From an Intermediate to a Strategic Senior Business Analyst

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Aug 09, 2020
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"How to endear yourself to your business stakeholders"

It is strange how something that is supposed to be simple is actually so complex. Something that is supposed to be a matter of linear career progression can actually end up in a state of a continuous loop, with no way of terminating such a loop. A point of stagnation and frustration. This is a quandary facing many intermediate business analysts. They do not know how to shift gears and move one notch up and be senior business analysts - who play a strategic role in helping their business stakeholders bring their strategies to life through the right initiatives.

Moving from one level to another level in any career requires multiple shifts from skill to application of knowledge. Often this shift starts to happen before ones makes the official shift from intermediate to senior business analysts. Let’s use an example. As an intermediate business analyst my focus might be elicitation, specification, and solving problems and analyzing possible solutions. So an intermediate business analyst’s characteristics might be:

  • Review and analyze system problems and identify solutions
  • Will probably need some form of guidance and direction from stakeholders or a senior/lead business analyst
  • Make use of techniques to elicit requirements and document them
  • Their thought process will more likely be aligned to understanding the problem, gathering requirements, and analyzing them, writing up requirement and design specifications

Effective senior business analysts are utilized by business stakeholders as advisors. When the latter are at the infancy stage of brainstorming ideas and developing them into concepts, they ask for these business analysts by their names. Their input and views are so important that the business stakeholders are usually not keen to continue with their concept development sessions without them. It is a fair statement to that most, if not all, business analysts aspire to get to this point in their careers. The tripping point is always on how to navigate the corporate world to get there.

In between the intermediate and senior business analyst the transformation starts to happen. Sometimes we can be caught unawares that due to our success as an intermediate business analyst we are moving, or stakeholders are expecting us to move into that senior role.

It is in this transformation passage we can miss the call to step up into the role. It requires conscious thinking applied to understand there is a shift in expectations of us. It requires intentional navigation into the role.

For a senior business analyst, we would typically find the following characteristics:

  • They will conduct strategic analysis to establish enterprise needs and offer advice on how to move an organization to the future state in the most effective manner
  • Often found working more closely with the project manager to coordinate and monitor project with extensive knowledge of project methodologies
  • Will adapt techniques based on the situation or stakeholder and often lead in the process of requirements modelling
  • Out view moves from not only being focused on the problem or solution at hand but to leadership with influence as our stakeholders call on us as advisors.

Just pause for a moment and be honest with yourself – where are you on this continuum. Do your stakeholders call for you by name? In that case, you are ahead of the pack compared to your peers. But what if they do not call for you by your name – what is the problem and how can you fix it?

A common mistake made by many business analysts is the assumption that, because of x number of years as intermediate business analysts, they qualify to be senior business analysts. Another mistake often made is that an intermediate business analyst thinks that the title of “senior” is when they will display the qualities of a business analyst. As we said earlier often this process of transition is blurred and starts before you get officially recognized as a senior business analyst. Others look up to their managers to get them to the strategic business analysts’ roles within their respective organizations. And for as long as this ‘promotion’ does not get initiated by their managers, they see themselves as helpless. Some have a mindset that attending many courses guarantees them to get to this point of the continuum. This is unfortunate, because none of the above, by itself, is strong enough to stop the continuous loop.

For an intermediate business analyst to be able to take his/her career to the next level requires a certain level of self-awareness and influence leadership, which is crucial for navigating the corporate jungle. At the center of this self-awareness are three spheres that you always need to keep in check. This will ensure that you are on your path to elevate your status from an intermediate to an influential senior business analyst, whose opinion is sought after. And together with influence leadership creates the momentum for transformation. The figure below is a pictorial view of these spheres.

In each of these three spheres you need to be purposeful in your thinking as part of self-awareness. Let’s discuss this further.

What you do (and how you do it)

It is normally said that we are what we consistently do – this is also applicable in the world of business analysts. There is a direct correlation between what we do (or how we carry ourselves) daily and how our stakeholders perceive us. Let us face it, people work well with people that they like. The notion of ‘we do not have to be friends, because we are here to work’ is a fallacy in our world, especially because we deliver through others.

If you are serious about making a career progression as an intermediate business analyst, you might have to make deliberate and concerted efforts to build and strengthen the relationship you have with your stakeholders. It may not necessarily be friendship-like relationship (actually, it should not necessarily be), but it should be amiable, pleasant and sincere. I remember how in my previous organisation our development team would always make a plan to work on the requirements from my business analysts team, even if they had a lot of their plate, simply because of the amiable relationship I had developed and nurtured with them. Never underestimate the power of building good relationships.

Your stakeholders need to know that they can rely on you, depend on you, and trust you. This is achievable if you consistent with keeping your promises, no matter how small they might be. Any promise made is equivalent to a contract to deliver something. If not kept, your credibility in the eyes of your stakeholders starts to diminish.

The responsibility of being liked by your stakeholders rests squarely on your shoulders. It is determined by what you do or do not do. Do not be fooled by the fact that stakeholders might still work with you even if you are unpleasant. I assure you - they will frustrate you at the first chance they get or penalize you at the first slip up you make, purely because you are an unpleasant intermediate business analyst in their space.

It is judicious to acknowledge that the things you do or how you behave inadvertently set the tone of how you engage and come across to your stakeholders and how they perceive you. Be prudent, always, and look out for the manifestation of your behavioural traits in the following points:

  • verbal language (the words we choose to use),
  • non-verbal language (body language, which gives us away),
  • promptness and the sense of urgency (or lack thereof),
  • attitude (which attracts or alienates your team members and/or stakeholders),
  • willingness to mentor and/or coach others (or lack thereof),
  • contribution to the ambience in the room (through the positive or negative energy)
  • role in exacerbating or curbing the spread of office politics,
  • contribution or lack thereof to business conversations (how else are your stakeholders going to know your thinking if you do not share it in the right forums),
  • level of intrinsic motivation and how it comes out to the team,

While some of these behavioural expectations may be explicitly stated in some team values document(s) or spoken about, some are not written down anywhere. However, they are the lenses through which others experience and measure you. Thus it is important to develop self-awareness in this – as it might be an area that is holding you back from finally making the grade and be seen as the senior business analyst that your business stakeholders can look up to for guidance on strategic matters.

What you know (and how you show it)

This aspect relates to your technical depth. This is where continuous development in your career always plays a crucial role. You cannot expect to progress in your career if you are complacent and not willing to keep yourself abreast with the developments in business analysis. As things are changing around us, so is the role of a business analyst – which is also undergoing a huge metamorphosis. Technical skills are the foundation on which your ability to be effective in what you do rest. But the technical skills cannot be applied in isolation – they are applied within a business context. The true value of a business analyst extends beyond being able to elicit requirements, facilitate JAD sessions or other workshops, draw UML diagrams.

It also encompasses mastering the business domain knowledge. It is your responsibility as an intermediate business analyst to demonstrate that you have acquired enough business knowledge and synthensized various aspects of this knowledge to end up with a solid understanding of what your business stakeholders worry about, what drives sales for them, what exposes them to risks, what creates customer stickiness and what steps they can take to solve business challenges they face on daily basis. How else can you move from an intermediate business analyst to a strategic partner to your business stakeholders if you have not convinced your business stakeholders that you have mastered what matters to them – their business (both at an operational and strategic level).

For instance, if you an intermediate business analyst working in the financial markets, what will elevate your status in the eyes of your business stakeholders is you demonstrating that you have become well acquainted with the concepts in this space, and how they are related to and influence each other as well as all other related business pertinent factors. The same applies to an intermediate business analyst who is in the logistics business, cloud computing space, digital marketing, regulatory and compliance, etc. You cannot add strategic value to your business stakeholders until you show a good understanding of the dynamics at play within their businesses. This cannot be achieved without getting your hands dirty and understanding the business model, the market share, the operating model, the core concepts and other related drivers.

What tends to happen in this situation is that, a deeply knowledgeable business analyst, shoots himself or herself in the foot by being too timid. They tend to remain too reserved and less proactive when in meetings with business stakeholders. As a result, the depth of what they know tends to only come to the fore when they are probed or working with someone who are they extremely comfortable with. If you are one of those intermediate business analysts who doubt themselves, you are not doing yourself any good. It is only when you speak up that your business stakeholders can develop insights into what you know. And based on that, they can make an informed opinion about your suitability for that advisory role that they are always seeking and hoping to find in business analysts.

What you deliver (and how it is received)

All of the above can easily remain a pie in the sky if you have nothing to show for, or if what you put on the table is of poor or sub-standard. No matter how good your people’s skills are and how well you understand the business world of your stakeholders, if you cannot deliver anything of value to them, you are living on borrowed time. Ultimately, helping your business stakeholders improve their sales, customer ratings, market share. This is where intermediate business analysts muddy the waters. They focus on the fact that they have been with in game for 5, 6 or 7 years and therefore entitled to be promoted to a role of senior business analysts, yet the quality of their work and the rate at which they deliver does not talk the same language as their expectations. They are still dependent on the product owner or business owner to push them, to point them in the right direction, to give them guidance on how to get things done. They still wait to be asked about the progress on their deliverables. Instead of them managing up, they are the ones who are still managed down. They cannot come up with a creative an innovative way of overcoming hurdles they encounter but expect to be told what to do next or how to resolve an impasse. They are not confident enough to starting mentoring junior business analysts who are joining their teams. They do not realise that, by mentoring others, they benefit more through numerous eureka moments that come their way while they are running with the mentorship process.

As an intermediate business analyst who is aspiring to be seen as someone who has come of age in your career, someone business stakeholders can use as a sounding board about the suitability of their concepts, you need to make sure that you do not trip on the quality, time and presentation of your deliverables. Professionalism is measured, inter alia, by how well your artefacts are put together. How well your presentations are prepared and carried through. It is measured by how well prepared you come across during your JAD sessions. The most embarrassing thing is for you as a business analyst to run a session for which you clearly under-prepared or not prepared at all. It also comes across as disrespectful to your audience. Ensure that your deliverables, apart from being on time, are free of grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. Always proofread your work before publishing or distributing it, and whenever possible (or necessary) ask your colleague to review it. This is not a sign of incompetence, but a sign of a professional intermediate business analyst who takes pride in their work.

Lastly, make sure that how you see yourself in terms of your output is in line with how your peers and your business stakeholders see you and the level of your delivery. You can achieve this by constantly seeking feedback – without waiting for formal performance review sessions. In this way you will be able to identify areas that you still need to work on. I am reminded of a business analyst who once worked in my team in previous organisation. I had employed him as a junior business analyst. The decision to bring him on board while he had no experience was because of the potential I had seen in him. He had a great attitude, positive energy and lots of enthusiasm. After a few years in the team, and by then he had established himself as an intermediate business analyst, he started thinking he was ready to be senior business analyst. I did not concur. This was because, on several occasions, I had to jump in to help him move forward in his projects – because he had ran out of ideas and impetus of how to move forward. He was not happy that I thought he was not ready yet (while he thought otherwise). In my experience, senior business analysts lead the way. They show those that are behind them how things are done. They help guide business on operational and strategic matters. Do you think you are ready to be at this level.

As you work on the above don’t forget to build your influential leadership to become that trusted advisor. Wrapped around the three spheres we talked about above are two influential leadership principles. Having a 360 view and being Intentional.

Have a 360 view

In the diagram below (From the Book Software Requirements (Developers Best Practice), 3rd Edition by Karl Weigers and Joy Beatty), we can see this central leader figure of what a business analysts’ role is in relationship to their stakeholders.

360 View of Business Analysis

John Maxwell in his book, The 360 degree leader, talks about developing this 360 model from where you are. Not waiting for when you are in a position of authority or influence.

From where you are now, as an intermediate business analyst, you can start to use the model above to build opportunities to influence and lead your stakeholders. This is where you start to display the characteristics of a senior business analyst. Understanding the needs of senior stakeholders, mentoring and coaching junior stakeholders, and supporting other stakeholders.

Be Intentional

We mentioned earlier about this transformation from intermediate to senior business analyst and how it requires conscious thought and effort to move through it. We also said that this change often happens as a result of this conscious effort and long before the title of senior business analyst follows.

“You don’t get an opportunity, you grow into an opportunity” – John Maxwell

The only reason someone is going to promote you is because you have grown to accept more responsibility.

We talked about the 360 view above and now it’s time to be intentional about what you know, what you do, and what you deliver to each of these stakeholders above.

There are two traps to be aware of while you are growing into the senior business analyst role

Firstly, assumptions. Don’t assume that you are ready. Don’t assume that you deserve the position. Nothing is guaranteed in life. While you in the waiting lounge use the time to grow into the role that you are seeking. That goes for any promotion in life.

Secondly, don’t stall now. Why do people often not start something? Because the challenge and the fear of the challenge is too much for them. They miss the point that anything good and worth it in this life begins with a challenge.


Authors: Paul Benn and Edward Ngubane

Paul Benn, Consultant for Redvespa

Paul is a Business Consultant for Redvespa in New Zealand and is the current VP of Marketing and Communications for the IIBA New Zealand Chapter.

He is a pragmatic business analyst with 25 years’ business and systems experience within multiple different industries in New Zealand and South Africa.

His passion is for business analysis and mastering his craft continuously. Believes in continual growth. He is also passionate about coaching and mentoring other business analysts to be better at their craft. Outside of business analysis he likes to refer to himself as an "Altitude Facilitator" working people to grow and reach new heights through a holistic view.

Paul has played the role of business consultant, business analyst, systems analyst, and test analyst, mentor and team leader. He has worked in both Agile and waterfall methodologies and has his IIBA Agile certification and IIBA Certified Business Analysis Professional certification.

INDUSTRY EXPERIENCE: Regional NZ Government, Government services (Fire and Emergency and Kainga Ora, Financial Services (Banking, Wealth Management and Banking), NZDF, District Health Board, Health and Safety, Ministry of Justice.

Paul Benn
VP Marketing and Communications
IIBA New Zealand Chapter

Email: marketing@newzealand.iiba.org
Mobile: +64 (0) 27 234 3420
Website: www.newzealand.iiba.org

The New Zealand Chapter has regular meetings in Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington. We'd love to see you there. You can register for event notifications at - Auckland | Christchurch | Dunedin | Wellington.

Follow us on our social media channels for regular updates on upcoming events - Facebook | LinkedIn Group | Twitter | YouTube.

Edward Ngubane, Head of Business Analysis, DVT

Edward Ngubane, the current Head of Business Analysis at DVT, started his career as a mathematics teacher at Senaoane Sec School in Soweto. He has been in the IT industry for almost 20 years, and worked for the following companies: Telkom SA, Investec, BMW Financial Services, Wesbank and FNB (Online Banking and eWallet Solutions). He has held numerous positions, viz:- Systems Developer, Systems Analyst, Business Analyst, Product Development Manager, Business Analyst Manager, Head of PMO, Practice Lead (Business Analysis and Architecture), Practice Manager.

He has setup and ran BA CoP’s (Community of Practice), developed and mentored a number of business analysts and published papers on the business analysis discipline. Over the years he has received numerous awards, and is passionate about the business analysis domain.

He holds five degrees, two of which are at the Masters level – the M.Ed (Maths Education) and the MBA (Cum Laude) – both from the University of the Witwatersrand. The title of his dissertation for his M.Ed was ‘What are links between a teacher’s views of mathematics and his/her classroom practices’. And the title for his MBA dissertation was ‘Managing IT Knowledge workers within South African Financial Industry’.

He is currently doing his PhD (part-time) at the University of the Witwatersrand, and is a recipient of a Post Graduate Merit Award. His thesis is on the ‘The development and sustainability of SMME’s through Cloud Computing in South Africa’. He is the former Secretary and Treasurer of the IIBA-SA, and is currently the President of the same organisation.

Contact details:
Edward Mzwandile Ngubane
DVT (https://dvt.co.za/))
Head of Business Analysis : Gauteng, South Africa
Business Enablement Division
Mobile +27 (82) 851 3638
engubane@jhb.dvt.co.za

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Featured
Aug 09, 2020
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LorenzoSalzano posted on Monday, September 14, 2020 5:28 AM
An excellent article full of insight.
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