Business Analyst: What is the Job?

Business Analysts are asked to do many things: elicit, document, and manage requirements; facilitate meetings; fit/gap and feasibility studies, and act as a bridge or liaison between functional and technical groups. We often look at this mix of activities and think “This is my job”. However, I’m going to talk about the things that a BA needs to do as part of their “Real Job”. Not just the skills and activities we practice on a day to day basis nor the tasks that we are assigned and complete from project to project basis, but the reasons behind those skills and activities; the what and why of delivering value to the business via IT projects.

Charles Kettering said “A problem well stated is a problem half solved” more than half a century ago, and it is still true today. Helping the customer come to an understanding of what they want to do and why is the crucial first step to getting a project going. Without this understanding, the project is off on the wrong foot. Sometimes, though, reaching this understanding is not easy.

In this article, I address the perception common among BAs that “I [help] solve problems”. While this is partly true, I think that the Real Job of the BA is to help the customer accurately and succinctly define problems (or issues, the preferred term for business-side people).

How many times have you started a project where the customer asks you to implement something, and you realize it is really a solution? Do you forge ahead, holding requirements workshops and putting the documents together?  Or do you stop and ask them why they want the project, only to have them say “Because I said so, that’s why!”?

Be careful. Either approach could get you in trouble, and knowing when and how to do both as appropriate is one of the things that identifies a real BA. Which brings us back to this part of the BA’s “Real  Job”: defining the problem or clarifying the issue.

Clarifying the issue involves working closely with the customer to understand the rationale for the project and how it fits in to the business. Whatever level you are working at in a given project, from high-level strategy to enhancement of an existing system, help the customer articulate the business value of the project by showing how it will address an issue (solve an existing problem).

There are as many levels of business issues as there are types of requirements, and in fact we can  map them nicely. I’ve created a modified version of the venerable V-diagram to show how business issues map to requirements.

You‘ll notice the two-headed arrows on the slide; this is because requirements don’t exist in a vacuum. In examining a requirement at any level you can turn it on its head and look at what issue that requirement is intended to address. As you dig in, be sure to ask “are we solving the right problem?” This may lead you to uncover issues at other levels; issues that, when addressed, may make the problem you are currently examining simply disappear.

Carefully articulating the issues or problems when documenting requirements can lead to improved traceability and provide a common language when discussing matters of scope. It can also help with the all-important prioritization of requirements, that often onerous job of separating the ‘must haves’ from the ‘should haves’ and the ‘like to haves’.  Clearly, if a requirement is related to a core problem that the system is intended to address it is a must-have, while those requirements that don’t actually address an issue probably are not.

CONCLUSION: There is little business value in a solution in search of a problem, sometimes known as “build it and they will come”. On the other hand, even an average solution to a problem shared by many people will be embraced and used. Keep in mind that problems and requirements go hand in hand. Make sure that you work with the customer to understand and clarify the right problem, and you’ll be well on your way to doing your “Real Job”.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

18 Responses to “Business Analyst: What is the Job?”

  1. Vinod Kumar Says:

    Hello, I am a Project Manager in a Automotive MNC. I have a keen interest to become a business Analyst.Please guide me what are the extra skills and knowledge required to become a BA .Also please send me some good job openings also.

    Reply

  2. rajaiskandarshah Says:

    This is a good recap of the role of the business analyst

    Reply

  3. Satish Says:

    Hello,

    I am working as a tester, I am a fresher. As I came to know that, it is easy for tester to became business analyst.I am more interested in that, can u suggest me what are the way. I am more passionate to work as a BA.

    Reply

  4. Jasi Says:

    This is a good starting point for all those who want to start the career as BA or to those who wish to have career change to BA.

    Reply

  5. srinivas Says:

    hi
    my age is 45,working exp 18 years in non banking and insurance i want to become a BA then what i hv to do plz guide me

    Reply

  6. samy Says:

    I am working as a technical writer. Is it easy for a technical writer to handle BA’s role? How would you relate BA and Technical writer.

    Reply

  7. Kundan Bhardwaj Says:

    I worked for six months as Business Analyst with my previous company. The profile in India is just someone who can manage the office when actually every other superior is already present but they are not willing to work, LOL ! To be true that is what my experience was however bidding, project management, FRS, SRS, further documentation, financial prospects and many more. It cannot be put in words.

    Reply

  8. Rashu Says:

    Hello,
    I am working as a Financial Analyst. I want to be a BA. Kindly Suggest…. Thanks!!

    Reply

  9. Padma Says:

    I am working as Technical Writer. In fact I have been asked to take up the role of BA to ensure the implementation of functionality in development and testing areas. Pl suggest doing proper training and getting Certification adds value or just go with expertise I get through here.

    Reply

  10. chaitanya Says:

    Is business analyst’s role restricted only to the software companies ?

    As per my knowledge, even other sectors also require some one to analyze their business. But why is the role of BA being spoken only in the terms of IT sector ?

    Reply

  11. Ranjitbees Says:

    Superb ! Thanks a lot !
    what you describe really matters a lot to me as a fresher in BA

    Reply

  12. Harinath Says:

    I’m pursuing MBA. I want to become an BUSSINESS ANALYST. I need support in buliding my carrer for that what should i do ??????

    Reply

  13. Zac Pagin Says:

    Business Analyst should eventually be the brain and answer to all business related practices.

    Reply

  14. Alan Jones Says:

    Again, a BA shapes the project and acts as a go between from technical to client. Acts as product owner and should ultimately have the full holistic product knowledge.

    Reply

  15. Project Analysis Says:

    The BA is really the product owner and director of the project

    Reply

  16. Angelo the BA Says:

    In my career I’ve noticed that the scope of work a BA can do is large, and most BA’s tend to focus on the areas that they are strongest.

    Reply

Leave a Reply to Rashu