If you’re reading this you may be either a new Business Analyst (BA), or looking for your first BA position. We were all at this stage once and could have benefited from some advice from someone already in the field. Below i outline my personal top 10 tips i would give to someone starting a career in Business Analysis.
1. Don’t Cut Corners
Cutting corners while eliciting and documenting requirements will come back and bite you. Guaranteed. The cost of identifying a missed requirement later in the project is much greater than capturing it in the first place.
We all have project deadlines to meet, but always supply a fair estimate of the time it will take you to properly complete the requirements phase. If the deadline has been dictated to you, then negotiate with the PM and explain the benefits of a realistic time-frame:
- Complete requirements
- Reduced development time (due to clear requirements)
- Better business solution
- Happier stakeholders
The PM may not like your revised requirements phase timeline, but not as much as a failed project which had a short requirements phase! #FalseEconomy
2. Get a BA Mentor
When new to the subject of Business Analysis you may indeed have the soft skillset required to do the job, but the practical knowledge and experience can only be gained over time. That is, unless you find an experienced BA mentor who’s been there and got the battle scars to prove it!
Approach a BA who you respect and ask them to be your mentor. Most people are more than willing to share their experiences with you and it will make that person feel 10 feet tall!
3. Talk with the Developers
Coming from my background of development this seems like quite an obvious point, but there are many BA’s who will write requirements and then expect the developers to not only understand what is being asked of them, but also deliver what the BA has in mind. Inevitably what comes back is quite different, the following cartoon illustrates this beautifully:
My approach to ensuring this doesn’t happen, is to involve the developers early on in the process. They are (or should be) internal stakeholders after all.
Involving developers early identifies gaps in your requirements and technical dead ends, at the stage of the project where these can be changed and avoided.
Get sign off on your requirements with the developers (and the testers!) and ensure they understand everything before development starts and you can look forward to a project that delivers more business value and runs that much more smoothly. Now everyone likes that!
4. If you don’t know something, ask!
This is something you will come up against time and time again if you face a variety of business domains. Few people like to admit that they don’t know something, but as the Business Analyst it’s your job to understand the business domain, but not to be an expert in it. After all that’s why we have SME (subject matter expert) stakeholders.
Joining a new company and sitting in meetings can be daunting, because every company has it’s own internal acronyms that you might not know. It’s best to ask up front when you’re new than halfway into a project!
It’s also worth remembering that if you don’t know something, then chances are that their will be others in the same meeting that also don’t. You’re helping everyone achieve clarity and understanding.
5. Never Assume Anything
As the old adage goes: assume and it makes an ‘Ass out of U and Me’. Cringe worthy yes, but worth remembering.
The BA role comes with an incredibly wide scope to make incorrect assumptions. If unchecked these lead to poor requirements, which don’t deliver business value that they were intended to.
To mitigate this risk you should be aware of assumptions you’re making, while writing requirements and always validate them with the relevant stakeholders. Holding effective requirements sign off sessions with the stakeholders will help reduce this risk even further.
6. Nothing is Ever as Simple as it Seems. Ever!
Most businesses are littered with temporary solutions that have turned permanent and limped on. I’ve seen solutions only intended as a 6 month solution still being used 5 years later, while the end users suffer.
Requests from the business which look simple on the surface, need to be investigated to understand the real motivation and the business problem the request is looking to address. Only once this driving factor is understood, can you then construct an effective and where needed; long term solution.
7. Everyone has an opinion
Everyone has an opinion, but only a few know the facts! You’ll get an opinion in many situations, but a good BA will identify the facts – eventually!
Everyone wants their voice heard, especially in a one on one interview with a stakeholder, your job is to discern the facts from opinions, even when the opinion is passed off as fact!
8. You Really Add Value
As a BA you may find that you feel like you are simply facilitating the exchange of facts between several parties, you might not feel like you are adding value, but you truly are!
You are the catalyst for the exchange of facts in the first place between different business departments and ultimately the developers. Without this most projects will not be successful.
If you’re an IT focused BA then you will be acting as a bridge between the business and the developers. Getting both parties to understand what is being asked for and what will be delivered is an art; fraught with terminology and mindset differences. You are the vital link in this chain of understanding – this is where you add value!
9. You’re not a Project Manager!
While it is true that business analysts typically share similar skill-sets to project managers. The two jobs are complementary, but actually quite different roles.
The business analyst is concerned with everything down to the micro level of functional requirements, the project manager isn’t. They just want the project to get done on time and on budget and operate at the macro level.
Trying to play both of these roles on a single sizeable project is very hard, and one of these areas will suffer due to the differing levels of focus.
10. Get Connected
The internet is a wealth of Business Analysis information. From articles on best practice through to webinars, there’s a lot to learn about. Here are some that i have found particularly useful…
@UKIIBA – UK chapter of the IIBA
I hope this helps you accelerate your BA learning curve and is of use. Some of these things may only make sense after you have made the mistake, learning from ones mistakes is a great skill and means tomorrow you will be more valuable to your company than the day before.