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Author: Kathleen B. Hass, PMP

The Business Analyst as Strategist

A recent survey conducted by Evans Data Corporation, The New Business Analyst: A Strategic Role in the Enterprise, found that business analysts are key players in making strategic decisions. “A clear line in the corporate sand has been drawn as to the importance of the business analyst. The BA plays an increasingly integral and strategic role in organizational success,” said Evans Data Corporation President John Andrews. Business analysts are emerging as the central business competency of the future. Different from systems analysts or project managers, business analysts (BAs) not only manage project requirements, they also contribute vital information to strategic planning, goal setting and strategy execution. It is in this capacity that BAs can have the greatest impact on the long-term success of the enterprise.

Business Analyst as Master Strategist

In their Body of Knowledge, the International Association of Business Analysts (IIBA) defines a BA as someone who “works as a liaison among stakeholders in order to elicit, analyze, communicate and validate requirements for changes to business processes, policies and information systems. The business analyst understands business problems and opportunities in the context of the requirements and recommends solutions that enable the organization to achieve its goals.”

To help distinguish the roles played by the BA and the project manager, consider an analogy from the world of sports. On a football team, the coach (the project manager) is given a game (the project) with requirements (to win), as well as team members and resources (players and equipment). But what happens when the requirements change? The team owner feels it’s not enough just to win games, and the goal is now to win the Super Bowl. Enter the general manager (the BA). Responsible for the team’s overall strategy for success, the general manager continually validates that the project team is focused on the strategic imperatives. Similarly, the BA keeps her eye on strategic-level decisions that impact the project, leaving the project manager free to focus solely on optimizing project team performance.

No analogy is perfect, of course. In football, the coach reports to the general manager, but in business, the BA and the project manager share leadership of the project team. Much like a general manager, however, the BA keeps track of the overall direction of the team’s season, freeing the project manager to “get in the huddle” with the team and direct it on a play-by-play basis.

Specific Strategic Planning Tasks

Of course, the BA is not the only one on the project team familiar with the strategic goals of the organization. Employees perform best when they understand their organization’s plans and their role in them. One vital role for BAs is to translate strategies into new proposals for the company, as well as to ensure existing operations mesh with the strategy. In fact, all proposals for organizational change should be aligned with corporate strategies, and the BA is best suited to handle the enterprise analysis needed to ensure alignment.

The BA must have a thorough understanding of the organization’s strategic goals to facilitate the process of matching project objectives to business needs.The BA assures the project deliverables meet the business needs and helps to realign the project when requirements change. BAs makes certain that throughout their life cycle, projects continue to meet business needs and deliver benefits that outweigh their costs. Because of their familiarity with the organization’s strategic goals, the BA is often adept at securing additional support from the business sponsor, if needed. At the end of the project, the BA examines the ROI to determine if the project met its goals.

The BA can also be a valuable provider of information to the strategic planning team or top-level management. BAs may perform analyses of the competition, gather customer feedback and complete benchmark studies to support a business case or project investment decision package. In addition to providing data for decision-makers, senior BAs may also conduct goal setting meetings and even help conduct strategic planning sessions.

A Vital Role

Just how important is the strategic planning role that is filled by the BA? Judging from the poor success record of projects in the business world, very important. Consider these statistics:

  • $80 -145 billion per year is spent on failed and cancelled projects (The Standish Group International, Inc.)
  • 25 percent – 40 percent of all spending on projects is wasted as a result of re-work (Carnegie Mellon)
  • 50 percent of projects are rolled back out of production (Gartner)
  • 40 percent of problems are found by end users (Gartner)
  • Poorly defined applications have led to a persistent miscommunication between business and IT. This contributes to a 66 percent project failure rate for these applications, costing U.S. businesses at least $30 billion every year (Forrester Research)
  • 60-80 percent of project failures can be attributed directly to poor requirements gathering, analysis, and management (Meta Group)
  • Nearly two thirds of all IT projects fail or run into trouble. (See Figure 1 for the results of the 2006 CHAOS Survey.)

Figure 1: Project Performance Track Record – The Standish Group 2006 Chaos Report

Until the creation of the professional BA, there was no one person responsible for ensuring that business requirements were accurately determined and managed throughout the lifespan of the project. Business sponsors often do not have the time or the technical expertise to provide oversight to projects on a day-to-day basis, and their role is best left to securing funding and resources and using their authority to help effect institutional changes in support of the project. Project managers are focused on delivering what was asked of them within time, cost and quality constraints, not constantly reevaluating and validating the business need.

The Future

The high-velocity change occurring in the business world today requires more than employees capable of completing assigned tasks. It calls for multi-skilled practitioners who are systems thinkers, comfortable in both the boardroom and the server room. As they seek to increase project success rates, more companies will include business analysts in their project teams, recognizing the added strategic value they bring to the table.

The Coming of Age of the Business Analyst

The dismal success of enterprise-wide IT projects is a matter of national record. According to Meta Group Research (now a part of Gartner), “Communication challenges between business teams and technologists are chronic – we estimate that 60%-80% of project failure can be attributed directly to poor requirements gathering, analysis, and management.” Forrester Research concurs: “Poorly defined applications have led to a persistent miscommunication between business and IT that largely contributes to a 66% project failure rate for these applications, costing U.S. businesses at least $30B every year.” James Martin reports that “56% of defects can be attributed to requirements, and 82% of the effort to fix defects.” Standish estimates that nearly 70 percent of projects are late, over budget or  fail outright; Gartner reports that 50 percent of projects are rolled back out of production. Carnegie Mellon states that 25-40 percent of all spending on projects is wasted as a result of rework. And the Office of Management & Budget reported on March 26, 2003 “…771 projects included in the fiscal 2004 budget – with a total cost of $20.9 billion – are currently at risk.”

Those statistics are troubling. So, what exactly is the problem? Project managers are held accountable for getting projects completed on time and on budget. Technical managers are responsible for quality technological solutions. But no one has been accountable for keeping an eye on value as the implementation proceeds. That’s why the new position of business analyst (BA) is fast emerging to fill the gap. The BA’s task is to gather accurate requirements, analyze them and manage them properly throughout the project’s implementation to ensure a value-added outcome that improves an organization’s bottom line. Business requirements, derived from business goals, are the essential activities of the enterprise that must be supported by the system – so much so that at conferences, BA courseware and presentations have become hot topics, and cutting-edge companies are already hiring BAs or investing in professional development for internal candidates. 

Defining the Role

 In virtually every organization, the pivotal leadership role of the business analyst is beginning to shape the future of IT. In a nutshell, BAs are focused on business needs and on monitoring the value a project has promised to deliver to the organization throughout its implementation. The BA continually scrutinizes costs and compares them to benefits to ensure the project remains sound.  

In October 2003, as the role of the BA emerged, the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA, was created as an international, not-for-profit professional association for business analysis professionals. “The IIBA was founded in response to a real demand in the business community for more BAs,” says Kevin Brennan, a consultant with blue sands, inc. in Toronto, Canada, who serves as Co-chair of the IIBA’s Body of Knowledge Committee. “Businesses have been facing a shortage of people who are qualified to perform requirements analysis, and proper requirements are critical to developing software effectively, on time and in concert with overall business strategy. When companies hire new employees for these roles, they have no guarantee that these candidates actually have the knowledge and skills required. Without a pool of people who can perform business analysis, it’s difficult for IT departments to deliver what the business needs.”  

The impetus for the Institute’s launch came from a group of companies based in the Toronto area that had experienced difficulties in hiring business analysts. “Applicants presented all sorts of skills and all sorts of backgrounds, but could not consistently be expected to be effective in the role,” says Brennan.  

The IIBA’s mission is to develop and maintain standards for the practice of business analysis and for the certification of practitioners. It defines the position as follows: “Business Analysts are responsible for identifying the business needs of their clients and stakeholders to help determine solutions to business problems. The BA is responsible for requirements development and requirements management. Specifically, the BA elicits, analyzes, validates and documents business, organizational and/or operational requirements. Solutions are not predetermined by the BA, but are driven solely by the requirements of the business. Solutions often include a systems development component, but may also consist of process improvement or organizational change. The BA is a key facilitator, within an organization, acting as a bridge between the client, stakeholders and the solution team. Business analysis is distinct from financial analysis, project management, quality assurance, organizational development, testing, training and documentation development. However, depending on an organization, a BA may perform some or all of these related functions.” 

As with any other profession, there are entry-level, mid-level and senior positions. Senior BAs emerge from talented people current in both technical skills and business acumen, and they represent a critical strategic asset to their organizations. They work with the executive team and with project portfolio planning and management teams on:


  • Pre-project analysis and feasibility studies
  • Building business cases for new change initiatives
  • Comparing initiatives to identify which one can be implemented with the fastest time to market and lowest cost and risk to achieve the highest value
  • Decision-making to invest in the most valuable projects

Competencies and Skills

 Business requirements’ analysis differs from traditional information systems’ analysis in its focus, which is exclusively on adding value to the business. In particular, project managers rely on BAs to assist in providing more detailed project objectives; business needs analysis; clear, structured, useable requirements; trade-off analysis; requirement feasibility and risk analysis; and cost-benefit analysis. Without the key liaison of the BA, requirements’ definitions will remain poor, resulting in disconnects between what IT builds and what the business needs. Although the function of BA is distinct from that of a Systems Analyst who fulfills a primarily technical role, some BAs are former Systems Analysts or IT managers. With additional professional development, technical specialists can advance into a business-focused BA position.  A future job opportunities ad for a BA will likely call for the following skill sets and competencies:

  • The BA is “bilingual” in that he or she speaks the language of management and leadership, as well as the language of the IT organization. This ensures requirements are developed and documents structured for optimum use by technical personnel in the design and development of solutions. At the same time, these requirements and documents need to be understandable to the management team, so it can use them to validate business needs. 
  • Technical proficiency and skills in requirements’ elicitation
  • A thorough understanding of business process work flows
  • Ability to plan, execute and facilitate workshops at which requirements are gathered from users, customers, stakeholders and developers
  • Interviewing and surveying skills to obtain information from business subject matter experts
  • Prototyping competency to work with technical teams in procuring early validation of projects
  • Strong communication skills, and specifically expert writing skills, to ensure that statements of textual requirements are unambiguous, accurate and complete. While requirements must be written in business language rather than in technical terms, they must be understandable by technical personnel.
  • Excellent project management skills to plan and manage business analysis activities
  • Good knowledge of modeling techniques and risk management
  • Verification and validation skills, to ascertain that requirements are valid
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Organizational change-management skills. Once a solution has been developed, the BA prepares the organization to implement and operate it efficiently, so that the value of the new asset is maximized

While technical knowledge is a prerequisite for the role, it is insufficient for successfully managing the requirements of the large, enterprise-wide, complex, mission-critical projects that are the norm today. “One of the goals of the IIBA is to raise the quality of software requirements analysis and thus improve the overall delivery of IT projects,” says Brennan. “Currently, software requirements analysis frequently takes place without directly considering the strategic goals of the enterprise. While business users are interviewed and their needs synthesized and analyzed, there are always competing interests that don’t necessarily tie into enterprise goals. In the future, BAs will effectively tie IT efforts to the business and help drive change efforts across the enterprise.”


 Business Analyst Knowledge and Skill Set Requirements 


Training for BAs

 Since there appears to be a never-ending demand for new IT products and services, executives across the spectrum are adopting the business analysis process to increase the value IT projects bring to the business. In building the business analysis competency within their organizations, they rely on training companies that have developed leading-edge BA course materials and entire BA certification programs.  

Training organizations are working in concert with the IIBA, which is in the process of setting standards and developing a body of knowledge for the discipline. “The IIBA’s Body of Knowledge is similar to that developed by the Project Management Institute (PMI) for project management professionals,” Brennan explains. “It describes industry standards for business analysis based on practitioner input and industry best practices. We surveyed the literature of the field and distributed task surveys to practitioners and asked them to review drafts of the Body of Knowledge in comparison with their day-to-day professional practices. At last count, we have had over 600 responses from Business Analysts around the world. That gives us the confidence to say that the content of the Body of Knowledge is in fact reflective of the realities of a BA’s work day.” The first release of the Body of Knowledge was in July 2006 with an update scheduled for later this year. It will be used by training organizations, individual practitioners and businesses that need to develop BA job descriptions. More information is available at  

The IIBA is also developing a certification test to award the designation of Certified Professional Business Analyst. “We are using the task survey to validate the certification process to ensure compliance with ISO standards for professional bodies,” says Brennan. The Business analyst student must acquire mastery of a unique combination of technical, analytical, business and leadership skills. The curriculum of a business analysis certificate program consists of studies of computing and management information systems, coupled with traditional business administration courses. It is designed to enhance participants’ ability to elicit, analyze, document, secure agreement, test, trace and manage requirements throughout the life of a project. Courses may include subjects such as the following:

  • Fundamental skills for mastering business analysis
  • Skills for planning and managing project requirements
  • Business analyst leadership skills
  • Project meeting management skills
  • Advanced skills for crafting high-quality requirements, verifying and validating solutions and managing projects for value.

In addition to certification programs, training companies offer half-day and full-day workshops that concentrate on building various key skill sets, such as facilitation, communication, modeling and writing. Of course, effective business analysis career development goes beyond classroom study. Companies will also need to provide mentoring and on-the-job training; advancement based on education, testing and experience; defined evaluation and compensation processes; and suitable titles and advancement opportunities. 

How can a BA acquire the stature and influence that will make an executive team listen? It may take some time for BAs to prove themselves and gain recognition. As they conduct expert studies and present solid information to management, either during the strategic planning process or in the course of project selection, they will gradually raise the executive team’s confidence until they become an indispensable strategic asset.

Where Will the BA Reside?

 Should mid-level and junior BAs reside in the business-operating unit or in IT? Both solutions have pros and cons. If the BA resides in the business unit, management will take greater ownership of systems problems, gaps and capabilities. It can then collaborate with the BA to develop solutions, which may range from procedural to technical. When the BA resides with the IT group, a possible disadvantage is that the business side may attempt to throw problems over the fence without taking responsibility. On the other hand, if the BA resides in the business organization, he or she may tend to grow increasingly distant from the company’s IT operations. Some organizations have solved this problem by building “communities of practice” in which BAs from all the different business units cooperate according to set standards with the goal of continuous improvement. A good rule of thumb is that mid-level BAs who work on small enhancement projects and troubleshooting should reside in the business unit and consider themselves a team of BAs that are decentralized across the business. In this manner they can work together under a single leader and according to standard processes.  

The role of systems analyst will continue to be separate and important. Once a BA documents the requirements from a business perspective, systems analysts will use those requirements to develop systems specifications and solutions. In small organizations one individual might fulfill the role of both BA and systems analyst. He or she will convert business requirements into systems specs and work with IT architects to design the best, most feasible solution. Larger organizations will have teams of systems analysts and teams of BAs who will be exclusive in their roles. 

Senior-level BAs can be most effective when they report to a high-level, enterprise-wide project management office or center of excellence where they work to support strategic planning and project selection and to manage major change initiatives. From this vantage point, they will have a perspective of the entire organization rather than being limited by a functional silo. Whether senior BAs are working in a strategic mode on business transformation projects, mergers and acquisitions, new lines of business or multi-million-dollar IT projects, they need a bird’s-eye view of the entire enterprise to ensure that the investment is sound and that the organization will realize the expected benefits. 

Creating Value 

Depending on the level of responsibility and placement in the organization, a Business Analyst’s duties may include the following:·        

  • Identify and understand the business problem and the impact of the proposed solution on the organization’s operations.
  • Document the complex areas of project scope, objectives, added value or benefit expectations, using an integrated set of analysis and modeling techniques.
  • Translate business objectives into system requirements using powerful analysis and modeling tools.
  • Evaluate customer business needs, thus contributing to strategic planning of information systems and technology directions.
  • Assist in determining the strategic direction of the organization.
  • Liaise with major customers during preliminary installation and testing of new products and services.
  • Design and develop high quality business solutions.

 Once a large, high-risk project is funded, the BA becomes one of the full-time, core team members along with the lead developer, key subject matter experts, the project manager, the technical lead and the business visionary who is sponsoring the initiative. While the sponsor need not be a full-time team member, he or she must be available to the team and be fully empowered to make decisions on behalf of the business.  

As a member of a project team, the BA’s key role is to keep an eye on the business case and promised value. At each key phase in the project – every time project plans and budgets are updated and when risk is reexamined – the BA revalidates the business case by comparing costs and benefits. He or she manages the entire systems requirements life cycle, from understanding the business need to ensuring that the delivered solution meets the need and adds value to the bottom line. No longer will initiatives be funded for two years only to end in failure because no one performed consistent checks along the way to determine if the investment still made sense. Since projects are negative assets while under way they must be constantly revalidated.  

Among the BA’s strategies is the creation and delivery of feature-driven requirements in increments so the business receives value sooner at lower risk. Although each increment is only a small piece of the new solution, feature-driven requirements can be prioritized based on business value. The IT team delivers the highest value features first for immediate benefit. 

Once the project is completed, the solution delivered and the project team dissolved, the BA works with the executive sponsor to measure the benefit and report it to all decision-makers. If the benefit does not meet expectations, the BA analyzes what went wrong. For instance, was it a poor investment decision; was it poorly executed; or did it cost more than expected, resulting in poor ROI? This analysis is critical because its results will improve the selection and execution of future projects.  

Maturity and Mastery

 Companies depend on IT solutions for their very survival. In order to change quickly, respond to new customer demands and beat the competition, they require well designed and built systems. Once management has developed a portfolio of valuable IT projects, the focus is on flawless project execution to maximize the value delivered to the organization.  

All too often, however, IT project success is elusive. Projects are late, over budget or may never even be delivered. Sometimes work is incomplete, does not meet requirements or does not deliver the expected benefits or ROI. In many cases, once the results are delivered a few years after the business case was first proposed, the marketplace or company’s needs have changed. Disasters such as these have created a sense of urgency to build a stronger bridge between business and IT. Now, the role of BA has emerged to serve as a liaison between the business community and the technical solution providers throughout the project life cycle. As projects become larger, cross-functional, global and more complex, organizations are realizing that requirements’ management skills are indispensable.

Companies are struggling to manage their portfolios of IT, R&D and other projects. The ideal is to invest in projects that will bring the highest value quickly at the lowest possible cost and risk. But senior decision-makers have neither the time nor the skill sets to analyze competing options, particularly when they involve highly technical solutions. For a mature and effective portfolio management process, leadership needs to be able to depend on a professional trained to perform the necessary analyses, present the best solutions and manage projects for value-added outcomes. The role of the BA is vital to the success of both projects and organizations. Those organizations that are first to acquire and master business analysis competencies and elevate them to a leadership role will more effectively respond to and preempt changes in the marketplace. As a result, the flow of value through the enterprise and to the customer will achieve a significant competitive advantage.   

Reducing the Trend of Failed Business

Change is the norm; fierce competition is the driver, and lean thinking is the latest call to action. Organizations in both the public and private sectors are struggling to not only react to the velocity of changes in the economic, political and global landscape, but also to proactively stay ahead of the curve. Organizations bring about change through programs and supporting projects. Projects play an essential role in the growth and survival of organizations today, for it is through projects that we create value in the form of improved business processes, and new products and services as a response to changes in the business environment…

To manage change effectively, organizations need to be good at: (1) establishing business strategies and goals, (2) identifying new business opportunities, (3) determining solutions to business problems, and (4) selecting, prioritizing and funding projects to implement major change initiatives, and thus meet business needs and achieve strategic goals. The major change initiatives that transform businesses may be:


  • Business process improvement and/or re-engineering ventures to replace inefficient and outmoded legacy business processes and technologies.
  • Significant change programs to continually tune the organizational structure, capabilities and competencies as the business model changes.
  • New lines of business requiring new business processes, organizations, and technologies to support the new operations.

Since data and information are the lifeblood of virtually all business processes, information technology (IT) systems are often a major component of these large change initiatives. As organizations depend more and more on technology for business communications and operations, software-intensive IT projects are becoming more and more essential to turn an organization’s vision and strategy into reality. Executives across industries and in the public sector have their eyes on the portfolio of business change initiatives and the supporting IT projects to ensure that they: (1) invest in the right mix of projects, (2) develop expert capabilities to deliver flawlessly, (3) allocate their scarce resources to the highest priority projects first, and ultimately, (4) capture the added value to the business that was expected.

How Well Do We Execute Business Transformation Projects? What is the track record for completion of complex business process changes accompanied by software intensive IT systems? We have an abundance of surveys that have been administered during the last decade revealing the rather dismal record of project performance, particularly for significant IT projects. The StandishGroup 2004 Third Quarter Research Report exposed the difficult nature of managing IT projects today: 71% of projects were challenged, meaning over time or budget; or failed altogether, meaning nothing of value was delivered to the organization.1 A public sector source of equally illuminating information is from the U.S. Government’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the federal government agency that evaluates the effectiveness of federal programs, policies, and procedures, assesses competing funding demands among agencies, sets funding priorities, and approves funds for major capital projects. This OMB March 26, 2003 study stated that 771 projects included in the fiscal 2004 budget – with a total cost of $20.9 billion – were at risk. The conclusion: the high cost of failure is unsustainable. As a result, the Federal IT Project Manager Initiative was chartered to raise the capability and maturity of project management for major change initiatives in the Federal Government.2

What is the Root Cause of Failed and Challenged Projects? What is the cause of this very disappointing record? It is almost certain that there is no single cause of the persistent state of troubled projects. However, there is a growing notion that poor requirements engineering is one of the leading causes of project failure. Requirements are hard to get right, especially for software – very hard. It is becoming clear that business system development must be treated as a specialist discipline, implementing requirements formed through good requirements elicitation, documentation and management techniques. Existing requirements engineering approaches, methods and tools simply don’t deliver the results that are vital for the success of organizations both public and private. As businesses across the globe rely on successful business transformation projects with critical IT components for their very survival, the stakes are too high to continue in a business-as-usual mode. The question is: what can we do to begin to reverse the trend of failed projects? In a response to the belief that more rigorous attention to requirements management will add considerable value to project team effectiveness and greatly improve project performance, business analysis is emerging as a valued business competency.

Business Analysis: An Emerging Profession In their quest to build the organizational capabilities to select, prioritize and manage projects, organizations have discovered that the core competency of business analysis must be elevated in importance, developed, supported and matured. Most organizations have invested handsomely in innovation and new product development projects, and in IT systems to help operate the business and capture business intelligence about the marketplace. Indeed, over the last ten years or so, organizations have begun to embrace the practice of professional project management. However, businesses and government agencies are just now beginning to understand the importance of the capabilities needed to identify strategic business needs to operate effectively and efficiently, and to act on those needs expeditiously. Those who acquire and master business analysis competencies will more effectively react to and pre-empt changes in the marketplace, flow value through the enterprise to the customer, thus remaining competitive.

The Business Analysis Professional The International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA), founded in 2003, is an organization dedicated to advancing the professionalism of the business analysis occupation. The IIBA is the independent non-profit professional association serving the growing field of business analysis. The IIBA membership consists of individuals with various titles and filling a diverse set of roles – requirements engineers, systems analysts, business analysts, requirements analysts, project managers, technical architects and developers, and consultants – anyone involved in analysis for systems, business or process improvement. 3 The IIBA has developed the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABoK) for the profession. The IIBA plans to work continually with practitioners around the globe to upgrade those standards through education, research, and the sharing of effective tools and techniques. 4 In addition, IIBA is developing a Business Analyst Certification Program, unique to the profession of business analysis. Establishing a certification for business analysis will go a long way in standardizing and professionalizing the practice of business analysis. The Certified Business Analysis Professional exam is offered in North America in 2007, with an international launch in 2008. The certification will create common expectations on the part of organizations for the knowledge, skills and competencies acquired to become a Certified Business Analyst.


NOTES 1. The Standish Group International, Inc. (1999) Unfinished Voyages, A Follow-Up to The Chaos Report. Retrieved Apr. 08, 2005, from The StandishGroup Web site: Federal IT Project Manager Initiative retrieved December 27, 2005,1,Federal IT Project Manager Initiative3. International Institute of Business Analysis home page retrieved December 21, 20054. International Institute of Business Analysis, Business Analysis Book of Knowledge draft version 1.4 retrieved December 21, 2005