Let's explore Business Analysts' Toolbox


Chaos! Stress! Everyday mess! Isn’t this an everyday situation for a business analyst? If not, either you’ve job satisfaction or you’re not being introduced to the real world of business analysis.

A person might possess great skills, however, (s)he might not be able to utilize skills without the right mix of tools and environment. A toolbox enables a person to implement the skills in the most efficient way. Possessing necessary tools is just the one part of it. Another is the knowledge to utilize the right tools at the right time to cater the solution and ensure timely committed delivery.

What are these tools? How do we map the usage of tools to the given circumstance? How can we efficiently utilize the tool? Does it depend on the solution or the approach?

There’re too many questions. I’ll try and answer some of the questions in this article.

What are these tools? How to utilize them efficiently?

You can search answers using google or ask experts – fellow business analysts. Many of you might have heard about these tools while some are using it day in and day out. It is inevitable to use these tools to be a successful BA.

Tool usage is determined by the environment, domain, service and solution. Not every tool is used in every situation, but at the same time there’re some tools we use in every situation. Tools like MS Office suite is the most common of them all. We use PowerPoint, Word, Excel, Project and Visio almost everyday of our professional life. But various other tools are case specific.

I broadly classify these tools under 7 major categories:

Process Management Tools

E.g. HP ALM, JIRA, Helix ALM, Quality Center and alike

These tools are the framework of any project. They help manage BA’s work and artifacts by adhering to the right process. They’re used from the start of the project until the delivery. The best analogy I can use is of a file organizer. A file organizer organizes file as per the logical requirement. Similarly, a process management tool helps you manage and organizes the process so that your work and artifacts are delivered as per the logical predefined steps.

IT/Technical Tools

E.g. Enterprise Architecture, Balsamiq, Snagit, SQL Querying Tool and alike

IT Tools are specialized to help business analysts basically manage their entire job via a tool. These softwares have potential to manage day to day business analyst deliverables like use case, use case diagrams, requirements management and traceability, and so forth. To efficiently utilize these tools, learning various functionalities is inevitable. Once you master their usage, your everyday tasks are a breeze.

Reporting Tools

E.g. BIRT, Pentaho, Performance Analytics & Reporting – ServiceNow, Crystal Reports and alike

Tools that help you convert your information into insights are reporting tools. These tools are among the most powerful tools from the tools’ landscape. They provide actionable insights and decision-making power with utmost visibility and transparency of information. Representation of information in a particular way defines the insight it provides. Visual representation of information is the most preferred way of utilizing these tools. These tools bridge the gap between a business analyst and the executives.

Analytics Tools

E.g. SAS, Tableau, Qlik, MicroStrategy, Salesforce, Google Analytics and alike

These tools convert raw data into information. Their prime objective is to make sense out of data. These tools are a business analyst’s optional friends. They’re not used regularly but in a chaotic data driven project or environment, these tools help you make the utmost sense. They’ll also pave path forward in the project acting as a torch in darkness.

Domain Specific Tools

E.g. AutoCad, ERP, QuickBooks, Intuit and alike

Tools which are specific to the industry domain and can be utilized only in a particular environment in a niche segment of their own are domain specific tools. These tools are divided as per the industry segment like Financial, Automobile and Manufacturing, Retail, Healthcare, Hi-Tech etc. Business analysts are only concerned with these tools as long as they serve the industry. If BA switch over to another industry, these tools are obsolete for them. Gaining competency on these tools can give BA’s an advantage over others in the same competitive landscape but have limited to no value out of their specific sphere of influence.

Service Specific Tools

E.g. PeopleSoft, WorkDay, ServiceNow, CRM and alike

Service specific tools share similar properties to that of domain specific ones. These tools to have a specific area of operation i.e. the service area within an industry. When a BA moves from a particular service area to another, the knowledge of a particular service specific tool is no longer useful. They’ve to learn new tools. However, the advantage of context switching is huge when you gain experience with service specific tools. The best practices are many times shared among various services.

Miscellaneous Tools

E.g. Dropbox, AEM, Skype, MS Office, WebEx, OneNote and other alike

All other tools that are being used by business analysts as a support, falls in this category. These tools are present to make things simple. They facilitate day to day work of many roles within organization and are not only for BAs. We can hardly imagine our lives without these tools which makes our job bearable.

Learning a tool is favorable skillset to achieve. However, understanding the value of tool is important for a project delivery. We don’t need to learn all possible tool properties and functionalities. In short BAs need not be a master of any tool but a jack of all possible tools which can enable him/her to deliver the committed work, thereby ensuring timely and efficient delivery.

Author:  Nimil Parikh, Business Analyst

Nimil Parikh is a new generation business analyst who transforms business processes by leveraging IT tools and applications. He has over 7 years of experience modeling, analyzing, measuring, improving, optimizing and automating business processes. He adds value by his ability to context switch while providing cross-functional business solution and ensuring timely delivery by managing and streamlining business processes and driving strategic leadership. He is known to introduce IT business transformation and ensure successful implementation. Nimil possess MBA from San Jose State University, MBA Marketing and Information Technology Engineering from India. Nimil lives in Campbell, California. He enjoys challenges and believes in making things right. Reach him via email – [email protected]

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LDO posted on Thursday, July 12, 2018 10:32 AM
All this mention of tools is all very good. But a tool is only as good as the person using it and being used on the job for the purpose it was design for. More often than not this is not the case and a tool add little value or creates wastage by becoming time consuming to learn use and then finally there often hard to move away from when looking for a replacement.

I believe good tools have their place, but an experienced, good analyst only needs a few, which overtime become well used and tailored to the user themselves.
Nimil Parikh posted on Thursday, July 12, 2018 1:12 PM
So true Petera01. An apt business analyst is the one who knows which tool to use and how much to leverage it in order to optimize the delivery. Legacy tools make way for new tools and the learn-unlearn process is a continuous one. I'm of the view that learn tools as and when you need them and utilize them to an extent it facilitates easy and efficient delivery.
Nimil Parikh
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