Author: Tejaswinee Barua

Business Analysis & Data Literacy

In a recent article published by Forbes, one of most sought-after skills in the coming year across industries will be Data Literacy.

This comes not as a surprise as organisations, over the last decade have become increasingly aware of the importance of data in business. Data is powerful and with the advent of a number of data analysis and visualisation tools and techniques, the possibilities for an organisation who uses this data is limitless.

A Business analyst, in this midst, can avail of these massive opportunities by becoming data literate. Data literacy begins by understanding the pockets of data available within an organisation, collating that data, converting into insights using data storytelling toolsets and sharing these insights with business during the gap analysis and requirements management lifecycle within a project.

An example in point would be the analysis of a required data point, say, customers’ date of birth, for reporting purposes. An analysis into a source system might highlight that whilst data is being collected, it is not consistent, correct or accurate. This, in turn, would highlight.

  1. Process/training gaps where staff might not be collecting this information,
  2. Policy and procedure gaps where the requirement to collect this critical information is not formalised or
  3. System gaps where the date of birth is simply not a mandatory field.

Thus, an analysis of a single data point and the ability to translate it to business–relevant information will ultimately lead to an increased maturity in a company’s processes, people and technologies.

Whilst traditional business analysis and data analysis have been treated as two different capabilities, the line between the two are becoming increasingly blurred. As organisations focus more and more on data driven projects, both regulatory and digital, the need for a business analyst to remain competitive is to develop skills related to data. Data Literacy consists of three high-level facets:


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1. Understanding data and its relation to business outcomes

A BA performing data analysis must always focus on the following data dimensions

  • Accuracy
  • Completeness
  • Currency
  • Consistency

A flaw in any one dimension above might have big repercussions to business outcomes and hence, need to be analysed, documented and communicated as appropriate. A traditional BA has the core skills for analysis and if extended to analysing impacts of data in a business, this can prove valuable to an organisation.

2. Data Visualisation tools and techniques that lets one “interact” with the data

Current popular tools are PowerBI, Tableau etc. A business analyst with the ability to use these tools can derive great insights that will be useful during the analysis phase and beyond.

A point to note here is that the use of tools might be defined as business analytics.
SQL language for backend data analysis is also useful and a skill most BAs already possess.

3. Breaking down data complexities to business understandable language

Data is complex and a business user might not be able to fully grasp the implications of what the data is telling him and what it represents.

A BA is already skilled at managing stakeholder communication and hence can use these existing skills in ensuring that the data complexities are broken down into what a user can understand so that the message is fully understood and actioned.

A business analyst who is already adept at process & requirements analysis can play a big role in enabling change and contributing to business growth in organisations, by acquiring data related knowledge and skills. He/she will be able to convert raw data into meaningful business information, which in turn will allow a business to act upon areas of low ROI, focus on functions that need improvement and use insights provided by data to grow itself.

At the same time, organisations must commit to spending the effort, time and often, dollars in bringing in a shift in focus from traditional analysis to data analysis, upskilling BAs and really investing in enterprise information management for building a more robust data framework.

The Hybrid Business Analyst

Multiple organizations adopt and follow different philosophies- Agile- the way to go, PRINCE2 – dependable, Waterfall – old is gold, hybrid- why not.

Thus, it becomes imperative that a Business Analyst is always ready to adapt to that philosophy, at the same time, remaining true to his/her craft. To that end, it is vital, that they develop qualities that can fit in any organization with any framework or philosophy. Some of these traits are:

1. Being adaptable

So you are used to a lot of documentation – authoring lengthy business Requirements Specifications, Low-level designs, and functional specifications. And now you are asked to condense the requirements into an epic. Or the case might vice versa, you love JIRA, and now you are to produce a 50 pager of requirements. As a BA, both should come easily to you. When you remain dedicated to the success of the project, you should focus on whatever has the best business outcome and seamlessly deliver those benefits by the best-fit requirements management process. If a framework does not seem a good fit for the project, work with management to highlight the issues and be the first one to lead the change. Organizations are usually receptive of any idea that will make it more efficient in its functioning. Business analysts are not known as “game changers” for nothing!

2. Being inquisitive

Being curious is the foundation for being a great Business analyst. The “What, why, how, where, when, who” are the questions a BA has to ask in any activity he or she undertakes and then develop the intuition to understand and sew together the offshoots of those answers to deliver business benefits.

BAs to their advantage have a number of tools and techniques at their disposal to help them be inquisitive and ask questions at the right time and manner. BABOK’s nine elicitation techniques essentially cover the main ones:

  • Brainstorming
  • Document Analysis
  • Focus Groups
  • Interface Analysis
  • Interviews
  • Observation
  • Prototyping
  • Requirements Workshops
  • Survey/Questionnaire

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3. Being a Learner

Learning in business analysis, as in life, should be a constant. The world of business analysis is continually evolving with new tools and techniques. Keeping oneself updated, learning from peers and knowledge sharing goes a long way in not only helping you get equipped to address problems but also, makes you grow as a person, keeps you positive and brings dynamism into play.

A problem register between BAs working with different teams can help in idea sharing and issue resolution. Business Analyst Forums, meetups, and in general, getting involved in all project activities including lessons learnt activities would provide insights that can be applied to one’s work.

4. Being innovative

Yes, BAs have a lot of tools and techniques at their disposal to make life easier, but sometimes, unconventional problem-solving techniques will have to be produced on the fly to solve an issue at hand. Whiteboarding options in workshops, drawing raw models, quick wireframes, and bulleted one-pagers to get the idea across to stakeholders are some of the unconventional methods that can be used.

Also, being innovative is to always understand the “bigger picture” and be strategic thinkers. Great Business analysts are always on the lookout to add value to the organization as a whole and not to a single, siloed project.

5. Being Passionate

A successful BA is always passionate about everything he or she undertakes – Passionate about delivery, results and making a difference. Even in the most boring of projects, if a BA can find passion and derive value from his/her work, and honestly believe that he/she is an enabler to successful business outcomes and benefits, the same passion can flow to the relevant stakeholders with the correct articulation and zeal. That is half the work done for a successful project.

As Business analysts continue on a professional journey of attempting to strike a balance between adopting new methodologies and sticking to the tried and tested frameworks of yore , they will certainly benefit from learning and unlearning skills as they maneuver the complex maze of requirements, stakeholders, and processes.

However, the above abilities, if nurtured, in any situation or nature of project will set up a BA -and subsequently, a project and an organization for success.