HOW TO BECOME A BUSINESS ANALYST (2023 Guide)
What Skills Do I Need to Be a Business Analyst?
BrainStation’s Business Analyst career guide can help you take the first steps toward a lucrative career in analysis. Read on to learn more about the skills you need to be a Business Analyst.
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A Business Analyst’s skills are based in two main fields, business administration, and data analysis. In a sense, business analysis is the point where those two fields meet. You might think of Business Analysts as interpreters, translating raw data into useful business insights. With that in mind, a Business Analyst’s skill set is unusually large – big enough to comprise both of these worlds.
Business Analyst Technical Skills
Business Analysts need a variety of technical skills or hard skills, including:
First and foremost, Business Analysts need a good understanding of general business principles, beginning with the ways IT systems and business processes are intertwined, and extending to all the other fundamentals of running a business – budgeting, cost–benefit analysis, org charts, variance analysis, customer relations, and so on – and how they ultimately inform business strategy.
A Business Analyst’s understanding of technology should be comprehensive, including familiarity with how computers operate and the underlying concepts of information systems and engineering systems. They also need to be adept with every aspect of Microsoft Office – most notably Excel, SharePoint, and flowchart-maker Visio – as well as Perl, VBScript, and especially SQL.
In addition to having general data analysis skills like understanding advanced Excel and learning SQL, knowing how to use modeling and visualization tools like Tableau, and having some experience with programming languages (it’s certainly worth it to learn Python), Business Analysts should also be comfortable with all the various aspects of research and data analytics as it applies to business management. This includes writing elicitation requirements, performing object-oriented analysis, gap analysis, and various types of statistical analyses, creating risk-management projections and financial forecasts, and running testing for verification and validation.
Closely related to data analysis per se are the organization and documentation activities that support that process, like writing business requirements documents (BRDs) and various other technical specification documents, projections, plans, and analysis reports based on your research.
Business Analyst Soft Skills
Business Analysts also need a highly developed set of soft skills, including:
Problem-solving and critical thinking
One of the defining characteristics of business analysis is that it involves looking for solutions that aren’t immediately obvious – in fact, what method to use to discover the solution or even to define the problem often isn’t obvious, either. It takes clear thinking and a certain amount of creativity to be able to understand and frame problems in a way that will lead to a satisfying solution – something that can’t be taught, but can be practiced.
Organization and time management
It goes without saying that a job as complex as Business Analyst depends on excellent organizational and time-management skills. A Business Analyst’s days and weeks are always different, as the many balls they keep in the air come down at different times. Keeping your own work life in order is a crucial first step to performing well.
The role of Business Analyst may be a technical one, but that doesn’t mean they only interact with computers – quite the opposite. Elicitation requires dialogue with all stakeholders, which in turn requires excellent listening skills and knowing how to ask the right questions. You’ll need speaking skills, too, whether you’re meeting with fellow team members, conveying needs to developers and IT, interfacing with users, or delivering formal presentations to leadership and clients – using a different kind of language to communicate with each of these groups.
Managing risk and making business decisions is often a game of trading one outcome off against another – making compromises, in other words. Advising on those decisions is at the heart of what a Business Analyst does. But quite often, especially when they’re working solely in a consulting capacity, they’re not able to simply dictate what needs to be done. Instead, a Business Analyst relies on persuasion to encourage the acceptance of their suggestions, especially when it means certain stakeholders need to give things up in the name of compromise. Negotiation, in this context, often means being able to convince people with opposing objectives to embrace a larger vision. (A thick skin can come in handy, too.)
What Makes a Good Business Analyst?
A good Business Analyst needs to have some characteristics that go beyond what’s in a typical Business Analyst job description. Here are the skills, characteristics and qualities that make a good Business Analyst:
BAs have a way with people
A Business Analyst must communicate with a wide diversity of stakeholders – people with wildly different backgrounds and professional roles – in a way that is clear, efficient, and pleasant. They also have to be able to articulate her or his own value and sometimes persuade management to change their priorities.
None of that is easy, so succeeding as a Business Analyst requires having an uncommon way with words, both verbally and in writing. Written reports should be clear, concise, and well-written, free of unnecessary bulk and of course any errors.
A Business Analyst also must lean on these skills to navigate meetings, presentations, and workshops.
Good BAs know how to listen
Typically, when we talk about communication skills we mean someone has a way with words – but it’s just as crucial that a Business Analyst knows how to listen.
A Business Analyst must listen carefully as clients lay out what they need, and they must also listen closely in communicating with software development teams about timelines and budgets.
Further, those working in business analysis have to master the art of active listening. By nodding and maintaining eye contact, BAs make sure stakeholders feel heard. They should keep an open mind and know how to acknowledge dissenting viewpoints with tact.
They should also know how to keep a meeting moving by subtly nudging a conversation along. On that note, it’s inevitable in business analysis activities that you will spend a lot of time in meetings, but an effective Business Analyst would make them as efficient as possible for everyone’s benefit.
BAs are analytical
Maybe it’s obvious given that the word “Analyst” is in their job titles, but a good Business Analyst is indeed an analytical thinker who can interpret business needs and translate them into operational requirements. A Business Analyst must look at information from a variety of sources, such as documentation, surveys, and existing business systems. Someone in a Business Analyst position should be passionate about data analysis and creative in coming up with different angles from which to analyze it to the benefit of the businesses they’re serving.
There could be meaningful insights hidden in plain sight in the data, and it takes a good Business Analyst to extensively analyze that data before even considering coming up with a neat solution to solve the problem. It’s worth pointing out that a good Business Analyst also knows when it’s time to stop scrutinizing the data and time to start working on a solution.
BAs are problem solvers
If you ask a successful Business Analyst about the best part of their career, the answer might be that they get to solve problems.
In most organizations, including non-profits, solutions to business issues aren’t straightforward. A good Business Analyst has to think critically and look at these situations from a variety of angles, considering multiple scenarios and operations, before arriving at a solution – and a change – that will work for the organization. That usually involves exploring the effects on revenue, costs, sales, and performance metrics.
A good Business Analyst will also show how they arrived at this conclusion and make a solid business case once it’s time to persuade stakeholders to approve the plan. Usually, finding a solution will effect change within an organization – perhaps it’s a situation where a change is needed in a business process or a technology should be improved – and for that to happen, a Business Analyst must get buy-in from top stakeholders. If they understand a BA’s thought process, they’ll be more likely to buy into the suggested business process.
BAs have good judgment
To put it simply, a Business Analyst needs to be level-headed. It’s a Business Analyst’s responsibility to offer counsel to management, key stakeholders, and software development teams. Business analysis is about helping a colleague or organization make the right decisions to get things right for the overall benefit of the organization.
It’s also a Business Analyst’s job to facilitate decisions. Indecisive leadership can be a huge problem for any organization. A good Business Analyst would define which decisions need to be made, who will make those decisions, and what information the decision-maker should leverage to make the right decision.
In a situation where the decision is being made by a group, it’s a Business Analyst’s role – and it’s not an easy one – to somehow wrangle buy-in from everyone. It’s one of the most important Businesses Analyst skills.
Business Analysts have broad knowledge in a range of areas
In business analysis, it might seem like a BA has to be an expert in everything. That’s impossible for even the most clever BA, but it is true that a Business Analyst should have at least basic knowledge and skills in a range of different disciplines.
Most in business analysis feel at home in IT. But they have to deal with many stakeholders and colleagues outside of the IT bubble, so it pays for a Business Analyst to know about the world, business trends, new tech, and the business process.
Those working in business analysis who do have a diverse knowledge background will more easily elicit the right information from stakeholders and identify business opportunities. These BAs also tend to be more versatile in their creative problem-solving and more open to trying new business analytics tools, techniques, and products.
How to Be a Good Business Analyst
To be a good Business Analyst, you need to not only possess the necessary hard and soft skills, but also approach new problems with curiosity and a positive attitude, commit to continuous learning and upskilling, and stay on top of trends in business, marketing, design, and more.
If the many skills mentioned above are the baseline requirements for what it takes to be a Business Analyst, to be a good Business Analyst you must also understand that certain a certain temperament is necessary to excel in business analysis.
In other words, one of the defining traits of business analysis is that every problem is new, every situation is unique, and even within a given company or industry, things are always evolving. With that in mind, adaptability is one of the traits that will serve a Business Analyst best: adapting to fast-paced change, and adapting to the various stakeholders’ different demands and ways of working.
Along similar lines, the best Business Analysts are curious, inquisitive people. If you enjoy the thrill of getting to the bottom of a problem, you might enjoy business analysis, but if not, there won’t be much to attract you here. Business analysis also demands constant learning – not only about the situation at hand, since each new project is best approached with an open mind, but also about how to perform business analysis itself. The highly technical nature of their work means Business Analysts need to be constantly upgrading their skills. Lifelong education comes with the territory, so a love of learning is an asset.
And while it’s mentioned above, it’s difficult to characterize the many ways creativity is brought to bear in business analysis – looking at problems in new ways to develop new solutions. This can mean anything from technical innovation, like writing new number-crunching algorithms to extract patterns from raw data, to the hard-to-quantify ability to follow a hunch and think about familiar problems from new perspectives.
In fact, that last point speaks to another important aspect of the job: Business Analysts work every day to turn unknowns into knowns. That alone requires not just creativity, but also an ability to keep an open and limber mind. Uncertainty is an inherent factor in what Business Analysts do. And while a Business Analyst’s primary objective is to eliminate ambiguity – something that’s ultimately impossible to do – they first need to be comfortable working with it, and (once again) adapt their ways of thinking as ambiguity advances and recedes with each new development.
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