When people hear the word "versatile" or “multi-functional,” the Swiss Army Knife may come to mind. The 120-plus years of the Swiss Army Knife’s storied history is testament to its extreme utility. Never has its multi-functionality cast it into the jack-of-all-trades-and-master-of-none pile. Rather, it is that very versatility that has led to its longevity.
The business analyst (BA) is exactly that. In the past twenty years, the profession has gained ground, with a growing number of organisations employing full-time BAs. Some companies have even made a concerted effort to mature their BA capability through a BA Centre of Excellence. Yet, only a fraction of organisations have realised the full potential of their BA workforce.
We believe this underrealised opportunity stems in part from a misunderstanding of the BA role. Even today, many organisations subscribe to the antiquated belief that the BA merely captures stakeholder requirements (usually for a solution involving an IT system), ensures that they are documented, and communicates them to the development or implementation teams.
While those things are a portion of the BA’s responsibility, employing a BA for that purpose alone is much like buying a Swiss Army Knife because you need a corkscrew. It will do the job, but it can also do so much more.
The stage on which we all, including the BA, perform today is one of change. Due to rapidly evolving customer needs, continuous change and transformation must become an embedded part of an organisation’s culture and course of operations. It has also become clear that transformation, even when it’s coined as “digital,” is not only about getting the latest IT systems. It's equally about the role of people, processes, and structures with technology as an enabler. Each of these is an area where BAs can be invaluable, as they must embrace a holistic perspective when understanding a problem and in helping to design solutions.
How can organisations better leverage the BA role to accelerate their transformation efforts? We recommend focusing on three key areas:
- Versatility in skills: The Business Analysis profession has its own set of technical skills—skills that are the foundation for several other specialties. These skills give the BA a unique advantage in versatility. Borrowing from the International Institute of Business Analysts (IIBA's) Business Analysis Body of Knowledge, these skills include:
- Business Analysis Planning and Monitoring
- Elicitation and Collaboration
- Requirements Life Cycle Management
- Strategy Analysis
- Requirements Analysis and Design Definition
- Solution Evaluation
These knowledge domains encompass a range of techniques, tools, and ways of thinking that apply to the fields of design (content, service, and experience), management consulting, data, analytics, change management, and business architecture.
In other words, Business Analysis is one of the few fields in which being proficient also translates to being multifaceted. Tapping into this diverse skillset, empower BAs to play a lead role in improving the organisation’s capacity for big picture thinking and communicating ideas more effectively across functional teams.
- A people focus: The BA understands that solutions should always be focused on meeting the needs of the customer—whether that customer is internal or external. People are at the heart of transformation, and the BA’s softer skills like empathy, active listening, and negotiation enable them to understand core needs at the definition stages of change initiatives. Consider ways that you can tap into the BA as a key player in working with staff and customers through the change management process.
- Building bridges and webs across stakeholders: While BAs can fit into multiple roles, or perform several functions in their singular role, they can also serve as savvy collaborators with other specialists across the organisation. BAs are often perceived as the bridge between the business and solution providers, often technical or IT teams. While we believe that the BA’s Business-to-IT bridge role has since evolved—particularly amid the rise of Agile—the collaborative skills of the BA are still in high demand and can be applied to a range of scenarios.
At a recent Business Analysis professional summit, one speaker likened the collaborative craft of the BA to a spider spinning a web, especially in scenarios requiring multiple connection points. In transformation initiatives, a BA often facilitates interactions across a diverse set of functions, including technical architects, service design managers, marketing and sales leads, and customer experience specialists, to name a few.
We believe BAs provide even more value when they are empowered to broaden their remit beyond that of the traditional BA role. Tapping into the three areas above, consider ways that you can wield the BA’s diverse core skillset to build domain knowledge and accelerate the change that your organisation seeks. Regardless of your company’s preferred development methodology (e.g., Agile, Waterfall, or both in some measure), the BA plays a crucial role in enabling your organisation to evolve with the accelerated pace of market change. Firms must begin to make moves to maximise these multitalented agents of change—exposing them to situations and roles that require the use of their existing skills and abilities, while empowering them to grow through meaningful learning opportunities.
See our blog, “Harnessing the Skills of the Business Analyst to Accelerate Transformation” to learn more about opportunities to deploy a BA’s skills in an Agile development team.