Business analysts need to be savvy in both business and technology. They have to know
business processes, strategic planning, project development and have good business writing skills. On the technology side, they should possess technical computer knowledge, a grasp of engineering systems concepts, complex modeling techniques and technical writing (which, yes, is different from business writing).
This is the most important skill set, says Kathleen Barret, CIO and president of the International Institute of Business Analysis. You have to work constantly with stakeholders, managers, programmers and developers to negotiate and build consensus, plan and manage project activities and facilitate and develop business strategy.
“The business analyst must be really strong at managing the relationship between the business owner and IT department,” adds Melisa Bockrath, senior director of the IT Product Group for Kelly Services. “(They) must be able to negotiate between the business that wants everything, (while addressing) cost, timelines, deliverables and milestones.”
Business analysts also must be able to interact effectively with a wide range of colleagues including company leaders, project managers and the IT staff. This requires being able to verbally communicate business needs and proposed organizational changes, while also having excellent writing and listening skills. Communicating technical information to a non-technical audience, and vice versa, is a key part of the job.
Effective negotiation skills are also necessary. In fact, they’re so important that Scott W. Ambler, Chief Methodologist for Agile/Lean, IBM Rational, considers it a separate skill set. “Stakeholders aren’t going to agree with one another,” he notes. “They’ll very likely have
competing if not contradictory needs.”
Before they go about articulating proposed changes, business analysts have to analyze a
problem and understand the necessary components of a solution. They have to use their skill in analysis, planning, evaluation of profitability/risk, testing and administration and reporting.
Once a project is approved, the BA must plan it and decide who needs to be a part of
it. That means mastering different planning tools. Like negotiating, planning can be so important, that it’s considered a separate skill.
Finally, you’ll have to be agile and flexible, adapting to each project’s unique challenges and each team’s personalities. “The business analyst will work on a geographically distributed team in a different manner than a co-located team,” says Ambler, “in a regulatory situation differently than a non-regulatory situation, on a large team differently than on a small
team, and so on.”
— Chandler Harris