7 Soft Competencies of a Business Analyst- A Practical Perspective
Updated: Jul 1, 2020
Article written by: Ganesh Ram Anand V
Lead Business Analyst
The decision to build a product occurs when a foreseen, or sometimes unforeseen, desire arises to change the long-held legacy system. The time wasted to document unnecessary requirements impact not only the person involving in business analysis, but also the rest of the development cycle. If, at the end of the process, we need to build a powerful insurance quote system, then the birth of it comes from an important source– The Requirements. A key ingredient for any product development is requirements. According to IIBA’s Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK), a professional involved in business analysis and requirements elicitation process is termed as a Business Analyst (BA).
Often, the ability of the BA to collectively and precisely capture the core requirements could decide whether we build a correct and useful system! The BA should be able to elicit the requirements lying within the mind of multiple stakeholders. This is not as obvious and easy as it seem when actually performing in the practical business workplace. The requirements elicited should be stated using natural language, independent of technology, and agreed among all the stakeholders. It should convey a single view of requirements at any given time. Competency of the person playing the role of BA is probably as important as the requirements itself.
This article lists down some of the most important and real-time soft skills the BA should demonstrate.
From my experience, I see a BA should be able to operate with varying degree of freedom and flexibility depending on the project requirement. For example, some times, the BA’s effort to capture the requirements of a complex business application might be put into bookshelf by the client or customer for an external reason like change in Government policy. In such a scenario, your ability to fight back the frustration requires high degree of self-tolerance and maturity.
In some occasion, the BA might be asked to play the role of the project manager, or at the other extreme, the role of a data scientist. Being a BA means working in global projects, across boundaries, and with people from different cultural background. All these require high degree of tolerance. Often working offshore, the BA should be willing to adapt to the varying time zones customers, partners and stakeholders. An analyst is bound to travel virtually across the world! Assertiveness combined with self-mastered patience, readiness to change and high degree of broad-mindedness are very necessary.
2 Analysis and Documentation
Business analysts have to make sure that they define the solution requirements that meet the end-user’s business purpose and day-to-day operational needs. In my opinion, sound documentation competency is the Mother of all skills for a BA. This should be one of your core skills so that it helps in capturing the requirements elicited from various stakeholders. This might look very obvious, but stating the system needs in a plain natural language that presents an unbiased and unified meaning while read by different stakeholders require loads of practice and experience.
If you are a seasoned BA from a pre-sales or business development background, you have already acquired some of this competency. For others, it becomes a ‘To-Be’ goal and need to be learned with experience, from their immediate mentors, and from working closely with the seniors or lead BAs working with them.
Documentation is a very special skill an analyst should demonstrate. Presenting information specific to the intended audience is challenging and time consuming. Variety is essential, but clarity and simplicity would make it readable. Do not write stories, but, write ‘Good, Valid and Correct Requirements’! Documentation also means ability to work with various UML and visual models. Use models which make sense rather than over doing them.
I would suggest using combination of textual narration and visual models like wire-frames which supports your requirement document. What works for me might not work for you! Your personal experience and expertise rule at the end of the day. Do not document what you think is needed, but create what your stakeholders and customers wanted as part of the development effort! Try using the KISS formula – Keep It Simple and Straight.
Communication is essential and important. However, more than being a communication specialist, an analyst should be a good conversationalist. The BA should be accepted as a friend within their team encouraging people to share information. As a BA, you should be comfortable in conversing with people from different cultural background and hierarchy of position both internal and external to your organization. Depending on a project need, the BA will be interacting with top management and CXO, executive team, business owners, product owners, end-users, SMEs, etc...
The BA should be able to modify the language and tone of conversation according to the level of interaction. For example, when discussing with an actual end-user, the BA must be able to go to their level of knowledge and speak their language. And while conversing with CXOs, the BA should be ready and able to modify the tone and way of discussion. The power of conversation comes with an individual’s continuous effort to make it better and better by using every opportunity that comes across. Conversation and communication are like two sides of the same coin. Use your communication skills to expand your conversation competency.
4 Attention to Detail
Stakeholder is going to be always busy in their own world. Every encounter with your key stakeholders should be treated with due diligence and considered important. Ability to listen during communication is very important. Sometimes there could be a requirement which has been elaborated and presented at a very abstract level. It is the responsibility of the BA not to assume and get clarifications during the requirements elicitation process. Keep an ‘Eagle Eye’ view on those things that have not been told or are hidden or otherwise look very obvious. Sometimes, the BA creatively imagine what has been said and create what they think is correct. This often ends in costly rework later during the product life cycle. Repeated research studies has shown reworks cost 60 percentage more effort as compared to developing right at the first time.
Pay attention to details- even to those things which look simple and clear!
‘Do not miss out the Ant, while chasing for the Elephant’ because an unnoticed Ant could destroy a BIG Elephant! Pay attention to details. Carry a ‘magnifying lens’ as you perform requirements elicitation sessions and discussions. Looking into the details should be practiced at every stage of business analysis process as it will help reduce early requirements fault and time spent in future product corrections.
At different times, either as part of your project or professional level, the BA is required to work across multiple domains, new technology and legacy applications. You should be ready to learn new processes, domain, understand current technology and become productive within a short turn-around time. Many times, while conducting requirements workshops, your stakeholders might propose new methods and techniques. As a BA you should be open to those new ideas and proposals. This does not necessarily mean to accept everything, but to give everything and everyone a chance to present their view points. Be inquisitive in getting the details, but in the process, keep your ears wide open to accept new things coming your way. Be willing to recognize and respect the beliefs or practices of others to succeed in your assigned activities.
6 Common Sense
As someone said, “Common sense is not so common!” the BA should have excellent analytical and reasoning competencies. However, this will become obsolete if the BA could not make practicable judgment with the elicited information. The BA should learn through past experience and apply it to the present needs and business context. A better BA will not jump into conclusion without understanding the complete context. The BA is like a practicing law professional who should be able to immediately ask why, understand the rational and use his/her commonsense to arrive at a judgment.
7 As a Guide
Usually a BA is not assigned as the captain of a ship who could make decisions. However, he/she is expected to play the role of a captain without power and authority. Like a gyroscope inside a ship, the BA within a project should provide and act as an internal SME helping and guiding the team towards achieving the product vision and goal. The BA should be willing to help the team to move ahead in the right direction by providing clear and correct requirements throughout the product development cycle.
As the Business Analyst, your professionalism to elicit complete and clear requirement is going to impact the successful outcome for the customer. Try bringing on to the table, at the right time, the above stated competencies to effectively capture correct requirements that are understandable to all the stakeholders involved. For some individuals, all these competency are in-born; for others it could be attained with time and experience.
Share your thoughts as comments. That will help the BA community to mix, match and grow.
Happy Being-Business Analyst!
Note: Upon approval from Ganesh Ram Anand V, publishing his article in this blog. He can be reached on: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ganesh-ram-anand-v-0771724/