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Tag: Career

Out of the Box Business Analyst Career Path

OutOfTheBox1What are the career options for a business analyst? That has been and still is a highly discussed topic. For a long time the only clear option for BAs was to be promoted to a project management role. I recently did a webinar with BA Times, “What? You Don’t want to be a PM!“, where I discussed career options for BAs in addition to project management. The options I proposed I now view as “in the box” career moves. For BAs that want to be in the IT space, I proposed a potential path as Jr. BA, Sr. BA, BA Lead, BA Manager, Director, VP, CIO. Additionally within IT, BAs can move into a business architect position and/or strategic business analysis role where they look across the company to help determine the best projects to pursue to maximize business value. If you want to expand outside your company you can become a consultant. I also proposed BAs can move into the lines of business. As a BA you gain valuable information about the business goals, operations, and areas for improvement. All of those options are wonderful and do give the BA other avenues to pursue besides just project management. The skills you build as a business analyst, without a doubt, prepare you for those career moves.

As I was discussing this topic with a colleague, Angie Perris, she enlightened me that my current role or career does not clearly fit into one of the roles mentioned above. In part of the BA consulting that I do (which is an “in the box” career move), I am now responsible for leading and managing the B2T Training brand and marketing efforts. I consider brand management and marketing “out of the box” career moves for business analysts. This started me down a path that BAs are not limited in their career options.

How I Got Here

A few years ago, I decided to dedicate my working hours to business analysis. An opportunity arose giving me the chance to work in a capacity where I think about business analysis full-time, I perform business analysis activities, and I get to help other companies transform their business analysis practice. By making a change from working full-time in an IT department as a business analyst my horizon opened wider than I ever anticipated. My passion for business analysis is still very strong now along with branding and marketing. I view this as having multiple children. When you have your second and third child you don’t love the first and second one less. Your heart grows and you love all; you give even more.

In my role I am learning new skills through experience, mentors, and formal and informal education. I have also added a number of new individuals in different industries to my network! But, there are many skills I use every day that I became proficient in because I am a business analyst. In marketing, like business analysis, it is critical for me to understand the needs of my stakeholders. I use my interviewing, active listening, and other communication skills to elicit their challenges and opportunities. I then rely on my analysis skills to help identify gaps between where they are today and what they need to reach their end goal. I still document and communicate requirements to solution teams like designers and web developers based on my needs in marketing.

I say this only to show that the skills learned as a business analyst are invaluable and can be used in almost any path you choose or happen to fall in to. Keep your mind open and the opportunities will surface.

So where has your path taken you? Share your experiences of the path you took and where you are headed? Has the downturn in the economy actually opened a door you didn’t even know existed before? Please share your story in the comments.


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Becoming a Senior Business Analyst

becomingasenior1This is another follow-up to my blog post, The Six Key Characteristics of a Senior Business Analyst. Please take a minute to read that post so you understand the context of my comments on how to become a senior BA.   Some of the readers, @SimonTheBA and @AWhittenberger, commented that it was great to know the characteristics of a senior BA, but were curious about my thoughts on how one becomes a senior BA. This post is good for those who want to become a senior BA or who are helping others become senior BAs.  Please note my definition of what makes someone a senior business analyst may not align with the title “Senior Business Analyst” at the company you work at, or where you want to work.  So, if your goal is to climb the company ladder make sure you look at what the company expects from you to grow.  Even if my list of senior BA characteristics does not completely align with your company’s views, focusing on the steps I outline below will help you become a better BA and, therefore, become more promotable.   It just so happens that my friends Laura Brandenburg and Adriana Beal recently published an eBook collection titled The Promotable Business Analyst.  I recommend you”pick that up as it is a valuable resource.

Find a Coach

One of things I see falling off company’s radars is providing coaching and support for employees.  Many employees, especially junior BAs, are left to fend for themselves.  In the past managers were coaches.  Today I see more and more companies increase the ratio of employees to managers.  This makes it difficult for the manager to focus enough coaching time with each employee.  In the BA space there is another twist.  Is the manager qualified to coach the BAs?  The numbers are not there yet where BAs are becoming managers.  Many BAs are managed by individuals in the IT arena, but may not have the BA skill set.  In major league baseball, this would be like having an all-star third baseman become a pitching coach. They know the game, but don’t know all the mechanics of being a great pitcher. 

In my last post, Four Ways to Best Utilize a Senior Business Analyst, I suggested senior BAs should be used as coaches for the junior analysts.  If you have a coach great, if you don’t…get one.  Just because one is not picked for you, does not mean you can’t find one or more.  Don’t limit your search to your company either.  Get involved in the many online communities like this one or your local IIBA chapter.  Although many can’t be there with you day in and day out, you do have a support system of BAs at all levels willing to give feedback. 

Be honest with your coach about the areas you feel you need to improve on.  Come up with a plan to work on those areas.  Be patient, you won’t become a senior BA overnight. 

Don’t be Afraid to Fail

Now that you have a plan in place with your coach, start executing.  This is easier said than done.  To become a senior BA you need to have breadth and depth of knowledge and experience.  You need to have experience with multiple project types and involvement in multiple business areas.  The only way to get there is to take some chances.  If you have a coach this is a little easier.  You have someone to rely on and be your safety net.  The best way to learn is by doing.  And when you take action, failure is going to happen.  Learn from that failure and move forward. 

Be Persistent

You have to be willing to take chances. You also need your management to be willing to allow you to stretch beyond what you do well.  Many of you will find risk adverse managers.  Keep pushing to be given opportunities in new business areas, to try new techniques or to be part of a project that will meet your growth goals. Get creative!  You may even have to offer to take on tasks on your own time.  A client of mine just hired a person who had little to no BA experience.  This person wanted to be a BA and worked every Saturday for months with my client, for free, to learn.  Once a position opened up she was hired.  

I had a senior BA moment because I was persistent. I wanted in on a project I heard about using some cool technology and in a new business area for me.  I was denied access for six months.  Every month I would ask about the status of the project and almost beg to be part of the team.  I think my manager finally gave in because he wanted me to stop asking or just felt sorry for me.  Whatever it takes. Right?  I’ll admit I was nervous and a little unsure how I would perform since the business area was new and I did not know any of the stakeholders.  I came out with flying colors and it helped my confidence level with future endeavors.

Instill a Feedback System

You need to be open to feedback to really grow.  We do this for projects, why don’t do it for yourself. For projects we instill retrospectives to determine what went well, what didn’t and how the team can improve.  You should set-up a feedback system for your improvement with those you work with. At intervals that make sense, ask for feedback on your elicitation techniques, your deliverables, etc.

Are the people you work with satisfied with your work? You may not know unless you ask.  Here is a quick system you can put in place to continually get the feedback you need to improve.

  1. Ask for feedback. You may never get it if you don’t ask.
  2. Thank the person for their feedback. Don’t get defensive and try to explain why they are wrong.
  3. Implement the feedback into your work. Think through how you can take that feedback and make changes.  
  4. Provide updates to the ones giving you feedback on how you have changed based on their feedback.  This one is important.  By updating people they know you are listening to them and they will continue to give feedback.  One of my pet peeves is when people ask my opinion and never do anything with it or always do the opposite (maybe that’s a sign!). I tend to not freely give feedback to those people. 

Remember this does not happen overnight.  Keep building those skills and your confidence will grow.  As your confidence grows you will begin to get closer to your goal.  Before you know it you’ll be there.

Bu the way, I’m taking a little time off, so I might be slow responding to your comments. Please bear with me. Thanks.


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Career Sabotage; Negative Influence from a Past Employer

sabotage1The word was out on Sam Edwards. Someone was telling prospective new employers that they shouldn’t hire him. This single “bad reference” cost Sam at least seven job offers and forced him to tap into more than $50,000 of his retirement fund. This is in spite of his solid credentials.

Edwards (not his real name) has since found work, but two years later he is still angry with a former boss for nearly ruining his financial life. Sam was able to stop his former boss from spreading more negativity, but he wonders how many other job seekers are not so fortunate.

“For months I suspected that my former boss was saying something about me. The problem was I didn’t know what he was saying or how to prove it,” said Edwards.

However, job seekers like Sam can now turn the tables on their former bosses. Many have begun to check up on former bosses, colleagues and even trusted friends, by using professional reference checking firms to see what those references will say about them to prospective new employers.

When you get right down to it, you don’t know always know for sure who you can trust. There is simply too much at stake – your job, your income, your family’s well being – to leave to chance that your references are positive and accurate.

About half of the references our company investigates offer mediocre to downright negative input – often to the surprise and dismay of the clients. People they believe will give them a good reference, frequently do not. And the likelihood is that such references will continue to “poison the well” unless their negative input can be documented and addressed.

Causing further aggravation, it is not uncommon for references to pass out inaccurate information. Dates and title of employment, the reason for the separation and salary information offered by references are sometimes provided in error, and it is (unfortunately) often assumed by potential employers that the job seeker is being dishonest.

The first step in counteracting such issues is to obtain third-party documentation, and we are always up front with the people we call to check a reference. When we call a reference, we simply state that we are calling to do employment verification and reference check on (name of client). Typically the reference assumes we are considering hiring that individual or we have been hired to check them out for a company that is considering hiring them. Under no circumstances do we ever disclose who has actually hired us to perform the reference check. This allows our client complete confidentiality and the ability to use our information in court should the need arise

Fortunately, there is recourse for those whose reference(s) have been documented as offering negative commentary about them. Cease and desist letters or potential litigation may be appropriate tools in the hands of an employment attorney.

If you suspect that a reference may be sabotaging your chances for employment, the first step is to obtain documentation by a third-party company indicating exactly what they are saying. And, the sooner the better – a negative reference can plague you indefinitely. Identifying such a person and preventing any further damage caused by them will surely be one of the best investments you will ever make.

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Heidi Allison is president of Allison & Taylor, Inc. The company and its principals have been in the business of checking references for corporations and individuals since 1984. For further information, please visit

Can We Please Move On Up the BA Ladder?

canweplease1Lately I have found myself having a similar conversation with a number of clients. The conversation begins with my client stating they want to increase their visibility within their organization and better position themselves to work at a more senior, strategic level. They want to be noticed and earmarked for succession by supervisors; to be seen as a thought leader by peers; and, ultimately, to position themselves as someone ready to participate in the larger decisions facing the company.

What is surprising to me is that these are the same people who will either completely fail to show for one of our scheduled sessions, send an email stating they need to reschedule at a minute’s notice, or arrive late and unprepared for our time together, and then fail to apologize for their lack of professionalism.

I often find that the way a client manages their time with me is indicative of how they manage themselves with others. Therefore, some of the behavior I experience is serious cause for concern. If my client is unable to successfully arrive at our meeting – on time, prepared, and having followed through on the commitments they made at our last meeting – it is almost guaranteed that they engage in this (poor) behavior with others. How then are they to be seen as the kind of person and professional ready for more responsibility? Perhaps they are unaware of how some of their behavior is negatively impacting their professional advancement.

It seems that professionals today have forgotten what it means to be professional. We have allowed each other to become lazy, as what was once considered to be rude behavior has slowly become acceptable. Consider the following:

  • When you are meeting with someone, do you respond to emails and/or answer your phone?
  • How frequently do you arrive late to a meeting and/or allow a meeting to run over the allotted time without re-negotiating this with the many others it will impact?
  • How often do you cancel or reschedule meetings?
  • What tone of voice do you use when you answer your phone? (In my experience, many will use a tone that would indicate I am interrupting or bothering them, when the fact is they chose to answer their phone. Some will even use this tone of voice when they have specifically asked me to call.)

I am frequently appalled by the behavior I witness from otherwise talented, educated, senior professionals. I once left a message for a very senior colleague but never received a return call. When I next ran into the colleague I inquired whether or not he had received my voice message. He had. When I asked why he never responded, he told me, “Oh, I don’t return phone calls.” What?! The irony is that this person had just purchased and was holding a copy of Daniel Goleman’s book “Social Intelligence”. I thought to myself, forget about reading the book, just focus on having the basic human decency to return another person’s phone call.

From over 25 years of research there is one behavior that is seen to be more important than any other behavior for leaders to exhibit. This behavior is “treats others with dignity and respect.” If we fail to get this right, it almost does not matter what else we do. It is that important. One of the simplest ways to demonstrate respect is to show up on time, come prepared, and keep meetings to their allotted time. When we do this, we show others that we regard their time as being as valuable as our own. Another way to demonstrate respect is to listen, something that is difficult to do when we allow interruptions from our Blackberry or iPhone. Regardless of culture, one of the easiest ways to demonstrate disrespect (whether we intend to or not) is to interrupt another.

I have worked with experienced, highly successful C-level executives and those new to management entirely. What I can tell you is that the more senior and successful the leader, the better the listener, and the more respectful, professional and gracious the person.

I am embarrassed to have to spend so much time coaching senior professionals on basic issues such as time management, the importance of treating others with dignity and respect, and reminding them that everything – EVERYTHING – they do matters. As a result, I am going to write one article on the topic and hope that by doing so we can move on to more important and necessary leadership conversations.

In his book, How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything…in Business, Dov Seidman coins the term “out-behaving the competition” and states that those organizations/leaders who are able to bring professionalism back into our daily interactions will prevail in today’s marketplace. Treating others with the utmost respect is not merely a “nice-to-do,” it is business critical and, potentially, your competitive advantage.

Try This: From now on, treat every person you interact with as you would your most important client. Perhaps one day they will be just that!

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Susanne Biro is a senior leadership coach with Bluepoint Leadership Development and the co-author of Unleashed! Expecting Greatness and Other Secrets of Coaching for Exceptional Performance. You can reach her at [email protected].

What is the Future for Senior Business Analysts?

futureforsenior2Now that you are recognized as a senior business analyst, what can you look forward to in your professional future?

BAs who have ten or more years of experience often feel “topped out” in their career path because most companies assume that senior BAs will develop into something else, such as a project manager or product manager. If a business analyst wants to extend herself beyond a single business function or provide more consultative guidance to her business unit, she typically has to change roles and embark on a different career path. Once a BA’s head has hit the company’s career path ceiling, there is often no place to go but to another company for advancement. Even so, most companies do not have a growth path for a business analyst who is already senior.

In this article, we will look at options for our professional future and talk about ways to extend ourselves professionally.

Where BAs Come From

Many of us came to have the business analyst title through roles such as

  • Power User
  • Developer (or “Programmer”, or “Systems Analyst” to use the old-fashioned terms)
  • Quality Assurance Analyst
  • Database Administrator
  • Technical Support, Customer Support specialist
  • Infrastructure (IT) specialist

Managers recognized that in addition to our remarkable analytical skills we had special qualities, such as our ability to ask questions about the big picture, or our ability to be the communications bridge between a customer and the technical team, or be the communications “hub” for the entire technical team. We found ourselves playing the role of the business (systems) analyst whether or not we had the title.

Currently the typical growth path for a senior BA is to become a

  • Project Manager
  • Product Manager
  • Account Manager (internal customers)

In some companies, a senior BA can add the following titles to their list of possibilities:

  • Architect
  • Business Process Analyst

In my humble opinion, one of the best things a BA can do for him/herself is to get savvy about process analysis. If your current position keeps you focused on the details, consider coming up for some air, learn to analyze the processes that are generating the details and the predictable system failures that you are drowning in. Maybe the root of the problem is not in the data itself but in the processes around the data.

Maybe you are already spending a lot of time with the system architects in IT, and the business architects on the business side of your company. Architecture is the art and science of designing structures whether they are physical or logical. With all of your experience, you may be at a point in your career where you’re ready to focus on design.

Jonathan Kupersmith’s blog article, “What?! You Don’t Want to Be a Project Manager” summed up the BA to PM transition controversy quite nicely. Product manager and account manager both have the word “manager” in the title; some people assume that becoming a manager of some sort is the only way to show that you have achieved success. Let’s say that you are an iconoclast, not driven by what other people think or the strictures of your country’s norms – you don’t want to be a manager, you want to be recognized as a senior business analyst and you want career growth. Is that so much to ask?

What Does it Mean to be Senior?

Being senior is more than just “years on the job”. Being a senior BA implies:

  • Mastery of core business analysis competencies and corresponding skills
  • Both breadth and depth of knowledge and experience
  • Knowledge of business processes
  • Leadership

The IIBA identifies these categories of core competencies, called underlying competencies in the BA Body of Knowledge (BABoK):

  • Analytical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Behavioral Characteristics
  • Business Knowledge
  • Communication Skills
  • Interaction Skills
  • Software Applications

These competencies have nothing to do with domain knowledge; these are the competencies a BA brings to every job assignment. The skills that correspond to these competencies are:

  • Facilitation
  • Requirements Elicitation
  • Modeling
  • Negotiation
  • [Process] Change Leadership
  • Requirements Planning & management
  • Stakeholder Management
  • Verbal Communications and Presence
  • Written Communications and Documentation
  • Technology Understanding and Application

As a senior BA, you may or may not have equal levels of mastery of these skills. The three aspects of being a leader as BA that I want to call out are, being an agent of change, being a speaker of truth, and being a role model. These three aspects are key for senior BAs to set their sights on what the BA Body of Knowledge calls “Enterprise Analysis”.

Being acknowledged as the “go to” person in your group can feel great because you can share your experience and knowledge with others. Being senior can also bring on an empty feeling. Most BAs need new challenges; we need to keep learning; we can’t survive on the same old problems. No one wants to live with an old leaky faucet; not only does the dripping sound drive us crazy at night but knowing that water is being wasted without taking action is morally wrong. We BAs need to find satisfying ways to apply our brain power.

Kathleen Hass has written a wonderful book, From Analyst to Leader – Elevating the Role of the Business Analyst. I recommend this book both to business analysts and managers of business analysts because Ms. Haas and her contributors have accomplished an impossible task, they have articulated in just 120 pages what leadership means for a BA in the two overall contexts that a BA may work in: a project, and a business solution life cycle. Moreover, there is a chapter on establishing a Business Analysis Center of Excellence.

Next Steps

As a senior BA who is feeling that the ceiling is coming closer and closer to the top of your head, how do you extend your knowledge and experience range? Think about this in terms of how big a step you want to take, a small step, a mid-sized leap, or a big leap.

  • Small step

Stay within your general domain (or business process) but add a new, closely-related sub-domain (or business process) to complement your existing specialty area.

  • Mid-sized leap

Extend your activities into a new domain within your current business unit, so that you can take advantage of the trust-based relationships you have with senior and executive managers.

  • Big Leap

Extend your activities into an unrelated domain where you will have to build new relationships with managers and single contributors. This kind of leap is not for the faint of heart.

Let’s look at an example.


A small step would be working in Finance where you are a Senior BA in sub-domain F1.2, and taking on activities or responsibilities for closely-related sub-domain F1.1.

A mid-sized leap would be working in Finance where you are a Senior BA in sub-domain F1.1 and taking on activities or responsibilities in related sub-domain F3.1.

A big leap would be working in Finance and taking on activities where you must learn about the IT infrastructure that supports the business applications used in Finance.

Here’s what you need to think about as you decide how much you want to start extending yourself:

  • What is your risk tolerance?
  • Do you trust your command of the core competencies?
  • How fast do you absorb new information?
  • How fast do you build allies?
  • How badly do you want to influence improvement?

As a senior BA, you are a subject matter expert. Do you remember what it feels like to “not know”? What is your tolerance for “not knowing”? What is your tolerance for not having allies? Will your ego allow you play the “I’m new, please forgive me if I don’t know how this works and I have to ask a lot of questions” card. If you dive in and the waters are too deep, will it be okay for you to take a step back? The more comfortable you are with “not knowing”, learning new information fast, building new allies quickly, the bigger the leap you can take.

When you have answered these questions for yourself, determine how to frame your request to expand your activities in a manner that shows your manager that you are thinking about the benefit to the company, not just your career path. As a senior BA you are probably quite well aware of where there are needs in your company.

Enterprise Analysis

Defining a business need and making the business case for finding a solution to meet that need is heart of the BA BoK knowledge area called Enterprise Analysis. The tasks involved in this knowledge area are defining the business need, assessing the capability gap, determining a solution (high-level) approach, defining the solution scope (high-level), and defining the business case. The IIBA identifies the following skills for this knowledge area:

  • Benchmarking
  • Brainstorming
  • Business Rules Analysis
  • Decision Analysis
  • Document Analysis
  • Estimation
  • Feasibility Analysis
  • Focus Groups
  • Functional Decomposition
  • Interface Analysis
  • Metrics and KPI
  • Problem or Vision Statement
  • Risk Analysis
  • Root Cause Analysis
  • Scope Modeling
  • Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats (SWOT) Analysis
  • User Stories
  • Vendor Assessment

I would add “writing a business case” to the list of skills as a business case is a well-understood documentation artifact that has a commonly understood structure and content. Typically, senior BAs have competence in some but not all of these skills. Senior BAs take note – when you are thinking about where you want to expand your knowledge and experience, think about the skill development you will need. Just like changing the batteries in the smoke detector in your home when we switch to daylight savings time, the beginning of the year is a good time to update your professional development plan – what do you want to accomplish this year? Your manager may not be able to respond immediately to your request with a new assignment, but your manager may be able to approve training for you in anticipation of helping you take on a bigger challenge.


We started with the question, “What is the Future for Senior Business Analysts?” We made the assumption that you don’t want to be a manager, and you are perfectly happy being included in architectural discussions but you like being a business analyst. There are two issues here, the first is your skill set, the second is your title. With respect to your skill set, think about adding or improving the Enterprise Analysis skills listed above. Also think about adding process analysis and process engineering to your tool kit.

The thornier topic is your title because job titles are defined by your company’s Human Resources group. Enlist your manager’s help – ask to see the job descriptions for business analyst positions for all grades. If you are truly “topped out” in your grade level, ask If there is job structure for another role that could be used to create a career growth path for senior BAs. For example, what is the highest position that a single contributor in the engineering organization can achieve? Could that model apply to the business analysts? It may take some time and considerable energy from your manager to help HR understand the need to create “head room” for a job family that was not envisioned to support senior contributors. We senior BAs need to influence this change both for ourselves and for the BAs who are going to be turbo-charged in their development, thanks to existence of the BA BoK. The next ten years will do more than set precedent; the next ten years will establish a standard practice of cultivating talented, battle-hardened and business-savvy BAs to share their knowledge and experience with the entire enterprise.

Don’t wait for the business analyst job structure to catch up. Get out there and be the role model for what you believe a senior BA can do. Take it one step or one leap at a time.

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Cecilie Hoffman is a Senior Principal IT Business Analyst with the Business Analysis Center of Excellence, Symantec Corporation. Cecilie’s professional passion is to educate technical and business teams about the role of the business analyst, and to empower the business analysts themselves with tools, methods, strategies and confidence. Cecilie is a founding member of the Silicon Valley chapter of the IIBA. She writes a blog on her personal passion, motorcycle riding, at [email protected].