The journey of a business analyst (BA) begins when a decision is made to build a product. It could be triggered by a desire to switch from legacy systems or to explore better ways of working with existing systems. What follows this decision impacts the rest of the development cycle. The key ingredient to success in any product development cycle is the ability to gather the requirements accurately. The BA’s ability to precisely capture the core requirements could decide whether we build the right system for the customer. And, this is the very skill that the BA should excel in. Sounds easy, right? It is, however, quite challenging to elicit in real-life scenarios. In this two-part series, I discuss in detail a few critical soft skills that a successful BA should have.
The BA should be able to operate with varying degrees of flexibility, depending on project requirements. In certain situations, the effort spent to capture the needs of a complex business application might be shelved by the client due to multiple reasons; for example, a change in government policies. In such a scenario, the BA’s ability to fight frustration and move on requires a high degree of tolerance and maturity.
The BA might be asked to play the role of the project manager or, at the other extreme, may be asked to perform the role of a data scientist. Being a BA means working in global projects, across boundaries, and with people from different cultural backgrounds. All these require a high degree of tolerance. While working with customers in time zones different from their own, the BA should be willing to adapt to customers, partners, and stakeholders’ needs. The BA must be assertive, armed with patience and readiness to change.
Business analysts want to make sure that they define the solution requirements that depicts the end-users’ business problems and operational needs. In my opinion, proper documentation is one of the “priceless skills” that a BA should possess, perfected over time, through capturing requirements from various stakeholders. This might look very obvious, but stating the needs in simple language that presents an unbiased view and reading the actual and implied meanings of different stakeholders will require loads of practice and experience.
A seasoned BA from a pre-sales or business development experience background will be acquainted with this skill to some degree. For others, it becomes a ‘To-Be’ requirement and needs to be learned with experience, from their immediate mentors, and working closely with the seniors or with lead BAs in their teams. Presenting information specific to the intended audience can be challenging. Variety is essential, but clarity and simplicity would make it more understandable. It’s important not to write stories, but write ‘Good, Valid, and Correct Requirements!’ Documentation also means able to work with various UML (Unified Modelling Language) models. The BA should use models that make sense rather than overdoing them.
I would suggest using a combination of textual narration and visual models like wireframes, which supports the requirement document. Please keep in mind that what works for one might not work for everyone. Let personal experience and expertise be the guide. Care should be taken not to document what we think is needed but create what stakeholders and customers value as the end goal.
The art of conversation
The BA should be a good conversationalist and be accepted as a friend in their team, allowing people to share information freely. The BA should be comfortable conversing with people from various cultural backgrounds and across hierarchies. Depending on the project need, the BA will be interacting with executive management, business owners, product owners, end-users, SMEs, etc. The BA should be able to modify the language and tone of conversation according to the audience. For example, when discussing with an actual end-user, the BA must be empathetic to their knowledge level and speak their language. Adaptability is critical when it comes to communication.
Watch out for the next blog in this series where I will discuss a few more key soft skills essential to becoming a successful BA.