So when we look at the soft skills that a business analyst will need in order to have great project impact and success, we are looking at those personal attributes that help the BA individual work effectively with the project manager, project team, project customer, and all stakeholders involved so as to realize the greatest possible project successes on a regular basis. Yes, easier said than analyzed, but let's give it a try. My list is below, but please be thinking of your own list if you are a business analyst, project manager or regular project team member who works with business analysts on an ongoing basis...
The excellent business analyst must be a fast learner. Every client is different with different business processes and subject matter experts (SMEs) and different end users. No two implementations are ever going to be exactly the same no matter how similar they appear on paper. So the business analyst who can quickly understand the customer needs and environment will have the easiest time during the difficult requirements definition time because that process needs to be executed with the end rollout in mind.
The awesome business analyst needs to have the communication skills and abilities to keep an entire team and boatload of stakeholders up to date and on the same page throughout the project engagement. Yes, communication is Job One for the project manager in my book, but it is as well for the business's analyst assigned to the project.
Confident decision maker.
The business analyst is not usually going to be the primary decision maker – at least on paper – for the project. However, in reality, they will often be making on the spot decisions – important ones that have significant project impact potential... often with relationship to scope and requirements.
There is little doubt that the project manager is the overall leader of the project. At least in title that needs to be true. Behind the scenes and on a daily basis the true leader and most frequent communicator and customer interface may, indeed, be an excellent, experienced business analyst. Much will be expected of the business analyst – especially on complex long-term technical projects such as making key tech-related and business process related decisions, scope and requirements decisions, and information and task dissemination at the team member level, to name a few. So, the business analyst essentially goes far beyond a project manager <==> tech team liaison; they are also almost a co-leader of the project. To be that individual and effectively fulfill that role and need, they will need to be a confident and organized leader in the engagement and of human resources.
Communication is the most important factor on any project – whether that is the project manager or the business analyst. So, let's call it the most important responsibility for both roles. And meetings are not only a form of communication; they are a way to communicate with many key stakeholders at once to make information transfer happen quickly and to get decisions made on the spot. Planning, preparing, executing and following up on meetings and discussions is the key to proper and accurate communication, and it is something that the business analyst must excel at.
Coach, mentor, motivator. You'd like to think that paid professionals don't need motivated, but sometimes they do. And the business analyst is often going to need to be that person because on a daily basis they are working right along side the tech team and everyone doing the real work on the project as many a customer like to call it. Keeping the team – and even the client – motivated is a top priority.
I don't want to use the terms “manipulator” or “manipulation,” so I will stick to “influencer.” The business analyst's ability to affect project decisions, task progress, resource staffing and overall project direction is important to project success. No one is involved so heavily on a daily basis with many different project team members on both sides of the engagement and therefore will be in a position to influence stakeholders, decisions and next steps more than any other individual on the project – including the project manager.
Conflict doesn't always involve physical blows to the head... thankfully. All team members have a responsibility to the project to maintain clear and level heads so progress and success can happen. The last thing any customer needs to see is a less than a well-oiled delivery machine with all project team members working together and collaboratively in excellence toward a successful project end solution. The business analyst with great conflict management skills will recognize problems before they become too big to enact mitigating techniques to try to stifle the conflict before it becomes too impactive to the project. That likely would include some discussions with the involved parties individually and as a group, suggesting team member replacement if necessary, and disciplinary action, if needed.
Many project team members – including many project managers – gravely dislike the process of negotiation and may try to avoid it at all costs. Most project tasks are planned, and budgets are set in stone... sure... but in reality, there are many points in the project where there is some give and take on the requirements and scope for the project. It may be as small as two fields on an accounting interface screen, or it may be as major as moving phases of a $10 million project around to accommodate immediately needed functionality. Whatever the scenario is, the business analyst is going to need to be a master negotiator. Why? Because on a daily basis that role is the one that will be interfacing the most with the delivery team and with the project sponsor and end-user community. That's where quick requests will happen, where fast decisions will have to be made and where deep knowledge of the project and processes affected will have to already be in place when those fast decisions are necessary.
Summary / call for input
Business analysts play a key role in projects they are assigned to. They are constantly interacting with the project manager, project team, and project customer while maintaining a level of excellence in performance and communication for each of these. Certain key soft skills among the best business analyst make that happen on complex projects where performance excellence is necessary for a successful project conclusion and satisfied project client and end-user community.
Readers – what's your take on the key soft skills for a business analyst? What does the experienced business analyst need to succeed on an ongoing basis... the personal skill tools and characteristics to perform at a high level.