Wednesday, 21 September 2016 08:20

What is a Senior BA Made Of?

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Snips and snails and puppy dog tails, that’s what little boys are made of. What are little girls made of?

Sugar and spice and everything nice, that’s’ what little girls are made of! A familiar nursery rhyme that makes me smile. So, what are business analysts made of? Thought and words and making connections are what business analysts are made of. What are senior BAs made of? Confidence, context, and thinking, that’s what senior BAs are made of!

Related Article: 6 Key Characteristics of a Senior Business Analyst

Senior business analysts are not born, they evolve!

The journey to becoming a business analyst is different for everyone. There is no single education, job experience, or career path. There are traits that distinguish a junior BA from an experienced BA from a senior BA. There comes a point in time that the senior BA exhibits confidence, understanding of context, and critical thinking that separates them from other BAs. These traits are what skyrocket visibility for a BA that ‘gets it’ from someone that needs direction to ‘get it.' A business analyst that is confident to make connections quickly, decompose complexity to simplicity, and can apply critical thinking to problem solving is a senior BA.

Confidence is a complex trait.

Confidence comes from taking risks. It starts with confidence in yourself and your abilities; knowing that you can try things and learn. Learning comes through failure or success. Confidence in yourself is demonstrated through speaking up, trying something new, leading. Confident business analysts start conversations based on the information that is available right now. Create a straw man diagram, a problem statement, ask a question. Often, the BA that starts the conversation may not have the problem, diagram or question finalized. The response is some variation of ‘No! That’s not right’. It takes confidence to be willing to start something knowing it may not be correct, or there will be some criticism of your work. That ‘No’ response is the start to getting it right. Senior BAs are willing to be the sacrificial lamb that structures the conversation.

Confidence is gained in knowing you have the tools and experience to help teams see and understand the right problem and determine solutions. Confidence is built step by step as you learn to listen, assess and communicate. Keep at it and you will see this trait expand until you burst with the ability to lead. Every journey starts with a single step and sometimes that step feels like it’s off the edge of the Grand Canyon! The team will see you as a leader to help them on the journey, and they will trust you to deliver.

Why is context a trait for a senior BA? Dictionary.com defines context as ‘the set of circumstances or facts that surround a particular event, situation, etc.’. Without this understanding, analysis will be focused on the wrong things. A senior business analyst must organize the context for analysis. Context is a combination of the problem, scope, assumptions, and constraints. It is not a single thing, but a mix of many things. Ask a BA a question and the answer will often be ‘it depends.’ As annoying as this answer is, it is true. The answer is dependent on the context of the question. In order to understand where I need to focus my time, I have to understand the context. I can do anything, but I can’t do everything! The business analyst that stops the team to clarify purpose and understand the components of context before diving into the details of a solution is a senior BA. Determining the real problem and understanding assumptions and constraints is essential to how the team will approach the solution. Often organizations don’t attribute this work business analysis. It’s not ‘gathering requirements.' Clarifying context is the essence of business analysis. Context is like the edge of a jigsaw puzzle. It is the foundation to putting the details together in an organized cohesive picture. Once context, the edges or outline, is understood, the rest of the pieces of the puzzle will fit together much more easily.

Understanding context involves a shift in thinking. It is a high-level understanding across an organization, before diving into the details. It requires training your brain to stop, think, and define a problem. As analysts, we want to move to the details to solution. Context is starting high level and then breaking down into details. Context takes practice!

Business analysis is a thinking profession.

Thinking about the process, data, business rules, and external agents is what we do. Writing the requirement is an entry level business analysis skill. The thinking behind the analysis that informs the correct requirement is not entry level. Critical thinking ability is something we are born with. The evolution to apply it to problem solving happens with experience and practice. Business analysts need time to sit and think; to ponder the impacts of changes in every aspect of the process. Thinking at the speed of light then making decisions on how to move forward. The start of an effort can feel like a swirling tide pool. The tide pool whips you around, and you feel like you will not survive. Critical thinking pulls teams out of the swirl. Making a decision to stop swirling and decide on a direction to start with is a senior business analyst trait.
Thinking impacts a business analysis approach. How do I break down the work? Which elicitation or requirements techniques do I use? Who do I talk to? How long will it take me? Thinking and more thinking then decide to move forward! It starts with the idea, then the confidence to voice the idea to clarify the context.

Be confident and know you can learn as you take risks. Understand the entire context and then connect the dots to define the problem. Constantly think and evaluate what you know, what you don’t and decide what you need to know. Confidence, context, and thinking, that’s what senior BAs are made of!

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Heather Mylan-Mains

Heather Mylan-Mains, CBAP, MBA has over 17 years experience in business analysis. She creates better business outcomes consulting through her company BAs Without Borders. Her advocacy for the profession extends to volunteering for IIBA®. She is a former chapter president in Central Iowa and currently Director. She is also a Senior Instructor with B2T Training and a frequent speaker sharing her experience and passion to improve. Connect with Heather through her blog at www.baswithoutborders.com and on Twitter: @HeatherM_M

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