Best of BATimes: Nine Key Skills That Every Good Business Analyst Needs
Being a successful Business Analyst means you have to have a variety of different skills and be adaptable to a changing environment. Every Business Analyst will bring their unique blend of skills and experience to the role, of course, but I’ve highlighted below what I think are the most common skills that a good BA will need. Feel free to add in the comments any other skills that you have found helpful in your BA career.
1. Understand your objectives.
Being able to interpret direction is important. If you don’t fully understand what and, more importantly, why you are being asked to do something, there is a risk that you won’t deliver what’s required. Don’t be worried about asking for further information if your brief isn’t clear.
2. Good verbal communication skills.
It is essential that you are a good communicator, regardless of the method of communication. You must be able to make your point clearly and unambiguously. It is also important that you know how to ask insightful questions to retrieve the information you need from stakeholders. For example, if your stakeholder isn’t a technical specialist you may need to ask your questions in plain English – avoiding jargon and acronyms. Being able to communicate information at the appropriate level is vital – some stakeholders will need more detailed information than others.
3. The ability to run stakeholder meetings.
Although using email provides a useful audit trail, sometimes it is not enough to communicate with stakeholders via email. Don’t underestimate the value of face to face meetings to discuss problems in more detail and clear up any queries. Often you will discover more about your project from a face to face meeting where people tend to be more open about discussing situations. You can always follow up a meeting with written confirmation if an audit trail is required.
4. Be a good listener.
Listening skills are key to being a successful BA. You must be able to listen and absorb information. This will allow you to analyse thoroughly the information gathered to specify requirements. It’s important that you don’t just listen to what’s being said, but are able to understand the context of what’s being said – the motivation behind it, the circumstances behind what’s being said, and even what’s not being said. Voice tone and body language can help you understand the message behind the words.
5. Hone your presentation skills.
It is likely that at some point in your career as a BA you will need to facilitate a workshop, or present a piece of work to a stakeholder or project team. Consider the content of your presentation and make sure it matches the objectives of the meeting – there is no point in presenting information about implementation methods if the meeting is being held to discuss requirements gathering. These presentations are not only for you to present information. They can also work as an excellent way to extract more information or clarity from stakeholders if you are unclear on something or are looking for more detail on a particular area of the project.
6. Be excellent at time management.
A BA must have excellent time management skills to ensure that work is completed on time and the project does not fall behind schedule. Multi-tasking is an important skill, but you must also be able to prioritize activities – understanding which are more critical than others – and concentrate on them. Remember that you need to manage your own time and activities, but you may also need to manage other people’s time if you are dependent on them for information. Make sure that they know when you need them to deliver.
7. Documentation and writing skills.
Requirements documents, reports, specifications, plans and analysis. As a BA you will be required to deliver a range of different types of documents. You will need to ensure that your documents are written in a clear and concise manner, and at a level that is appropriate for your stakeholders. Avoid nuances specific to a particular workstream as they may not be understood by all stakeholders. As an inexperienced/beginner BA, it is unlikely that you will have experience writing requirements documentation, however, strong writing skills are an excellent starting point. Experience will lead to clear and concise requirements documentation.
8. Stakeholder management.
It is essential that you know how to manage all of you stakeholders and know how much power and influence they have on your project. Stakeholders can be your strongest supporters or your biggest critics. An experienced BA will be able to analyse how much management each stakeholder needs and how they should be individually managed. Do they need face to face meetings and detailed information or are they content with high-level reports? Are they supportive of your project? Knowing the answers to these key questions will help you to manage your stakeholders and the wider project. Can you influence them directly or do you need to influence someone who can influence them.
9. Develop your modelling skills.
As the saying goes a picture paints a thousand words. Techniques such as process modelling are effective tools to convey large amounts of information without relying on text. A visual representation allows you to get an overview of the problem or project so that you can see what works well and where the gaps lie. A typical process model will have several different levels of detail to allow a BA to engage with stakeholders in a language that they understand.