How to Develop Effective Business Analysts (Part 1)
So, here you are. You've taken the seminars and attended the conferences. You're convinced that the business rules approach would benefit your organization. You may have spearheaded a pilot project or done a proof of concept. Senior management has just given you the go-ahead to implement a business rules methodology. What is the next step?
Apart from acquiring a business rules methodology, selecting and implementing tools, and setting up the appropriate organizational structure, you need to find and develop the Business Analysts (BAs) who will carry out the actual work.
The business rules approach advocates a strong business focus. A group of Business Analysts, rooted in a business background and trained in a business rules methodology, will ensure that the business focus remains in the forefront.
The difficulty lies in finding and developing these Business Analysts. This series of articles will explore ways to do this. We will cover:
- Defining the role of Business Analyst
- Identifying the personality traits of a BA
- Targeting the required skill set
- Finding Business Analysts
- Assessing current skill levels
- Creating a training strategy
- Implementing the training strategy
- Avoiding common pitfalls
Defining the Role of Business Analyst
Before you can start recruiting, you need to have a clear definition of the role of Business Analyst. What do you expect a BA to do?
On a day-to-day basis, a BA's job focuses on gathering business requirements and creating a business solution, generally in the form of a business model, which consists of a set of deliverables. For example, in the Business Rule Solutions methodology, Proteus™, the deliverables are:
- Scope (a list of the business items in scope)
- Policy Charter (the tactics that will solve the business problem, and the risks associated with those tactics)
- Workflow (how the work is handed from person to person)
- Business Rules (the statements that guide or constrain business behavior)
- Fact Model (a business-oriented data model)
In addition, a BA usually acts as a team member or business team lead on projects.
Although the job may vary somewhat from one organization to another, it generally consists of the basic responsibilities outlined in Table 1.
Table 1. Basic Responsibilities of a Business Analyst Business Analyst's Responsibilities
- Understand business goals
- Find business solutions to business problems
- Ensure business solutions support business goals
- Make recommendations for business change based on business knowledge
- Conduct impact analysis of proposed business changes
- Identify and assess business tactics and associated risks
- Facilitate meetings to gather business requirements
- Document "as is" and "to be" workflows
- Record terminology (business concepts and fact model)
- Capture and express business rules
- Analyze business rules, identifying conflicts, redundancies, etc.
- Decompose business rules to atomic level
- Research the meaning and origin of business rules
- Ensure terminology is used consistently
- Facilitate resolution of business issues
- Act as team member or business team lead on projects
- Plan tasks for analysis phase of a project
- Act as liaison between business and Information Technology (IT) staff
- Understand the business rules methodology and how to apply it
- Promote awareness about the business rules approach
The key responsibility of a Business Analyst is to assist the organization through the process of change by using a structured framework (i.e., the business rules methodology). To do this, a BA must understand not only the methodology, but also the business. This includes understanding business goals, corporate values, and corporate culture. It is important to stress this business knowledge in any definition of the role of Business Analyst.
Identifying the Personality Traits of a BA
Being a Business Analyst requires more than a set of learned skills; there is a certain personality that comes with the territory. Although the traits of this personality can be developed or refined, they cannot be taught – people either have the traits or they do not. Hence it is essential to include in your recruiting process some method of determining that the required traits are present.
The key traits of a BA are described in Table 2 (in alphabetical order).
Table 2. Key Traits of a Business Analyst Personality Trait Description Ability to see the "big picture" A BA needs to keep the "big picture" in mind when designing business solutions, to ensure that they will fit into the environment. A BA must also be able to see how disparate projects or change initiatives fit together and impact each other. Ability to work at a detailed level As well as being able to see the "big picture," a BA needs to be able to zero in on the smallest details, as it can be the little things that make or break a change initiative. Adaptability As Heraclitus said over 2000 years ago, "There is nothing permanent except change." If it was true in his day, it is exponentially truer today. A BA must be flexible in approach, comfortable with ambiguity, and good-natured about last-minute changes. Analytical ability A BA must be able to take a large set of information (sometimes referred to as "ramblings") and break it down into its component parts. This ability to "factor" information into different aspects (such as workflow, terms, and business rules) is a fundamental part of the job. Although it is possible to teach what the component parts are, the ability to break things down into parts is innate. Creativity Although one does not usually associate creativity with an analysis position, it comes into play in two areas: (1) adapting the business rules approach to the needs of a project, and (2) finding innovative solutions to business problems. This also includes thinking "outside the box." Diplomacy A BA must always exercise tact and consideration in dealing with others, whether they are senior managers, IT staff, or front-line employees. A BA implements change; considerable effort is required to keep feathers unruffled along the way. Empathy As an agent of change, a BA introduces disruption into people's lives. It is essential that he/she empathize with people so that the change can be implemented in the least disruptive, most considerate manner. Inquisitiveness A BA must be like a three-year-old child, always asking "why?"
He/she must be relentless when it comes to asking questions, even seemingly "dumb" ones, in order to dig down to the root of a problem. Curiosity is also necessary to learn about the business.
Leadership The ability to inspire confidence and motivate others to participate in the requirements-gathering process is an often-overlooked part of the BA role, but it is essential for success. Mentoring ability A BA must have the ability to help others learn about the concepts and rationale behind the business rules methodology. This applies not only to mentoring other BAs but also to dealing with each person who is new to the methodology. Objectivity It is very important for a Business Analyst to remain "outside the fray," that is, to not get involved in political maneuvering or interdepartmental struggles. A BA must be able to evaluate alternative solutions objectively and to ensure that the business properly considers each one. Problem-solving ability A BA needs to be able to look at a problem from all angles and find multiple solutions. Each solution must address all aspects of the problem and be assessed as to its advantages and disadvantages. Quick learner Although a BA should have a solid knowledge of the business, it is impossible to know everything. Therefore he/she must be able to learn quickly about various aspects of the business. Self-motivation A BA must be willing to "step up to the plate" and get things done, rather than waiting to be told what to do. He/she does not complain about a situation but seeks to do something about it. Team orientation A BA needs to be able to operate in a team setting and relate to people at all levels of the organization. Trustworthiness A BA needs to win the trust and support of the people being affected by a change initiative. This means he/she must always be as honest as possible about the impact of the changes. It also means that a BA must deliver on his/her promises.
Although the list appears rather daunting (how will you ever find such a paragon?), it can be narrowed down to what I would consider the five most crucial traits:
- Analytical ability
- Problem-solving ability
In my experience, these seem to be the ones that successful BAs exhibit the most.
Now that you've defined the role of Business Analyst and identified the personality traits you want the BAs to possess, the next step is to determine the skills you want them to have. Tune in to Part 2 of this series, which will discuss essential skills and where to look for candidate BAs.
...to be continued
 These are significant tasks in their own right and will take considerable resources to implement. For the sake of this article, we are assuming that these activities will be occurring in parallel to the recruiting and training of Business Analysts.
 The job will also vary based on the size of the organization. In smaller organizations, it may be combined with a more traditional Systems Analyst role; however, it is important to keep the two roles distinct even if they are filled by one person.
Lam, Gladys S.W. "Business Knowledge -- Packaged in a Policy Charter," DataToKnowledge Newsletter, Vol. 26, No. 3 (May/June 1998). URL: http://www.BRCommunity.com/a1998/a385.html.
Ross, Ronald G. "Who or What is a True Business Analyst?" DataToKnowledge Newsletter, Vol. 27, No. 2 (March/April 1999). URL: http://www.BRCommunity.com/a1999/a412.html.
Ross, Ronald G. Business Rule Concepts, the New Mechanics of Business Information Systems. Business Rule Solutions, Inc. 1998.
Ross, Ronald G. and Gladys S.W. Lam. The BRS Fact Modeling Practitioner's Guide: Developing The Business Basis For Data Models. Business Rule Solutions, Inc. 2000.
© 2002, Kristen Seer
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