Six Key Characteristics of Senior Business Analyst
In our profession there is a lot of discussion about what makes a business analyst a senior business analyst. To help better delineate between the levels of BAs the IIBA® has recently released a business analysis competency model which includes five levels of business analysts.
For today's post, I wanted to share my thoughts on the key characteristics of a senior business analyst. Before I unveil the list I want to say that number of years as a BA is not an indicator if someone should be classified as a senior BA. I don't think you can get to the senior level without a number of years of experience, but number of years alone is not an indicator.
1. Business Analysis Techniques: Breadth and Depth of Knowledge and Experience
As BAs we need to have knowledge and experience in the various techniques to elicit, analyze and communicate requirements. We need a large tool box which we can pull from to meet the specific needs of each project. Without this large tool box your ability to perform at a high level for any project type that you are a part of is limited. Take a look through the IIBA's BABOK® to see how large your toolbox is.
I have been asked by BAs who focus on specific areas, like facilitation or process modeling, if I felt they were senior BAs. My answer is no. They are most definitely senior facilitators or senior process modelers, but senior BAs need a broader, deeper skill set.
2. Project Types and Business Area Experience
Senior level BAs need experience working on multiple project types. At the highest level there are three types of projects I feel are necessary, COTS (commercial off the shelf), new development, and enhancements/support. Each of these project types requires some different techniques and skills. Having worked on different types of projects gives you the knowledge of which techniques work best for each project type. This will aid in planning which is characteristic number three, coming up next.
Working in multiple business areas within a company helps lay the foundation for strategic thinking, characteristic number four. By being involved in multiple business areas you start to see overlapping functions and interdepartmental dependencies. This allows you to start recommending solutions that benefit the whole company, not just the specific business area you are involved in.
3. Business Analysis Planning
How do you answer the following question when you are first assigned to a project? "How long will the analysis effort take?" Senior BAs respond to that question with an intelligent business analysis work plan. They think through the people they will be working with. They identify the stakeholders, get to know them and understand key characteristics to best work with them. They think through critical project characteristics like the size of the project, the business risks involved, and how many interfaces the project will include. They think through the processes that need to be adhered to for the project. They make sure they understand what project methodology is being used for the project, project roles and responsibilities, and what deliverables are required. Thinking through the people, project, and process gives you the ability to outline the tasks and deliverables needed for the project, to estimate their time needed, as well as the time of the stakeholders involved.
4. Strategic Thinking
A senior BA needs to see the big picture and do a deep dive for the project. Senior BAs will try to see the bigger picture before heading into the details trying to understand where this project fits in with the organizational goals. They will also be aware of, or try to determine how the project they are assigned to impacts other projects or business areas. They also take a look at the big picture during the project.
In an earlier post, Get Your Head Out of the Weeds, I highlighted the need for BAs to find ways to pull themselves out of the detail during a project to ensure their project is still meeting the needs of the organization.
5. Advocate and Advisor
Many BAs report into IT departments, but still need to be viewed as part of the business team they support. You work for the business and need to truly be an advocate for the business and their needs. I'm sure many of you can tell stories where there was conflict between the technology team and the business. A senior BA steps up to resolve the conflict to provide the best solution for the business.
A way to know you have this characteristic is if the business calls you for advice before and after a project. Do you have discussions with the business to determine what's most important for an upcoming project? Do you attend their staff meetings to find out their pains and to understand their values and goals?
6. Ability to Learn a New Domain
The need to have domain experience for BAs is one of the biggest debates in our profession. I do think you need some domain knowledge prior to starting a project, but that does not mean you need to have worked in that domain for years. I believe a senior BA needs to be able to learn a new domain to be effective. Here are three ways that I primarily use to learn new domains prior to an interview or starting a project.
Google: There is so much information out there at your finger tips. Google the subject you need and take an afternoon reading.
My network: I am a big believer that I don't need to know everything; I just need to know the people that have the answers. I use my network to help answer questions I have to learn about a domain. Continue to build your network.
Personal experience: I may not have worked in banking, but I do interact with banks as a consumer. I draw from my personal experiences to help understand a domain.
Please share your thoughts around the characteristics I've outlined and provide one or more of your own.
The Top 10 Business Analyst Skills for 2012(webiste)
I like to think of the BA role as a broker of information, getting big picture and details from many different people, groups, executives, subject matter experts, vendors, technical resources, etc . . . what the BA does with all this information and how it gets communicated and repurposed for each audience is opportunity for a BA.
Today's trends are pointing towards the following themes for BAs: - Business Agility - Innovation - Engagement of stakeholders to drive agility and innovation
The needed skills to meet these trends in 2012:
1) Conceptual Modeling Skills Engage your stakeholders with more meaningful dialog! Conceptual Modeling of the business view of the solution has always been a critical tool to help bring business, technology, and delivery groups together in defining solution scope. I have had many BAs tell me that they do this and show me their conceptual models. What I find when reviewing the models is more of a technical architecture or data context diagrams. Technical architecture and data context diagrams have their place, but the critical skill I am seeing as a gap in BA skill sets is the business view (vs. technical view) of the solution scope, this will be critical to engaging stakeholders and setting the stage for innovation
2) Communicating Details and Concepts Similar to the conceptual modeling skills is communicating various levels of detail appropriate to the audience. This can be especially difficult when you have various stakeholder needs on the team or in the meeting, and many times multiple views is needed to ensure the right message is communicated to all audience needs. Where I see the gap today is details are not organized to be digestible and understandable to many audiences and there may be a lack of conceptual and context to accompany the details. Without the concept and context information, the details - even when well organized - may not be understood or thought of in with the frame of mind that the BA needs from the stakeholders. Rethink requirements packaging, does the same document need to go out to everyone? Or, can each audience be given a guide as to which pages/sections are most pertinent to them? Just a few ideas to help stakeholders consume what is important to them.
3) Curiosity How curious are you as a BA? This has always been a critical skill for BAs. Ensuring curiosity in finding the root cause of the problem or opportunity, getting the right audience, usage, context, purpose for requirements requires a strong level of curiosity in BA work. Curiosity will go far in 2012 for BAs wanting to build competency and skills in the world of mobile apps, cloud computing, and continuing agile trends. Curiosity will make some of the unknowns of today easier to work within, a curious mindset will take BAs into communicating the unknown and help organizations innovate.
4) Decomposing the Abstract into Details I have to call this out separately from Conceptual Modeling and Communicating Details and Concepts. The same themes are in play, but yet executed a bit differently and in different scenarios. Decomposing the abstract into details is also referred to as "critical thinking" and sometimes "system thinking"; taking something large, ambiguous, and abstract and breaking into smaller pieces, patterns, and views. It is about helping others see the details and big picture from different perspectives, helping stakeholders with varying points of view and priorities see where their details and others fit into the bigger picture. It will also help BAs better estimate and work with PMs on the status and risk of requirements.
5) Mentoring and Coaching As the BA role becomes increasingly more valued in organizations, two things will happen: 1) Organizations will need a career path for Sr. BAs, and 2) Organizations will need to develop internal strategies to develop more talent in the BA role and Sr. level skill set. Mentoring and coaching skills are key for Sr. BAs in both of these strategies. Mentoring and coaching done by Sr. BAs will develop leadership competencies in the Sr. BAs while developing BA competencies in new or more inexperienced BAs in the organization. Sr. BAs who have the opportunity to mentor and coach will develop further leadership competencies needed to elevate the competencies of the BA team as a whole.
6) Communicating Risks Project Managers focus on risks to the project budget, schedule and scope. A BA needs to focus on risks to the business value of the solution and communicating the risk. BAs are in a prime position to see the details and big picture view; this includes seeing the risks to the project, delivering a solution that does not maximize business value. I find that BAs have an intuitive sense of this, but often struggle to communicate the risk in a way that gets leadership attention. In order to get leadership attention to the business value at risk, BAs will need to develop skills in communicating the true business impact of the risk. This means going beyond communicating in terms of the features and functionalities of the process or software, and going beyond that, there is not enough time for requirements to be done right. It means communicating the impact it will have on the business operation or strategy. For example, when the functionality of a point of sale application has a requirements conflict in the process of accepting payment from customers, the focus needs to turn to the impact of the conflict on the customer service representative's ability to serve the customers and the customer experience vs. the technical details at risk of the requirement. In the heat of requirements and design details, we often let the details drive risk discussions and never get to the bottom line impacts that can really propel leaders to make the right decisions.
7) Leveraging the "parking lot" Are you running your meetings or are meetings and stakeholders running you? Many BAs get into tough situations in requirements meetings and feel that other agendas and personalities are driving their meetings astray. Using a "parking lot" (simple visual list of items that do not fit into the meeting agenda to be followed up on or scheduled into another meeting) to manage and control the meeting agenda, content, level of detail and difficult personalities is a key strategy. Most importantly, make sure that the parking lot is visible to everyone in the meeting. Having the parking lot in your notebook or on your laptop does not show others that you have their ideas and concerns captured to discuss at a later time. Be empowered to take control of your meetings!
8) Change Management Embracing the BA role as an agent of change will continue to show the value the organization the value the BA role brings to the organization. Projects are about business change; the BA role is about bringing the most value possible in a solution to address the business change. The role of a change agent in the BA is critical to ensuring all impacted parties are ready for the changes needed to accept the solution. Understanding how changes and solutions impact the stakeholders operations, processes, attitudes and behaviors is a key skill in maximizing the success of the new solution and the business value it brings.
9) Asking WHY? I love the word "Why", but hate to use it. My challenge to readers of this blog is to help one another find ways to ask "Why". Many times using the word "Why" can come across wrong to the other person, it can seem defensive and the other may wonder why (no pun intended) you are asking. Finding different ways to ask "why" can alleviate this dilemma. My favorite ways to ask "Why?": Tell me more about what is behind the need for abc? What does success look like? What would happen if this project does not get implemented? What are yours?
10) Impromptu Whiteboard Drawing In 2012 when innovation, agility, and engagement are the trends, being able to spontaneously draw will lead to stakeholders to a deeper level of engagement. Getting up to draw shakes up the flow of boring meetings, engages others to focus back in on the discussion, and brings out humor - let humor be a friend. You don't have to be an artist to draw concepts on whiteboards that generate great dialog, discussion, creativity and innovation. It also does not have to be you that does the drawing; ask someone else to draw what they are thinking and your meeting will benefit in many of the same ways. When the drawing yields powerful and meaningful discussion, be sure someone takes a picture with their phone.
No matter that type of BA, no matter what the industry, these skills in 2012 will set your projects up for deeper engagement, innovation and agility.
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