To be, or not to be (a BA)

“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.” – Muhammad Ali

I often get asked how I got started as a business analyst by others either starting out on their journey, or those looking to break into the world of business analysis. I like to think that it was a serendipitous moment which needed persistence, providence, perseverance and some other pithy alliterative adjectives which I really can’t think of as I write this at 5:45 in the morning. (Considering I’m not really a morning person, I’ve never fully understood why I tend to do my best and most creative writing between 1am and 5am.)

The other question people ask me is why I decided that this was the career path I wanted to take. This one is not as straightforward to address, and my answer has changed as I’ve got older and more experienced with time.

When I first discovered business analysis, I was actually looking to become a Project Manager; my aim was to gather some experience under my belt by working as a project analyst, while hoping to shadow and learn from the PM. What actually happened was that I discovered that I loved the role of the BA – although I didn’t fully understand what it was – and blew off my initial dreams of managing budgets, writing PIDs and drawing up Gantt charts to pursue my newly found love of process mapping and requirements elicitation.

I think that there was something in business analysis which connected with what seemed like a long since dormant part of me that was equal parts inquisitive, creative and logic-driven. I enjoyed being able to see the effect that my work would have on a function, a system, a department, an organisation. Having spent a time working in an operational function and a call centre, I remember feeling distinctly frustrated that, rare incidents such as resolving complaints or a particularly tricky customer query aside, I did not or could not see the tangible lasting impact of processing case after case, or fielding calls all day, every day. In business analysis, I could see the changes that were initially outlined, then built out and implemented – the change was, for a time at least, present and real to me, and to the client I was tasked with delivering for. Of course, there is the existentialist quandary that any change effected by a BA is transient, and unlikely to last more than five years before a future change replaces it; calling into question the very idea of a business analyst’s legacy overall – but I digress.

Business analysis can mostly be a fulfilling and enjoyable career, but it isn’t for everyone. There is the paradox that one may possibly experience a sense of repetitiveness and ennui, despite working on different projects, each with its own discreet lifespan. This can be particularly so for BAs who are assigned to a single business function or who specialise in a niche product or industry, and have little to no opportunity to gain exposure to other areas outside of that niche. My own experience has shown this to be common for those working in Financial Services, and within that vertical, the investment banking and the Life & Pensions markets. Fortunately, a number of organisations – especially those with established and mature BA Change Practice functions – have recognised that this is not beneficial to either the business analyst or the organisation itself, and will facilitate cross-functional exposure with other areas.

Moreover, the work itself can end up being somewhat repetitive through no fault of the business analyst, as a BA can often be pigeonholed into distinct duties.

“Ah yes, you’re the requirements guy.”

“The BAs are the ones who design my processes.”

“I don’t know what we do with that functional specification document, I usually get the BA to write it for me.”

There is a recurring theme across many organisations that employ business analysts, often at significant financial cost, to do work that is either at an entry-level / Junior BA level or should really fall within the remit of a project analyst. For the record, I choose to make a clear distinction between a Project Analyst (who carries out basic administrative tasks of limited scope while assigned to a defined project or programme) and a Business Analyst (brought on board for creative, technical and strategic input to an organisation, which may or may not be delivered through a project or programme) throughout this site, and The Way of the BA is very much focussed on the latter. A business analyst is not a project analyst, although they will inevitably carry out the work of the latter. s a fundamental part of the change process, the business analyst should not be limited to churning out the population of documents from a suite of existing templates.

Business analysis is a wide and varied discipline, and one that requires a high degree of both technical and soft skills. Unfortunately, many organisations have a very limited view of what business analysis is, and what a business analyst does. This is to an organisation’s detriment, as they may find that they never fully capitalise on the BA resource available to them. It is my hope that this site and the articles & posts written on it will go some way towards clearing up many of the misconceptions around the world of BAs and how best to make use of this valuable resource.

Another potential pitfall that every business analyst will need to face is the dreaded ‘P-word’, politics. Irrespective of what industry vertical, or whereabouts in the world a business analyst is based in, they will have to work with other people – it’s (unfortunately for some) a fundamental part of the job. Inevitably, the people a business analyst will work with will have their own vested interests and agendas which they will look to accomplish – sometimes, through any means necessary – which will give rise to conflict within, and sometimes without, the organisation.

This is especially prevalent in large-scale organisations, where a number of differing agendas may be at play. Being able to negotiate your way around these conflicts while keeping as many stakeholders of differing views on your side is a valuable tool in the arsenal of the business analyst, and without these soft skills in relationship and stakeholder management, the path to successfully delivering an objective, or even getting the things that you want or need, will be fraught with peril. There will be other posts that deal with communications, internal and external politics, managing stakeholders and other aspects of soft power elsewhere on this site. As harsh as it sounds, business analysis is not a career which naturally lends itself to those who are unable or unwilling to interact with others.

If you’ve read through all of this and still have a burning desire either to be or to continue on as a business analyst, congratulations – you’ll likely make a great BA! There’s still a long way to go, but nobody ever said that The Way of the BA was easy. However, if you know, then you know, and I’m hoping that the other posts and resources on this site will help you as you continue on your journey.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject, and find out how you broke into business analysis – or hear from you if you want further advice and guidance about becoming a BA. Leave a comment below!

– André

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