How Do I Know If I’m Ready for My First Business Analyst Project?

Reader Question:

I read statistics that say that 80% of projects fail because of poor requirements. I’ve been a developer and I could take a certification test before I got a job. As a PM, any negative impact I could have was limited to the delivery. As a BA, people could be stuck with my bad requirements for a long time. How do I know that I’m ready for this position and that I won’t screw things up? Is there any litmus test I can give myself to be sure I’m ready to take on a full-time business analyst role?

Laura’s response:

The “Am I BA” Litmus Test

Historically, most business analysts have become business analysts through experience, not formal business analyst training. We creep into the role from related roles and wake up one day and find ourselves in a business analyst position. Others of us simply jump into the deep end of the pool and hope our instincts lead us to swim. So the reality is that most people today that call themselves business analysts have not applied such a litmus test. The CBAP is obviously one such test, but it is only available to individuals with 5 years of experience, so it doesn’t really resolve your dilemma. The CCBA could come much closer, but still requires 2 1/2 years of experience.

But the reality of our profession is that formal knowledge of the role is secondary to experience. It’s rare that an individual takes an entry-level business analyst course and then auto-magically is a “qualified” business analyst.

You Don’t Have to Own Your First Project

My first business analyst experiences were not on projects I owned. I was lucky enough to shadow a senior business analyst. I attended her meetings, took meeting notes, and provided the initial drafts of some requirements documents. She reviewed everything I did before it went out to the stakeholder team.

She fed me increasingly more challenging business analyst responsibilities as I learned BA by watching her in action. This was kind of like getting to swim in the kids pool to get used to the water. After a few months of this, I was thrown into the deep end on one of the biggest projects the team had tackled. Then I learned to truly swim.

But, There Are Some Life-Preservers

Not everyone will have the opportunity to shadow a BA before jumping into the deep-end. But it doesn’t mean that when you jump into the deep end of the pool, you don’t do some smart things to make sure you don’t drown. There are a few life-preservers that you’ll want to make sure you’ve got close by to make sure you learn to swim.

#1 Your requirements will be validated by others

A bit of the fear of screwing things up should be alleviated by the realization that as a business analysts, while you are the author of the requirements, you are not solely responsible for their contents. Any project should have some layer validation or approval – the requirements are typically reviewed by multiple business and technical stakeholders before being finalized and implemented. This collective responsibility for the requirements doesn’t mean that you are off the hook for writing good requirements, but it does mean that you will have others reviewing and checking your work.

#2 Learn and apply formal business analyst knowledge

Your learning can continue on your first few projects. As someone prepared to enter the profession, you’ve probably already read some books and maybe even taken a training course. (That’s a link to the virtual, instructor-led courses we offer here.) It’s important to maintain these activities as you move through your first project. In some cases, you’ll trust your instincts. In others, you’ll want to refer to books, go back through course materials, or have some on-demand training ready to prepare you for a tough task.  You may also want to gather together some templates or work samples to use, especially if you can find the type of documentation typically created by BAs in your organization.

#3 Find a senior-BA mentor

The true life preserver for a new business analyst is the support of a senior-level analyst.  A mentor should share their experiences with you and help you wade through some of the more difficult challenges. Even senior business analysts often rely on their peers for support in a challenging problem. But as a new BA, it is worth finding the support of someone in your organization that can spend a bit of time with you each week to talk through your plans, review your deliverables, and provide ongoing support and advice.

>>Get Ready For Your First Project

Would you like a starting point for approaching common business analyst work scenarios? Along with work samples so you can see what a typical requirements document looks like?

Check out the Business Analyst Template Toolkit – all of the requirements templates are fully annotated and editable by you, giving you a great starting point for starting your first business analyst project or formalizing your work samples.

Click here to learn more about the BA Template Toolkit

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Comments

  1. Hi Laura, can you please provide your best contact info, so we can reach out to you .

  2. Hi Laura, I was wondering how much you charge for your BA mentoring service?

    Kind regards

    Gwen

  3. I keep reading all your articles, they are so informative. I would say I need to work on my self confidence level. I’ll keep reading your articles and try to learn more. Thank you.

    • Thanks, Kristi! Confidence often comes with experience. In lieu of real-world experience, I tend to over-prepare for my initial work in an area. Finding a mentor can also be critical, so don’t overlook that aspect of building up your initial confidence.

  4. I have a senior analyst and we talk alot but she is always busy so I don’t want to lean on her also I am a contractor so I don’t want to seem like I need lots of help which would have been nice my first two weeks to guide me in the right direction. So I am trying to balance watching what she does and also showing that I have some added value as well.

  5. Great question, Kimberley,

    There are a few options. I would recommend starting with leveraging your professional network to try to find a mentor within the profession, but outside your company. You might solicit support from some specific business analysts you know and trust. Mentoring is an opportunity for your mentor to build their own BA skills (we learn so much when we share it with others).

    Second, you can choose to work with a paid BA mentor (such as myself) for ongoing support or help in addressing specific challenges.

  6. Kimberley Heath says

    Hi Laura,

    What suggestions do you have for obtaining a BA mentor relationship to assist with development of BA leadership skills and career coaching outside of the mentee’s current organization and reporting structure?

    Kimberley

  7. Hi Tola, It sounds like you’ve made some great progress “swimming” alone. Those BA tasks are not simple ones by any stretch. Good thinking on exploring alternatives to detailed templates when securing the approval of the project sponsor. You might check out this post for some ideas of how to approach framing up your documentation.
    http://www.bridging-the-gap.com/how-to-align-stakeholders-around-project-scope-without-a-review-and-sign-off-process/

  8. Thank Laura, just what i need but maybe more. I am currently “swimming” alone in a pool. I am working as a BA on a software project for an eye clinic, and as my first “real” BA job alone, it’s not as easy i thought. Everything is going well so far, i have been able learn the basics the industry, conducted interviews and identified the business need for the clinic. I modelled their processes and i have discussed the processes with the project sponsor and other stakeholders. We have agreed on the processes that need not be automated because they don’t meet their biz objectives, and processes that should be introduced in the software, as well as other requirements for the software.
    Where i am pretty stuck is how to present all of these to the project sponsor. The templates i have are just too detailed and i am afraid it will do more harm and good. I need a simply approach to present my As-Is, To-Be processes, and requirements for the software project.
    The clinic hasn’t done any software project before, so the more technical the document, the more difficult it is for them to understand.

    Thanks

  9. Parvez Akhtar says

    Thank you very much for shearing this knowledge . This is very useful to start my career in BUSINESS ANALYST WORLD

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