Your roadmap to becoming a master business analyst

by Paul Ramsay on 22/12/2015 10:00

Equinox IT Principal Consultant John Barris and I recently delivered our presentation 'Beyond Average: Becoming a Master Business Analyst' at the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA®) 'BA Development Day' event in Wellington and half-day symposium in Auckland. The slides from that presentation are included below.

We believe that everyone should have a focus on continuously getting better at what they do, and so we decided to share some of the key takeaways from our presentation in this article to help you become a master business analyst.

Where do you fit today as a business analyst?

If you are not already a master business analyst, where do you fit today? We sometimes find that some business analysts fit into one of the following categories, each of which has some limitations that can constrain them from becoming a master:

  • The order taker - 'fixed solution perspective' - asks people what they want rather than seeking to understand the true business problems and needs.
  • The methodologist - 'fixed process perspective' - so focused on following the process to the letter that they don't think for themselves about the business and its needs.
  • The subject matter expert - 'fixed business perspective' - trapped in the way that business has always been done and lacks the experience and training to think how it could be different.
  • The evangelist - 'fixed vision perspective' - has a passion for a the next shiny new thing, but may struggle to get people to follow and make their vision reality.

If you fit into one of these categories, there are steps you can take to become a master business analyst:

Use your head

“Thinking is very hard work. And management fashions are a wonderful substitute for thinking” ~ Peter Drucker

In this great quote from Peter Drucker you could easily replace 'management fashions' with 'analysis fashions'. A lack of thinking leads to a lack clarity and a subsequent lack of understanding and one can never master business analysis if they lack a true understanding of the business and the real nature of its problems.

A master business analyst will use their head to:

Think critically

Business analysis is about understanding a business for the purpose of changing it. The questions you ask are the most powerful tools you have as a BA. You need to ask the right questions to get the right  answers. And by listening to those answers you can use your critical thinking skills to determine what change is required. 

Think creatively

Business analysis is about 'creating' and 'designing' the change a business requires. The IIBA Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK®) talks about ‘design’ as an important part of the BA’s activities. Change always requires an element of design, and requirements envisage this new design.

Creative thinking is also required by BAs to help stakeholders understand what they need. As Suzanne and James Robertson say “Don’t rely on your stakeholders knowing what they want.” Denys Lasdon expresses it this way "Our job is to give the client, on time and on cost not what he wants, but what he never dreamed he wanted; and when he gets it, he recognises it as something he wanted all the time.”

Think conceptually

Thinking conceptually provides a context to enable understanding – including the identification of patterns and connections. One of the key skills of a master BA is the ability to see both the forest (abstraction) and the trees (details) – the ability to ‘zoom in and zoom out’. Too abstract and you lose meaning and too detailed and you lose context.

Use your heart

Master business analysts needs to do more than score well on the intellectual quotient (IQ), they also have to have equal amounts of emotional quotient (EQ), to work with other people to together deliver results.

A master business analyst will use their heart to:

Be curious

A master business analyst has a ceaseless curiosity, a thirst for learning. Your curiosity fuels the questions that you ask

  • How does it work?
  • What is it about?
  • Why and why not?
  • What if?

Be courageous

“Heroes aren’t born, they’re cornered" ~ James Belushi

Having courage is essential to make the transition from an 'order taker' to an 'influencer'. Courage helps you move from 'doing things right' to 'doing the right thing'. To do this you need the courage to know when to lead and when to follow. You need to know when to hold fast and when to let go (know what battles to fight). You also need to be prepared to admit when you don’t know and when you are wrong.

Be collaborative

BAs never deliver the change a business needs in isolation. It is always a collaborative effort and master BAs understand how to work in and facilitate teams as they form, storm, norm and ultimately perform to deliver the common goal that the business requires.

Be empathetic

Like the story of the blind men and the elephant, we can all see things from different perspectives and come to different conclusions. Master BAs know that there are multiple vantage points from which to look at a problem and that as a result people may have quite different perspectives. As you become a master BA you need to be empathetic and to work with these differences in order to deliver something that adds value to a broad range of stakeholders, and not just to one narrow view.

Use your hands

We often hear people referred to as 'they are not a finisher' or 'they have the ideas but can't make it work in practice'. In addition to the using your head to think and your heart to collaborate, as a master business analyst you also need to be able to do the work and deliver the results - what we term 'disciplined delivery'.

Other traits of master business analysts

We have also found that master business analysts exhibit these traits:

  • They are always learning
  • They adapt to circumstances
  • They commit to excellence
  • They own the outcome
  • They enable others
  • They have a breadth of experience across a range of industries, organisations and projects
  • They have a depth of business analysis experience.

The roadmap to becoming a master business analyst

To become a master business analyst:

  • If you are an order taker you need to learn to 'lead' to deliver the change that the organisation actually needs rather than the features that stakeholders may initially ask for.
  • If you are a methodologist you need to 'listen' to help you focus on the business and its real problems and not be distracted policing process adherence.
  • If you are a subject matter expert you need to 'learn' about business analysis and how your business needs to change, rather than staying rooted in what your business is today.
  • If you are an evangelist you need to 'let go' and focus on turning a wider vision (which will undoubtedlybe different from yours) into reality.

Mastery comes when we do the right things the right way.

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Becoming a master BA is a journey, it is not a destination. A journey that requires commitment and discipline. Good luck in your travels.

Paul Ramsay is an Equinox IT Director and Principal Consultant based in the company's Wellington office. He was the founding president of the IIBA New Zealand chapter and was recently recognised by the IIBA with a 'Recognition of Outstanding Service' award.

IIBA® and BABOK® are registered trademarks owned by International Institute of Business Analysis.

Recorded webinar: achieving clarity - your core business analyst competency

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