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What is business analysis?

Business analysis is a profession that is hard to define. It involves a wide variety of techniques performed by a business analyst. But when it comes down to it, business analysis is all about understanding how things work, crafting solutions to problems and ensuring cohesion between different stakeholders.

There is a check list of activities a business analyst can do, from requirements, process modelling, lean, business cases, data models and more.

But the fundamental to all of these is that the business analyst works to understand an organisation, business or product. They work to be a voice of the different types of users. Once they understand, they define the needs to solve a problem. Lastly, they communicate those needs to different stakeholders, whether they be finance professionals for a business case or developers to build a software product

A business analyst standing at the front of a meeting room indicating to coloured post its stuck on the wall.

What does a business analyst do?

The joy of being a business analyst means that it is rare for any day to look the same! Personally, in my team of BA’s, each person is doing totally different things dependent on what they like. Some will be writing requirements and working with developers, others creating process maps, others doing usability testing with users.

It is common to find different practices within any business analysis team. They often have different definitions of what is included within their scope and what may be covered elsewhere. As long as the team is delivering the outcomes they need to, often it’s give and take in terms of who is doing what.

A typical list of business analysis activities include:

  • Understand, elicit, write and communicate requirements. This could be in user stories or in other formats. This could include user and business needs.
  • Understand, create and communicate business processes. This is sometimes in a standard format such as BPMN or in simple forms.
  • Investigate and document scope. This includes an initial discovery phase, or in documenting a solution.
  • Contribute to business cases or scope decisions. Whilst a business analyst may not be expected to write a whole business case, they contribute to options and analysis.
  • Work with data. Whilst a team may likely have a data analyst who deals with business analytics / intelligence, a BA is expected to understand and document data flows as required.
  • Work with user experience. It’s also likely a team will have UX professionals, a BA will work closely with them to develop designs, such as creating wireframes.
  • Define and own a product. We will discuss product ownership in another post, but BA’s may also act as product owners.
  • Work with a range of stakeholders. The key role of the business analyst is to work with a wide range of stakeholders to create, validate, share and drive work of other professions.

There are a huge amount of specific techniques which may be used, from SWOT to PESTLE. However, the techniques need to be used in order to create an output like the ones in the list. They are not stand alone responsibilities.

Why does an organisation need a business analyst?

In an ideal world, users have the time and skills to communicate their needs directly to those who can provide solutions. However, that isn’t usually the case. Business analysts enable an organisation to keep key users doing the jobs they need to do. A BA then ensures that those who create solutions develop something which is actually valuable.

How many times does a project come to the end of its life cycle and it doesn’t deliver the value which it expected to? That’s often because the user needs weren’t understood, or they were translated incorrectly. In other words, using a business analyst means more value will be delivered when these issues are solved.

A successful business often has a very strong business analysis practice. Once the organisation has worked with a great BA, they use them more and more. As a result, the profession is continuing to thrive and grow.

How do I train to be a business analyst?

There isn’t a typical path to become a business analyst. However, there are generally two areas to consider – certifications or professional experience.

Certifications in business analysis

There are several business analysis qualifications available, including in Universities around the world. This tends to be as part of a wider business or IT degree.

It is common to get certification either from the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) or from the British Computer Society (BCS).

The IIBA offers three different levels of certification and they need to be combined with professional experience. For example, the CCBA which is generally accepted as the starting certification requires 2-3 years experience.

The BCS diploma is split into two. The initial diploma doesn’t require any experience and is made up of 4 modules. These can be done in quick succession but can be expensive. They have a practitioner certification which does require professional experience.

A pile of books to represent the texts which a business analyst may need to read to train.

Professional experience in business analysis

Whilst certifications are excellent to learn and develop your business analysis skills, it is common to also need professional experience. A range of industries accept graduates or those with no experience into their organisations as Junior Business Analysts.

If this option isn’t available to you, then business analysis can be integrated into any role. It often just requires asking to take on more responsibility around looking at how your current role works. From there, you can build up skills such as process modelling, scope definition and options analysis. If there is the option to work with your IT team to enhance your systems then take it!

Most of the business analysts I know, initially crafted their role from other professions and then moved into a full business analysis role.

In short, there isn’t a typical path to being a business analyst like in some other professions. But by taking your unique experience and understanding, this means we have diverse, skilled teams of BA’s.

What next?

Finally, what a business analyst does is very closely linked to product owners and user experience professionals. Check out our posts on ‘what is product ownership‘ and ‘what is user research‘ to compare and contrast. If you’re taking the next steps in becoming a business analyst then check out ‘how to do well in a business analyst interview‘.

Does this definition of business analysis match your experience? Comment your thoughts below.

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