3 Characteristics of Star BAs

Author: Adriana Beal

In every workplace there are a few people who outperform everyone else.  Their work is of such high quality and quantity that others admire and value them. A “star BA” is someone who is recognized by their peers and superiors for the extraordinary results they deliver in business analysis work.

Because of their highly valued skills, star BAs have more control over what type of work they do and how they do it, which they use to create work they love. Below are 3 traits that star BAs have in common.

#1 Star BAs Put Themselves in High-Leverage Learning Situations

Some BAs who are talented and motivated never seem to get to a place of high performance. They may try all the traditional motivators–time management tools, positive thinking, organizing tips, all to no avail. After endless wheel spinning, these talented BAs lose confidence and settle into a mediocre career, often doubting their career choices.

I recently wrote about the importance of ability and how building rare and valuable skills is crucial for developing a fulfilling career in business analysis. Being talented or motivated is not enough to become a top performer; knowing how to build up critical skills over time is one of the key traits that differentiate “star” from “average” BAs.

Star BAs put effort on developing an increasingly deeper and more well-rounded understanding of the business analysis work, which in turn leads to pattern recognition skills that form the foundation of perspective. They push themselves up the experience curve by practicing new skills of the BA craft, often working harder than most of their colleagues to develop those skills.

#2 Star BAs Know Star Performance has Much More to Do with How You Approach Work than How Talented, Smart or Driven You Are

Evidence from a 10-year long research by Professor Robert Kelley from Carnegie Mellon University shows that stars are not smarter, more driven, or better than others in any fundamental sense. What makes top performers better than other workers, in addition to being purposefully committed to developing relevant expertise,  is their ability to take initiative, seek wise counsel to help them interpret complex facts, focus on solving problems rather than on getting recognition, remain attentive to the perspective and opinion of their team members, and orient their position according to the values and vision dear to their organization and its leaders.

#3  Star BAs Understand Initiative

In a previous article, I discussed the importance of understanding what “initiative-taking” truly means. Average performers often have a too narrow definition of initiative. Doing a job more efficiently seldom qualifies as an initiative; it’s important to understand the “critical path” for your company, and the “white space” that you should be stepping into to help out your colleagues and the company.

BAs who really take initiative, and seek out responsibility above and beyond the expected job description, get noticed when it counts. If you become known as an individual who can use information and organizational knowledge to improve decision making and efficiencies in the organization, you will find it much easier to get involved in the discussions that were previously happening quietly at the top of the organization and taking a while to filter down to you.

Improving your performance as a business analyst may be as simple as changing how you approach your work. Instead of complaining about a limiting BA role, or the lack of opportunity to use your analytical skills in your current job, ask yourself what you could be doing that is above and beyond your job description, helps people other than yourself, and is in the organization’s critical path.

In order to become known as a valued star BA, you don’t need to become someone else’s clone or be bound to one formula. Instead, you should use the personality traits and quirks that make you distinct, and put the star BA strategies to work to bring out the best of who you are.


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  1. Hi, Ravi,

    Thank you for the nice words — I agree that Bridging the Gap is an invaluable resource for BAs and aspiring BAs interested in growing in their profession. There’s tons of excellent advice here, and people who follow it are seeing first hand what a difference it’s making on their careers. So good for you for trying the networking strategies I’ve suggested, they are very effective.

    Good luck, and keep us posted of the developments on your side, too!

  2. Hi Adriana,
    Your bolg is wholesome. Very helpful and encouraging. Also one of the common issue I share with Anthony is creating professional network and your elaborative response to that gave impetus to explore and practice such activities.

    Thanks a ton, and this “Bridging the Gap” is an excellent platform for BA’s.

    Kind Regards
    Ravi Iyer

  3. Hi, Anthony,

    I think you are already on the right track, trying to understand the current job market and figure out which areas would be more useful to get good at to make your profile more attractive to potential employers.

    My suggestion to you is to do the same thing I do: accept that you will not be considered a top candidate for some positions that require familiarity with a specific tool or domain you’ve never worked with. Focus instead on job postings that are closer to the experience you do have, and look at the gaps you need to fill to better position yourself for these openings. For example, say you have experience with the insurance industry, and would be interested in working for an insurance company again, but most of the job descriptions you see requiring this type of experience also ask for experience with agile development, which you don’t have.

    What you can do is to create a strategy to get some agile experience, even if your current job (or not having one) doesn’t provide this opportunity.

    You could study agile approaches (using books, webinars, etc.) to become familiar with its various frameworks, and then get a book about user stories. In parallel with studying the book, start practicing creating user stories for a project you had in the past.

    Even if you don’t have concrete experience in agile projects, a combination of solid knowledge you can get from books and some good online resources, and proof of your ability to apply this knowledge in the form of solid work samples, would be extremely helpful to better position yourself for a job requiring agile experience.

    Take a requirements document you wrote, and try to come up with user stories covering the same requirements. Write user acceptance criteria for them, and practice prioritizing these user stories for implementation, coming up with good criteria to decide which stories to implement first.

    After removing all sensitive information from your real-life requirements, you can create a work sample that you can mention in an appropriate section of your resume (this would put in your resume keywords that recruiters would be using to filter candidates to interview). Now you’ll have things to talk about in an interview for a job that requires experience with agile (about the challenges in choosing stories of the right size, your rationale for the prioritizing criteria used, etc.).

    Remember that people do get hired without prior experience all the time. As long as you have something valuable to offer to the hiring company, it’s quite possible to overcome the fact that you don’t fulfill all the requirements in the job description. If you can show that you are good at something of value — for example, have great facilitation skills, are good at priority setting, etc., you might end up hired even with less than ideal experience in another desired skill.

    Regarding networking, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is (as a matter of fact, my current job, which I love, is a result of meeting with the speaker at a local IIBA event — I had brought some copies of “Professional Development for Business Analysts” as a giveaway, and he wanted a copy, so we exchanged cards. We developed a relationship, and he ended up referring me to the company trying to hire a senior BA.)

    In terms of networking, the best approach is to research local professional associations (many of which offer free events that you can attend to start meeting people), and then start going to events. Lower your expectations — you are probably not going to find a job right there. But like happened to me, you might meet people there who will later be able to recommend your name for a friend looking to hire a BA.

    When you meet someone interesting, follow the advice provided by Laura in “Professional Development for Business Analysts”: the next day, email the person, noting an interesting aspect of your conversation and expressing your interest in meeting them to share experiences. If you can, attach something of value, say a link to a website or the title and author of a book you recommend. Emailing them soon ensures they have a second trigger to remember you, and increases your chances of having a follow-up discussion.

    The best contacts in your network are the ones with whom you build a long-term relationship, with a combination of email exchanges and face-to-face meetings from time to time. It’s much more effective to have in your network 10 trusted colleagues who are happy to give you leads and connect you with recruiters and hiring managers, than 1,000 contacts you barely remember. So your focus here should be on quality, not quantity.

    Good luck, and write again soon to tell us about your progress!

  4. Anthony Okolie says

    Dear Adriana,
    Thanks immensely for those insights which tends to agree with that of Charles Darwin that in nature the species that survive are not the most powerful or most intelligent. Rather, they are the ones that learn to adjust to their changing environment. So relating what you have just said to my situation and adding the advice from Laura, Namely: apply BA skills, I have been looking at the changing requirements of prospective BA employers in London. Now all of them want the BA to have Agile Software development experience (i.e. it is not enough to have the knowledge and they don’t want to give us a blank cheque), experience developing functional specifications, testing and implementation, UAT experience and the list could continue. They also want the would be BA to have experience with an endless list of tools and platforms, technologies. Then going by Laura’s advice: apply BA skills which seems to suggest: Prioritize. The issue I am having is that I am not moving forward at all. I need to develop my Professional network as Adrian Reed counselled but doing that without income can be tricky. Any ideas of a way forward? Many thanks for your great writings and contributions

  5. Hi, Les,

    Thanks for your comment, I’m glad you agree with the 3 characteristics I listed.

    And yes, we can’t afford to leave it to others to decide which direction to take in our careers — we must be in charge of how to manage our professional lives.

  6. Adriana,

    What a great post. Your 3 characatersisitc were right on the money, and I really liked how you pointed out that it’s up to you as the individual to rise above.


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