Business Analyst: The Act of Being

“Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do.” – Bruce Lee (or Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe)

The Tao of Jeet Kune Do by Bruce Lee

When I was 11 years old, I watched Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon for the first of many times over the course of my life. I had never seen anything like it, and I was fascinated by his fierce, yet precise movements and raw intensity. Bruce Lee became a personal hero of mine, and inspired me, as he did millions of others around the world. Over the years, I became more and more interested in martial arts, training and then eventually competing at a relatively high level.

Yes, I am humble bragging about being European Champion, and feel no shame in it.

I immersed myself in books, videos (this was long before YouTube and the internet made video consumption easy!) and travelled around the country to seminars in order to hone my burgeoning skills. One book in particular made an impact on me, Bruce Lee’s The Tao of Jeet Kune Do – which is where I first came across the quotation at the beginning of this post (although I’m aware that it was originally attributed to Goethe).

As I trained, something became very apparent to me – training in a technique in a controlled and safe environment is a very different experience from actually applying that technique in a practical situation. This is a very important lesson that I have learned over and over again, and is as applicable in a working environment as it is in the ring.

My qualifications as a business analyst are presently limited to experience and a degree in computer science; however, I don’t believe that diminishes my capability as a BA in comparison to someone who has, say, a CBAP qualification. Conversely, my qualifications don’t necessarily trump those of someone who hasn’t been to university but had a formal BA qualification gained during employment with an organisation they’re working for. In this situation, the most important thing for a business analyst is the ability to learn and to challenge, and have the knowledge and willingness to apply what they have learned to a given situation.

I say this because I sometimes get asked how important is it to have a qualification of some sort in order to become, or further develop in the role of a business analyst. The answer is dependent entirely upon the person and their present circumstances. You may have in the past worked as a programmer before transitioning into a business systems analyst role and have been incumbent in that position for 20 years. You would have to ask, is the not inconsiderable outlay for a qualification going to add significantly more value to your career? Alternatively, if you’ve never had the opportunity to garner experience in a BA role previously, undertaking a business analysis specific qualification might be a great way to quickly learn the basics of what can be a vast and complex discipline.

Whichever route you choose to take, there is an inescapable truth that you will encounter; business analysis cannot not only be read about, but must be done. This is the essence of The Way of the BA. As an example, capturing requirements is the staple of business analysis, and there are numerous textbooks and courses which will teach you what requirements are, how to elicit and manage them. However, textbook requirements elicitation and management often cannot prepare you for the reality of attempting to carry this task out in a commercial environment, where time pressures, budgetary constraints and demands from project managers or sponsors can attempt to convince a business analyst to cut corners or even overlook necessary detail in order to “JFDI”. The textbook sometimes cannot show the BA how to manage the potential for requirements captured to be at odds with one another where conflicts of interest occur among stakeholders.

There are many variables which can lead the business analyst to veer off the beaten path in order to achieve their stated objectives, and experience gained through practical exposure is the key to unlocking the potential developed in the classroom.

I didn’t learn my craft in a classical training environment, and I developed my business analysis skills on the job. Nowadays, there are a number of courses for qualifications that one can undertake to progress in a career as a business analyst. There is a risk that such a person can spend all of their efforts learning about being a business analyst without ever really applying that learned knowledge in actually doing the role of a business analyst. As business analysts, we must be willing and able to apply this practical flexibility to ourselves, and move beyond classroom theory. Failing to do this is to the BA’s detriment and can limit the value we are able to add to our client, while hindering our development, personally and professionally.

There is a lot to be gained from learning different tools and techniques in the classroom, but we must prove what we have learned in the workplace if we are to develop and become better business analysts. Much like my discovery that martial arts technique can only truly be made real by doing it, so it is that I believe business analysis can only fully be understood in the context of being practiced.

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