I’m officially working as a Business Analyst since 2006, which means I have more than 15 000 hours of professional experience to share with the world through this blog (thanks to my CBAP application form for this number). For more than 5 years, I’ve been teaching the basics of Business Analysis to more than 750 undergraduate students. During my 45-hours course, I try to prepare them to the reality of Business Analysis they will meet at the end of their studies.
At each semester, some students ask me what is the best way to become a BA. Although work experience weighs in a lot in this (which usually means some years of work), there are some things you can do as a junior or future BA to increase your chances of becoming a good one. Looking back at my short career path, I realized that I did some great moves in the past to improve my BA curriculum; I also found some things that I should have done (but haven’t) to be a better BA.
In order to help my students (and all other junior BAs around the world), I created the Junior Business Analyst Manifesto: my 7 rules to follow in order to start a successful BA career.
1. You shall ask questions (always)
Understanding what’s going on is your primary goal as a Business Analysis. You have to understand problems to find their causes; you have to understand the business processes to improve them; you have to know how users work to elicit good requirements. In order to achieve this task, there is one unique technique that a BA shall use: ask questions. As a junior Business Analyst, asking questions is the best way to capture the knowledge you need, and it allows you to establish your credibility among your stakeholders.
Ask questions to your stakeholders about their work. Ask them why they do something; why they do it this way; why they don’t fix their current problems. Ask questions to your colleagues to learn about tools and techniques; to learn about stakeholders and understand their culture; to learn about what you should not be doing in a specific situation.
Be humble. Be polite. Be empathetic. Ask questions.
2. You shall master the art of data analysis (embrace the spreadsheets)
Data is power. By learning how to extract, understand and analyze data, your work as a Business Analyst will get easier. You will be able to get a better understanding of a situation; to validate information provided to you by your stakeholders; to challenge existing assumptions. You will become more credible into the eyes of the decision makers; your recommendations will be taken more seriously.
Data is hard. Making a simple mistake in your extraction/analysis process can lead to disastrous results. Take time to play with data; work with senior colleagues to learn faster; when data is not available, do what is required to capture it, so that you can use it later. It doesn’t have to be complicated; start with simple tools such as spreadsheets. You will be surprised of what you can learn from an Excel file.
Learn about data structure. Learn about data extraction. Learn about pivot tables. Become a spreadsheet ninja.
3. You shall challenge the status quo (change is stability)
People work the way they do because people before them used to work this way. This way of thinking is not compatible with Business Analysis; a good BA should always seek to understand why are things done in a specific way, in order to see if it’s really the best way to do them.
You should always work with your stakeholders to lead them (not force them) to a solution. However, this does not mean that the stakeholder is always right; you have to challenge their beliefs and guide them on the right path if there is a better way for them to work.
Ask questions (rule 1). Look for the truth in data (rule 2). Ask questions again. Never accept “because it always been like this” as an answer. Constantly challenge the status quo.
4. You shall aim for the best solution (yet keeping it simple, stupid)
Your stakeholders have big problems to solve; you spend a lot of time trying to understand them; you raise expectations about the solution. So you’re tempted to suggest the crème de la crème as a way to fix their problems, with all the required bells and whistles.
And you shall not. The best solution is not always the most complex one. Stay away from the easy technology-based solution; first look at how you could optimize the processes, how you could make a better use of users’ capabilities, how you could change the world with better user training or communication.
Look for a non-technological solution to answer your stakeholders needs. Then check how technology could help you do better. Just keep it simple, stupid.
5. You shall communicate (again. and again. and again.)
Business Analysis is not a technology-oriented job. Business analysis is all about communication: communication with stakeholders, with users, with management. Communication with technical teams, QA teams, training teams, support teams.
As a BA, you must be able to communicate to many different audiences in many different formats; the Microsoft Office suite will become your best friend, so master it now. You will have to speak in front of people or through conference calls; in one-on-one sessions or with 20 persons in a conference room; for end users or high management. That’s not hard enough; that second language you learned in high school will make things more challenging soon enough.
Start now. Take every opportunity to improve your communication skills.
6. You shall track your work (every. single. day.)
You just got a new Business Analyst position; your focus is on doing the job right. You have plenty to do everyday, and you’re still wondering if you made the right career choice. Your ultimate goal is to reach the end of the month alive.
And yet, you still have to project yourself 5, 10 years from now, when you’ll figure out how to fill your application form to get the ultimate BA consecration, your (insert certification name here) title. Will you be able to track everything you did in the last few years to demonstrate your BA capabilities?
So start tracking your work now. Each Friday, take 10 minutes to document what you did in the last week in a spreadsheet; you’re probably already doing the job when filling your timesheet anyway. Be clear and concise, and separate BA work from project management/quality assurance/development work. As a bonus, categorize your work using the BABoK knowledge areas.
You’ll thank yourself 10 years from now.
7. You shall widen your horizons (be a multidimensional BA)
Being a Business Analyst is sometimes hard. The profession is young; you will have to explain your role to your parents, to your friends and even to people in your own organization. However, this is also a great opportunity for all BAs. No matter where you work, in a multinational organization or in a 5-employees start-up, you will have to perform duties that are outside of your official job description.
Don’t hesitate to do more than what is expected from you. Like medicine, Business Analysis is a multidimensional discipline; some BAs are more strategic, others focus on business processes; some are system-oriented, and others are hands-on with the technical teams. When you start your career, it’s time to jump from one discipline to another; this will allow you to quickly see where you fit the best. Then you’ll be able to have a clearer view on your career path.
Embrace new opportunities. Learn continuously. Start today.
Do you have any other tips for junior Business Analysts out there? Share them in the comments below!