Quick Start to Success as a Business Analyst
I’m Laura Brandenburg, Founder and CEO of Bridging the Gap, and provider of the Applied Certification in Business Analysis™, or ACBA.
Whether you are just starting your first business analyst role, exploring the profession to see if it’s a good fit, or, like many of our course participants, happily discovering that there is a role and a title for the work you’ve been doing for years, you are in the right place.
In this workshop, you are going to discover the exciting opportunities that are available to you in this profession of business analysis, get specific action steps to advance your career, and discover how to be more effective on just about any type of project.
We’ll also help you bust through a few myths about what it takes to be successful as a business analyst. Because there is a lot of misinformation out there and it leads people astray.
At Bridging the Gap, we’ve been helping professionals start business analyst careers with online training since 2008. We’ve helped thousands of course participants all across the world, in all kinds of industries, and with all kinds of career backgrounds – both business backgrounds and more technical skillsets – start and succeed in their business analyst careers.
Our biggest success is empowering one business analyst at a time. I’m so glad you are here and going through this workshop with us today.
A Look at My Early Days as a Business Analyst
To kick things off, I want to take you back to my early days as a business analyst.
After starting my career in an administrative editorial role that bored me out of my mind, I managed to land myself in a quality assurance role. This was a huge opportunity for growth and fulfillment, and it got me out of my rut.
Then I was asked to apply for a job on the Systems Analysts team. In those early days as a business analyst, I remember feeling like I’d found a home for everything I loved to do most – engage with people in meaningful and focused conversations, solve interesting problems, and do my best analytical thinking.
I absolutely loved the work.
I got a huge salary increase over my role in quality assurance – about 40% – right away. I also felt like my work had meaning, and I was making a difference.
But I also felt a little lost.
Challenges would pop in out of nowhere
- Input from new stakeholders derailing what our team thought were defined and approved requirements.
- Push back from the technical team claiming that a critical requirement wouldn’t be feasible.
- And even people missing or showing up late for my well-thought-out meetings as they dealt with more urgent organizational priorities.
If I hadn’t had the support and guidance of a senior mentor on my team, I don’t know that my first big project would have turned out the success it did.
At the time, I didn’t even know that I was doing what is now called “business analysis.”
Neither did my mentor.
As I mentioned, our title was “Systems Analyst” but we honestly thought we were in a made-up role that was just needed by our specific company…and it must be because of some sort of big organizational issue that they couldn’t get on without people like us.
After getting through that first big project, I was assigned to another. And another. Sometimes I had multiple projects at once.
I was always taking the initiative on something extra too. For example, I started a peer review process for our 4-person team, where we would review each other’s use cases. This was like an early community of practice – again for our rogue little team.
Eventually, I moved on from that company – I was asked by a former executive to join them out in California at a company that had just received funding to build a new online resource center.
We were building a new system from the ground up. New domain. New team. New technology. And I was on my own, figuring out the best practices to put in place.
When I didn’t know the business or the technology, my BA skills were stretched to the max. My communication and analysis skills were more important than ever.
It was while I was working at this company that I learned about the business analyst job title, and when it came time for a promotion I negotiated the title of Manager, Business Analysis. To this day, I’ve never officially held the title “Business Analyst.” Many of my course participants and instructors are in the same position.
Never a titled “Business Analyst” but definitely a business analyst.
What Is a Business Analyst?
So what is a business analyst anyway? I see a lot of misconceptions about this in the industry and it causes a lot of confusion.
Back in 2009, I authored the Business Analyst Manifesto. It speaks to the core of what it is to be a business analyst, and it’s remained true to this day.
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.
And the manifesto goes on to say…
On every successful project, you’ll find a business analyst.
But you might be thinking…I’ve been on successful projects where there is no business analyst, how can this be true?
Business Analysis Is about the Role, Not the Title
Business analysis is not about the job title. There are dozens, if not hundreds, or job titles that represent roles doing some business analysis work.
Here are some of the more common titles that are used to label business analyst roles. You might see your title in there!
Being a business analyst is about the process of enabling positive change, and delivering solutions that deliver real value to stakeholders. It’s about the collaborative and analytical work of clarifying requirements to solutions that solve real business problems.
At Bridging the Gap, we focus on helping business analysts create positive change through business process and software solutions.
This is the kind of work that encompasses the vast majority of job roles available to you.
And on that note, projections show that there are hundreds of thousands of new business analyst roles opening up in the coming years. And the salary expectations are astounding.
Whenever a salary survey is conducted, the average salary for business analysts in the U.S. exceeds $90,000. And senior business analysts with their certifications often make well over $100,000 per year.
What’s more, most new and aspiring business analysts anticipate significant salary increases in their first few years on the job. And the 40% increase I experienced when I moved from quality assurance to business analysis is not uncommon.
And the salary was important – it got me out of living month-to-month and into a sense of financial safety and security. It’s been an honor to watch many of our ACBA Recipients experience a similar level of stability once they are in BA roles, and others make meaningful purchases like buying a new home, a new car, or fun family vacations.
But what really mattered most to me, and to them, was feeling like I was living up to my true potential, that I was doing work that mattered, and that engaged my intellect in a powerful way.
Not to be a total Pollyanna, but life is just too precious for anything less than doing work you find fulfilling and meaningful.
Don’t get me wrong – we love helping our course participants gain promotions and salary increases. It lights us up to see them recognized for their contributions. And these external rewards definitely matter.
But when it comes down to it, it’s the internal rewards that give our life purpose and meaning. Something special happens when you are doing work you find fulfilling every day – it has a ripple effect in terms of how you show up for your family, your partner, and your friends. You become a role model who inspires everyone around you to expect more from their lives too.
We’ve built a culture at Bridging the Gap where we celebrate both achievement AND personal growth, external measures of success AND personal fulfillment, contribution AND an internal sense of self-worth.
Thomas Clark, ACBA Goes From Research Assistant to Business Analyst in Just a Few Months
Let’s take a look at one example.
Thomas Clark, from Essex in the UK, had spent several years as a research assistant, which was mostly a data entry role. There wasn’t much analysis involved.
Like so many of our course participants, Thomas reports being bored out of his mind in this role, and feeling like he wasn’t living up to his full potential.
Then he moved into a Research Analyst role, which allowed him to become familiar with the data collection process and what the data really meant, and how it was used by customers. This was the first step toward receiving something more from his career. And it was a significant step forward.
But his eventual goal was to be a Management Consultant, and so he was looking for another stepping stone in that direction.
He said business analysis seemed to be the culmination of all those times in his life when he had just gone ahead and fixed something. When he had looked at a process that he was going through and realized certain steps didn’t work, could be made more efficient, or could get a better result.
He chose to participate in the BA Essentials Master Class with Bridging the Gap. This course covers the business analysis process framework, which you’ll discover a bit about towards the end of this workshop. He chose this course because the BA process seemed like such a broad and useful thing that he could apply to ANY kind of project.
Within the space of a few months of starting the course, Thomas was promoted into a Project Manager role in his organization, where his job was – literally – to fix problems. One of his first projects was to analyze and improve a critical business process.
This role came about because he started describing the things he could do in his company in this new role – if he spent the day solving problems instead of researching data. He works at a small company, and so his manager brought the idea up to the CEO, and all 3 of them discussed the job role, and things fell into place quite quickly.
To him, one of the great things about being a business analyst is that he learns something new every day. Every day is a new challenge, and he finds that really engaging.
And to emphasize the point I made earlier about titles. Thomas’s title is Project Manager, and he’s doing a combination of project management and business analysis.
His success isn’t just about the title – although I’m sure that mattered. It’s about the opportunity he has to do meaningful, engaging work. For him, business analysis is the touchstone that anchors him into work that actually matters.
The business analysis process gave him a framework to approach this role of solving problems in his organization, and the confidence to propose a role centered only on this kind of activity.
Thomas has continued to progress in his career, securing the title of Strategic Projects Officer. And he is now an ACBA Recipient with Bridging the Gap as well.
Find Your Next Step with The Business Analyst Success Path
Now Thomas’s story is fascinating. And one thing I love about it is how he shows us how much change can happen in such a short time when you get clear on what you want and go for it.
We have professionals at varying career levels join our programs. And you might already be realizing you are a bit more of a tried and true business analyst than you previously gave yourself credit for. This is a huge step forward – because again, success as a business analyst is about the work you do and what you can contribute – not your title.
One way to gain clarity on what you want as a next step is to consider the Business Analyst Success Path. This is a model of career progression that applies to any kind of BA roles.
- Explorer Business Analyst – Considering but not yet committed to a BA career. The milestone that takes you past this stage is to decide that yes, you want to be a business analyst.
- Intentional Business Analyst – Actively pursuing a business analyst career. Here you identify your transferable BA skills and start performing business analysis techniques, right in the role you are in now.
- Official Business Analyst – Seeking to apply the full range of BA responsibilities. At this stage, often you need to manage expectations as some managers don’t know exactly what to expect of a BA. You also want to seek to expand your responsibilities with new projects to apply the full breadth of business analysis skills, which we'll cover next.
- Proven Business Analyst – Solid track record in business analysis, seeking excellence. Here you seek work in new environments, to really stretch your business analysis skills and expand your BA toolbox.
- BA Super Hero – Excellent business analyst, can thrive in ANY situation, individually. But you are often stretched to the max and feel the need to clone yourself. Your next step is to train and mentor other business analysts, and establish a clear and repeatable process framework.
- BA Champion – Champion for the role, often taking the forms of management, thought leadership, strategic work, or consulting.
So your next step is to identify where you are at on the success path and what your next step is to move yourself forward.
At each stage, you are going to need the business analysis process framework to guide you in your role.
The Business Analysis Process Framework
Here is the 8-step process that will allow you to get started quickly and effectively as a business analyst.
And the first thing I want to say is that even though we’ll talk through the steps in a linear way, your actual work as a business analyst will be iterative and it’s not uncommon to bounce back and forth between the steps as you gain more clarity and uncover new issues.
- Get Oriented – Clarify your role, your stakeholders, the project history, and learn about existing systems and processes.
- Discover the Primary Business Objectives – or what problem needs to be solved.
- Define the Solution Scope – Or what the solution to the business problem looks like.
- Formulate Your Business Analysis Plan – Or the work you will do to discover, analyze, and validate the requirements as part of the solution, and the engagement you need from stakeholders to be successful.
- Define Detailed Requirements – The actual discovery, analysis, and validation of the requirements. Many BAs try to skip right to this step, only to face issues like lack of buy-in, scope over-runs, and lack of stakeholder engagement.
- Support the Technical Implementation – Or ensure your technology team is designing and building a software solution that meets the business need.
- Help the Business Implement the Solution – Or ensure the business stakeholders update their work to achieve the intended outcome. Otherwise, you risk the failure that one of my clients experienced (before they hired me as their business analyst) where they implemented a document management system intending to eliminate manual steps and save paper, only to find out the business users were printing and scanning documents multiple times.
- Assess the Value Created by the Solution – evaluate the actual progress made and the Return on Investment.
You move from an Official BA to a Proven BA when you’ve successfully applied all 8 of these steps on at least one project and also used a core set of BA techniques.
So what are those techniques? We cover those in our 3rd model – The Business Analyst Blueprint®.
The Business Analyst Blueprint®
This is The Business Analyst Blueprint®, which is an overview of what’s covered in The Business Analyst Blueprint® certification program, where you can earn your Applied Certification in Business Analysis™ (ACBA).
This model encapsulates over a decade of experience helping BAs get started – and looking at the 12 core techniques you need to be able to perform to be successful on software and business change projects – and avoid missing requirements.
Let’s take a look at these different techniques.
- Business Level – this is the level where we look at what the business does, or the business process. By analyzing at this level, we can often discover the real business problem and do the critical work of aligning different stakeholder groups about what the process is and should be.
- Software Level – this is the level that we look at what the software does to support the business process, or what the functional requirements or features are. This is not about knowing how to build the software, but getting to a level of detail that enables you to have productive conversations with developers. And, yes, as we often get this question, you can become a BA with either a business or IT background.
- Information Level – this is the level that we look at how our organization stores and manages data to support the software functionality and business processes. You don’t have to be a database engineer to do this. Many aspects of the information level are critically important for BAs and business stakeholders to understand and make decisions on.
BA happens at all of these levels. And includes both analysis, or the deliverables you create to analyze the requirements, along with communication techniques you use to engage your stakeholders in the requirements process.
As part of going through The Business Analyst Blueprint® certification program, and earning your ACBA, you’ll receive practical, real-world online training in each of these techniques that enables you to gain confidence and take control of your career.
But Then Why Do We See Technology and Industry Skills in Business Analyst Jobs?
Another question we receive is why the job descriptions for business analysts have additional skills – in particular when managers are looking for technology expertise and industry domain experience. It’s a great question, and a good opportunity to clarify job roles.
First of all, there are two primary ways that the title of business analyst is used.
- The first way is for the role of enabling business process and software changes, like we’ve been discussing here.
- The second way is more of a financial analyst role, to describe a set of responsibilities for analyzing financial data to inform business decisions.
And, to add to the confusion, there are many jobs with the title of business analyst, that don’t actually fit any of the definitions of business analysis.
I find it helpful to think about the different types of roles, and use these to sort through the different types of jobs available.
- Hybrid – This is where you are doing business analysis AND a set of responsibilities from a related profession. It’s not uncommon to see business analysts also doing QA testing, project management, or software development. And then we see skills from those roles in the job description.
- Specialist – This is where you are hyper-focused in a specific area of expertise. Your expertise could be in a methodology, like agile or Six Sigma. Or, it could be in a domain, like healthcare or insurance. Or it could be in a tool, like Salesforce.com or Microsoft® SharePoint.
- Generalist – This is someone who can work in multiple domains, with multiple tools, and with multiple methodologies, and is focused on the core business analysis responsibilities we’ve outlined here.
When you look at the job market today, most of the roles are hybrid roles or specialist roles, and it can make the job opportunities seem rather fragmented. But in reality, what this shows us, is that the need for business analysis skills is so fundamental, and so valuable, that the variety of roles available to us as business analysts is almost unlimited.
Consider The Business Analyst Blueprint®, including the BA process framework, the core set of techniques you need to have in your toolbox, and your guide to project success in All types of business analyst roles.
Toni V. Martin, ACBA Excels as a Salesforce.com Business Analyst
Toni V. Martin is an example of someone building a brilliant BA career in a specialized business analyst role. Toni had a background in marketing.
As she sought to move into a specialty in Salesforce.com, a business application that automates and streamlines sales processes, she found most of the roles were as administrators of the application or developer. And neither was quite a good fit for her. Someone suggested Salesforce business analysis as a specialty so she started to look into that in more depth, which is when she came across the resources at Bridging the Gap.
Toni V. Martin took our BA Essentials Master Class back in 2016.
She was able to apply the business analysis process framework right away to the work she was doing on Salesforce applications. As she leveraged the framework, she became seen more as a leader. And she was also able to build up a work portfolio to use during interviews, and answer the question, “How do you approach a project as a BA?”
As a result, she was able to move quickly into Senior Business Analyst roles, as well as various consulting and contracting positions. Now she also runs her own business helping other Salesforce.com Business Analysts. For a time, she was also an instructor at Bridging the Gap. She is truly a champion within her company and beyond.
And her story also shows how although business analysis roles can be incredibly specialized, they still leverage the same core business analysis skills and process framework.
My Path from Official BA to Proven to Super Hero to Champion
My own career path was quite similar. I already mentioned how I got into my first BA role through an internal promotion from Quality Assurance. Part of what helped me be successful in that first role was that I understood the business domain and technology stack quite well.
Then, I moved into a new organization, with a new team, new technology, and a new business to understand. This really stretched my BA skills.
I had to lean into the BA techniques I knew, and also expand my toolbox. This is when I did my first ever entity relationship diagram (ERD) and started doing more business process analysis as well.
At that company, I worked in a few different contexts, so I went from Proven to Super Hero.
One context was building a brand-new software with a third-party vendor, leveraging several commercial-off-the-shelf tools.
Another context was overseeing a series of smaller project initiatives on the legacy system to meet new business needs. I was scoping the projects, determining the business benefits, and identifying key requirements, while also incrementally analyzing and documenting the current state of the business processes and systems.
Most of my work was on steps 1-3, and that was a whole lot of fun!
And then I was asked again to move to a new company – and a new state – with the management team. In that company, being the Super Hero wasn’t enough. There was too much work to do and I was the only BA.
So I quickly had to move into more of a Champion role. Over 2 years, I built a 15-person team of BAs, QA, and PMs. And I was doing both the Strategic BA work, and establishing practice frameworks for each of these roles.
A few years later, I left that role. I started contracting and consulting as a business analyst, and that’s when I started Bridging the Gap. I didn’t intend it originally to become the training and certification company it is today. In fact, I resisted this for a long, long time.
But over time, I began to see that my best way to contribute to the world was through training other business analysts. To be a true Champion for BAs looking to find more meaning and fulfillment in their work, and share my practical approach to being effective and successful as a business analyst.
Discovering the BA Process Framework
I’m often asked where the BA Process Framework came from. Now, I want to let you in on a little secret of mine.
Through all of these experiences, I didn’t really think there was one BA process. Business analysis really felt so different on every project. And my experiences were so diverse, that it always felt like I had to make things up and start from scratch.
It wasn’t until I was asked again and again to create a course in the business analysis fundamentals for our Bridging the Gap participants, that I sat down and figured out what the process really was.
- I looked at all my most successful projects – the projects where we delivered a solution that met the true business need, and met or exceeded stakeholder expectations. I considered my more traditional projects and my work on agile teams. I reflected on projects that spanned more than a year, and those that went from beginning to end in less than a month.
- I wrote out what I did for each of these projects and looked for the common threads. And that’s how the 8 steps in the business analysis process framework were discovered.
- And then I looked at each of these steps and thought about the challenges I had faced. What had gotten in my way? What had set me off-track? What rabbit holes did I go down? What approach did I take to ultimately be successful?
- I also looked at some of my less successful projects and considered what I could have done differently to make them more successful.
Out of all of this analysis came a detailed tutorial to go with each step – on how to avoid the most common mistakes BAs make, and the most common challenges you’ll face.
This course became the BA Essentials Master Class, which is 1 of the 4 modules included in The Business Analyst Blueprint® certification program, where you can earn your Applied Certification in Business Analysis™ (ACBA).
Since that time, over 1,000 course participants have learned and applied the business analysis process framework by participating in the BA Essentials Master Class. We’ve seen it used to handle all kinds of projects from major ERP implementations to ongoing maintenance requests, to making incremental improvements to existing systems and processes. We even had one person apply the framework to plan his retirement!
And I’m so grateful I got out of my own way, because what I’ve seen again and again is that the process framework gives business analysts confidence.
The Business Analysis Process Framework Gives You Confidence
As an example, I’d like to share one last story with you. Julie Ayres, an ACBA from Perth in Western Australia.
In 2017, she was ready to settle for a project coordinator role. All because she had a “gap” – she’d spent the last 6 years building her own business, an organic retail store.
She joined the BA Essentials Master Class – our self-study version (which is the only course we offer as a stand-alone module, and that we make available only to new subscribers on a limited-time basis and through occasional special promotions). And it was a tough decision for her to make because she had very limited financial resources.
Then she applied for a project management administrator role with a small consulting firm. Her hiring manager read more into her capabilities and offered her a business analyst role.
She describes accepting the role with excitement and then going home and freaking out. How am I going to do this?
But she had all the material from the course, covering each step of the process in depth. That gave her confidence. She had something tangible to fall back on. She knew she could do this work, and the course got her back into the game, gave her the terminology to use, and helped her overcome her self-doubt.
And once she got on her way, she landed the most challenging program work, often managing between 5 and 7 projects at a time – all high-profile ERP projects – in different areas of the non-profit she was consulting for.
This is possible for you too.
You might think you have to make this up as you go along, or that it’s impossible to clone yourself so you’ll always have to work yourself to the point of burnout.
That’s simply not true. Leverage the BA Process Framework as your guide and you’ll be able to expand your project capabilities and eventually even train the other BAs on your team to be more effective.
Here’s What’s Coming Next
It has been awesome sharing this content with you. As someone new to what we do at Bridging the Gap, I hope you are leaving this workshop feeling more confident in your career path as a business analyst with specific actions steps you can take to step into more success.
I do have a limited-time offer for you – for something extra special, a perfect first step forward. We only make this offer available on a limited basis to our new subscribers and as part of very occasional special promotions.
While participating in The Business Analyst Blueprint® certification program is the best way to learn ALL of the foundational BA techniques, build credible experience through real-world application, and gain recognition with the Applied Certification in Business Analysis™, not everyone is ready for the financial and time investment right away.
You can learn more about the next session of The Business Analyst Blueprint® certification program here.
A great way to get started and learn exactly what a business analyst does – on your own time and in an extremely flexible way – is to join the self-study version of the BA Essentials Master Class. This also gives you a glimpse of what the training aspect of the full certification program is like, without the hands-on instructor support and applied certification work.
And as a new subscriber, we’re offering you a limited-time opportunity to join the self-study version of the course – for $500, or a fraction of the investment in The Business Analyst Blueprint® certification program.
What’s more – when you join today, you’ll also be able to save $500 off the next session of The Business Analyst Blueprint® certification program. So it’s a great win-win.
With the BA Essentials Master Class Self-Study, you’ll learn everything you’ll need to know about how to structure your BA process.
- If you are an intentional BA, like Thomas Clarke was, you’ll gain the big picture perspective of what a business analyst does and be able to start approaching your project work with a BA mindset.
- If you are an official BA, you’ll receive guidance in exactly what to do first and next. It’s like having a trusted mentor by your side on your first project. We even cover the almost universal challenges BAs face at each step of the process, and how to handle them – so you’ll know exactly what to do when you find yourself in those challenges as well.
- As a proven BA, you’ll gain confidence that will enable you to move into new domains and types of projects, which is what moves your career forward. The framework will guide you as you explore unfamiliar territory.
- As a Super Hero or Champion, you’ll become aware of the practices that make you more effective, which enables you to start cloning yourself and training others so you don’t burn out.
I can’t wait to see you in class.
Let’s just quickly recap what we covered here.
- Business analysts create positive change. It doesn’t matter what your title is, it’s about filling the role and doing the work that BAs do that makes you a business analyst. And if the idea of solving problems and experiencing a lot of variety in your day-to-day excites you, the BA role is likely a great fit.
- There are a wide variety of roles in the profession, mostly organized around specializations in various industries and skillsets. At their core, they all leverage the same core business analysis framework and techniques. Your BA skills are like a super-charged backpack you can take with you in your life-long career.
- There is a business analysis process framework that applies on all kinds of projects, from smaller projects to large-scale ERPs to collaboration with agile teams. The process gives you confidence in what to do next and helps you be effective. To learn more about the process framework, check out the offer on the BA Essentials Master Class.
Thank you for being here.
Our biggest success is empowering one business analyst at a time. Success starts with you.