Wednesday, 15 April 2020 08:00

Deal Breaking Soft Skills – The Essential BA List

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If you don’t have the right soft skills, you will struggle as a BA. Business domain knowledge and hard skills can be taught.

But finding a BA with the right set of soft skills can be a deal breaker for employers. And no, it’s not just the ability to read, write and converse. So which soft skills do you need?

Heads up

In this post I will be going over the soft skills which are essential for a BA.

Communication

  • Being a good listener, showing that you are patient and empathetic. Actually listening to the DEV team when they say a feature can’t be achieved. And being transparent with the business when explaining the same.
  • The ability to explain difficult (and sometimes simple) concepts/ideas/justifications (anything really) at all levels.

For example, walking through a business process with your DEV team. Clarifying business terms and ideas which they not be familiar with. Translating that into how the system works and explaining the value provided to the business.

  • Being able to articulate answers to questions clearly and clarify points on the spot. For example, not confusing the business with technical terms. Explaining concepts in a way that they will understand. Even if you don’t know the answer (rather than making something up) say that you will find out and get back to them later (and actually do that).

(Difficult) Stakeholder Management

  • Managing your emotions. Not all stakeholders play nice. You will always (always!) have one or more difficult stakeholders. You need to understand their motivations and why they are being difficult. The key is to maintain your professionalism and not let your emotions get the better of you.
  • Influencing. This also includes influencing without formal authority, persuasion and negotiating. Your reputation helps significantly here. If you are known to get things done and do what’s best for the company/client, your stakeholders will be more inclined to see things your way.

Managing Expectations

  • Showing you are in control. The business/stakeholders/your boss needs to know you have a handle on things. The worst thing you can do is pretend that everything is ok but in reality, it’s all falling apart. You must be clear about your workload and ability to deliver on time. If things are slipping, make sure you have evidence why. For example, maybe the business is not cooperating during requirement’s session. Possibly the vendor has screwed up somewhere. Maybe you have too much on your plate and you need to offload some work.

Diplomacy

  • The ability to understand office politics. For example, knowing who can get things done for and who always plays hardball.
  • Conflict resolution. Ideally conflict mitigation. Knowing when a situation can get out of hand and how to resolve it quickly.
  • Knowing what to say and to who. You will probably know certain people in your organisation who you will want to avoid unless you really (really!) need to speak to them.
  • Having the ability to speak the truth and gain trust but also not “putting your foot in it”.
  • Learning how to tell people in power that they are wrong without them feeling like they are!
  • Not oversharing information to the wrong people and opening cans of worms which can impact you later.

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Analytical Thinking

  • Being naturally good at working out problems. Being able to dig deep to find out the
    the root cause of an issue. (link to root cause)
  • Reading people/understanding people. The ability to sense when stakeholders are reserved and giving them the power to speak up and be heard.
  • When a stakeholder asks for something, being able to understand what they really want but are struggling to convey. Working out when people are masking the truth or too scared to speak up.

Adaptability

  • Handling pressure and stress. For example, working towards deadlines which might change at the last minute. And having to drop things and work on something else more urgent.
  • Dealing with WTF situations. For example, being dropped into a major production issue which is affecting the company’s revenue and the stakeholders are looking to you to get them out of it.

Relationship building

  • More than just chit chat. You need to build effective working relationships by being known for:
    • Getting things done
    • Doing what you say you will do
    • Going the extra mile when needed
  • Being able to call in favours based on trust
  • Knowing who to ask when you need answers to difficult questions
  • Know who to ask (if they don’t know) to find out who else might have the answer to your questions

Leadership on Demand

  • Leading a group of BAs (e.g. in your managers absence), leading workshops and coaching junior staff

In this post I went over the soft skills which are essential for a BA. Effective soft skills are often taken for granted. I was guilty of this myself early in my career. Over time I have worked hard to develop my soft skills (and still continue to do so). Are there any surprises in my list? Anything you would like to add?

Usman Haq

I started out as an IT analyst (utility man) but quickly moved to software development. It was during this time that I found I had a knack for business analysis and decided to make the switch.

Over the past 15 years, I’ve worked for some of the top financial institutions in the UK and I’m now based in the UAE. I write articles, tips and recommendations on how to be a successful BA in IT. You can find more on my blog: fullstackist.com.

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