One of the greatest joys in being an IT Career Coach is helping people change careers, and one of the most in-demand career transitions in IT is into Business Analysis.  If you’re an aspiring IT Business Analyst, read on for more career coaching tips on how to be a BA.

The first post of my three-part “Aspiring BA Career Coaching Tips” series will cover a question I get asked a lot – what do BAs in IT actually do? My next post will provide tips on how to break into IT BA roles and the third post will explain how to take your BA career to the next level.

What do BAs actually do?

Strange but true, a lot of my clients want to become BAs but can’t actually articulate what they do!

BAs are primarily project delivery people. BAs are essentially responsible for defining and controlling scope and managing changes and impacts arising from IT projects. Sounds a bit like a Project Manager, right? Putting it simply, BAs are execution people – they do the work as opposed to making sure it’s done (which is what a PM does).

1) Business Analyst Responsibilities and Requirements

All projects have requirements that define the project scope in detail. If you don’t have these requirements clearly defined – the project is almost certainly set up to fail!

There is a myriad of Agile and Waterfall variations on managing requirements (user stories, functional requirements, specifications etc.)  – but in essence, BAs capture and detail requirements for a project, and manage them end-to-end in the project’s lifecycle (PLC).

But anyone can write requirements, right? Sure, in high-performing Agile teams the task of detailing requirements is often distributed to team members. But good BAs can do it better than anyone else. That’s like saying anyone can manage a project. PMs do it better. And as a shameless plug, anyone can write CVs, but professional CV writers do it better!

Good BAs bridge the gap between business users and technical people.

In the role of managing requirements – BAs are the glue that holds the project together. They ensure that requirements are understood by every team member, from non-technical (e.g. sales people or customers) to deeply technical (e.g. developers, architects). BAs perform requirement traceability to ensure the project delivers what was agreed.

The quality and availability of business requirements correlate with how efficiently technical and specialist project resources can design and deliver a project’s IT solution. The perfect-world scenario is to have a backlog (Agile) or baseline set (Waterfall) of prioritised, qualified and adequately detailed requirements to feed the delivery engine of designers, architects, developers, testers, vendors etc.

2) Changes and Impacts

The second common focus of BA roles is to manage changes and impacts arising from a project. Sounds like a PM again right? Think of the BA as doing the execution, not managing the task.

BAs often spend a lot of time on BPM (Business Process Management) and BPR (Business Process Reengineering) – in fact many BAs specialise in designing and building business processes. There are huge benefits from profit through to customer experience in having effective business processes – they can make or break a business. And of course, process automation is the holy grail of cost efficiency and customer service.

Other changes and impacts arising from a project could be;

  • Making sure end-users have documentation on new features.
  • Ensuring support and maintenance plans are updated for new equipment in data centres.
  • Running training for customers on new features released in a product.

The list is endless and varied…

Why BAs are an essential part of a project

Whatever your methodology (Agile, Waterfall, hybrid or “It’s Complicated”) having great BA practitioners in your delivery team will improve the quality of outcomes, and how quickly value can be delivered. People will get what they expect and there won’t be major gaps and surprises.

  • “The portal went live but no-one realised the back-end could only support 150 users.” A good BA would have defined the number of users as a technical requirement, ensured the solution design responded, and was tested.
  • “We launched, but Sales are complaining that we’re missing two of the top five features customers want.” Top BAs will engage all stakeholders including customers, identifying “must have” features early. Senior BAs drive decision making on feature roadmaps and release timelines, keeping everyone on board through great communication and facilitated group discussions.
  • “The storage upgrade was delayed because we didn’t realise operations needed work instruction changes.” A thorough BA would have talked to that team, identified the impact, and delivered new work instructions in time for the upgrade.

BAs aren’t technical, right?

Wrong. BAs can be very technical and I’ve had clients who work as BAs who come from development, engineering, solution architecture, and operations backgrounds. Senior BAs often specialise in deeply technical domains such as cloud computing, networking, data centres, and business intelligence. Having a deep technical understanding of technologies and the Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC) is often a key requirement of the role, and most BAs specialise in a small number of domains.

BA – it’s a junior role, right?

Wrong. You may have heard “we need a BA for our meeting to take notes”? The role of a BA can often be devalued in organisations where they’re viewed as the project dogsbody who is expected to do all the lowly and dull tasks. The field of Business Analysis has a clear career path from Junior BA to Senior BA and Lead BA, with excellent opportunities for leadership roles as a domain or portfolio expert. The most successful large projects have a Senior PM and Senior BA to steer the ship.

Types of BA Roles

There are numerous variations and mash-ups of BA roles – too many to cover here. It is true that BAs will often focus on a specific department or area of the business and work in more of a “business as usual” model, instead of solely on projects. What’s important to understand is the core skills, and how to obtain them. But more on that in the next post.

Business Analysis offers varied and interesting roles with the opportunity to interact with diverse stakeholder groups, continually build new skills and make significant contributions to the success of projects. Entry points to the profession are easily identifiable and there is a great career path for BA practitioners. If you’re interested in becoming an IT BA, career coaching can be a great help in identifying transferable skills, achievable goals and a clear career path into IT Business Analysis roles.

And on a final note, business analysis is an in-demand profession and a good BA should almost never be out of work.

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