Video: What is a Senior Business Analyst?

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I get this question and variations of it all the time! What is a senior business analyst? What skills do I need to develop to become one? What are the most valued business analyst competencies?

This is a tough question. And although finding the answer can be difficult, it’s also a tough question because it has multiple answers. Business analysis, like many, if not most, professions, exists within an organizational context. Different organizations value different competencies and so senior can mean something different depending on the organization in which you work and the strengths you bring to the table.

We are not alone with this challenge. Many professions have specialties and multiple ways of recognizing senior-level contributions. Consider software development. You might be a great PHP programmer, but if you are trying to succeed in a .NET shop, you will be starting back at the bottom and working your way back up. In a similar way, many business analysts find themselves in senior positions at one company only to find that jobs outside their organization require specific business or technical domain knowledge or general business analyst competencies that they did not develop in their previously limited business analyst role. What makes you senior in one context is not going to necessarily make you senior in another. This is just part of the reason it’s so important to stay up-to-date with current trends and network regularly with other business analysts.

Yet, the question is still asked and deserves an answer – What is a senior business analyst?

There’s a set of complex set of questions and criteria that go into determining the answer to this question. So instead of providing a straight-forward answer, I’ll help you ask the right questions to find the answer for yourself. Essentially, let’s start unraveling the “it depends” of senior business analysis.

First, consider your organization and your current role.

  • What do ou do today?
  • What responsibilities do you have?
  • Looking at your last few projects, what were your primary contributions?
  • How does your organization value these responsibilities?

Now, look forward in terms of what you want this role to be.

  • What would be true if you were a senior business analyst?
  • What do you enjoy most about your current role that you’d like to do more of?
  • What do you enjoy least about your current role that you’d like to minimize?
  • What new responsibilities are you interested in taking on? If you are stuck on this one, consider some common senior business analyst responsibilities.

Now look outward and compare your ideas with your organization.

  • Does your organization value the activities that you’d like to wrap your role around?
  • What benefit would your organization receive if you were a senior business analyst?
  • Are there career paths within other departments that you could leverage for the business analyst role?

Finally, look outward, outside of your organization and into the BA environment.

  • What responsibilities are other business analysts taking on in your location or industry?
  • How do their organizations value the business analyst role and the senior business analyst role?

Now, with these answers in hand, consider “What’s next?” for you and your career. Do your goals work within your organizational context or are they more likely to be achieved elsewhere? Do you want to be the senior business analyst your company wants you to become? Are you ready to set to work on your business analyst competencies and building relevant work experiences qualify yourself for this new role?

As you consider these questions and the many more that will arise as you start down the path of finding your senior business analyst role, be confident in yourself. You can define a career path that suits you as an individual as well as creates new value for your employer. As much as we hunger for defined paths and external validation of our own success, senior business analysts know their strengths and their weaknesses and create opportunities to excel and achieve. As you become increasingly self aware and carve your own path, you’ll find your answer to the question “What is a senior business analyst?”

The Promotable Business Analyst, due out July 8, 2010, will help guide you through finding the answers to these questions, paving your path up the career ladder (and building the ladder where necessary).

Laura BrandenburgAuthor: Laura Brandenburg hosts Bridging the Gap, is the author How to Start a Business Analyst Career and of the forthcoming eBook The Promotable Business Analyst, a guide book for crafting a fulfilling and successful career as a business analyst.

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COMMENTS

ajmarkos posted on Monday, July 12, 2010 8:55 PM
What are the major skills of a Senior Business Analyst? How about senior level skills in analyzing a business?

If one looks up the word "analysis" in a dictionary, chances are the first listed definition will say that analysis is properly partitioning an entity into its parts (and then examining how the parts interrelate). So a senior level Business Analyst is a senior level Business Partitioner. And the major business partitioning skills are not situation specific - they are universal.

Tony
LauraBrandau posted on Tuesday, July 13, 2010 9:08 AM
Hi Tony,

Thank you for your comment. I suggest you check out V2.0 of IIBA's competency model for a formal definition of a senior business analyst.

I agree with the formal definition in theory, but our current reality is more complex. There is a wide variation of required competencies and skills across senior business analyst roles within different organizations. While this is changing due to the efforts of IIBA to solidify career levels and individuals to broaden their competencies and roles within organization, today's job market reflects a wide diversity of roles.

Laura
YourBA posted on Wednesday, July 14, 2010 11:41 AM
Thanks Laura... an excellent presentation.

I would like to reiterate a point you have mentioned, albeit briefly, about requirements management. From my experience, I can say what distinguishes an inexperienced BA from a seasoned BA is, one's ability to elicit, prioritize and manage requirements. Everything else can be learnt, but requirements discovery and requirements management skills are soft skills and one really needs to hone them. Technical skills are just an added bonus.

I have also found out that someone from sales/marketing/PR background can be a better BA, over time, than someone who was a programmer/developer.

Your input would be highly appreciated by the BA community.

~ Sunil Reddy
zarfman posted on Wednesday, July 14, 2010 10:22 PM
Hi:

Most of my career has been spent in the areas of Finance and Accounting at the Controller and Vice President level. I will admit that, back in the day I spent a decade in the aerospace industry designing missile guidance systems and flight control systems. Clearly, I spent a lot of time in the classroom. Accordingly, I have my own set of biases.

I’ve always been suspicious of the term Business Analysis or Analyst. Having worked for various medium and large firms, as you pointed out I found that depending upon the Industry there are many different areas of specialization, . Quite often these areas of specialization require as a minimum of a Bachelors or Masters Degree as well as significant experience.

What confounds me is how one not skilled in a particular art or science can be expected to conduct a competent analysis of that area.

For example, a BA may have a good understanding of accounts payable or accounts receivable systems. However, when faced with analyzing, understanding and implementing FASB 157 (calculation of fair value) they are hopelessly lost. I know this to be true, because it happened on my watch.

I can’t help but wonder if we wouldn’t be better of if our Universities trained our Accounting, Science, Engineering et al graduates how to convert their ideas and/or requirements into a form understandable by various analysts, programmers and DBA’s.

Like I said I have my biases.

Regards,

zarfman
LauraBrandau posted on Thursday, July 15, 2010 10:40 AM
Hi Sunil, Thanks for your positive feedback. I do see a lot of positions in which requirements management is what makes a senior BA. While elicitation is a core skill that many BAs excel at, prioritization and traceability tend to require senior-level competencies and overseeing how requirements are managed as part of a project lifecycle, evaluating new tools, etc can be opportunities for BAs to move into new, senior-level roles.

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on why and how sales/marketing/PR makes a better background for a BA. I've met BAs from both backgrounds that are excellent and I would not necessarily agree with this as a generalization, recognizing that there may be some specific individuals from a business background you've seen excel and a technical background flounder.

Zafman, We all have examples where we've met or worked with a BA that didn't perform up to our expectations. I see how this can create suspicion, but I feel suspicion of the profession as a whole is unfounded -- there are just too many BAs out there making a positive impact on organizations.

I think we do see a lot of business analysis happening within specific functional areas of organizations. These tend to be subject matter experts who become business analysts. The direction of the business analysis profession is to cultivate a role within the organization that crosses organization and functional boundaries. Someone who can work with accounting, marketing, sales, engineering, etc to conceptualize projects that meet the needs of the organization as a whole. In my experience, SMEs within one particular functional area find it difficult to take the broader view and sometimes rely on a BA to help them see the big picture or step back from their work and look at it from a process perspective.
YourBA posted on Thursday, July 15, 2010 12:41 PM
Hi Laura, you are right. BAs from any background can excel. The reason I say, marketing background BAs may have a slight edge because of the way they interface with business users. I have also observed, BAs with engineering/programming background tend to think linearly vis-a-vis BAs with liberal arts or business background, who tend to take an holistic approach to a problem.

Programmers, specially from India, tend to be very functional, which is great to a point. They are excellent systems thinkers, they make sure all the functions are addressed and on a good day, they also deliver on time :) BA work, particularly requirements elicitation, demands soft skills. How one discovers fine grain requirements is an art.

Beyond function is art!

Like Zafman says, I have my biases :)

~Sunil
ajmarkos posted on Thursday, July 15, 2010 2:58 PM
Finding requirements, fine grain or else, is more than an art. It requires a "thick skin" i.e., one can not be so sensitive to things like rejection or being seen as less than perfect. Marketing people often are stronger in these areas than real analytical people. However, an analytical person can fast track to getting these skills by joining something like a ToastMasters public speaking program.

Ain't nothing like standing in front of 50 people and trying to give a humorous speach that does nothing but puzzle the listeners to make an analytical person grow through his/her fears of rejection - fast! Been there and done it.

Tony
zarfman posted on Thursday, July 15, 2010 7:51 PM
Hi:

I see that I have failed to make my point clear, sorry.

You wrote: The direction of the business analysis profession is to cultivate a role within the organization that crosses organization and functional boundaries. Someone who can work with accounting, marketing, sales, engineering, etc to conceptualize projects that meet the needs of the organization as a whole.

Zarfman writes: We may have a semantics problem, for example what does work with really mean? What does a BA is working with accounting, really mean? Are they working at the SME level or did some one in IT say to a BA (non SME) accounting is complaining about something AGAIN go see what’s wrong this time.

You wrote: crossing organization and functional boundaries.

Zarfman writes: To me that means interfacing with different Managers and SME’s for which the BA may be ill prepared knowledge wise, and is easier said than done. And quite often corporate politics rears its head. For example “ I don’t know who that BA thinks he/she is but tell them to get their nose out of my business or there’ going to be a big problem”.

You wrote: about BA’s conceptualizing projects that meet the needs of the organization as a whole.

Zarfman writes: I tend to doubt BA’s are really high enough in food chain such that they have enough information or knowledge that will tell the BA all is not well with the company or how to solve the problem. For example what gave someone the first clue that type “A widgets” were selling poorly (this may have been going on for months). Problems that have multiple variables tend to be difficult to solve. In my mind, ultimately, managers and SME’s will have to try and solve the problem. Bankruptcy and mergers tend to indicate failure. Besides accounting is conceptualized to death by congress, FASB, GAAP, SEC and the IRS. One ignores these organizations a their peril.

However, I suspect BA’s may be of use as coordinators. For example, sales say’s we are being undercut by our competition on price. The BA could go to SME’s (engineering, cost accounting and purchasing) and say sales has this problem what can we do to help them out?

I still like the idea of training Accounting, Science, Engineering et al students and practitioners how to convert their ideas and/or requirements into a form understandable by various analysts, programmers and DBA’s.

I’m not sure if I clarified my points or not.


Zarfman
LauraBrandau posted on Thursday, July 15, 2010 9:31 PM
Tony, I see your points! Well said. 50 people and humor. Well done.

Zarfam, You made your points clear and I almost 100% disagree. Our disagreements are well beyond the scope of "what is a senior business analyst" since you are questioning (or violently opposing) the value of business analysts and, to a lesser extent, business analysis, at all. I do the sorts of things you call us "ill prepared" for nearly every day and know many others who are also successful in these endeavors. The primary difference between my understanding of a BA and yours is that to me the BA is responsible for eliciting these requirements and solutions and analyzing the problems to find solutions, not knowing them outright. SMEs are the knowledge holders, BAs the facilitators, communicators, and analyzers.

Here we agree:
"In my mind, ultimately, managers and SME’s will have to try and solve the problem."

Exactly, and they will do so facilitated by a BA or someone doing business analysis. Not simply coordination, though there is some of that, but business analysis: problem solving, communication, analysis, decision-driving, etc.
zarfman posted on Friday, July 16, 2010 2:21 PM
It’s Zarfman again.

Let me state that I am an ardent supporter of analysis and analytic techniques.

Perhaps the sticking point is, what does each of us mean when we use the word analysis or analyze.

What I’m talking about is analytical prowess and subject matter knowledge. I’m suggesting that when one is analyzing a problem a relevant range of knowledge is required.

Let me use my own career as a case in point. My undergraduate majors are Physics, Chemistry and a Minor in Mathematics.

Later I was afforded the opportunity to acquire and MBA. One of the courses was managerial accounting.

Later I took a little more than a year off and took all the accounting courses required for a major in accounting.

My ability to analyze accounting problems was greatly enhanced by having increased my knowledge of accounting. Without the extra accounting hours any analysis would have taken much longer and probably would have been inferior.

You wrote: Here we agree:
"In my mind, ultimately, managers and SME’s will have to try and solve the problem."

Exactly, and they will do so facilitated by a BA or someone doing business analysis. Not simply coordination, though there is some of that, but business analysis: problem solving, communication, analysis, decision-driving, etc.

Zarfman writes: If the managers and SME’s solve or try to solve the problem (some degree of managerial and SME analysis would be expected). What degree/level and type of business analysis and/or problem solving would the BA provide.

The above is what confuses me. I must be missing something.

Regards,

Zarfman




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