What Does a Business Analyst Do? The first of a series…

I have been working with several clients around identifying and developing business analysts.  As a certified business analyst professional I can give a keen insight into what skill sets are required for a successful candidate.  As business analysts, we spend our days analyzing all of the initiatives of our companies, what projects are being implemented, when and why and what the impacts will be on our products and services, our systems and processes, our clients and stakeholders.  We dive in to understand how each initiative aligns with which corporate goal and development agenda items.

Surprising to me, many people asked me the same question – “What does a business analyst actually do?

From our conversations, and from their past experience, it would seem that most people, and bosses confuse business analysts and project managers.  In fact, at many firms the same person filled both roles on major initiatives.  That’s bad.

So to help clarify I am sharing this five part article series “What Does a Business Analyst Do?” with all of my clients.

Let’s get started, shall we?


The primary role of the business analyst (BA) is to act as the requirements manager for a project.  This role may begin in the earliest stages of the project life cycle as your business decides whether a project is even necessary, and it may continue through testing, delivery, and closeout as the BA works with the solution team to ensure requirements are met.  A close relationship and communication with the your firm’s strategy office and/or new initiatives committees will be paramount.

The BA as a Communicator

Communication is a key skill needed for a BA’s success as a facilitator, presenter and negotiator.  The BA must possess good communications skills in order to communicate the impact of the solution to your end users and other stakeholders.

Often, the BA is responsible for negotiating the terms of solutions between stakeholders and the technical team.  The BA must be IT savvy to effectively communicate with the technical members of the team such as any systems analysts, application developers, designers, and testers.  The BA should communicate solution requirements in terms that enable the IT’s* project team to easily and effectively translate the requirement into specifications. [*Note: In using “IT” it is understood that there may be technical stakeholders other than IT, but for expediency I will use “IT” as an example in these postings]


The BA as Process Modeler

Process modeling is another key skill used by the BA to ensure that your firm is able to meet business needs effectively.  Through continuous process improvement, benchmarking, and process modeling, the BA ensures that all tasks and activities carried out by the business address the business needs.  It is valuable to have a BA who can also challenge and question all processes thoroughly in order to allow the exploration of retiring legacy, non-value added processes.

The BA must be knowledgeable and skilled in modeling their business line to identify business needs, problem areas, business requirements, opportunities for improvement, any other gaps, and solution assessment.  In addition to modeling, the BA should be skilled in defining the business problem, evaluating existing processes, finding root causes, designing and documenting new processes in line with your firm’s business strategy driving the solution as well as monitoring implementation of the solution.


The BA as Risk Manager

The ability to evaluate risk is critical to the BA’s success.  Although the project manager has primary responsibility to identifying, assessing, and responding to project risks, the BA provides risk-decision support in collaborating with the project manager, and during the project’s implementation the BA is responsible for managing requirements risks.  This requires knowledge of techniques for identifying requirements risks; defining a requirements risk management approach; and performing requirements risk planning, monitoring, and control.  A robust relationship and communication with your firm’s risk managers, quality analysts, and/or legal team is key.

The BA provides input to the project manager, project sponsor, and portfolio management team regarding risks that may have a positive or negative effect on the proposed or active project.  This is pertinent to decisions prior to project launch and project execution.  In the pre-project period, the BA must conduct the initial risk assessment by assisting executive management in identifying risk probability and impact.  The result will provide input and support for management’s decision as to whether the proposed project should go forward, be delayed, or be canceled.

As the individual who is most knowledgeable about the business opportunity, the BA typically is in a unique position to identify and assess risks during analysis and solution development.


The BA’s Contribution to Enterprise Analysis

In addition to risk-decision support, the BA may be involved in numerous other pre-project activities such as strategic enterprise analysis.  Senior BAs, for example, may support the strategic planning process by being asked to perform competitive analysis and benchmark studies.  They may also become involved facilitating strategic goal-setting sessions, preparing the business case for future projects, and monitoring business results after project implementation.


The Role of the BA in Requirements Elicitation and Documentation

In requirements elicitation, the BA’s goal is to manage the processes and techniques that will elicit and validate the information needed from the business and its users to facilitate the successful development of a solution.  In this capacity, the BA must –

  • Understand the structure, relationships, and business rules of the organization
  • Understand business processes and identify the potential for improvement
  • Ensure that all stakeholders (customers, end users, solution developers) have a common understanding of the business environment
  • Elicit and validate the requirements needed to support solution development and document them in the format most conducive to solution development

The BA must use effective elicitation approaches and techniques and know how to prepare and execute them in any given situation.  For example, the BA must be skilled in interviewing, facilitating collaborative sessions, observation, resolving conflicts, analysis, and so on.

In general terms, the BA is responsible for eliciting, validating, and documenting requirements in the most appropriate format for IT, and for managing risks to the requirements.  Steps in this role may include –

  • Identifying the business problem of opportunity
  • Performing root-cause analysis
  • Documenting the solution vision and scope
  • Contributing to building a business case
  • Planning the requirements elicitation
  • Eliciting requirements from users and other stakeholders
  • Structuring and documenting requirements, and checking that all requirements are understood and are ready to forward to the solution team
  • Validating requirements and ensuring consensus is reached among stakeholders
  • Managing requirements through the development, testing, and delivery processes

It is important to remember that solutions are not predetermined by the BA; they are driven solely by the requirements and resource capacity of the business.


The Role of the BA in Testing the Solution

When testing solutions, BAs are often directly responsible for –

  • Designing test scenarios and test cases for user and acceptance testing
  • Usability testing
  • Customer satisfaction assessments

The BA needs to show that the implemented solution meets business requirements.  To do this, he or she is often responsible for creating test scenarios and test cases.  A test scenario is a procedure describing a user’s experience in interfacing with the solution.  A test case is an execution of the scenario with specific input determined by business rules.  BAs coordinate and execute usability testing with participation from user representatives for the purpose of measuring the quality of the user’s experience with the solution.  Customer satisfaction assessments are planned and executed by BAs.  They require the BA to be skilled in interviewing, observation, conducting focus groups, and designing questionnaires.

Next installment – “Role of the BA vs. Role of the Project Manager“…