Laura Brandenburg, owner of the website www.bridging-the-gap.com, is known for offering highly valuable information on becoming a business analyst. I asked her to provide this article on five steps to becoming a BA, which she describes as a journey in getting to know yourself and what your interests are. At the end, I add some of the big potential rewards that can come from your working in the field. Note that these steps apply to any experience level and at any stage in your career.
Step 1: Learn about Business Analysis and Confirm Your Career Choice
As it would be with any profession, building knowledge of business analysis is an important part of determining your career path. There are several ways to accumulate enough knowledge to be successful. You can read the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge, though I recommend that those new to the profession choose a more accessible text. The BABOK is amazing, but it’s not written to be accessible by aspiring business analysts. It’s written as a reference guide for working BAs. Ellen Gottesdiener’s The Software Requirements Memory Jogger or my book, How to Start a BA Career, are good alternatives.
Becoming knowledgeable about the role of business analysts is only the first step. The biggest mistake I see many aspiring BAs make is spending way too much time on this step while neglecting the realities of the next four. Alternatively, I see a lot of professionals get over-invested in business analysis only to discover the career isn’t a good fit for them. That’s why I recommend learning just enough to determine if business analysis is the right choice for you.
Step 2: Identify Your Transferable Skills and Leverage Points to Develop Your Positioning
As a mid-career professional, you most likely qualify for a subset of BA jobs already. (Don’t be frustrated by only qualifying for a subset – even the most experienced BAs do not qualify for all BA jobs.) Many professionals I work with are able to skip right past entry-level BA positions by identifying their transferable skills and unique qualifications from their career backgrounds. You may also be able to open up opportunities within a slice of business analysis or in a transitional role.
Transferable skills come from experiences using business analysis techniques in a non-BA role. Business Analyst Michelle Swoboda shares a process for translating your skills into the field: Whether or not you have a deep career history in business analysis, it’s likely that one or more elements of your career history give you expertise to leverage into business analysis. Whether it’s your knock-your-socks off communication skills or your deep experience in a relevant industry domain, you have a quality that potential managers are specifically hiring for.
Step 3: Get Tangible Feedback by Putting Out Feelers
Once you’ve built up your confidence in your choice and your skills, it’s time to get some real, tangible feedback. This could mean sharing your career goals with your manager and asking for more opportunities to practice BA techniques. Or, it could mean circulating your resume to a few recruiters or applying for a few business analyst jobs.
The point of this exercise isn’t necessarily to find the right opportunity (though if that happens right off the bat, that’s a lucky bonus), but to get feedback about how your goals are perceived by those that work with you or are in a position to hire you. You may be surprised to learn that a specific skill is extremely marketable and can provide an entryway into a business analyst role. Or you might be given some ideas for strengthening your positioning even further. Which leads us to the next step.
Step 4: Approach Your Work with a BA Mindset and Strengthen Your Positioning
As part of the analysis you did in step two, you may have discovered some gaps. Add these to your professional development plan and explore opportunities to fill them through volunteer positions or by building on-the-job business analyst experience. What we see is that one business analysis task tends to lead to another, creating a cycle of new opportunities and expanded experience.
Practice techniques such as:
- Improving a business process
- Facilitating meetings
- Crafting use cases
- Scoping projects
- Eliciting information
As you cultivate a BA mindset, you’ll find that business analysis begets business analysis. Once you see your first opportunity, several more sprout up right in front of you. It’s a circle that can lead you to a full-fledged business analysis role, step-by-step.
Step 5: Focus Your Efforts to Find Your First BA Opportunity
In time, you may qualify for a business analysis role in your organization, or be in a position to propose a business analyst role in your firm. But not all job situations provide the same opportunities. Some BAs find themselves looking outside their organization for their first BA jobs. It’s important to remember that you don’t have to be pure to be a business analyst and that you’re in charge of what success looks like.
Back to Steve:
Working as a business analyst, you’ll commonly come across three main rewards:
- Autonomy: Throughout the project lifecycle, process and requirements management is a highly autonomous job. Not to sound boastful, but I have realized that I am never under pressure from managers or clients during the lifecycle (of course, I make sure not screw up things), nobody interferes during the process or questions my approach. In fact there is less or no interference from the delivery teams during this period. All that I have to make sure is that all stakeholders are well-informed and that their expectation are well-mapped. You need to be very self-motivated — and plan, plan and do more planning to make sure requirements management is done right the first time.
- Complexity: Well, do I need to explain this point? We analyze the complex business processes, liaison between various Business Units, work hard with the IT teams to make sure that the solution is made right, negotiate requirements, help PMs in estimations and what not. Complex? That in itself is its own reward
- Connection between Effort and Reward: Organizations have realized that experienced BAs are their most valuable resources. Their ability to communicate, facilitate and analyze makes them indispensable. Today, companies need people who understand both business and technology well, and BAs get ample exposure to both.
And, yes: BAs are among the best paid professionals in today’s market.