Many business analysts’ find themselves in their role quite by coincidence but once there either decide this is a role they love or hate. There are certain requirements (if you’ll pardon the cliche) or competencies you must display to be successful in this profession. We will first explore the foundational knowledge and skills needed in the early part of a business analysts’ career and then what is required to progress.
Entry-level Business Analyst
From a foundational knowledge perspective, the first thing a BA must possess is some technical aptitude. This does not mean a BA has to have a degree in Management Information Systems, or Software Engineering but they do have to understand what a software application is and how it works i.e. processes translate to logic, data is information the business cares about, business rules govern the way a business operates. The reason this knowledge is important is because most BA’s will start their careers at the project level working on software enhancements and implementations. In addition, junior BA’s are expected to have an awareness of analytical techniques but many times will be leaning heavily on senior BA’s to help them think through which techniques are most appropriate for each project. For business analysis positions in particular, mentoring is an effective way to support and enhance learning.
When evaluating potential candidates for this role, the foundational skills become more important than the actual knowledge the person possesses. The skills necessary to be successful as a business analyst are difficult to measure and even more difficult to teach so it is particularly important to evaluate individuals carefully.
Critical skills needed:
- Critical thinking
- Analytical ability
- Ability to negotiate
- Ability to facilitate meetings
- Continuous learning
- Strong communication skills (both written and verbal)
The challenge is creating an interviewing or assessment process that will tell you clearly if a person has these skill sets. Many times it is a guessing game. One approach for assessing competencies in this area is utilizing very robust analytical and behavioral type questions. Please see a list of some suggested questions at the end of this article.
Mid-level Business Analyst
As a business analyst matures in his or her career, the expectations should change. You would expect an individual to gain a deeper understanding of the business environment they are serving but in addition to that you would expect to see maturity in their ability to apply new and varied analytical techniques. By the time a BA has 5-7 years of experience they should have the ability to be deployed on new projects, assess the needs of the project, recommend how to approach the project; including who to elicit information from, what techniques to utilize, and how long it should take.
Critical skills needed:
- Increase business knowledge
- Action oriented
- Ability to escalate issues appropriately
- Present information for decision making purposes with little to no direction
- Increased acumen for planning
- Strong time management skills
- Ability to multi-task i.e. managing multiple projects
By this point in their career, most BA’s have decided if they love it or hate it. It should be clear to anyone evaluating folks at this level where they stand. If a BA jumps on new projects with enthusiasm and excitement – they love their role. If they don’t and they complain a lot about every project – then it is probably safe to assume – they hate it.
Senior-level Business Analyst
In addition to all the knowledge and skills mentioned above, at the senior level you would begin to see or should see a resource that is helping to drive the business analysis practice, mentoring others, and strong problem solving ability. Other skills needed at this level are a high degree of professionalism, and the ability to easily balance the big picture (or strategic vision) of the organization with the day to day operations (or projects).
Critical skills needed:
- Creative problem solving
- Ability to influence others
- Mentoring others
- Strategic agility – strong understanding of why projects are being done
- Ability to ask tough questions and push back professionally and creatively to ensure the success of the organization and projects
- Comfort with presenting at the senior executive level
- The individuals that make it to this level should be high performers. If there are currently people in your organization with this title that don’t look much like this description, you have a problem.
Enterprise Business Analyst
Enterprise Business Analyst is actually a new role for most organizations and some organizations have not even created it yet but the need for it is undeniable. In organizations that have created this role, they have created a career path for highly skilled analysts to move into and continue to add significant value to the organization. Most analysts’ performing in this role have a thorough understanding of the business and in depth knowledge of the overall project portfolio. Their primary responsibility is to understand the strategic direction of the organization and do research on new ideas / initiatives the organization may want to pursue. After the research is complete, the analyst will make recommendations on what projects should be pursued. This work is considered "pre-project" because a go / no-go decision has not been made yet. The analyst will provide information around cost / benefit analysis and the feasibility of specific solutions. By having a resource perform in this role, the organization is investing in research before making a multi-million dollar investment in technology, or infrastructure.
Critical skills needed:
- Conduct research independently
- Conduct cost/benefit analysis
- Present information at the executive level
- Informing and making recommendations
- Influential leadership
- Leverage a wide variety of tools / techniques to facilitate communication
- When leveraged properly, this role can considerably impact the ROI of an organization by ensuring the right projects are being invested in at the right time for the right reasons.
Reference – Analytical / Behavioral Based Questions:
- Can you tell me about a time you were having difficulty on a project and how you solved the problem?
- When confronted with problems in your personal or professional life, how do you resolve them?
- Tell me about a time you had to gather a large amount of data and analyze it – how did you do it and how did you present the information?
- Have you ever made recommendations on a project that ended up being wrong? How did you handle that?
- Can you tell me about a time you discovered a more efficient way to do a task?
- Can you tell me about a time you had to influence a decision without being direct?
- Tell me about a project where you had to negotiate between two different stakeholders.
- What technique would you use to visually represent the scope of a project?