Tuesday, 25 January 2011 13:10

The Bad Ass BA Observes the Hunt for the Right Business Analyst

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cecilie_Feature_CroppedLike so many other people, I'm job-hunting. Job-hunting is never easy, even when you are doing it from the relative safety of having a job, but one that you would like to leave. In this era of the robo-online job postings, job-hunting feels particularly demoralizing because most companies do not provide any form of closure on your application. You apply, you get a robo-acknowledgement of your application and then you hear nothing for weeks and months. In four months of searching I have received exactly one email, machine-generated, that thanked me for my application and informed that the position had been filled. That organization went to the top of my list for, "keep an eye on them - they would be good to work for" because of the implication that someone had written a requirement to actually close the loop with applicants!

There are some good job postings out there, jobs that describe a position with required skills, experience and responsibilities that make sense for a business analyst. There are also a plethora of weird job postings wherein the job described seems either too narrow or too broad or suffering from role confusion. I'm seeing pattern in these less-than-optimal job postings. It seems that every company has their own definition of the role of the Business Analyst. From where I sit it is going to take more than a grass roots effort from the BA community to bring together the HR / hiring manager view of the BA and the IIBA's vision of the BA. Here are four patterns in the job postings that cause me the most consternation:

Pattern #1: The "Bird in a Cage" model

Requirements jockey - We need you to handle proposal requests. You will write the BRD and throw it over the wall to the outsourced development team.

Requirements change control czar - "We need a patient, detail oriented, people-oriented person with excellent documentation skills." Translation: you will be in the person that everyone complains to. The users and their managers will always be escalating; the development team will always be exhausted, and the auditors will always be looking for something to be wrong with the record keeping.

Pattern #2: The "Two for One" model

System Analyst / Business Analyst - "The successful BSA will drive end user experience innovation. Must have professional software development experience with front end web development (JavaScript, HTML, CSS, AJAX) and the ability collect requirements from stakeholders."

Quality Assurance Analyst / Business Analyst - "You are the right person if you can model business processes, facilitate discussions and write detailed business requirements and use cases, facilitate walkthroughs of detailed business requirements and use cases, and perform functional tests."

Project Manager / Business Analyst - "You are the right person if you can compartmentalize the perspectives and responsibilities of a PM and BA for a business owner who dithers. The last BA hired was great at dealing with the project stakeholders musing about changing direction, but her head exploded when she put on her PM hat and considered the ramifications to the project."

Pattern #3: The "All in One" model

"You are the right BA for this company if your background includes an MBA, and MA in Information Science, and you have managed projects, and you have both IT and product development experience, and you have worked with marketing and sales teams and you are fluent in Mandarin Chinese, Russian, and Portuguese. 50% travel."

Pattern #4: The "clone the 25-year veteran who just retired" model

"The right BA for us has experience in our customized PeopleSoft modules, can modify Business Intelligence reports, is familiar with SFDC, can do a mind meld with stakeholders, can hold the requirements traceability matrix in their head and can mentor junior business analysts."

The IIBA is already working with PMI so that there will be a better understanding of the contributions of the two roles to future projects. Perhaps the IIBA might consider an initiative to work with Human Resources professional organizations as well. In my humble opinion more could be done to educate HR staff and hiring managers about the role of the BA. In many companies, "job reqs" (job requisitions) are drafted by the hiring manager and completed by an HR staff member. If that HR staff member were more familiar with the envisioned industry standard BA role, we might see fewer job postings like the ones above. In my ideal world, there would more consensus amongst companies about the role and value of the business analyst. Moreover that consensus would be in alignment with the IIBA vision, and we wouldn't see job postings that leave us scratching our heads in bemused consternation.

Don't forget to leave your comments below.

Cecilie Hoffman's professional passion is to educate technical and business teams about the role of the business analyst, and to empower the business analysts themselves with tools, methods, strategies and confidence. Cecilie is a founding member of the Silicon Valley chapter of the IIBA. She authored the 2009 Bad Ass BA series for BA Times and most recently the poem, A is for Analysis. See her blog on her personal passion, motorcycle riding, at http://www.balsamfir.com. Cecilie.Hoffman@comcast.net.

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0 # SharonH 2011-01-25 06:17
As someone who hires business analyst, I so agree with this. None of the tools my company uses actually has BA as a role, so I have to choose systems analyst and then make sure my wording states I am looking for a BA. So frustrating. We will change this one day!
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0 # Kelly Lopez 2011-01-25 06:26
Thanks, very helpful. I have been going through exactly what you said. I will go back to my "job search" folder and find the ones with closed loops.
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0 # Ha! 2011-01-25 06:32
Cecilieyou speak the truth! Here are two real-life example of Business Analyst job postings in MKE I saw posted today: "Respons ibilities include but are not limited to: - Provides application support for clients for a single application or assisting senior personnel with multiple applications. - Provides project management, research and documentation. - Prepares test scripts and executes testing for coding/system changes. - Performs administrative duties and prepares support documentation. - Attends and/or assists with product training and informal workshops for client employees and fosters vendor relations. - Ensures quality management methodology." "Our client is seeking a Business Analyst to join their team. This role will serve as a liaison between the information systems staff and internal users to ensure timely and accurate development and implementation of new systems and support of current systems. Perform project management and consulting to internal customers for I/T related projects and issues. In this role you will be responsible for working with business units to define/refine computerized solutions to business issues. You will also collect information and provides input used in the prioritization process for corporate initiative, perform Project Management on medium sized projects for the company, provide user support for current systems, design and implement new forms and reports and write functional specifications for interfaces, conversions, and enhancements. You will be involved in quality assurance testing of developed code, create adhoc queries to support business units and maintenance of user documentation and manuals covering instructions on how to utilize the code developed along with other misc. projects. The ideal candidate Must have knowledge/exper ience with Microsoft Office Suite, Visio, Oracle Forms, Oracle Reports, and Oracle Designer and PL/SQL . You Must have the ability to work with a diverse group of people, perform detail oriented work and provide feedback on project status and review. A BS in computer Science and 3-5 plus years experience. For more information please forward resume and salary requirements."
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0 # Ken Livingston 2011-01-25 07:39
To be fair, the general understanding of the BA's role is getting better, although as you note, it still has a long way to go. 'Business Analysis' is still a young role (but of course a vitally important one for industry productivity) - ten years ago we seldom heard of a BA, and five years ago surprisingly few people, even in the IT industry, really understood what a BA did. However, I think you're right in targetting HR as being the spanner in the works. I don't feel they really take the time to make the distinction between BA's, data analysts, systems analysts, project managers and support analysts. We can help them by reworking their position descriptions (or pre-empt HR by writing our own), which reflect the real job or the real expectations of the business. It's still quite funny to see what comes up on some forms that ask you to select your occupation from a drop-down list - then figure out where 'Business Analyst' would fit. Certainly from a job-hunting perspective my experience of HR departments is that they're the kiss of death - as soon as an application goes in to them that's the last you'll hear of the position - if they don't understand the role, then how can they effectively filter the candidate responses? I know the frustration of jobhunting - after 8 months of searching in New Zealand I gave up and moved to Australia. Ten days later I had a job, with interesting work and good people. Plenty of work here, Cecilie, and a whole continent to explore with a GS...
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0 # Tanya Berezin 2011-01-25 07:46
Cecilie, all very true but do pity the poor hiring manager! It's the end of a long day and he/she has just been told that, at long last, the req can be opened but better do it today before powers that be take it away again. So he/she opens the HR reqs creation tool and stares at a looong form. "Job classification - huh? ... Job code - hell if I know! ... Job Description - oh, darn, it's late, I am tired, I'll just copy someone else's. Not that it matters - no one reads them anyway, they just hit the Apply button for anything that remotely matches." And so it goes...
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0 # Cecilie Hoffman 2011-01-25 09:32
@T_Berezin - Thank you for the Hiring Manager's perspective - I am sympathetic - if the career matrix is a byzantine structure of job families and levels and codes, and time is of the essence, then copying and pasting the last req that got through the morass is all you can do. All we can do is hope that repeated, polite requests from hiring managers to HR clean up the career matrix will be heeded. @kenth ekiwi - Australia! Excellent off-road riding. Oh heavens, you aren't in Queensland, are you? And yes, I agree it is getting better, but not enough to be "good enough". My modus operandi is to prod with humor to keep the issue alive and hopefully enable things to get better faster.
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+1 # Dj 2011-01-26 01:14
The most frustrating is thing is when you KNOW how valuable a good BA is and you KNOW how much they contribute to success, and your company doesn't have a clue and most BAs spend their time doing admin work or tech support.
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0 # Asif Shah 2011-01-27 12:09
THis was real fun to read, what all is expected of BA's these days. very poor condition for a developing field. It was enlightening to read so much is sought and also gives me something to work on on my own development.
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0 # Gaspar 2011-02-04 02:26
Of course, my biggest concern is that there are actually two industry definitions for what a BA is. One is the person that everybody here seems to have in mind, the other is what I am. I am a credit analyst developing business strategies in all areas of operations, such as customer acquisitions (what products do we offer, what credit lines we offer, who gets approved), customer management (whose lines do we increase), and collections (who are we giving settlement offers to).
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0 # Sarah Fitton 2011-02-16 02:56
Having recently completed a spell of job hunting, I couldn't agree more with the frustration of having the mainstay of your applications going into an internet black hole and never receiving a response. Howe ver, a lack of understanding within an organisation doesn't always mean that you should necessarily ignore the role. Admittedly, this won't work for everyone as every organisation will differ in its willingness to take a different approach with the BA role, but my most rewarding role to date was joining a company that had no clear idea what a BA was meant to do (other than they ran lots of projects and felt they ought to have them as nobody was really in that role at the time). This provided the opportunity to go in and set up a Business Analysis practice from the ground, selling the function to key business stakeholders and developing the working practices, processes and templates required to embed the BA role within the organisation and prove the value that we could bring to the delivery of change. It took time as we also had to ensure that the role established effective working relationships with the project management community and the IT community in addition to senior stakeholders and end users, but it was fantastic to be part of the BA team evolution and demonstrating the value that a true BA can bring.
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0 # Karen Favazza Spencer 2011-02-22 05:08
Absolutely! Sometimes, neither businesses nor hiring managers seem to have a clue about the the BA role. They not only seem to feel it's the person with the magic wand who combines the skills of multiple roles. Although a BA must be able to have maintain the multiple perspectives of the various stakeholders, the expectation that she perfectly performs all the duties of BA, PM, QA and SME is unrealistic. I appreciate these professional associations, which validate our experiences: See my post, The New Superman and Wonder Woman: http://web.me.com/seabreezes1/Karen_Spencer/Blog/Entries/2010/4/27_The_New_Superman_&_Wonder_Woman_-_The_Business_Analyst.html
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0 # Jim W. 2011-03-08 04:14
Don't forget the outlier, the title says Business Analyst, but the duties are something like Financial Analyst. I will also note that in Aerospace, the garden I am currently tending, there is a job titled Business Analyst, that is closer to a financial analyst, except that this role is responsible for making sure a product (like a satelite) has the right costs associated with it, so that it may be built and return a reasonable profit. I think this may be a usage unique to Aerospace.
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0 # Cecilie Hoffman 2011-03-11 04:39
Jim W., the job title you refer to is close to where the IIBA thinks senior Business Analysts will develop in their career paths - the role of product manager.
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