The Business Analyst title gets thrown around as loosely as Project Manager, Developer, Quality Assurance Analyst, or any role within an organization that includes a services department responsible for client success. But what is a Business Analyst, and how does a Business Analyst add value to a project and ensure its success?
A Business Analyst is the glue for any project. He or she is responsible for gathering, maintaining, and constantly updating any vital information required to successfully complete the project, based on the approved list of deliverables. In my experience working as a Business Analyst in a variety of industries, there are seven essential skills a Business Analyst needs in order to guarantee his or her own personal success, as well as the success of the company they work for and the clients they work alongside.
1. Innate curiosity
A Business Analyst must be curious about certain aspects of the project that others team members may not consider. This curiosity (learned or not) is essential for a Business Analyst to properly perform the other six duties listed below.
A Business Analyst is curious about WHY a project or specific piece of a project needs to be completed rather than WHAT is to be completed. After learning the high-level goals of a project and its deliverables, a good Business Analyst will ask key stakeholders why this project must be completed and how it will help the customer in the short term, as well as the long.
2. Asking the RIGHT questions
In the initiation phase of a project there’s a lot of back and forth between project team members on what the exact requirements should be. Before these requirements are set in stone, the Business Analyst must ask questions that spawn new thinking among team members, especially those championing projects within the organization. Asking the right questions at this stage is critical to ensuring the client has thought outside his/her inherent narrow focus of what s/he believes the project to be. Keep in mind that while asking the ‘right’ questions is helpful, asking too many questions is oftentimes not. Asking too many questions can frustrate and confuse a client to the point where they want to start over from square one.
3. Gathering high-level ideas without being a stenographer
The Business Analyst is typically included in meetings during the initiation phase of a project, when ideas are still being spawned and evaluated before they are added to a list of “must-have” deliverables. While in these meetings, a Business Analyst may feel the need to record EVERYTHING that is said, which can be detrimental to the analyst’s focus. It’s more important for the Business Analyst to sit back from the keyboard occasionally to listen and comprehend the business ideas, generate questions when necessary, and, in turn, record the most important points of the meeting.
4. Transforming ideas into a Business Requirements Document
The Business Requirements Document outlines what was discussed in the initiation phase of a project. It includes the project’s main goals, high-level business requirements, use cases, scope, and any other important information that may not have been completely decided on, but can be proved-out during the project work of the timeline.
This vital exercise requires the Business Analyst to synthesize the information gathered in various initiation phase project meetings into a living document. The Business Requirements Document will be used throughout the lifecycle of the project as a reference to ensure the project stays within scope and doesn’t detour from the intended future-state.
In conclusion, at the outset of any project, the Business Analyst acts as a facilitator and gatekeeper for idea-development, in addition to requirement-creation and maintenance. How well the skills described above are applied to a project by a Business Analyst can have an enormous impact on the success of a project—and in many cases that of an entire organization.
Stay tuned. Next quarter I’ll be expanding on these skills while explaining how a Business Analyst with a solid skillset can succeed in any industry! Finally, if your organization needs help defining any aspect of the Business Analyst’s role, and how it relates to project management, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We’d love to help you get started.