What Skills Make Up a Good Business Analyst?

By Adam Kutcher, Business Analysis and Process Design Lead at Navigator

As business executives set strategy to find new markets, enhance market offerings, embrace new technologies, and increase their bottom line, business analysts are hard at work translating those business strategies into actionable solutions.  Business analysts (BAs) are by definition cross-functional, working as a liaison among different groups of stakeholders (e.g. finance, HR, marketing, IT) to define solutions that will succeed and flourish within the parameters of their organizations.  Within organizations, and within the broader consulting market, there are a wide range of individuals who step in to fill this role, so how do organizations know that their functional leads are capable of designing solutions that are both implementable and will meet the business’s needs?  At Navigator, we believe that good business analysis requires experience and a broad set of skills, which is why we invest in having our BAs certify to the market-leading credential – the Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP).    

In our view, business analysis is composed of a series of overlapping steps, including:
  • Enterprise Analysis - determining the business’s goals and internal operating environment
  • Requirements Analysis - determining the business’s tactical and strategic needs to meet its goals
  • Solution Assessment - analyzing a currently operating solution to determine if it can meet the business’s changing requirements and/or analyzing potential solutions that can meet the business’s requirements
A skilled business analyst can:
  • Operate at the strategy level, fully understanding and internalizing an organization’s strategic goals 
  • Assess an organization’s operational capacity to fulfill its strategic goals
  • Assess a particular organizational solution (e.g. business process, enabling technology) to determine its strengths and weaknesses
  • Operate across the entire hierarchy of an organization, from the Boardroom to the factory floor
  • Unite stakeholders from across an enterprise behind a chosen solution
  • Fluently write requirements in various styles (Agile/non-Agile, business/technical) and levels (high/strategic, low/detailed) to suit the needs of the project
  • Manage the requirements process to handle change and ensure the project is responsive to the enterprise’s needs
These skills, by their very nature, require both business and technical acumen and a range of hard and soft skills to be successful.  So how can companies have confidence that the individuals and companies they are hiring to provide business analysis have this range of skills?  One answer is to look to certifications, but there are choices to be made here and not all BA certifications are equal.  

Business analysis as a discipline has grown in stature in the past decade and now has one established credential, the CBAP, which has been issued by the International Institute for Business Analysis (IIBA) since 2004, and a second newly-released credential, the Professional in Business Analysis (PMI-PBA), issued by the Project Management Institute for the past two years.  Between the two of these, the CBAP is the more rigorous certification, requiring 7500 professional hours of BA experience (more than the 4500 hours required by the PMI-PBA) and a full knowledge of the Business Analysis Book of Knowledge (BABOK), which was re-released in its 3rd edition in 2016 now weighs in at over 400 pages plus 100 pages of appendices.  

PMI has its own “Business Analysis for Practitioners: A Practice Guide”, which is in its first edition and weighs in at over 200 pages. In September 2016, in part to respond to the PMI-PBA, IIBA broadened its certification offerings to now offer an entry-level certification (ECBA), a lower level certification (CCBA), and an elite certification for thought leaders that publish and teach (CBATL). 

The value of a good BA is in defining and managing a set of requirements to produce a product that provides value to the organization. Projects that lack dedicated or trained BAs can slowly and at great expense produce products or solutions that are ineffective upon launch, forcing a lose-lose choice of reworking the project at additional cost or scrapping the project to start again at a later time with a less competitive advantage. PMI estimated that roughly one-third of project failures are caused by poor requirements, which is a primary deliverable of the BA.  At Navigator, we recognize that not everyone who says they have been part of a requirements gathering workshop is a fully-fledged BA, which is why we invest in certification.  For us, that certification is the CBAP.  It lets us know who our experienced and well-rounded BAs are and is key in our being able to give complex, unstructured challenges to the right person - the person who will produce value every time for our clients and for our own organization’s internal projects.

Not all organizations have business analysts to translate strategy to action, and even organizations that do have business analysts may not have sufficiently experienced BAs to handle complex projects.  At Navigator, we provide business analysts to organizations and projects of all sizes, helping our clients meet their business objectives.  If your project or organization would benefit from speaking to our dedicated business analysts, please contact us.