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The Six Key Characteristics of a Senior Business Analyst

In our profession there is a lot of discussion about what makes a business analyst a senior business analyst.  To help better delineate between the levels of BAs the IIBA® has recently released a business analysis competency model which includes five levels of business analysts. 

For today’s post, I wanted to share my thoughts on the key characteristics of a senior business analyst.  Before I unveil the list I want to say that number of years as a BA is not an indicator if someone should be classified as a senior BA.  I don’t think you can get to the senior level without a number of years of experience, but number of years alone is not an indicator. 

1. Business Analysis Techniques: Breadth and Depth of Knowledge and Experience

As BAs we need to have knowledge and experience in the various techniques to elicit, analyze and communicate requirements.  We need a large tool box which we can pull from to meet the specific needs of each project.  Without this large tool box your ability to perform at a high level for any project type that you are a part of is limited. Take a look through the IIBA’s BABOK® to see how large your toolbox is.   

I have been asked by BAs who focus on specific areas, like facilitation or process modeling, if I felt they were senior BAs.  My answer is no.  They are most definitely senior facilitators or senior process modelers, but senior BAs need a broader, deeper skill set.  

2. Project Types and Business Area Experience

Senior level BAs need experience working on multiple project types.  At the highest level there are three types of projects I feel are necessary, COTS (commercial off the shelf), new development, and enhancements/support.  Each of these project types requires some different techniques and skills.  Having worked on different types of projects gives you the knowledge of which techniques work best for each project type. This will aid in planning which is characteristic number three, coming up next. 

Working in multiple business areas within a company helps lay the foundation for strategic thinking, characteristic number four.  By being involved in multiple business areas you start to see overlapping functions and interdepartmental dependencies. This allows you to start recommending solutions that benefit the whole company, not just the specific business area you are involved in.

3. Business Analysis Planning

How do you answer the following question when you are first assigned to a project? “How long will the analysis effort take?”  Senior BAs respond to that question with an intelligent business analysis work plan. They think through the people they will be working with. They identify the stakeholders, get to know them and understand key characteristics to best work with them.  They think through critical project characteristics like the size of the project, the business risks involved, and how many interfaces the project will include.  They think through the processes that need to be adhered to for the project.  They make sure they understand what project methodology is being used for the project, project roles and responsibilities, and what deliverables are required.  Thinking through the people, project, and process gives you the ability to outline the tasks and deliverables needed for the project, to estimate their time needed, as well as the time of the stakeholders involved.

4. Strategic Thinking

A senior BA needs to see the big picture and do a deep dive for the project.  Senior BAs will try to see the bigger picture before heading into the details trying to understand where this project fits in with the organizational goals.  They will also be aware of, or try to determine how the project they are assigned to impacts other projects or business areas.  They also take a look at the big picture during the project.

In an earlier post, Get Your Head Out of the Weeds, I highlighted the need for BAs to find ways to pull themselves out of the detail during a project to ensure their project is still meeting the needs of the organization.

5. Advocate and Advisor

Many BAs report into IT departments, but still need to be viewed as part of the business team they support.  You work for the business and need to truly be an advocate for the business and their needs.  I’m sure many of you can tell stories where there was conflict between the technology team and the business.  A senior BA steps up to resolve the conflict to provide the best solution for the business. 

A way to know you have this characteristic is if the business calls you for advice before and after a project.  Do you have discussions with the business to determine what’s most important for an upcoming project? Do you attend their staff meetings to find out their pains and to understand their values and goals?

6. Ability to Learn a New Domain

The need to have domain experience for BAs is one of the biggest debates in our profession.  I do think you need some domain knowledge prior to starting a project, but that does not mean you need to have worked in that domain for years.  I believe a senior BA needs to be able to learn a new domain to be effective.  Here are three ways that I primarily use to learn new domains prior to an interview or starting a project.

  • Google: There is so much information out there at your finger tips. Google the subject you need and take an afternoon reading.
  • My network: I am a big believer that I don’t need to know everything; I just need to know the people that have the answers. I use my network to help answer questions I have to learn about a domain. Continue to build your network.
  • Personal experience: I may not have worked in banking, but I do interact with banks as a consumer. I draw from my personal experiences to help understand a domain.

Please share your thoughts around the characteristics I’ve outlined and provide one or more of your own.


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