No question is more ripe for debate than “What is a business analyst?” While I contend we’ve been doing business analysis since the very first human organizations were consciously formed, business analysis as a formal profession has emerged much more recently.
The first place to start looking for a definition of business analysis is to the primary professional organization—the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA). IIBA defines business analysis in the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge as follows:
Business analysis is the set of tasks and techniques used to work as a liaison among stakeholders in order to understand the structure, policies, and operations of an organization, and to recommend solutions that enable the organization to achieve its goals.
This definition can seem overwhelming. Let’s focus on three essential elements.
#1: The BA Is a Liaison
The BA is a classic in-between role—not to be confused with a go-between role. At our best, business analysts engender collaboration among diverse members of a cross-functional team involving various departments within the organization and levels in the organizational hierarchy.
As Doug Goldberg wrote in “Us Against Them,” whether you are an IT-side analyst or a business-side analyst, you have the responsibility to reach across the proverbial reporting-structure fence to “bridge gaps by exposing differences with explanation and facilitation, fostering constructive dialog and collaboration, and breaking down barriers to success.”
#2: The BA Understands
One of the most critical business analyst skills is the ability to listen. Good listening—along with critical thinking and analysis—leads to deep understanding. Over the course of a project or organizational tenure, a BA comes to understand everything there is to know about the organization, how it does business, and the environment in which it does business. Depending on the context of the BA’s role, this understanding can be high level, or it can go deep.
In “What Is Our Purpose?” David Morris identifies four categories of understanding that can be emphasized in any given role:
- Enterprise analysis
- Business architecture
- Process improvement
- Systems analysis
While some business analysts look at the strategic business needs, others look at the entire architecture of the business. Still others focus more granularly on specific process or system improvements.
#3: The BA Recommends Solutions
We often hear about how business analysts are problem solvers. And, that’s definitely true. But the difference between a BA and, say, a software developer is that while a software developer is most often found implementing the solution to the problem, the focus of the BA’s work is making a recommendation that is accepted for implementation. This recommendation often comes after copious analysis of the actual problem—something we might learn from Jerry Weinberg’s Are Your Lights On?— and a deep understanding of the possible solutions.
By looking at the essence of business analysis, it’s easy to see how so many diverse job roles can be rightly labeled with the title of “business analyst.” Within the scope of the role, there is a lot of opportunity and definitely a bit of ambiguity.
What do you see as the essential elements of business analysis?
Laura Brandenburg, CBAP, has more than ten years of experience as a business analyst. She is the author of How to Start a Business Analyst Career and Professional Development for Business Analysts. Laura’s current work is dedicated to helping aspiring and new business analysts solidify their careers. Interested in learning more? Join us at Bridging the Gap.