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. I also recorded a video for you sharing my thoughts on these key business analyst skills.
Before I forget, I want to be sure you know about my Quick Start to Success as a Business Analyst training (it’s free) that’s designed to help you, the mid-career professional, kick-start your business analysis career. This training provides an introduction to what a business analyst does and a deeper dive into what skills you need to be successful as a business analyst.
Now, onto the skills.
Core Skills that are Essential for Success as a Business Analyst
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.
As a new business analyst, you may not have experience in a variety of requirements documentation (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.
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. Often we start this by analyzing the business process.
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 analysts.
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. At Bridging the Gap, we organize the key business analysis skills into The Business Analyst Blueprint®.
(You’ll learn all these skills in The Business Analyst Blueprint® certification program, where you can earn your Applied Certification in Business Analysis.)
Analysis & Communication Techniques are Both Key Sets of Business Analyst Skills
The first thing you’ll notice about The Blueprint is that the techniques are organized into Analysis Techniques and Communication Techniques. The Analysis Techniques are the models and templates we use as business analysts to analyze and think through the requirements. But these requirements do not get created in a vacuum. We must elicit or discover them from our stakeholders. This is why knowing the right Communication Techniques to use as a business analyst are equally important.
The key Communication Techniques for collaborating with stakeholders are:
- Discovery Session – to discover information related to the process or requirements from business stakeholders, so the requirements represent their needs.
- Requirements Review Session – to validate the requirements that have been captured are clear and correct.
We also consider the glossary and user stories to be communication techniques, because their primary purpose is to capture and communicate requirements-related information to various stakeholder groups.
The Key Analysis Techniques
The second thing you’ll notice about The Blueprint is that there is not just one set of analysis techniques. One of the challenges that plague way too many projects is “missing requirements.” We miss requirements either when we don’t involve the right stakeholders (i.e., apply the right communication skills) or overlook key areas of requirements because we are only looking at one view.
The Business Analyst Blueprint® certification walks you the 3 key levels of analysis that are important to fully understanding a problem and solution domain, when software is being implemented as part of the solution. These are:
- 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.
The Business Analysis Process Framework
The third thought you’ll notice about The Blueprint is that there is a foundational framework underlying the techniques. This is the business analysis process, or the end-to-end approach you apply to be successful and effective on a typical business process improvement and software project.
As you leverage this process framework, you’ll gain increased recognition for the value of business analysis, and you’ll start to get pulled into more interesting projects, earlier in the process.
(Again, you’ll learn all of these skills in The Business Analyst Blueprint® certification program, where you can earn your Applied Certification in Business Analysis.)
Business Analysis Tools
Now that we covered the techniques and framework, let’s look at the tools you use to implement these techniques. 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. Also, a common visual modeling tool is Microsoft Visio.
Other technical skills include the ability to use more sophisticated modeling tools, 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 lead 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 800-pound gorillas in the profession.
Skills for Specific Business Analyst Jobs
So, there are not one, or two, but THREE 800-pound gorillas in the profession? Yes, there are, and they are technical skills, methodology 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 has 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 to 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.
Another way the business analyst job role can be specialized is around a specific methodology. Common examples include:
- Agile Business Analysis
- Six Sigma
- Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN)
- Rational Unified Process
Pick just about any specific way that an organization could choose to approach change or software development, and you can find business analyst job profiles requesting BAs with this specialized skill set.
Having one or more of these skill sets in your back pocket can be an added advantage when it comes to searching for a job, and quickly getting up to speed on any specialized methodologies in place in your organization is critical for a new business analyst.
Industry and Domain Expertise
Now for the third, because 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 three 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. Job titles are used very inconsistently in our industry. 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.
And, we also see business analyst skills being critical to success in many different roles, like product management, product ownership, project management, technical leadership, and even upper management roles. There is a long shelf life on your business analyst skills, as you get started, advance in the career and move along on your business analyst career path.
All the more reason to get started now!
>> Get Your Quick Start to Success
Earn the respect you deserve and get the insider details on how to get into a business analyst career quickly, with our free Quick Start to Success training. You’ll learn how to avoid the most common pitfalls faced by new business analysts and the step-by-step business analysis process to create predictable, consistent project success.
And also, plan to join us for the next session of The Business Analyst Blueprint® certification program, the online certification program, where you can also earn your Applied Certification in Business Analysis™. You will fill your BA toolbox with the key skills to launch your business analyst career.