a BA when establishing new business systems which is not a responsibility of a specific area-related guy

    For example;
    communicating with a comopany’s distributors to set some protocols to get sales data from them-Sales & Marketing responsibility, benfit from it in ajusting replinshment level and speed-Logistics responsibility, esablish a software to store and manipulate these data-IT responsibility, and rolling forecast every month in an S&OP meeting-Top management staff responsibility.

    Finally, I hope my perspective helps you in defining a BA role
    Thanks & Best Regards,
    Ehab Nady

    • Ehab, Can you be more specific about what “publicity” you are finding?

      • Ehab Nady says:

        Dear Laura,
        Excuse me I have used the wrong word
        I mean by this word that we should not consider a person as a BA because of just he has an analytical thinking skills, which is now an essential skill for most jobs
        But there are many other skills and functions for the BA may not be available in other people although they have the skills of analytical thinking
        My apologies again for this mistake

        Thanks & Best Regards,
        Ehab Nady

      • Thanks for clarifying and no worries. I just wanted to be sure I understand so I could respond appropriately. I do think that having the critical thinking and communication skills and the willingness to problem solve in your work gets you 80% of the way there. No, you may not be a “titled” BA but you definitely have the BA mindset and are doing business analysis.

  14. Laura Joyce says:

    I’m trying to have a BA role introduced at my company, a medium sized organization. Any material you could direct me to on how best to make a successful business case to those who may be unfamiliar with the role would be much appreciated!

  15. Jamala Best says:

    Hi Laura,
    I have found your blog to be EXTREMELY helpful to me. I have transition my career from a web developer/digital content manager to a BA (new to the profession). My question is what is the difference between a traditional BA and a Digital Marketing Business Analyst?

    • Hi Jamala,
      Thanks and so glad we can be of help. I’ve never heard of a Digital Marketing Business Analyst, so my guess is that it’s a title used in one or possibly a few companies, likely inconsistently.

  16. Hello,
    Would i join this discussion!. I believe that’s a BA in digital marketing company. Am i right!?

  17. Jamala Best says:

    @k das, It’s with a digital interactive agency, so marketing is a part of the company’s make-up. Thanks for commenting!