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Author: Kupe Kupersmith

From the Archives: 6 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. 

Related Article: Taking the Helm: Navigating the Job Search Ocean

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.


Don’t forget to leave your comments below

Hiring the Right Business Analyst

You’re looking to hire a good BA. You realize your team needs someone with the right skills. So you go out on a search.

You go to an IIBA chapter meeting and 30 people looking for a job say they are interested.

Eight recruiters hand you their card; three people have friends that are looking. Your HR policies require you to post the job internally and externally, so another 30 applicants send in resumes.

How do you create a short list? What do you look for in the candidates? What is your decision criteria for a good BA? Do you use techniques? Do you use certifications like CBAP, CCBA, or PBA?

On the flip side, you may be the person looking for a job. You see a role for a Sr. BA and get excited. After reading the fine print, you are less excited to see they are looking for someone with 3 years of experience. You believe a senior BA is someone with closer to 10 years of experience. There is no one definition of BA roles. Job descriptions and business analysis needs are different company to company, sometimes team to team in the same company.

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Just as job descriptions are different so are BAs. You can’t easily compare two people with the same titles. In the type of work we do there are so many variables in the scenarios BAs find themselves in. Those scenarios define their experience.

So finding people with the right experience or finding companies that can utilize your experience is hard work. It’s not as simple as finding a job posting with a specific title and know it is right for you. As a hiring manager, you can’t look at applicant’s former titles and know they have the right experience to meet your needs. So how do you navigate through these muddy waters?

My belief is just because someone has a certification does not mean they are a successful BA or can be a successful BA in every scenario. And just because someone knows a number of well-known techniques, does not equal a good BA. These just happen to be things that are searchable on resumes and LinkedIn. Therefore, they get used more often in job postings and resumes. The upside is you can reduce your search by finding people with “keywords.” The downside, which is bigger, means you drop off people from your search that may be more qualified.

An entrepreneur I knew looking to move into a BA role struggled to get interviews while people less qualified were getting interviews and job offers. All because keywords were missing from his resume and LinkedIn profile.

I just had a talk with someone looking to break into the BA field. When we started the conversation, he said no one was giving him a chance because he had no experience. After we had talked for 30 minutes, he had more BA experience than many people I know. On his resume it was not listed in terms most recruiters look for. In a class I was teaching, a student said he never used many of the techniques we were discussing like Use Cases. Getting to know him, he was an over-qualified senior BA. If he was going out in the market looking for a job he may have a harder time than anticipated.

Maybe you were on board with me regarding the certifications. But techniques? Techniques have to be a filter, right? My advice to you is to relax on the techniques. Seriously, how hard is to teach someone how to write a User Story? How hard is it to teach someone how to use symbols for a workflow diagram?

If it is not techniques, if it is not certifications, then what?

Well, let me clarify now that I got some of you fired up. It’s not that it’s not about certification or the techniques. It’s just your first decision filter should not be techniques and certifications. Once you find the right candidates for your short list, then maybe use techniques they know and have experience with and certifications as a data point to make your final decision.

What is your first decision filter look like then? It is the items that are less teachable. It’s the qualities I highlighted in my last post. Empathy, Yearning for Learning, Politely Challenge, and Networking. Hop over to my post The Four Chords of Great Business Analysts for a sense of what I mean.

The challenge is, these types of qualities are hard to express on a resume. They are less concrete skills. So, if you are hiring, how do you find the right people with these qualities? It’s easy really! If you are posting a position, you need to list these as things you value in the role. Many job postings don’t address these as critical qualities of candidates. They include must have experiences like:

  • Develop use cases and functional specifications
  • Develop and manage user acceptance criteria
  • Coordinate the process to analyze, evaluate, implement, and maintain systems developed internally and/or externally with an outside vendor
  • Gather, develop, coordinate, and maintain business requirements

If instead you frame the must have qualities as I listed above then you will attract the best. You need to flip your emphasis on what is required experience of the job.

And if you are looking for a job, look for postings that value these qualities. Project methodology and required tasks of your job will change over time. If the hiring company values the ability to politely challenge, for example, you will excel in the role regardless of what certifications the company values or what techniques are used in that organization.

I know some of you are doing this already. Keep it up, share your stories and successes with others!

All the best,


The 4 Chords of Great Business Analysts

In our professional community, there is so much confusion or different perspectives on what analysis is and what makes someone a great business analyst.  With so many different descriptions of the role, it is difficult to look at job descriptions to get the answer.

I talk to a lot of people, attend conferences, and hear thought leaders in our profession talk, and get to observe people doing analysis work. For this post I want to share what I feel are qualities that the best of the best in our field have.

How I will describe these qualities is based on a great video demonstrating how just 4 chords are used in many popular songs.  Check out this funny video by Axis of Awesome to hear all these well-known songs using the same 4 chords.  It is all clear to me now why so many songs sound the same.

So, in a not so quite Axis of Awesome way, I came up with a list of the 4 “chords” all great analysts have. 

Why do so many great business analysis professionals “sound” the same to me? Here they are:

1.      Empathy

The best business analysts have a wave of empathy flowing through them. The way they listen in order to understand. The stakeholders they work with say things like “you really understand my situation. You get my group and me.”

Looking through an empathetic lens they yearn to see how a solution impacts the people, processes, the organization as a whole, and technical impacts.

When people buy a new car, why do they all of sudden see the same car on the road? When someone ends a relationship why does every song on the radio remind them of their lost love and bring them to tears? It’s because it is what is on top of their mind, what they are focused on. A good analyst understands this. They do not assume because everyone says they understand something that that means everyone has the same interpretation. 

There are two things going on here. First, the good analyst cares about all the impacted stakeholder groups.  They want different perspectives to gain a holistic view. They understand there is a customer, the business, and a technology view to everything. This aids in fully analyzing the situation so that the right problem or opportunity is being addressed and that the solution is desirable. Secondly, they always have their eye on the bigger picture. They want to avoid situations that may create a scenario where solving one problem leads to another problem for a different group.

Related Article:  The iTunes Impact on Requirements Analsyis

2.      Yearning for learning

Great analysts always want to learn. They never stop. A great analyst will never be perceived as a know-it-all.  They will be confident in their skills yet humble. They attend webinars, read books, got to training classes, conferences and love reading blogs like this! They are always searching for new techniques or different ways to use old ones. And when it comes to their process of their teams, they are always analyzing what can be improved.

3.      Politely Challenging

This one is easier explained by saying what they are not. They are not note-takers. They are analytical and critical thinkers that search for the facts. They have multiple ways to “roll back” stakeholders to understand the real problem/opportunity that needs to be addressed. They don’t push forward without first making sure there is a shared understanding by the team why a solution was asked to be implemented.

They highlight the elephant in the room. You can sit in a meeting and watch how they gracefully expose the “elephant” to make sure no underlying issue has time to fester. They know it is not about individuals as much it is about results.

That description may sound like a great analyst is a little rough around the edges. A strong person not to be messed with. Actually, they are quite the opposite. They are people everyone wants on their team. They find ways not to put people on the defense. They bring teams along on a journey to uncover the real problem.

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They also know when to move to solutioning when teams are getting stuck. I think sometimes there is almost a black and white view as it relates to problems/opportunities and solutions.  There is a view of no solutioning until we are all on the same page of the problem or opportunity.  This assumes it’s a simple task to get everyone on the same page related to the problem or opportunity. That is not always the case. Instead of getting stuck in analysis paralysis a great analyst will start down the solutioning path to test a hypothesis and see if they can figure out the problem that way.

4.      Value networking

All great business analysts have a knack, a desire, and an understanding of the importance of connecting. Why is connecting with as many individuals important? In this profession you are not paid for what you know, you are paid for who you know and how to find the information. So many people want to find ways to negotiate better,  influence better, and get time with the right people to do their job. The way to do it is by building trusting relationships. 

How often do you go out and connect with people in and out of your organization?  How many new people do you meet a week? How many relationships do you foster in a week? Do you even think of this?

In today’s environment we need to move quickly. When you are working on an initiative, you need to know who the go-to people are. You need to be able to access to them. Just think about your day.  You most likely don’t have enough time to do everything you need to do. You don’t have enough time to meet with everyone that needs to meet with you.  How do you prioritize who you will talk with? Most likely one factor is people you have a relationship with already. 

I’ll end my post now so you can go meet some new people!

All the best,



Facebook using Business Analysis and Improvisation

There are two things I really love.  One is business analysis, and the other is improvisation (improv). Even more so, is applied improv. Applied improv is the concept of applying improvisation skills to other things besides acting. I focus on helping others apply improv skills and business analysis in a business environment.

So, when I read this article via Business Insider, How Facebook’s design team organizes its critique meetings so nobody gets offended and everyone has clear goals, I loved how they talked about business analysis and improv in one article. I thought they wrote this for me. Or maybe their Product Designer, Tanner Christensen, is my long lost twin.

Here is the catch, though. They never mentioned business analysis or improv in the article. Not once.  Regardless, you can recognize it if you read between the lines.  This phenomenon is a big issue in the business analysis space.  I believe that business analysis is happening everywhere in organizations, and no one even knows it.  We are also always improvising. When is the last time you had a conversation with someone and you used scripts?! Articles like this prove it. 

In our book, Business Analysis for Dummies, Kate McGoey, Paul Mulvey, and I wrote a chapter about business analysis happening at all levels of an organization. We mention there is analysis at the enterprise level, organizational level, operational level, and project level. With books like ours, other experts in the field writing and speaking about this, and even some companies realizing it, the majority of people and organizations either don’t understand the value of analysis or see the value only at the project level. 

To help break the trend of some not seeing business analysis happening at all levels, I will break down two key points in the article about Facebook. The article is covering Mr. Christensen’s design critique process his teams use to yield positive, useful information to create or improve products.  

1)      Business Analysis: The first step in their process is to make sure everyone understands and agrees to the problem that is trying to be addressed. At its heart, this is business analysis. If teams do not have a shared understanding of the problem or goal that is trying to be achieved, then the chance of success is limited. 

The best business analysis professionals around the world do this day in and day out. Even if a solution is handed to them, they work to understand the problem that the solution is trying to solve. They use tools like the problem statement, impact mapping, etc. to draw out the problem and communicate it in a way that it is clear and visible to the team. In creative ways, they are asking the “5 Whys.” Since asking why can put people on the defense you can ask, “What does success look like” or “What will be different after we implement this solution?”

2)      Improv: For the team members critiquing the proposed design for a product there is a general rule they should follow. In the article it is written, “To make a critique valuable to a presenter, it is advisable to begin with a positive note on something you liked about the solution and to pose your thoughts as questions. Doing so will encourage him/her to offer reasonings instead of being defensive.” I almost jumped out of my seat when I read that. It was music to my ears.

When I work with individuals and teams, I stress the need for having positive conversations.  One way to do that is by having the “Yes, and” mindset. The mother of all rules in improv is never deny. Since there are no scripts used when you are performing improv denying just kills scenes. In improv if someone walks into a scene and exclaims “Wow, I love that you colored your hair yellow,” you never say “it’s not yellow.” That denial instantly puts the burden back on the other actor to come up with something else. If you deny like that on stage too often, the other actors won’t want to work with you anymore.  The same applies to the work you do.  If someone proposes something and you consistently deny them using words like “that idea is terrible” or “yeah, but I have a better idea” your co-workers won’t want to work with you much longer. And, no value is gained. 

Improv actors practice the art of never denying by playing a game called “Yes, and.” One version of the game goes something like this. A topic is given, and one actor starts off with a sentence. The next actor says “Yes, and…” then adds to the conversation. Then is goes back and forth.  The feeling is very positive and rewarding as you keep adding things and supporting your partner. And crazy ideas come out of those conversations.  Try it!

When I am teaching this to business professionals the conversation around not agreeing with someone always comes up. In real life, you can’t just keep saying “yes, and…” Absolutely, you need to critique without putting others on the defensive.

The advice I give is exactly what Mr. Christensen gives to his team. One idea is saying, “What I like about that is…” You need to have the mindset of finding something good in other people’s ideas. The other piece of advice I share is to ask a question. Sometimes the ideas people have are viewed to you as crazy, wild, unimaginable, or maybe you know things like that have failed before. So instead of saying, “yeah, but that idea is crazy, what about this.” Ask, “Help me understand how that idea gets us closer to solving our problem. I just don’t see the connection yet.” Two things can happen there. One is the person may realize that their idea is crazy and does not work for this problem or two, they convince you the idea is good and will work.  Either way, both parties have a positive conversation rather than an adversarial one. 

One way to help others understand that business analysis (and improv) is happening everywhere is for us to highlight it when you see it.  Read between the lines, keep your eyes open.  When you see good business analysis and improv happening tell the people around you what is really happening.

All the best,


How to Stop the Long-Winded: With Class

I was on a call the other day with people from around the world. Usually, these calls are awesome. The fact that I get to work with people from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Italy, and beyond is amazing to me. Life is not always awesome, though.

This last call was not fun. Apparently I was one of those long-winded people. A reaction from the meeting chair ended up hurting my feelings. I felt shut down. I stopped sharing my ideas. Some of you may be saying, “good, you and the other long-winded people need to keep quiet for a while.” Maybe you have a point. The short term goal of shutting me up moved our agenda along. The long-term impact was I stopped providing ideas in the meeting. That is not a good thing.

What happened was we were discussing a topic and asked to provide questions if we had one. I had a question, so I started in. My question was not yet well formed. I started talking trying to formulate the question. I am an extrovert, so I talk to think. At some point during my dissertation, the chair of the meeting piped in “Kupe, Kupe, Kupe!” I don’t know maybe there were 10 Kupes before he got my attention. I was trying to talk fast so I could get to my question. I was not rambling for the sake of rambling, I promise! I finally stopped and he said, “Kupe, you are going on and on, do you have a question? WHAT is your question?” That’s when my feeling got hurt, that’s when I stopped talking out loud and said “whatever” in my internal voice. I think I even threw up the “Whatever” sign. You know, making a “W” with your 2 hands. We didn’t have video, he couldn’t see me. I’m 44, but I can still act like a child! I ended up asking a question. But you could hear a new tone in my voice. I became disengaged. For the rest of the meeting, I shut down.

I know some of you are saying to yourselves, “jeez Kupe, man up. We need to have thicker skin than that.” Believe me, I know. I do have pretty thick skin. My kids say that they love that I don’t care what others think. The context there is I do goofy things trying to embarrass them. Needless to say, I am very comfortable with who I am, my thoughts and beliefs and don’t get my feelings hurt often.

The point is, even people with the thickest skin can get their feelings hurt or get defensive. You need to make sure you are facilitating meetings where people feel they have input. Where they feel comfortable sharing their thoughts. The goal is buy-in. I talk about this more in a post titled “Your goal is not to shut people down just for the sake of sticking to an agenda.”

Related Article: It’s Time to View Your Role as a Communication Expert

There is a real problem here. You need to make people feel comfortable sharing their thoughts. You also only have so much time. The long-winded are a challenge. The ones that don’t speak are a challenge too, but they don’t take up any time. What are you to do?

In a face-to-face situation, peer pressure comes into play. When you have a long-winded person going on and on, people start shifting in their chairs, looking at their phones, etc. People start to see their team’s reactions and may adjust. In a remote session that peer pressure is gone. Many people are on mute and you don’t see anyone. It actually makes the long-winded even longer-winded because they are not getting feedback. In my case, I was not sure people on the call were understanding where I was going with my thoughts, so I kept going. That is until the rude “KUPE” to the tenth power came from the chair.

Some would say, it’s all about relationships. If you have a good relationship with the people you work with, then you can be less politically correct. I am a huge believer in relationships and promote it all the time. Even if you have great relationships with others, you need to be careful. I have a great relationship with the chair of this meeting. I have a really good relationship with the others on the call. In my situation, the chair did need to stop me. In hindsight, I was really long-winded. In many of your meetings there may be a person or two that needs to be stopped.

Is there a better way than coming across as abrasive? Is there a way to do this without hurting others feelings? More importantly, is there a way that does not stop engagement from others?

My tip is don’t leave it up to the person running the meeting. That puts all of the pressure on one person to keep a meeting running smoothly. Eventually, that person snaps and comes out with a statement that can shut down the talker. It needs to be clear in the meeting that everyone has the right/ability to get the long-winded to wrap up. Come up with a code word or sound. When that sound is made or word spoken the talker needs to wrap it up. This can be used for face-to-face meetings too, although it is critical for remote meetings. Make sure everyone knows it is not personal. It’s about making meetings more efficient.

Don Palmer from The Dallas Federal Reserve Bank recently told me about an analogy he used to show his executives the effect of showing displeasure when project managers present project status reports that included issues. He refers to it as hitting the goalie. Don explained there is a rule in hockey that prohibits players from hitting the opposing team’s goalie. This originates from not having many people want to play goalie. Kids want to play offensive, goal-scoring positions. So, there were not a lot of goalies out there from which to choose. If a team hit the goalie and the goalie was injured, teams would have to go to a backup goalie. Then if the backup goalie was injured, there was no one else left to play the position. This would completely alter games. In the project status world, Don explained if you badgered the project manager for bringing up issues during status reporting, PMs would begin to present all positive results during the project. Then in the end the projects would fail because they were hiding the truth all along to avoid the public badgering. This behavior did not allow executives to make decisions along the way to get the projects back on track. Don explained that badgering a PM is like hitting the goalie and pushed to have a “no hitting the goalie” rule. Now in status meetings if one executive is badgering a PM, another executive will say, “you are hitting the goalie.” I think this is brilliant. This is now a term that everyone understands and respects. It also results in PMs sharing the information as it is and not sugar coating the status of their projects.

There is no silver bullet. Feelings will get hurt. Your goal as a leader is to work consistently towards obtaining full participation. The outcome you are looking for is buy-in from the group. You gain buy-in by allowing the team to share their thoughts.

To not hitting the goalie,