The Flavours of Business Analysis

Think about any task you need to accomplish—going to the supermarket, making a bed, washing the car. There is an approach to doing each of these things and there may be commonalities in how different people carry out each task. But not everyone approaches them in the same way.

It’s the same with business analysis. A BA may demonstrate up to 53 discipline competencies as defined in the IIBA Business Analysis Competency ModelTM and execute up 32 tasks as identified in the BABOK Guide® v2, but which competencies and tasks, as well as specialization or expertise required, will depend on the industry, personality of the organization, the stability/maturity of its product lines, its business model, functional areas being supported, and stakeholder groups engaged.

How do these aspects of the job impact the “Flavour” of business analysis? Below are brief examples of what might be required.

Industry

How competitive is the industry? The higher the level of competition, including number of new entrants, the more an experienced, generalists BA is required. Why? Organizations in competitive environments need to anticipate or respond quickly to ensure their continued success. Responding to changing market conditions requires a BA to broadly apply the discipline of business analysis without spending too much time thinking about “how”; instead focusing on “what” needs to be done.

Personality of the Organization

Without being accused of anthropomorphizing, organizations do have “personalities” which impact the type of BA skills required. These generally reflect the market in which they operate; how long they have been in business; whether shared functions are centralized or distributed to the various business units; is there one customer or a variety of different customers; and their operational models. For example, a product-focused organization may require a BA with a deep understanding or specialization in that product area. S/he will need to understand both internal as well as competitors’ product nuances or features to support constructive discussions with stakeholders and help assess which solutions best support market needs. On the other hand, BAs working in a highly integrated organization may have to have multiple conversations with a variety of stakeholder types. This will require excellent facilitation skills and knowledge of different techniques to capture the appropriate level of detail from each group.

Product Line(s)

Mature organizations with stable product lines do not need the depth of expertise required from organizations with highly dynamic or evolving products. These organizations may rely on hybrid BAs, individuals who can draw on all aspects of business analysis to do their jobs but do not necessarily have the depth of knowledge required of an expert in a particular area. Hybrid Business Analysts perform multiple roles including project manager, tester or even operational positions.

Business Model

Any business model can require a variety of BA types to support its needs but there is one element that has had a tremendous impact on the type of BA skills required – the rapid emergence of the extended enterprise. Whether it is use of a SaaS solution, outsourcing (people, software, hardware), or a globally integrated resourcing model, certain BA skills are critical. Facilitating a meeting across multiple locations and time zones often without seeing all the participants is becoming standard operating procedures for companies who have outsourced part of their IT departments. Different techniques need to be developed and honed to ensure all requirements are captured and verified. Deploying ERPs, SaaS or COTS solutions doesn’t mean you do no requirements, it means you do requirements differently. The solution has to work within the organization but the organization also has to work around the solution. To support these types of engagements, consulting companies have BAs with deep subject matter expertise in the software.

Functional Areas

Generally, a BA working within a specific functional area will be expected to have broader knowledge of that area than a BA working in another group. What are examples of functional areas: Information Technology, Human Resources, Finance, Strategic Planning, and Logistics. This specific knowledge can be application-based or general domain knowledge.

Stakeholder Groups

The higher the stakeholder sits in an organization, the less time you have to engage them which means a BA needs to understand the most appropriate way to get the most out of a discussion. The techniques vary and the conversations planned well to get the most out of the time allotted. Strong facilitation and negotiation skills are essential the broader and more diverse the stakeholder group.

 

Defining Business Analysis

I just described a number of different flavours of business analysts. How does this impact the definition? V2 of A Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge® (BABOK® Guide) is the set of tasks and techniques used to work as a liaison among stakeholders to understand the structure, policies, and operations of an organization, and to recommend solutions that enable the organization to achieve its goals.

The revised definition of business analysis proposed for version 3 of A Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge® (BABOK® Guide) is: The practice of enabling change in an organizational context by defining needs and recommending solutions that deliver value to stakeholders.

In the both definitions, all the different variations in the role described above apply. It is the different techniques or depth of knowledge that create the differences.

What does this mean to you as a BA professional? You have options. You don’t have to do just one job. Depending on where you work, you can seek out different challenges to improve different aspects of your BA capabilities. In larger organizations you may have greater opportunity to move around and try different things, developing deeper or broader skills. In smaller organizations, you may be able to work in multiple roles and “try out” different jobs. You may develop a more thorough knowledge of the organization but not necessarily a deep expertise of any one area.

 

Which Flavour of Business Analysis is Right for You or Your Organization?

To determine what type of BAs your organization requires, it first must identify its resource needs. The challenge for many organizations is they don’t know—they haven’t assessed their portfolio of products, operating model and plans for the near and long-term in the context described above to determine their BA needs. So many organizations don’t fully leverage the benefits of appropriately skilled business analysts to get the work done.

How can you help? By educating your management on the complexity of the BA role and introducing them to the BABOK Guide and Competency model and sharing with them the differences that can exist within the BA role.

Once an organization does determine its BA needs, it needs to do an assessment of its current resources. What are the current strengths and weaknesses of the BA team? Where are the critical gaps between need and capability? As a BA you have to figure out how you currently fit into the mix and what you want to accomplish over the longer term.

How do you figure out your strengths and weaknesses?  IIBA members have an online tool that can help you evaluate your abilities in business analysis against a standard set of skills in the profession, and receive a personal development plan to help you improve in the areas in which you need the most work.

IIBA has also developed a BA Career Ladder which captures and further clarifies the different “flavours” or career options in the business analysis role.

 

 

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