Business Analysis Skills from 2012 to 2022
In 2012 I wrote a blog for the BA Times on the top 10 skills for BAs. It’s time to see how this has evolved and our roles have become more valuable and essential as a result! To begin, a clarification on the BA role from then to now:
- In 2012 I called the BA as “A broker of information, getting big picture details from a variety of people, groups, executives, subject matter experts, vendors, technical resources, etc . . .”
- In 2022, I am updating this definition to “A catalyst of problem-solving and effective decision making; facilitating problem-solving and decision making on desired strategic, operations, customer experience, and systematic changes and aspects of how organizations serve their customers and operate at all levels.”
In 2012, I stated that the following are the key drivers of business analysis in organizations, and this has NOT changed! These focus areas help organizations pivot quickly and drive their digital transformations to better compete and serve customers.
- Business Agility
- Engagement of stakeholders to drive agility and innovation
The needed skills to meet these trends remain much the same! Read on to see how I have modernized the lens in which we see these skills.
Top 10 Skills for BAs
1) Conceptual Modeling Skills To Drive Deep Conversations
Engage your stakeholders with more meaningful dialog! Conceptual Modeling of the customer and business view of the problem and solution has always been a critical tool to help bring business, technology, and delivery groups together in delivering great products and solutions. These are not the technical architecture and data context diagrams, we are talking here about customer experience design and business design. Technical and data diagrams have their place, but the critical skill I am seeing as a gap in BA skill sets is the customer and business view (vs. technical view) of the problem and solution scope, this will be critical to engaging stakeholders and setting the stage for innovation. In 2022, we see an even greater need to ensure this can be done in a remote/virtual environment; this means upskilling your remote BA skills. Remote BA skills include learning to collaborate in a virtual modeling environment and facilitating online meetings where virtual modeling tools are used for the purpose of getting deep conversations going.
2) Communicating Details and Concepts
Similar to the conceptual modeling skills is communicating various levels of detail appropriate to the audience. Again, it is about the conversations BAs are having at all levels. And these conversations are for the purpose of facilitating problem-solving and great customer/user experiences. These are not conversations to confirm what should be written in a spec document. Where I see the gap today is that details are not organized to be digestible and understandable to many audiences and there may be a lack of conceptual and context to accompany the details. Without the concept and context information, the details – even when well organized – may not be understood to get the needed conversations from the team and stakeholders.
How curious are you as a BA? This has always been a critical skill for BAs. Ensuring curiosity in finding the root cause of the problem or opportunity, getting the right audience, usage, context, purpose understood by everyone requires a strong level of curiosity. Curiosity is critical for BAs wanting to build competency and skills in the world of mobile apps, cloud computing, digital, and continuing agile practices. Curiosity will make some of the unknowns of today easier to work within, a curious mindset will take BAs into communicating the unknown and help organizations innovate.
4) Decomposing the Abstract into Details
I have to call this out separately from Conceptual Modeling and Communicating Details and Concepts. The same themes are in play yet executed a bit differently and in different scenarios. Decomposing the abstract into details is also referred to as “critical thinking” and sometimes “system thinking”, taking something large, ambiguous, and abstract and breaking into smaller pieces, patterns, and views. It is about helping others see the details and big picture from different perspectives, helping stakeholders with varying points of view and priorities see where their details and others fit into the bigger picture. This is especially true for Agile BAs where defining increments of “feedback-able” work for the team, user story splitting, and user story mapping become some key techniques for BAs to master. The important piece here is that this decomposition is from a user perspective, not a system perspective.
5) Mentoring and Coaching
As the BA role becomes increasingly more valued in organizations, two things will happen: 1) Organizations will need a career path for Sr. BAs, and 2) Organizations will need to develop internal strategies to develop more talent in the BA role and Sr. level skill set. Mentoring and coaching skills are key for Sr. BAs in both of these strategies. Mentoring and coaching done by Sr. BAs will develop leadership competencies in the Sr. BAs while developing BA competencies in new or more inexperienced BAs in the organization. Senior BAs who have the opportunity to mentor and coach will develop further leadership competencies needed to elevate the competencies of the BA team as a whole.
6) Communicating Risks
Everything about the risk to BAs is about the risk to the customer! A BA needs to focus on risks to the customer and the value customers get from the products, services, and solutions. BAs are in a prime position to see the details and big picture view, and see the customer perspectives, identifying cybersecurity risks, data risks, and of course the user experience risks of the new process or solution making the customer experience worse than the previous one! I find that BAs have an intuitive sense of this, but often struggle to communicate the risk in a way that gets leadership attention. In order to get leadership attention, BAs will need to develop skills in communicating the true customer and business impact of the risk. This means going beyond communicating in terms of the features and functionalities of the processor software and going beyond that, there is not enough time for requirements to be done right. For example, when the functionality of a point-of-sale application has a requirements conflict in the process of accepting payment from customers, the focus needs to turn to the impact of the conflict on the customer and customer service representative’s ability to serve the customers and the customer experience vs. the technical details at risk of the requirement. In the heat of requirements and design details, we often let the details drive risk discussions and never get to the bottom-line impacts that can really propel leaders to make the right decisions.
7) Meeting Facilitation & Leveraging the “parking lot”
Are you running your meetings or are meetings and stakeholders running you? Do you truly have a clear purpose and objective for the meeting? Are you making good use of everyone’s time? Are you owning the meeting and the objective? Many BAs get into tough situations in requirements meetings and feel that other agendas and personalities are driving their meetings astray. Using a “parking lot” (simple visual list of items that do not fit into the meeting objective to be followed up on or scheduled into another meeting) to manage and control the meeting agenda, content, level of detail and difficult personalities is a key strategy. Most importantly, make sure that the parking lot is visible (in a virtual board the group sees during your remote meeting). Having the parking lot in your notebook or on your laptop does not show others that you have their ideas and concerns captured to discuss at a later time. Be empowered to take control of your meetings!
8) Change Management
Embracing the BA role as an agent of change will continue to show the value the BA role brings to the organization. The BA role is about bringing the most value possible in a solution to address customer value and business change. The role of a change agent in the BA is critical to ensuring all impacted parties are ready for the changes needed to accept the solution. Understanding how changes and solutions impact the stakeholders’ operations, processes, attitudes, and behaviors is a key skill in maximizing the success of the new solution and the business value it brings.
9) Asking WHY?
I love the word “Why” but hate to use it. My challenge to readers of this blog is to help one another find ways to ask “Why”. Many times, using the word “Why” can come across as offensive to the other person, it can seem defensive and the other may wonder why (no pun intended) you are asking. Finding different ways to ask “why” can alleviate this dilemma. My favorite ways to ask “Why?”: Tell me more about what is behind the need for ABC? What does success look like? What would happen if this project does not get implemented? What are your favorite ways to ask why?
10) Remote Meeting Collaboration
BAs need to lead stakeholders to a deeper level of engagement. In a remote work world, this means completely ramping up how we engage others in our remote meetings. Conference calls are no longer about voice only, or voice + video. Now, it is about the tools you engage everyone to use during a call! Tools that allow creative brainstorming, group modeling, groups drawing mockups together online, voting on priorities online, and virtual sticky notes to facilitate powerful conversations with various points of view. Tools that show a transparent backlog, let the group do user story mapping together online, user story writing workshops online, and ideate together while all working remote!
No matter what type of BA, no matter what the industry, these skills in 2020 will set your teams up for deeper engagement, innovation, and agility.