On every successful project, you’ll find a business analyst.
They may not have the business analyst job title, and they may not even be aware they are doing business analysis work, but someone is ensuring the right problem is being solved, that everyone understands the problem and solution in detail and is on the same page about what the software is going to do, and how that achieves the business objectives.
So what is a business analyst? And what does a business analyst do?
There are many variations of the business analyst role, and the business analyst job title is used inconsistently. Here at Bridging the Gap, we focus on how the practice of business analysis unfolds specifically on software projects, where the business analyst is responsible for ensuring the team is solving the right business problem and guiding the team in analysis and communication activities that get all business and technical stakeholders on the same page about the project scope, including the business and technical aspects of the solution.
Whether your team is leveraging agile software development practices or more traditional ones, effective business analysis is essential to success. If you are interested in starting, succeeding, or excelling in a business analyst role, this article is your guide to the role, responsibilities, job description, and mindset of a business analyst.
Defining The Business Analyst Role and Mindset
Out of chaos, we create order.
Out of disagreement, we create alignment.
Out of ambiguity, we create clarity.
But most of all, we create positive change for the organizations we serve.
Business analysts lead teams from the inside out. We create positive change for our organizations. We inspire others to follow us on our path toward positive change. We help everyone understand exactly what that change is and how they can contribute to it. We help teams discover what the change should be.
Source: Bridging the Gap’s Business Analyst Manifesto.
In essence, if you’ve helped teams focus on alignment, clarity, and positive change, you are filling the essentials of a business analyst role and have the mindset of a business analyst. It’s not uncommon for an aspiring business analyst to discover they’ve been doing BA work intuitively for years. They are able to uncover many transferable business analyst skills and position themselves for mid-level and, depending on their experience, even senior business analyst roles.
A Dedicated Business Analyst Role Sets Projects Up for Success
Having a dedicated business analyst role on your project has a tremendous ROI (Return on Investment). As high-performing business analysts, we need to be aware of the value we create, and how we contribute to the ROI of a project. The role is still misunderstood by many, and we’ll often find ourselves needing to educate our leadership and stakeholders about how we can make a contribution.
- Reducing rework that’s caused by overlooking requirements until late in the development process.
- Reducing requirements churn, or the time investment from stakeholders in getting clear on what they want out of a software solution.
- Finding more cost-effective solutions, whether that’s simplifying the requirements or finding non-technical solutions to business problems.
- Discovering new business benefits that increase the ROI on the planned project investment.
- Prioritizing requirements, so the development team has a clear idea of what to implement first.
- Facilitating communication with the business community, so the delivered solution is used as intended.
- Providing a framework for IT to scale, particularly as an organization grows beyond the boundaries of informal communication where everyone knows everything about the business.
Here’s a video walking you through the value proposition of business analysis:
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The Key Responsibilities of a Business Analyst
To contribute this level of value, you need to bring a structured framework or approach to the business analyst role. This role includes taking the requirements aspect of the project from initial problem or idea to a fully implemented solution. The following business analysis process supports the business analyst in navigating a project effectively and successfully.
This is the 8-step business analysis process framework we teach at Bridging the Gap, and it’s helped thousands of business analysts be more effective in their role. Let’s take a quick look at the business analyst responsibilities involved in each step.
- Get Oriented – Start actively contributing as quickly as possible by managing expectations and conducting preliminary stakeholder analysis.
- Discover the Primary Business Objectives– Ensure the right business need or problem is solved, and that all stakeholders are aligned on the expected outcome.
- Define Solution Scope– After exploring multiple possible solutions, gain agreement from stakeholders on the scope of the solution to be developed, and ensure it fits within the constraints of the project.
- Formulate Your Business Analysis Plan– Identify what types of documentation or deliverables to create, and what needs to be done when. Ensure stakeholders understand what contributions they need to make as part of the project, as business analysis never happens in a vaccum.
- Define the Detailed Requirements– Gain alignment and clarity at a detailed level, so that both business and technical stakeholders can successfully implement the solution. This involves developing a consistent method of communication so that all stakeholders know and understand the requirements.
- Support the Technical Implementation– Be a partner with the tech team and ensure they have everything they need to be successful, and explore opportunities to generate even more business value from the software aspect of the solution.
- Help the Business Implement the Solution– Support business stakeholders during implementation, user acceptance testing, and roll out so that they ultimately get what they need and are able to incorporate the delivered solution into their day-to-day work.
- Assess the Value Created by the Solution– Assess the Return on Investment (ROI) of the solution, celebrate the project successes, and identify new opportunities to improve the business.
You can learn more about the 8-step business analysis process framework in this video:
And, yes, this process framework applies in agile too! Here’s a guide to how to leverage this framework to be a successful agile business analyst.
Key Skills for Success in a Business Analyst Role
The business analyst role requires both hard and soft skills. Business analysts need to be able to gain alignment from diverse sets of stakeholders on both the big picture and the granular details of the project.
First, there are core, underlying skills that set you up to be a great business analyst, such as:
- Communication skills – Verbal and written communication skills are extremely important, as is the ability to facilitate meetings with diverse sets of stakeholders.
- Problem-solving skills – The ability to understand what problem is being solved and why, as well as navigate new challenges and problems throughout the project, is essential.
- Critical thinking skills – Business analysts evaluate multiple solution options and provide critical thinking to back-up or probe into stakeholder assumptions.
Then there are specific business analysis skills in analysis and communication. To be successful as a business analyst, you need a toolbox and a framework.
- A TOOLBOX of techniques that you can pick and choose from, based on the needs of your project and team.
- A FRAMEWORK that guides you step-by-step what to when.
At Bridging the Gap, we provide an organized, streamlined, and practical toolbox and framework in the form of The Business Analyst Blueprint® – it’s both a framework for approaching business analysis skill development and the name of our flagship, online, practical training program.
And it looks like this:
While we already talked about the end-to-end framework. :et’s take a deeper look at the toolbox of techniques a business analyst needs to succeed in their role.
- The Business-Level, or how the business work flows operationally, often completed by analyzing the business process (a textual model) and creating business process flow diagrams (a visual model).
- The Software-Level, or how the software system supports the business workflows, often completed through functional requirements models like use cases and wireframes.
- The Information-Level, or how data and information are stored and maintained by an organization, completed by data modeling techniques including an entity relationship diagram (ERD), data dictionary, data map, and system context diagram.
When you use multiple techniques, particularly powerful analytical and visual models, you will find that you naturally see gaps that others gloss over and identify the downstream impact of a change or new solution.
Here’s a video that walks you through the key business analyst skills.
The Typical Day of a Business Analyst – Or, What Does a Business Analyst Actually Do?
The role is so varied that there really is no typical day for a business analyst. And that’s one of the things many business analysts love about the role, as there is a lot of variety in the work.
I have an entire video on this topic, but here are a few things I’ll share here about the role:
- There tends to be a split between independent and stakeholder-facing work. It can vary from 50/50 to 70/30 in either direction. You want to be sure that you’ll enjoy interacting with people as well as doing independent analysis and critical thinking work.
- Business analysis is a self-managing role. You need to be proactively thinking ahead and planning out your process to ensure nothing slips through the cracks.
- The days tend to be different depending on what type of project(s) you are on and what phase they are in. Early on, you’ll be doing a lot more discovery. Then you’ll be in the details and analysis process. Then you may be supporting the business and technology teams during development and implementation.
- It’s quite possible you’ll be working on more than one project at once! So be ready to be in all the phases at any given time.
And here’s the video with a lot more detail on what to expect day-to-day:
Business Analyst Roles Can Vary Widely
While these are the essential skills and responsibilities of a business analyst role on a software project, roles and titles vary widely. Depending on the role, the BA professional may also take on more senior-level business analysis responsibilities, such as such as strategic analysis, learning new domains, and project portfolio management.
The definition of business analysis allows for many different approaches to the role.
- It brings in professionals who work on software projects, 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 or expertise in a specific business application 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.
When reviewing business analyst job descriptions, pay attention to both the generalized aspects of the role that are common across many roles and the specialized skill sets that pop up in a specific roles.
Hybrid Business Analyst Roles Are Incredibly Common
What’s more, it’s common for a specific business analyst role to be a hybrid business analyst role, meaning that you will have responsibilities beyond the core of business analysis.
Common hybrid roles include:
- Business Analyst / Software Tester
- Business Analyst / Project Manager
- Business Analyst / Product Manager
- Business Analyst / Software Developer
Because business analyst job titles are used inconsistently, it’s not uncommon for these hybrid roles to be under the title of “Business Analyst”. It’s also not uncommon for a role like Project Manager or Software Developer to simply include business analyst responsibilities.
In fact, there are dozens of different business analyst job titles. You can learn more about the difference between the BA job title and the BA role here:
The Difference Between Business Analysis and Related Roles
What’s more, there are many roles that are closely related to business analysis, or leverage business analysis skills to be successful. Here are articles in which we dive into the difference business analysis and other, similar, roles:
- The Difference Between a Systems Analyst and a Business Analyst
- The Difference Between a Product Manager and a Business Analyst
- The Difference Between a Subject Matter Expert and a Business Analyst
- The Interplay of Project Management and Business Analysis
- The Difference Between Business Intelligence and Business Analysis Roles
How to Become a Business Analyst
Business analyst roles generally favor on-the-job work experience. And it is definitely possible for a mid-career professional with work experience to start a business analyst career.
- First, learn about the business analysis career and confirm your career choice. Exploring the resources in this article is a great place to start!
- Second, identify your transferable business analyst skills – these will enable you to skip right past entry-level BA positions.
- Third, invest in your foundational business analysis skill set. Here at Bridging the Gap, we provide online business analysis training opportunities that help professionals start, succeed, and excel in their business analyst careers.
- Fourth, build on-the-job business analysis work experience by approaching your current work with a BA mindset. For example, no matter your role, you can always improve a business process.
- Fifth, focus your efforts to find your first BA opportunity. Leverage your areas of expertise and experience in related roles to focus on the opportunities that will be easiest to qualify for. Then you can expand your skill set and experience, opening up even more opportunities.
In short – if you truly want to become a business analyst, it’s certainly possible! And the career opportunities within business analysis make this an exciting time to pursue a business analyst role.
>>How to Learn the Foundational Business Analyst Skills
When you join The Business Analyst Blueprint® training program, you’ll gain real world experience in the industry-standard techniques and business analysis processes so you can upgrade your skills, bring a fresh perspective to your business analysis approach, and know exactly what to do on your software projects.