Assuming that business analysis has much in common with entrepreneurship, what specific traits do entrepreneurs have that are similar to people who do business analysis? While assembling a list we found the common skills and traits were growing and growing. Since there are so many traits in common between business analysis and entrepreneurship a table was the best way to properly summarize them. See Table 1.
What has always fascinated us about business analysis is the ability to change organizations for the better by contributing to new and effective solutions. You might say we love change. Doing BA work fuels both our need to be part of positive change and the same skills are also useful for an entrepreneur. Given that we co-own a training company, it is a good thing!
|Entrepreneur Skill/Trait||Business Analysis Skill/Trait|
|Ability to analyze and conceptualize|
|Innovation||Analyzing, proposing, and detailing new solutions to meet business needs|
|Operate under uncertainty||Creating order out of chaos (as we’ve said often)|
|Benchmarking and Reverse Engineering||Same techniques|
“One thing I find myself doing a lot is problem solving. And I think entrepreneurs show their mettle with creative solutions to problems.” Warren Brown, owner of Cake Love and host of TV’s “Sugar Rush”, from Creating a Business You’ll Love
|Defining business problems, , analyzing the root causes of those problems, and recommending solutions to solve those problems|
|Observation and experience.
“The most salient advice I’ve ever given an entrepreneur totals five words: ‘Get out of the building,’ to go where the customers are.” Steve Blank, serial entrepreneur, from Creating a Business You’ll Love
|Taking the time to observe subject matter experts and end-users in their work areas, following their processes and using the software. This requires the ability to ask questions, but remain neutral, as well as the desire to genuinely build trust.|
|Prototyping of New Products||Creating both low-fidelity and high-fidelity prototypes|
|Research and Learning||Same|
|Marketing||Conducting market research, understanding product features (requirements) and benefits, and communicating those to stakeholders|
“…the hard work of discovering what customers really wanted and adjusting our product and strategy to meet those desires.” Eric Ries, The Lean Startup
|Ensuring that all requirements and product features are tested.|
|Negotiation||Ability to facilitate, negotiate, and work to achieve consensus.|
|Team building (larger enterprises/start-ups)||Skills needed by senior BAs, PMs, or IT managers|
|Communication skills (especially listening)
“…another critical entrepreneurial trait is required for success: enthusiastic, persistent listening skills.” Steve Blank, serial entrepreneur, from Creating a Business You’ll Love
|Asking great questions and listening carefully to answers, both the content and affect of them|
|Influencing skills||Especially needed to be treated as a trusted advisor|
|Intuition – “Do your homework, but trust your gut”
“Somehow I just knew – it was a gut feeling – that today’s modern woman was not being well served when it came to her pregnancy.” Liz Lange from Creating a Business You’ll Love (She went on to say she read all the industry magazines she could in order to find out who or what could help her.)
|Based on experience, learning to trust your “gut feelings” and supporting them through research|
“I believe audacity is the most important trait for an entrepreneur.” Rob McGovern, founder of Career Builder from Creating a Business You’ll Love
|Having the courage, whether it be for influencing stakeholders or to be entrepreneurs.|
Table 1. Portions adapted from The Reluctant Entrepreneur by Michael Masterson
But whether you are a current BA and happy in what you do, an internal entrepreneur within an organization, or are thinking of striking out on your own, the skills and qualities in the right-hand column will serve you well.
Example. Both of us worked at a bank early in our careers and functioned as internal management consultants. Much of our work was similar to a business analyst, but the latter term had not been invented yet. We were change agents for the bank, reviewing department processes, procedures, and organization structures. We recommended improvements, both manual and automated. We learned the power of process modeling and how it contributed to process improvement.
We were both happy as employees, and yet looking back we were expected to be true intrapreneurs in the sense that we helped the bank move to new possibilities. We “disrupted” the status quo (to use the popular term in lean startup circles), and that disruption sometimes came at some organization risk and (to us at least) personal risk. Management thought the organization risk was worth it because it helped the bank achieve better customer service, efficiency, and control. We took on the personal risk because we earnestly believed our recommendations were helping the organization.
Conclusion. If you are a business analysis practitioner, you are in good shape to effect positive and innovative change in your organization. You are also a potential intrapreneur or entrepreneur. Look for more articles on types of entrepreneurs and the three important things entrepreneurs need to be successful.
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The Reluctant Entrepreneur by Michael Masterson, 2012, John Wiley and Sons
Creating a Business You’ll Love – Top Entrepreneurs Share their Secrets, 2011, edited by Ronnie Sellers, Sellers Publishing, Inc.
The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries, 2011, Random House Inc.
About the Authors
Richard Larson, PMP, CBAP, PMI-PBA, President and Founder of Watermark Learning, is a successful entrepreneur with over 30 years of experience in business analysis, project management, training, and consulting. He has presented workshops and seminars on business analysis and project management topics to over 10,000 participants on five different continents.
Rich loves to combine industry best practices with a practical approach and has contributed to those practices through numerous speaking sessions around the world. He has also worked on the BA Body of Knowledge versions 1.6-3.0, the PMI BA Practice Guide, and the PM Body of Knowledge, 4th edition. He and his wife Elizabeth Larson have co-authored five books on business analysis and certification preparation.
Elizabeth Larson, PMP, CBAP, CSM, PMI-PBA is Co-Principal and CEO of Watermark Learning and has over 30 years of experience in project management and business analysis. Elizabeth’s speaking history includes repeat presentations for national and international conferences on five continents.
Elizabeth has co-authored five books on business analysis and certification preparation. She has also co-authored chapters published in four separate books. Elizabeth was a lead author on several standards including the PMBOK® Guide, BABOK® Guide, and PMI’s Business Analysis for Practitioners – A Practice Guide.