How a Lateral Career Move Can Accelerate Your BA Career

As business analysts it can seem difficult to go “up”. Many organizations do not have a senior business analyst career path and have limited lead or manager roles to grow into. Another way to move up is to move over. These are called lateral career moves.

You could make a lateral move from one role to another: for example, business analyst to project manager (or vice versa) or business analyst to business process engineer, etc. But if you really like your role, but are itching for something new, it might be time to make a lateral move within business analysis. What does this mean?

Looking around the corner to find a new career opportunity

Well, it means you work on a project or with a department that falls outside of your typical scope of responsibilities. Many organizations that are creating centralized BA teams already support this by assigning BAs to project not based on their background, but based on their availability or fit.

But many BAs work with a single business unit, a single system (or set of systems), and on projects that are roughly the same in approach. Find work in a new domain or try a new approach and you’ve just expanded your awareness of business analysis.

New Stakeholders, New Ticks

Let’s talk about why this happens. When we work with the same stakeholders, we learn what makes them tick. We know that Bob does best at 9 am on Tuesday’s and that we can drop by on Wednesday afternoons. We know he likes visuals, like wireframes. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Over time as you work with the same stakeholders, they learn you and you learn them. Unless one of you is especially difficult, the challenge of figuring out how to work together is gone. Get yourself a new set of stakeholders and you have to go through this learning curve. You’ll also test your people skills big time.

New Systems, New Focus on Analysis

Same thing for systems. Over time you learn what the system does and you subconsciously work through technical challenges in your requirements. You can safely make a lot of assumptions in your analysis because you know the lay of the land. Work on a new system, one in which you are not an expert, and all of a sudden your analysis competencies are tested again and you become more aware of what you do and why you do it.

New Methodology, New Awareness

The same thing happens when you switch methodologies. During my first three positions, I was dealing with new stakeholders and new systems, but used essentially the same methodology. Then I started contract hopping (which is a great way to stack up lateral career moves one after another) and I found myself knee deep in an agile environment.

All of a sudden, my business analysis process was tested. Did I really need that document or that section? Could the same thing be accomplished in a user story? What was missing now that I had this big list of user stories but no big picture? These were questions I grappled with (publicly) and they made me a better business analyst.

Even though I’m still no agile expert, I’ve challenged myself to streamline my processes, focus my efforts, and cut out pieces of requirements documentation that I didn’t even realize were fluff. But I also added some key pieces back in, realizing that agile methods didn’t necessarily create a substitute for great business analysis. This also led to more confidence in my abilities and a better understanding of the value I provide.

New Project, New You!

Unless you are working on the killer of all projects that is a new career-changing experience in an of itself, it may be that a lateral move or a new type of project might be exactly what you need to hit refresh and rekindle your business analysis career path. After all, when the path up seems blocked, it’s up to us to find a work-around.

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8 thoughts on “How a Lateral Career Move Can Accelerate Your BA Career”

  1. hello LAURA ,
    i recently joined a firm as jr. Business Analyst , & now they are asking me to move to pre-sales department , as for now i have no idea regarding the difference between operational & pre-sales , so help me choose the perfect fit , & yeah one more thing i am from technical background (master’s in computer application).


    1. Congrats on your business analyst role! It’s not uncommon for BAs to have client-facing responsibilities that can also be in pre-sales, particularly if you are selling software in a B2B type of space. In this role, you are often responsible for understanding the client’s needs and problems and helping scope the solution with your software, which may include customizations and configurations. Have you asked your employer for more clarification about the role and why they are moving you?

  2. Hello Laura,
    I’ve been working in Accounting, Finance and Payroll (with some HR / benefits experience) for the last 15 years and would love to make a career change. I’ve been told by a few people that I would make a great BA. Is this a possibility for me?
    Thank you,

    1. Laurisa,
      Yes, becoming a BA is always a possibility. It really depends on what you are willing to invest to make this happen. I suspect your domain background would be very useful in finding a BA position in that area.

  3. Thank you for this article!

    I’m just now looking at ways to ‘move up’ and take my career to the next level. My route to becoming a BA was not a traditional one – I’m honors qualified in Food Science (New Product Development). Since graduating I’ve progressed through six roles in Manufacturing Operations, most recently spending 2 1/2 years as a Business Analyst.

    My passion is business strategy, and my long term goal is senior management/directorship roles. From what I’ve read, one of the best ways to position to move into these types of roles from the role of BA is to obtain work as a BA for a consulting firm, progress through their ranks and then move out to a senior leadership position from there. Does anyone have an thoughts/advice on this? I’d love to hear them!

    1. Hi Zelle,

      That path could certainly work. My path from BA to middle management (director role) was to be the first BA at a start-up company on a growth path. This led to forming a BA team…which became a BA/QA/PM team.


  4. Great points Laura. I also feel that move within the company is a lateral move sorta, and can help immensely… I started my career in Auto Insurance, moved to Reporting for Auto, Property and Claims, and then to life Insurance; all in one Company. And because I had cross-domain knowledge I got to work in the enterprise data warehouse of this company; a classic example of learning breeding opportunity!

    And trust me each department of the company will have their nuances and ways of doing things… and there will always be a chance to learn a new domain, interact with new stakeholders, and learn new ways that can tick them! 🙂

    The other part of the ‘move’ is the amount of exposure you get to other cultures, and way of doing things. Moving internationally is also a great opportunity to expand your horizons, especially in this age of outsourcing. Although not everyone gets this opportunity, but if they do they should never miss it.

    Lateral move is great for BA learning for sure, I whole heartedly encourage BA practitioners to do it when they are in a position to in their career. If this seems impossible, a decent compromise would to move within the company.

    1. Agree – a lateral move can be within your same company and this is often the easiest career move to make, sometimes even leading to opportunities UP! (As a side note, it would be great to hear a story from someone who used a lateral move or series of them to make an upward move.)

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