Ten Steps to Becoming a Better Business Analyst

For folks who love solving business problems and are fascinated with identifying solutions to unusual business challenges, business analysis can be an extremely rewarding profession. Being a Business Analyst is however, no walk in the park. I thought it would be a great idea to start the year by drawing up a list of crucial attributes that are important to build and sustain both for aspiring and experienced business analysts. Here it goes:

  1. Be flexible enough to take on any role – You may be required to take notes in a meeting, create a project plan, chase paper sign-offs, you name it. You won’t always be involved in conventional business analysis tasks. Remember that no part of the job is designed to be demeaning. Do it with a smile, learn what you can and you just might get some experience that may become invaluable later on.   
  2. Learn who excels at the different aspects of your project and become their friend – Get to know everyone that will be involved with the project, from the customer service attendant at the front desk, the project coordinator who keeps track of the schedule and the developer who transforms your requirements into code to the tester who verifies the functionality of the solution. Learn whatever you can from them. By forming a cordial relationship with them, trust is established and you will know whom to approach for specific answers on the various aspects of the business.

    If you work in a team, talk to other business analysts who have worked on similar projects and learn from their experience. Find out what they did to make their projects successful, and be sure to ask what lessons they have learnt so that you do not repeat their mistakes. Every project can benefit from multiple perspectives.

    In addition, find out who your key stakeholders are on the project and get to know them because they hold the power that can make or break your reputation and the project.
  3. Don’t be afraid of presentations – For business analysts, a presentation is one of the most effective ways to sell ideas to business users. Presentations can also be used to explain technical concepts and can serve as a platform for triggering questions and providing feedback to stakeholders.

    As a Business Analyst, you should constantly polish your presentation skills and learn how to deliver a concise presentation that is both informative and clear. Whenever possible, practise presenting in front of team members before delivering it to your intended audience.

    In addition, you should go over the slides with a fine-tooth comb to be sure there are no spelling or grammatical errors. Ensure that all graphics are relevant to the slide being shown and be interesting – don’t put everyone to sleep. Here are 6 Practical Tips for Giving a Great Presentation.

    Presentations are just one means of communication. Be willing to communicate with stakeholders in whatever form the situation demands. When in doubt of how much communication is necessary, keep in mind that it’s better to communicate more than to communicate less.
  4. Be willing to accept constructive criticism – This is perhaps, one attribute that needs a lot of practice – accepting criticism without taking it personally. We all strive to put in our best, so when someone says we can do better, it can be deflating. Accepting constructive criticism, no matter how difficult it is, is a great way to get better at what you do. Don’t take things personal when someone criticizes your work. Most times, you will find that the critic is speaking from experience and with the objective of improving the outcome of your work.

    Listen to constructive advice and always remember that senior analysts were once novices, and could only have gotten to their positions because they learnt from others or from experience.
  5. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – The fact that a question sounds “stupid” in your mind (because no one else has asked it) does not mean that the question is indeed stupid. It’s possible that majority of the people in the room have the same question in mind, but are too intimidated to ask, especially if managers or customers are involved. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification when you need it. A simple misinterpretation or misunderstanding can introduce significant delays and costs to your project.
  6. Don’t be afraid to deliver bad news – As a BA, you may find yourself needing to play the devil’s advocate. When everything looks too good to be true, don’t be afraid to ask, “What if…?”. Also, if there’s a potential roadblock to the project, be prepared to deliver the bad news but never do it without offering a solution to the problem. This is particularly important when discussing with management. Though your suggestion may not always be accepted, they will recognize your efforts and appreciate that you looked for a solution.
  7. Never whine or blame other team members – When things go wrong, don’t focus on finding someone to blame. Your objective should always be getting things back on track. If the error is the fault of someone else, help him or her figure out how to fix it. Don’t be known as the whiny kid in the playground who claims every problem is someone else’s fault.
  8. Be punctual – Don’t be the last one to walk in the door for a meeting. Whether you are the one that organized the meeting or not, getting to the meeting on time will ensure that you have enough time to relax, network with participants and collect your thoughts before the meeting begins. Time management is critical. Respect everyone’s time and they will thank you for it.
  9. Don’t believe everything you hear – I once worked on a project where we assumed that the key stakeholders we were dealing with were working under the guidance of their manager who had the last word on the project. Their manager was not available during the requirements elicitation, and as such, there was no way to validate the requirements directly with him beforehand. When the time came to sign off on the requirements, it became obvious that the key stakeholders had not carried their manager along. We had to stop the project because the Manager had a completely different vision of how things should work. Though you're not required to be telepathic, part of being a good business analyst is being critical. This is particularly important when dealing with stakeholders who do not have the final say on business issues.

    Also, there are times when stakeholders commit to a decision verbally only to retract their commitment when you give them a document to sign off on. Though it might sound bureaucratic or unnecessary, chasing a physical sign-off of your requirements specification document forces stakeholders to really think about their requirements and provide clarification where necessary.
  10. Always ask for feedback – So you’ve spent all that time and energy documenting requirements and rolling out the solution? The system is in use and everything seems hunky-dory. How do you know you’ve added real business value? By asking for feedback. Conduct a survey among your stakeholders. Find out if the problems you set out to solve were actually solved. Find out how you can do better next time. Measure business value delivered by your project using clearly defined KPIs.

As earlier mentioned, being a business analyst is no walk in the park. Keeping these steps in mind will ensure that you improve on the job. Successful business analysts are those who can figure out a way to work around the obstacles they face on the job.

Explore Professional Development for BAs with Laura Brandenburg.