How to Become a Business Analyst
What Skills Do I Need to Be a Business Analyst?
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.
What Are the Top Skills Needed to Become a Business Analyst?
To make them easier to consider, let’s further break down the skills a Business Analyst needs into two types: hard skills and soft skills.
Technical Skills for Business Analysts
Business Management: 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.
Technology: 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.
Data Analysis: In addition to having general data analysis skills like advanced Excel and SQL, modeling and visualization tools like Tableau, and (ideally) programming languages and tools like 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.
Documentation: 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.
Soft Skills for Business Analysts
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.
Communication: 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.
Negotiation: 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?
If the many skills mentioned above, both hard and soft, are the baseline requirements for what it takes to be a Business Analyst, what does it take to be a great Business Analyst? That is, what are the personal characteristics, or even the temperament, it takes to excel in business analysis?
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) adapting their ways of thinking as ambiguity advances and recedes with each new development.
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