Is Business Analysis an Art or a Science?
The role of a business analyst is complex, and involves studying an organisation,
learning about its systems, processes and business models, and both recommending and managing changes, with a view to solving problems. Often, a business analyst will not have a clearly fixed role or position, but might instead use information gained through business analyst or project manager training to involve themselves in a variety of different areas.
Crucially, business analysts need to possess both technical knowledge and creativity in order to achieve success, and it is this duality that sometimes causes confusion about precisely what the role entails and how it can be defined. In particular, there has been a considerable amount of debate about whether the discipline should be categorised as an art or a science, and this article makes the case that it is actually a combination of the two.
Business Analysis as a Science
To begin with, we must address the reasons why many people think of business analysis as a science. Effectively, this argument can be summarised by the fact that most business analysis training teaches BAs a series of processes and approaches, which can be deployed in the pursuit of solutions. There is usually an emphasis on repetition, with useful approaches being adopted time and time again, while outcomes are often tangibly measurable.
For example, as an article for Hawkins Point Partners points out, business analysis often involves gathering information in a very structured way. This might mean gaining clarity on what the business problem is, what it involves, what the constraints are, what the assumptions are, and the scope of the analysis project itself. A business analyst will then go through these same stages on almost any other business analysis project.
Moreover, business analysts will need to come up with ways to fix business problems, or make improvements to business processes and methodologies. These improvements will usually need to be demonstrable, as senior managers will want to see that objectives have been met, and that the BA is actually of value to them.
“Without the science (which brings process, techniques, templates and measurability), the business analysis field would never have become a recognised profession that commands the respect of fellow professionals,” a group of Business Analysts write in the BA Times. “Too often in the past Business Analysts were perceived as little more that note takers or junior Project Managers because we could not articulate the science and discipline.”
Business Analysis as an Art Form
On the other hand, some argue that business analysis is an art form. After all, a crucial part of the role is the use of information and other influences to actually create something new. It is also fair to say that standardised processes taught through business analysis training cannot always provide solutions. When obstacles are encountered, the onus is on the business analyst to find new and innovative ways of working.
“Without the art to recognise that every project is different and that it takes creative skill to successfully navigate all the people, personalities, and pitfalls that all projects face, the science of our techniques and processes would be almost useless,” the authors from the aforementioned BA Times article explain.
Another major part of the job involves bridging the gap between different parties, and balancing their needs, wants and expectations. This not only means that there is a requirement for excellent communication, but also that business analysts need to be able to consider different viewpoints, convey solutions in a clear and concise manner, and persuade stakeholders who are not immediately convinced by a proposal or recommendation.
This highlights the importance of soft skills, rather than relying solely on technical skills, theory and established concepts. Both written and verbal skills are vital, especially when it comes to creating a sense of urgency within an organisation or attempting to convince decision makers to act.
These aspects of the role are far less scientific or structured in nature than, for example, the repeated use of processes, or the clear focus on measurements. The art form of business analysis requires professionals to be able to think on their feet, learn lessons, and use past experiences to manage and deliver change.
The Final Word
The reason why there is so much confusion about whether to categorise business analysis as an art or science is because it is both things, simultaneously. The more scientific aspect of the role includes the structured approach to business problems, complete with the use of tools and processes. It is also one of the key reasons why the field of business analysis has gained credibility as a discipline of its own.
Nevertheless, there is also a creative or artistic side, which cannot be imparted through business analyst or project manager training alone. There is a requirement for creative or ‘outside the box’ thinking, so that alternative solutions are conceptualised and put into action. Ultimately, both the art and science aspects of the role are crucial, as business analysts cannot be successful without a combination of technical knowledge and creativity.