Business Analysis Beginnings -A Triangle of Starter Concepts

I have been working as a Business Analyst (BA) for 12 years now, 18 in the information management / information technology field.  My speciality in information technology management and support has augmented my knowledge, skills and abilities in the field of business analysis.  At the same time my business analysis work has helped me become a better IT professional.  The work in IT is always challenging and I appreciate the opportunities to get out of IT work once in a while and talk to people in other divisions and branches about their lines of business, the strategies they have in mind or have put into action, their business and technological pain points, their ongoing operational needs and other areas of discussion.

I enjoy working at a Crown corporation.  When I first started out as a business analyst, I thought the work involved crunching numbers and working with some economics.  Like most people starting out on new endeavours, I had perceptions about what business analysis was all about.  In reality, and with hindsight, a business analyst does crunch numbers and delve into some aspects of business economics.  But the breadth and depth of what a business analyst does is vast and deep, as I have learned and experienced over the years.

When starting out in business analysis or some type of analytics, the work can seem to be daunting.  But there are so many aspects to business analysis that you can specialize in certain business areas including strategic or tactical business analysis.

A strategic BA typically assumes an analytical role within a strategy development branch of an organization or business unit specifically tasked with managing strategic direction.

On the other hand, a tactical BA typically assumes a role that goes a little deeper into the analytics and can focus on aspects such as business process renewal, information technology modernization or operations improvement based on an analysis of a pool of information stored in a database management system.  The tactical work can span a number of business realms.

The bottom line, regardless of where BA’s might find themselves operationally, is to provide knowledge, skills and abilities to help a business create value by fixing problems through the implementation of viable solutions through the management of requirements designed to meet corporate strategic goals and objectives.

Whenever a person is starting out in the growing field of business analysis, I like to take them aside and give them 3 starter tips.

First, I tell them to develop or enhance their ability to remain objective when talking with users, customers, vendors and other stakeholders that have an interest in whatever project you find yourself involved that requires business analysis work.  Objectivity means we park our personal values and beliefs aside and assume the role of moderator who hears all sides of a story, from all users who have an stake in the solution for which a project has been authorized.  Critical thinking is one aspect of being objective.  Developing or enhancing critical thinking skills is an area a business analyst should study up on, learn new techniques and apply those techniques.  Critical thinking is a skill that is hard to master – it takes a lot of practice – but simple techniques can help you become a better critical thinker.

Second, prepare to ask questions, lots of questions.  But not just any questions.  When I ask a question, I usually use the “5 why’s” concept.  In other words, when someone answers a question, I reformulate their answer into another question, asking why again, and so on.  What this technique does is get me to what we call the root cause of a specific problem or need.  I believe very firmly that we don’t ask enough of these types of questions because we either become satisfied with an answer as it fits with what we perceive to be acceptable or satisfying, or we have some fear of diving into the real root causes that are the actual contributors to problems because it might “ruffle feathers”. Why I say this is because a “need” that a user tells us is sometimes, but not always, the true need.  There usually is something a little deeper that causes the problem.  What we often see at the surface, especially at the start of elicitation activities, is that perceived needs are often mistaken as a symptom of a deeper problem, whose true need lies somewhere else.  It is the ability to navigate through the labyrinth of “surface” needs and desires to sustain the asking of users the tough questions in order to get to the real needs. This process may require uncomfortable discussions at times in order to determine what is really causing problems.  After all, a solution delivered is only a bandaid solution if it fixes perceived, and not real needs.

Third, learn leadership principles.  My philosophy when it comes to leadership is that a leader, through actions, words and gestures creates leaders in other people.  My view is that people are not managed.  Computer systems are managed.  Hardware is managed. Taxes are managed.  Airplanes are managed. Projects are managed.  People need to be led.  How one leads remains subjective.  And if you can sort through the plethora of leadership tips and insights, then all the power to you.  There is some good material out there.  But overall, being a leader combines the aspects of critical thinking, objectivity and an understanding of what motivates people to not only do their job, but do their job well.  Inevitably,  a leaders’ actions, words and gestures leads to the creation of other leaders.

Connecting these points – emanating in the BA triangle of starter concepts – provides a BA with a foundation for kickstarting a business analysis environment where ideas can flow freely without judgement being passed upon others.  In addition, the business analyst can elicit requirements in a fashion that leads to creating a culture of innovation and change, leading all interested parties – the stakeholders, including you – on the path to generating value through the identification and delivery of solutions to everyday business problems.

Smoothcube Business Analytics Corporation

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