Business analysis, according to Wikipedia, is a research discipline of identifying business needs and determining solutions to business problems. Frankly, no glimpse of real pains and joys of real-life business analysis peers out of this definition of the notion.
What is a business analyst for a project? It is a mediator, chief negotiator, damping bad and a conflict solver. Within one company, there can be a single BA, or a team of BAs, or a number of unrelated individuals performing Business Analysis that don’t even have any “BA” mentioned in their job description.
With this in mind, we would like to give you a clearer picture of what a true BA does for a project, why it is crucial that the functions of a BA go separate from that of other company’s talents and what critical skills and abilities a BA should have.
A True Story
Everything gets clearer when followed by an example. So, this time we’ll be tracing the story of Alexandra. Alexandra is a BA in the Happy With Itself Company (HWI Ltd). Let’s study her job duties in detail.
Alexandra’s primary objective as a BA is to identify the client business’ obstacles to growth, see how to most effectively overcome the business’/product’s challenges or beef up production capacities within the given work environment and contexts. To give us a clearer view, Alexandra cites Bob Gregory, a professor and academic program director for the business analysis and management degree program at Bellevue University. “Elicitation of requirements and using those requirements to get IT onboard and understand what the client really wants, that’s one of the biggest responsibilities for BAs. They have to work as a product owner, even though the business is the product owner,” he says.
When performing within her job duties, Alexandra does function as a product owner within the development cycle. She’s sooner employed by the client rather than HWI Ltd, she jokes.
Alexandra creates business and technical specifications (user stories, process-flow diagrams and wire-frames), draws up business requirement documents encompassing functional and non-functional requirements for the product/service in consideration. Backed by technicians or independently, she translates business requirements and operational workflows into technical solutions and documents them separately. She also conducts User Acceptance Testing and user training along with product demos, among other things.
What skills does the position require to cope with the mentioned above tasks?
Contrary to the common notion that literally anyone can become a BA, Alexandra claims that ascending to a good BA can be compared to going sky high and above. To get to know the ropes of the BA’s craft, it took Alexandra three years of studying computer science, in the first place. “Although programming skills aren’t a ubiquitous demand, no business analyst can go without a clear vision of software architecture, regardless whether it’s a web app, client-server or mainframe systems”, Alexandra notes out. Thus, for those with BA career aspirations, ordinary computer literacy won’t just do. Two years’ related experience gave Alexandra the time to learn modern day essentials such as SCRUM and Kanban Agile methodologies, SDLC, and account management. A BA needs to communicate effectively across various departments and levels of the organization, hence among Alexandra’s impressive competitive advantages were her communication and presentation skills honed during her previous employment. Finally, once in the position, Alexandra did a good deal of home-schooling and mastered the BA toolkit (activities diagrams, business use cases, context diagrams, decision table/trees, flowcharts, Requirements Traceability Matrices, role maps, etc.).
Strategic, tactical and operational business analysis
Alexandra has her job, does it well and loves what she does. Nevertheless, allocating a standalone budget and an office desk, detailing job functions and hiring a person engaged solely in business analysis isn’t a common notion for many companies. Why is that so?
Due to the omnidirectional nature of the BA’s position, numerous individuals can partly blend into BA role. Moreover, they do it at various levels. Hence, at some point a CEO/Project Manager/Product Owner/Sales Manager and even a Developer and a Tester performs business analysis within an organization. They jointly (while separately at the same time) bear the responsibility that a single person would in case the BA-position existed within the given company.
Instead, to eliminate scrappiness and complex responsibility sharing, a company needs an expert whose competence comprises three levels of expertise: strategic, tactical and operational. These are “Three flavors of business analysis”, as Tom Hathaway, a co-founder of BA-EXPERTS, names them in his video.
Strategic business analysis defines visions, objectives and strategies of a company/department within a company to reach the desired future. To perform such an analysis, an expert studies a company’s structure, policies, politics along with the overall business processes and procedures and, surely, an app’s architecture to overcome the identified challenges or identifies them him-/herself. Conducting strategic business analysis includes performing variance analysis, feasibility analysis, decision analysis, KPI analysis, etc.
Tactical business analysis gives more technical details on the project or initiative and sheds more light on the composition of the business community to deliver the solution. Such business analysis implies stakeholder identification, interviewing, benchmarking, process and data modelling, functional decomposition, among other procedures.
Operational business analysts engage in elaboration of specific business apps. As a rule, they are heavily involved in the development process and actively participate in themes/business and architecture epics/user story elaboration and iteration planning.
In other words, a diversified competence of BA allows him/her to stand for literally any stakeholder at any position, representing his/her interests during the development cycle.
Budgeting and Financial Planning
Furthermore, most generally a BA is directly engaged in funds allocation. For instance, Royal Dutch Shell, a global group of energy and petrochemicals companies, is in search for a Senior Business Analyst who will readily immerse in Budgeting and Financial Planning. As job description states, a candidate will be responsible for
- “Monthly and quarterly financial and performance analysis … linking internal appraisal insight with external market disclosure;
- Ownership of Quarterly Latest Estimates for Upstream and outlook on business performance (both financial and operational; ” etc.
Moreover, Robert Half Technology, global human resource consulting firm, unambiguously indicates the value of the BA position for a sound budget planning and allocation. Among others, its JDs include such fund-related requirements as:
- “Creating a detailed business analysis, outlining problems, opportunities and solutions for a business
- Budgeting and forecasting
- Planning and monitoring
- Variance analysis
- Defining business requirements and reporting them back to stakeholders”.
While a BA’s involvement in financial matters certainly gives no grounds to cut your Accounting staff, having one more eye on where your money goes will never hurt. In the end, the accountants know well the “how much” part, while BAs are experts at the “how come so much and why not make it cheaper”.
While working in a classic waterfall development environment, a BA is more heavily involved at the front end. The waterfall approach implies gathering, analyzing and prioritizing user requirements for a BA. As the BA is done with the corresponding tasks, the required info is handed over to the developers and that’s it for our hero, as far as the current project is concerned. On the other hand, a far more welcome Agile methodology (as for today) urges for a more active and diversified involvement of the BA throughout the whole development cycle and later on, during multiple releases. So active and diversified, that the BAs can be literally assigned the title of Trusted Advisor for their contribution into bridging the communication divide and achieving the desired project targets.
The referral actually belongs to Elizabeth Larson, consultant and advisor for Watermark Learning/PMA, with over 35 years of experience in project management and business analysis. Amusingly as it may sound, in her article she likens the influence that a BA may have on the project development to that of Tyrion while acting as the Hand of Daenerys Targaryen. Comparable to the GOT’s know-it-all and empathetic facilitator, a BA utilizes his/her domain knowledge and interpersonal skills to connect the conflicting stakeholders. Furthermore, as the product is nothing by itself and brings value only when being produced by the people and being consumed by the people, the core of the product’s longevity is in the successful human interaction. The international business community admits that too, judging by the job requirements for the BA-position seekers according to the IIBA (including but not limited to: interpersonal and consultative skills, analytical thinking and problem solving, oral and written communication skills, organizational and facilitation skills).
A BA’s expertise is not enough to substitute the individuals whose interests he/she pushes forward. Despite certain degree of all-in-oneness in the BA’s JD, they cannot function as a CEO, Project Manager, Product Owner, Sales Manager, Developer, Tester or an Accountant. Moreover, in an ideal world the above mentioned “three flavors of Business Analysis” equals three levels of Business Analysts. Consequently, it is three ad hoc positions within a company for at least three individuals with unique background providing niche expertise in his/her strictly limited area. However, either a CEO, Project Manager, Product Owner, etc. cannot perform BA’s functions, especially if such is a niche expert.
Meanwhile, “as trusted advisors we provide our advice, but we do not make decisions,” – Mrs. Larson continues. Therefore, at this point a BA is at least a professional advice giver with deep domain knowledge and impressive interpersonal skills. Hiring such a talent is almost getting yourself a sort of personal Tyrion Lannister to win you the Battle of Seven (or more/less) Stakeholders. In the end, “No man is so wise that he can afford to wholly ignore the advice of others” (James Lendall Basford).
Qulix Systems is renown for its expertise in Business Analysis due to our impressive pool of BA talents. Need assistance in performing thorough Business Analysis? Contact our Support team for more details or visit our website.