5 Transferable Soft Skills That Will Catapult Your BA Career Forward

Many of the writers here at Bridging the Gap have written about using transferable skills to transition into a Business Analysis career. Laura Brandenburg’s theme is assisting people in starting and transitioning to Business Analysis. In her article, 5 Steps to Becoming a Business Analyst, Step Two is to identify transferable skills.  In Building Critical Stakeholder Relationships, Michelle Swoboda discusses the importance of building relationships.  This skill Doug Goldberg notes as the #1 Ingredient of a successful BA (The Second Ingredient being analytical and critical thinking).  Read how to break the “no experience = no BA job” vicious cycle to see how much Adrian Reed talks about relationship building and soft skills.

With this much attention on the topic of transferable skills let’s take a deeper dive into those skills and see what skills this includes.  The debate of hard skills vs. soft skills, which are best, has been around almost since the inception of business analysis as a discipline.  You obtain skills by practice and the best way to practice is during the duties of your job.  An old baseball coach of mine would say:

“Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent”.

His point is how you practice a process is how you will learn to accomplish that process.  If you practice a process {whether swinging a baseball bat or eliciting requirements} wrong, you will always do it wrong.  If you practice it right, you will always do it right.  So as you practice your skills day in and day out during the duties of your job, learn from your mistakes and strive to do better next time.

Now that the pep talk is over, what skills can help you transition into a business analysis skills?  It is difficult to practice those hard skills prior to getting that first business analysis job, but as many those writers mentioned above have noted, and those of us who have transitioned into business analysis careers know, you often perform business analysis tasks prior to getting that Business Analyst job title.  Even then, it is the soft skills underlying and supporting those hard skills that are most transferable from career arena to career arena.  These soft skills are also transferable from industry to industry, or line of business to line of business that assist a Business Analyst to move to a new area with ease.  For those reasons I will concentrate on the transferable soft skills.

Soft Skill #1 – Interpersonal Savvy

Many people would start off by talking about communication (oral and written) and active listening.  I combine these communication skills with Be Approachable, Influencing, Negotiation, Trustworthiness and Ethics. Interpersonal Savvy is about how you communicate and interact with other people.

  • How comfortable are you in interacting with other people, especially when you have to influence them or negotiate with them.
  • How comfortable are you in working with project teams, business and technical team members.

I include trustworthiness and ethics in these skills because the Business Analyst must build trust among those project team members and other stakeholders and serve as a base for influencing and negotiating power; and of course, acting with the utmost ethics is how you build trust, especially in handling proprietary or confidential information of a particular stakeholder or group of stakeholders.

Soft Skill #2 – Learning

Nobody knows everything, and if you think you do then it is probably time to move on to something else.  Many stay in their comfort zone and stop growing and learning.  Many Business Analysts move from project team to project team, line of business to line of business, or industry to industry; as you move into a new arena learning new processes, people and intricacies.  Often very quickly you have to learn how they do things and terminology.  If part of your job duties is identifying process improvement, you have to learn the current process before you can recommend improvement.

Soft Skill #3 – Teamwork

The Business Analyst does not operate in a vacuum; they often work within a project team.  Even Enterprise Business Analysts work with teams, or at least other people, to develop business cases.   In today’s business environment the team may be geographically dispersed but working within that team remains a necessity to getting work done.  Personal organization is an important skill when working within a team.  You must be ready to work on a task when the team is ready.  If you are always fumbling through, or trying to find, notes to find important information then you hinder the progress of the work. So Time Management and Collaboration become important underlying skills when working with a team.

Soft Skill #4 – Building Relationships

As noted above, the Business Analyst does not work in a vacuum. Building relationships with both business and technical team members is an important skill to develop to be effective.   All the skills mention above assist in being able to build relationships.  Being able to communicate and comfortable working with others, learning from others and working with others all are a part of building relationships. Having an interest in and understanding a person’s viewpoint, interests and agenda are important factors in building the relationship.  This does not say that you have to agree with the individual, but if you determine that building a relationship with this individual is important to your effectiveness as a business analyst, then understanding that individual will make you effective at building that relationship.

Soft Skill #5 – Facilitation

You can’t talk about the soft skills of a business analyst without mentioning Facilitation. Not all business analysts have to facilitate large group discussions among a large group of stakeholders, but facilitation of discussions and relationships is an important skill for a business analyst.  Knowing what the goal of the discussion helps guide the discussion along the path toward that goal and reduces tangent discussions.  When in that large group facilitation, having a scribe for those discussions always proves worthwhile as it is very difficult to guide that discussion while trying to take minutes at the same time.  If needed, volunteer to scribe for another business analyst if they will scribe for your group discussions.

So there is the list of soft skills you should strive to develop when considering a career in business analysis. So as Laura says in her 5 Steps to Becoming a BAconfirm your career choice, and then identify these soft skills you already possess and leverage those to assist you in transitioning into the career that you have chosen.  Along with identifying those skills you have, identify those that you need to improve in; and be ready to always be learning.

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