Business Analyst Roles: Are you a Generalist, Specialist or Hybrid BA?

Before going over the definition of Hybrid, Specialist and Generalist roles as defined by IIBA, I did a bit of research and discovered that some people define these terms by the number of industry specializations a person has. That is, a generalist is regarded as the BA who can work in multiple industries, while a specialist is the BA who specializes in a particular industry.

On taking a closer look at IIBA's distinction between the roles, I noticed that in addition to considering the number of industries a person can work in, their definition also considers the tools/techniques the BA can use. That is, a generalist specializes in the use of multiple tools, while the specialist masters his unique tool set. According to IIBA:

A generalist practitioner will typically perform business analysis activities using a variety of techniques in initiatives of varying scope. He or she needs to effectively apply a wide range of techniques to a variety of circumstances. A generalist may or may not have specific domain expertise. Generalist roles can be found at various levels.
A specialist practitioner performs business analysis using a more focused set of techniques or a single methodology. Specialists usually apply a smaller range of techniques, but possess a greater level of expertise in the application of those techniques, and are capable of using them to resolve extremely complex business problems in their area of expertise.
The Hybrid BA combines the best of both worlds. He combines transferable business analysis tools and techniques with his knowledge of another discipline. For example, combining BA with Project Management, testing, or user experience skills. A hybrid role may also require the BA to perform BA work as well as the duties of another role.

So, are business analysts specialists or generalists based on the number of industries they can work in, the tools they can use or a combination of both?

I tried to fit myself into one of these "boxes" and it became increasingly difficult to classify myself as either a generalist, specialist or a hybrid BA.

Following IIBA's definition, I am a specialist BA because I work as a Business Process Analyst, specializing in the use of business process tools. From my experience however, I have had cause to make use of a wide range of tools and techniques that just about any type of BA would use. My skills and the BA tool sets I use as a "specialist", are also transferable to other industries. Can I then categorize myself as a specialist BA, working with a generalist tool set applicable to multiple industries? Would that not make me a generalist as well? This is only one example. What about the generalist with knowledge of multiple tools and techniques, who has a unique domain expertise? Does that not make him a specialist in one area?

As a BA, you may find yourself working as a specialist and still be called on to assume the role of a tester, project manager or a user experience expert. I believe the BA role is extremely flexible with plenty of wiggle room in the job description. You may work as a specialist today, a generalist tomorrow, and be required to work as both in the future. My point is, the BA role shouldn't be put in boxes or labelled by categorizations that have the potential to limit the scope of expertise.

BAs, by the very definition of their jobs, are often called on to wear multiple hats. Whether you define BA generalists or specialists by the range of industries they work in or the extent of their BA tool set or a combination of both, you may well find that there's a hybrid BA in every specialist or generalist BA you meet.

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