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Author: Racquel Ellis

8 Tips for the Newbie Business Analyst

For many of us, a new experience comes with varying degrees of anxiety and nervousness. This is particularly true if we have lingering doubts as to our ability to do what is being asked of us – even if such doubts have no basis. Moving from a job where you knew what to do like the “back of your hand” to one where the learning curve is steep is one of those nerve-wracking moments that test the mettle of any business analyst. Of course, the extent of your anxiety is minimized given your years of experience and success stories as a business analyst. That said, it is critical that as a business analyst entering a new role or job position you showcase confidence. Let your stakeholders know that you know that you can deliver the results they need even if you do not know their business like the “back of your hand”. Your work will speak for itself! It’s only a matter of time before you too become a domain expert.

I want to give a few suggestions to any business analyt who might find themselves in the “newbie business analyst” position.

1. Come to the job armed with a set of tools and techniques that you can readily transform into something of value to immediately show your stakeholders that they made the right decision when they chose you for the job.

The very first assignment should be done so well that it not only pleases your team leader but demonstrates to stakeholders that you possess the ability to clearly detail the business needs and value-added approaches to deriving a solution.

When I changed my job of over 18 years to take up a job in an institution that I knew little about, one of my first assignments was to assist the insurance arm of the business in implementing an electronic document management system. I started by understanding the process from existing team members, then went on to observe the process to prepare a presentation with best practice information to show team members time and cost savings they would achieve by implementing such a system. I also provided high-level process flows and steps showing the integration of the document management system in the business’s workflow.

I will not tell you that it was smooth sailing, but the quality of my work was apparent, and the stakeholders were able to use the information to present their case to the Board of Directors, who approved of the electronic document management system.

2. Be prepared to go above and beyond the call of duty.

While completing the task of assisting with the online document management system, the business was thinking of having clients complete and submit a form online, which they would use to give the client an estimated insurance quote. So I took the opportunity and did the additional work to show the business how an online insurance quote system would provide clients with even greater value instantaneously while obtaining contact information that the business could use to follow up and sell their services.

3. Be of no reputation.

Do not surrender your dignity but adopt an attitude where you care more about serving your stakeholder than explaining to people why you are a business analyst. Your work will speak for itself. People sometimes do not see the importance of a business analyst until they have a task to accomplish and realize how the work of the business analyst brings structure, organization, as well as diagrams that give a better understanding of the issue. When you hear negative feedback, analyze the truth of it, strip away what you can learn from it, apply the learning and disregard the rest. Every experience will make you a better business analyst and sometimes the feedback, though negative, is true and is an opportunity for you to change something about your attitude or approach. Believe me, I know. During the document management project, I learned that the importance of clear communication and the power of an organization’s culture is not something to be taken lightly.

4. Complete company sponsored courses that will help you to understand more about the business.

You will have a lot of work to do but in the midst of it find the time to complete any company sponsored course or read up on the business to understand how it works.

My new job was with an investment company with a banking and insurance arm. My previous company was quasi-government and dealt with mortgage financing. To say I knew little about the operations of my new job was being generous. However, I jumped at the opportunity to complete a securities course that opened my eyes to the nature of the business. This knowledge served me well in my next assignment that mostly had to do with the core business.

5. Become genuinely interested in team members and their roles at all levels.

Get to know people – from the security officer to the CEO (to the extent that you have the opportunity to) – and understand how their role contributes to the bigger picture of value and profits. People will willingly share their knowledge if they understand that you genuinely care about making their work simpler and easier, and are there to improve the business. The best ideas or feedback come from the people who are engaged in the work on a day-to-day basis. Getting the feedback is so much easier if you form a good relationship with fellow team members and never adopt an “us against them approach”. A business analyst should assist in making it easier to implement change, not turn people off by dictating change.

6. Know when to keep silent and start by asking questions.

Never assume or use preconceived notions as a basis for interacting with your stakeholders. Silence does not mean “dumbness”. When you’re new, you learn a lot more through listening and asking questions than by just talking. Don’t just talk with the intent of letting people know that you know. You’ve already shown your expertise because you’ve been hired. Even if you got the heads up about stakeholders, use that to guide how you present information to them, not to develop a negative attitude towards them.

7. Accept when you’re wrong.

You are a business analyst, not a perfect human being. You won’t get it all at first, and you will make some mistakes along the way. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Don’t explain your error away – even if you have an explanation, accept where you’ve erred, apologize if you need to and move on. In apologizing, state what went wrong and what you have done to not repeat the error. Misunderstandings will occur – we can’t help ourselves. However, a placated stakeholder now can be of great support for future tasks. Leave your stakeholder believing that you are still the right person for the job.

8. Be appropriate, functional and relevant.

Every working environment is different. Yes, you have a plethora of templates, tools, and techniques but they should operate as the universe from which you choose based on your environment. Don’t overwhelm your stakeholders with everything. Tweak your templates so that they address the needs of your current environment.

My previous job was very structured and formal. My current job is less structured with some aspects of informality. Here, stakeholders want to immediately see what you’re talking about, not get lost in concepts, theories, and templates. It was my duty to look at the templates I had and modify them in such a way that made it easier for stakeholders to make decisions. Don’t get boxed into template thinking. Sometimes, all that is required is a simple email! You don’t want to use a sledgehammer to kill an ant!

When I wrote my first requirements document, the IT department was so appreciative of it and the IT business analyst decided to use aspects of its layout in the preparation of her requirements. At another time, in order to get a decision from a stakeholder at a senior level, all I did was sent an email succinctly detailing the issues, pros, and cons. The executive confirmed that the email correctly captured our discussions and used it to communicate a decision.

As I said at the beginning of this article, being a newbie business analyst is temporary. Soon you will become an expert. Just keep doing well what you know and keep reminding your stakeholders why you are the best person for the job. All the best! Looking forward to your comments.