Just yesterday, I had the opportunity to sit as part of a panel interviewing candidates for a business analyst position. After we had seen about 4 candidates, I began to fear we were in search of a hen’s teeth.
The whole episode triggered the debate of the preferred business analyst: is it better for a company to hire a flexible or generalist business analyst with fundamental business analysis skills, regardless of domain experience? or is it better to hire a specialist business analyst with a deep knowledge of a specific industry/technology solution? There are pros and cons to each approach.
If you employed a generalist BA with fundamental business analyst skills, you would expect him or her to adapt easily, whatever the project or domain. Yes, the learning curve might be steep, but proficient BAs shouldn’t take that much time to learn what the business is about and deliver the goods.
On the other hand, if you recruit someone with experience in a particular domain, and they do excellently well there, they may turn out to be less than excellent in areas outside their domain. Perhaps that’s a chance worth taking.
There are so many ways to look at it, and it reminds me of the catch-22 situation. As an employer, the type of Business Analyst you recruit would depend on your immediate needs. For example, if you were starting a CRM project that required sales, marketing and customer service experience, you’d probably want to go for a BA with experience in that domain. If you don’t have any technology-specific or domain-specific project in the pipeline, you may not be so concerned about the domain or technology the BA specializes in. On the flip side, I'd say there's nothing wrong with having a combination of the two in your organization. Candidates should, however, be aware of the varying requirements of employers in order to prepare to differentiate themselves.
As a candidate with no work experience, it’s easier to get your leg in as a generalist BA. To remain competitive, however, a generalist BA should seek domain expertise in at least one field. The question is, do you choose the field or does the field choose you? If the BA had a choice, how would he choose which field to specialize in, considering there are so many business areas to choose from? Should the choice be based on interest or necessity? If as a BA, you’re supposed to spread your tentacles across the organization to seek improvements, what amount of time do you actually have to devote to just one area in order to become a specialist in it? If we do agree that a BA is supposed to spread his tentacles across the organization over time, would he not end up becoming a jack-of-all-trades?
At the end of the day, my preferred strategy as a BA would be to gain foothold as a generalist BA and then focus on achieving domain expertise. That way, I’m "flexible" enough to take on different projects and at the same time, “specialist” enough to work in specific domains. I doubt if I'd ever actively seek expertise in a specific technology. This is because the BA role should be flexible enough to add value to any project, regardless of the technology involved.
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