What does a Business Analyst do?

Something that I’ve actually been asked while pitching for work is “What does a Business Analyst actually do?”. While I won the work in that instance, I was never happy with the answer that I gave at the time. I managed to babble something out about how a BA was the bridge between IT and the business and while this is true, it hardly demonstrates what I could do to impact the bottom line of a project.

Since then I’ve relayed this story many times, only to discover that it wasn’t just my erstwhile interviewer that was unsure of what a Business Analyst actually does. Very often it’s not until a BA has delivered on a piece of work that the business that they are working for appreciates exactly what it was that the BA did for them, even then I suspect they would find it difficult to define exactly what it was that the BA did.

In a cold economic climate when IT budgets are being cut, it’s important that BAs answer the question of what we actually do, after all, our livelihoods depend on it! While our documentation skills and communication style will prove invaluable during the development phase of a project, when fingers are being pointed and vendors are demanding more cash, this will be no good to us if we haven’t won the business in the first place.

We have a very positive story to tell about what we do, but what exactly is it that we do?

Other IT professions don’t suffer from this sort of ambiguity, a project manager, for instance, has several very clear definitions of what they do, my favourite being:

A project manager has overall responsibility for the planning and successful execution of a project.

That’s it, it’s to the point and everyone knows exactly what to expect from a Project Manager and how they are going to benefit a project. On the other hand, we have the definition as stated by the International Institute of Business Analysis (The IIBA®) in version 2 of it’s Business Analyst Body of Knowledge®:

Business Analysts must analyze and synthesize information provided by a large number of people who interact with the business, such as customers, staff, IT professionals, and executives. The Business Analyst is responsible for eliciting the actual needs of stakeholders, not simply their expressed desires. In many cases, the Business Analyst will also work to facilitate communication between organizational units. In particular, Business Analysts often play a central role in aligning the needs of business units with the capabilities delivered by information technology, and may serve as a “translator” between those groups.

It does describe what we do, but it’s not quite as easy to digest as the definition of a Project Manager and you can see why there may be confusion about what the role actually entails. I can hear the business now, ‘Where is the value add?’. It’s a fair question, how does analysing and synthesizing all this information actually help an organisation to meet its goals?

To try to understand more about what Business Analyst actually does, I want to look at each phase of a typical project and examine what is required of a Business Analyst during the life cycle of a typical project:

Initiation

The initiation phase is the period during which the business is feeling some kind of pain and is looking to alleviate the stress that this pain is causing, usually by implementing some form of technology or process based solution.

It’s the role of the BA to clearly identify the problem that the business is experiencing and to map out what a possible solution would look like.

This map is then used to create a business case which shows why a problem is being tackled, how much it will cost to resolve the problem and what benefits the organisation can expect to see once the problem has been resolved.

It is the business case which a Business Analyst will constantly refer back to as the need for changes occur during the course of a project, constantly checking to ensure that a change is in-line with the expected business benefits and to ensure that the business case is still relevant and that something still needs to be changed within the organisation.

Analysis

The analysis phase is the period during which the Business Analyst defines the requirements in detail, stating clearly and unambiguously what the business needs in order to resolve its problem.

During this phase the BA will also work with the development team and, in particular, an Architect, to create the design and define exactly what the solution should look like.

Taken together the design and the requirements will guide the rest of the project, with the testers looking to ensure that the requirements have been met and the developers trying to deliver against the design. It’s the responsibility of the BA to ensure that the design meets the requirements and that the testers are testing the requirements.

During this early phase of the project the BA will expend a lot of energy ensuring that any possible changes that can be identified are identified, while they are easily, and often more importantly, inexpensively corrected. Once the initial requirements are documented they need to be tested to destruction by the BA to ensure that they will actually deliver a solution to the problems that the business are facing.

Development

The development phase is possibly the most challenging phase for a BA. It’s quite normal after the pressure of the analysis phase to sit back a little, safe in the knowledge that both quality requirements and design have been delivered. However, it’s during this phase that a BA needs to step up their meetings with the development team, attending daily meetings and generally being the eyes and ears of the business, constantly looking for deviations in course that would otherwise go undetected.

Testing

The testing phase sees the Business Analyst back on firmer footing. There is a process to follow as the testing team go through the process of testing and identifying bugs and the BA can work with the business to set defect fix priorities.

Disputes between the business and development concerning what is and what is not an off spec defect will often be resolved by the BA using documentation created in earlier phases. The mere existence of this documentation is often enough for one side of the other to admit a mistake and for the issue to be resolved amicably.

Implementation

The implementation phase is not the end for the Business Analyst. It’s the last chance for things to go awry and for goals to be missed.

It’s during this phase that a BA should be conscious of how users are using the system. Are they actually seeing the benefits envisaged in the business case? Do the training materials support the business case?

Looking at each of these phases in this way, a common theme of discovery, validation and verification appears throughout a project life cycle. Given the opportunity to answer the question again, I would define the role of a Business Analyst using the following statement which clearly shows what a Business Analyst adds to a project, a business or an organisation:

A Business Analyst is responsible for knowing what the goal of a project is, how to achieve it, managing any changes to the goal and ensuring that all deliverables are aligned with the goal.

In essence, a Business Analyst is a navigator, responsible for reaching the end destination, in our case that destination is the successful resolution of a business problem. The BA always knows what the end destination is, how to get there and is capable of handling course adjustments as they arise.

In the future, when pitching for work, I’ll be better prepared to answer the question and will have a great story to tell.

I hope you found this article useful. If you have a definition of what a BA does, then please feel free to let me know by leaving a comment below.

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104 Responses to “What does a Business Analyst do?”

  1. shahiirah Says:

    dream to become a BA…!!!

    Reply

  2. Alex Says:

    This is a good, brief article of what a BA does. I’m glad I read this. It puts a lot of things back into perspective. Just remember folks, we are customer oriented. I’m generally a bit unorthodox in my methods, but these guidelines are easy to follow.

    Reply

  3. manjunath Says:

    i want to know different documents that are prepared by the BA and sample document for each one

    Reply

  4. Ajay Arya Says:

    It was a nice Article.Easy to understand with lots of knowledge.

    Ajay Arya

    Reply

  5. Bohdan Says:

    Short and clear. Great article. Thanks!

    Reply

  6. Sakeen Says:

    It nicely explain about the BA. Awesome article….

    Reply

  7. Karina Says:

    Good article! What about the knowledge and background a Business Analyst should have in order to be successful? Waiting for your opinion in an article.

    Reply

  8. Badr Says:

    Reeally good definition of BA role

    Reply

  9. ashish gupta Says:

    hey… i am a software developer and having 2 years of experience.
    I want to switch my career as a BA…
    can you suggest me.. is it good..to move …
    waiting to hear from you…

    Reply

  10. shweta Says:

    Very nice and easy to understand article.

    Reply

  11. karthika Says:

    hey thank u so much it help me to understand about BA job well.

    Reply

  12. aman Says:

    I am going to choose it as a career so I was very much interested to know about…. what a BA do and having lots of doubts regarding it….but after reading it i am very much cleared……… thank u so much it help me to understand about BA job well.

    Reply

  13. aman Says:

    I am going to choose BA as a career so I was very much interested to know about…. what a BA do and having lots of doubts regarding it….but after reading it i am very much cleared……… thank u so much it help me to understand about BA job well.

    Reply

  14. Dean Says:

    I really appreciate this article, i have an interview this Monday with a fairly large bank for a graduate business analyst role and i know they will ask me how i see the role of the BA, thank you very much.

    Reply

  15. Manish Says:

    Thats a very good explanation…. It cleared so many questions….

    Reply

  16. sharmi Says:

    gud explaination

    Reply

  17. 62s Says:

    Thank you for the articulated article but what does a project manager do in a business environment,since most times when project management is being talked of it is either construction or IT oriented.Can someome help me out here please.

    Reply

  18. Venkat Says:

    Thank you for the information. Very Good article. Can you suggest any university or institutes offering business analyst courses. would the SAS business analytics course helps me in any way.

    Reply

  19. Eyad Says:

    Thank you very much for posting this. I’m also new to BA work and have been fortunate to be schooled by many different experienced BAs. I thought you’d like to know that your explanation was the best by far!

    Can you recommend any good BA books or seminars.

    Thanks in advance!

    Happy Holidays 🙂

    Reply

    • Ray Says:

      I am going to choose BA as a career so I was very much interested to know about…. what a BA do and having lots of doubts regarding it….is there any company offers a voluntary work in Nottingham and also institutes which offer courses in BA. Please reply me

      Reply

  20. Khushal Salian Says:

    This was really very straight and clear description about BA’s role.

    Thanks,
    Khushal Salian.

    Reply

  21. Patrick Kabissel Says:

    Thank you for this short and clear article. Now I have clear idea on what a BA does.
    Can you please recommend some good materials about BA? (Books, tutorials etc)

    Thanks and Happy new year!

    Reply

  22. ratish Says:

    Nice article. I am software engineer with 4 years exp. I would like to know if i can move over to BA role, what should be the basic qualification to go for it. Please help!

    Reply

  23. Abraham Says:

    Thanks for taking time and putting it together. Was pretty useful and gave me clear idea about the BA role.
    Once again thanks for the awesome write up!

    Regards,
    Ab

    Reply

  24. arushi Says:

    does the role of a Ba require a lot of onsite travel.

    Reply

  25. arushi Says:

    very good article. really clarifies the job description.please answer another question.does the role of a Ba require a lot of onsite travel?

    Reply

  26. Ketty Bianco Says:

    Thanks for this article. It’s a good resume on what a BA does.
    It helps me to understand which skills I miss to have a complete BA role into my company.
    My company has created a “BA community”. The core team, in which I am, is composed by different experienced people. Each one has its speciality. For example, I am a testing expert. So to become a real BA, I need to complete my skills.
    Onto my website in french, I’ll write an article about my vision on BA job, what is a BA in my job life and make a reference to your article.

    Ketty Bianco

    Reply

  27. smera Says:

    Well written, informative article. I’ve been working as a technical Business Analyst for about 3 years now and the question on what a BA does is definitely the most asked. I’ve been asked this question so many times..by friends, family, interviewers…it’s been summed up well here.

    Reply

    • vini Says:

      I wanted to ask i am a recent graduate of engineering and have been offered the role of business analyst in a small organisation should i take it up? and what are the career prospects

      Reply

  28. ranjan Says:

    Nice read about BA….thnks

    Reply

  29. Seun Says:

    This is great. Thanx for the effort.

    Reply

  30. Bala Says:

    Too good. Thank you.

    Reply

  31. Gayathri Says:

    Good Article.. I work under Business Development in the core field with 2 .6 years exp .. I interested to switch over as a business analyst in IT industry… Is it possible with my exp to switch over to an IT industry as a BA.. suggest pls…

    Reply

  32. Gayathri Says:

    is thr any possibilities to switchover from Business development in the core field into business analyst IT Sector..

    Thanks in advance.. please let me.. will help me… for my carrier…

    Reply

  33. JD Says:

    Would like to know how does the BA role change when the Project also has a Tech Lead in the team?

    Reply

  34. manoj Says:

    BD is complty diff from BA

    Reply

  35. vijay Says:

    well i think this article is fantastic. it has given me a clearer picture on BA. This pretty much gives me the undertanding on how BA is similar to what i do.

    TQ

    Reply

  36. Aravind Says:

    Hi, thanks for the post. My education qualification if of a Non-IT background and recently, I managed to join into a company as a BA, who are into product development. My question is, could a person from a Non-IT background actually can survive in this role? What else you think he need to be equipped with to survive and sustain.

    Reply

    • Anuj Says:

      Hi Arvind… I am a MBA(IT) fresher & looking for a career as BA? Need some guidance… Can you help me?

      Reply

  37. Business Analyst Says:

    Very well explained all phases of a Business Analyst. A tabular format of difference between system and business analyst will be great too.

    Reply

  38. Deena Chadwick Says:

    Great Article. On a facebook page for Business Analysis for the Web I actually asked the question, does your job description match what you do. This is a perfect example of what BA’s do. Question is how can a company some this up into a job description.

    Reply

  39. tushank Says:

    hi…Thank you for sharing views about working of Business Analyst. It is very helpful for me. awesome… article

    Reply

  40. Bhairav Says:

    very nice and easy to understand article..

    Reply

  41. sabntsho Says:

    Thank u for this article I now know that I am indeed a BA

    Reply

  42. Dineen Says:

    Are you looking for a Business Analyst position in the US alone.
    Please contact me on dineen.oliver(at)ymail(dot)com

    Reply

  43. Chandrasekar Says:

    Very nice and informative article. Gives a clear vision on what and how Business Analysts Work.

    Reply

  44. Lerato Selolo Says:

    What a great article, i’m about to acquire my National Diploma in ICT and i was quite undecided about the path i was willing to take but after giving it a thougt i think being an analyst is the route il be taking. I love the concept of identifying problems, analysing them and finding solutions according to specifications.

    Reply

  45. Anuj Says:

    Nice article….. Easy, Clear & Perfect 🙂 Thank You….

    Reply

  46. Anuj Says:

    Hello Sir/Mam,
    I want to pursue career as a BA… Currently I am a MBA(IT) Fresher… What should exactly I do to get a sound knowledge of this subject & to get a good job as BA??? Please help me.
    Thanks 🙂

    Reply

  47. Obaid Says:

    Good article. It defines all the aspects and responsibilities of a BA.

    Thanks.

    Reply

  48. Harminder Anand Says:

    Hi,

    The article clearly maps a BA profile to SDLC which is primarily the most important underlying process. On one hand this is a fair attempt at bringing to reality, the imaginary existence of a BA and on the other it raises a new question –

    How substantial is the contribution of a BA to – Business and an IT Project?
    While contribution from IT can be measured for progress, deliverable and other metrics, BA contributions are lost somewhere between the exit from one phase and entry into another.
    With increasing complexities in IT integration of businesses world-wide, its time to incorporate such metrics into an SDLC model and make BA an important element of the complete process.

    Reply

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