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Will the Real BA Foundational Skills Please Stand-up

An interesting discussion was started on a LinkedIn group a few weeks ago posing the question, “What would you think is the single factor that determines project success?” This sparked a healthy debate and made me think on a more micro level for business analysis. I asked myself what are the foundational skills needed by a business analysis professional? It did not take me long to answer my own question. Let’s see if you agree.

Let me start with what I think they are not. In our profession it has been discussed that at a minimum, BAs had to know the accepted techniques used in the role. Examples include use cases, workflow diagrams, context level data flow diagrams, etc. These are critical pieces to making an excellent BA, but not the foundation. They are interchangeable and new ones can pop up at any time. Did people not analyze before use cases became a standard format for analyzing and documenting requirements? Sure they did. These techniques are not a constant.

Analogy time! Let’s consider a house. The foundation is solid (hopefully). It supports the living space of the home. The living space is filled with appliances, furniture, art, rooms with doors, closets, windows, etc. Depending on what you are doing in your home at any time, you use some rooms, some furniture, and maybe an appliance. At the same time rooms, furniture, and appliances are not being used. Then there is the bread maker you were given for a house warming gift. That baby only comes out during special occasions. The rooms, furniture, and appliances are the equivalent to the techniques I mentioned earlier. The techniques are used when necessary. Every project does not require the use of every technique you have available. So then, what are the real foundational skills you need?

When I think of a foundation, I think of something that is constant, always there. Your foundation needs to be built with trust, analytical and problem solving skills, mixed with ethics, personal organization, business knowledge, and communication and interaction skills. These are often referred to as soft-skills, but these are nothing close to being soft. This is your foundation. From here everything is possible.

In the IIBA BABOK these skills are called underlying competencies. The writers of the BABOK define these as “the skills, knowledge, and personal characteristics that support the effective performance of business analysis.” The writers got it right by using the words “underlying” and “support”. Without these skills BAs cannot perform at their peak, just like a beautiful front door that won’t open or close properly because of a settling foundation.

Knowing the technical aspects of the techniques available to you is not enough. Even if you know the when to use an Activity diagram and all the symbol definitions, it is useless if your foundation is not secure. What good is that technique if you don’t have the interaction skills to elicit the requirements, or the communication skills to ensure you understood the requirements, and the ability to ensure the solution team clearly understands the need.

Take a few minutes and inspect your foundation. Is it secure?

Foundationly yours,


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Jonathan “Kupe” Kupersmith is Director of Client Solutions, B2T Training and has over 12 years of business analysis experience. He has served as the lead Business Analyst and Project Manager on projects in various industries. He serves as a mentor for business analysis professionals and is a Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP) through the IIBA and is BA Certified through B2T Training. Kupe is a connector and has a goal in life to meet everyone! Contact Kupe at [email protected].