Business Analysis – required skills and knowledge

The opinions on skills set and knowledge required in Business Analysis domain are quite divided. Some people emphasize good interpersonal and communication skills as vital. Others are more prone to state that the key is theoretical knowledge and proficient use of terminology. Yet another approach is that the knowledge of selected techniques of Business Analysis and ability to create models using formal notation is essential.

The fact is that there is no one, universal skill set which every Business Analyst should attain, to be able to perform the role successfully. The desired competencies differ depending on the specific project and particular role the Business Analyst plays in it. A different skill set is required of an analyst working directly with development team, while a different one is expected when working on high level requirements within an extended delivery timeframe.

Taking the above statements in consideration, I will however try to put together my subjective view on knowledge and skills which are useful in Business Analysis, especially from the perspective of the IT industry. Obviously, not all of them are applicable in every project or to any situation, but to be able to comfortably move around in the world of Business Analysis, it is advisable to acquire most of them.

Skills useful in Business Analysis

Note: The list below is set in no particular order and it should not be treated as a ranking

Theoretical knowledge

Even though some people think otherwise, knowing the appropriate terminology, rules or best practices is essential. These elements create a communication structure and are a base to move around the Business Analysis domain. They also allow to consciously use the experience of others and, what is maybe more important, to avoid commonly made mistakes. It is worth to familiarize yourself with Business Analysis standards defined by IIBA (International Institute of Business Analysis) and IREB (International Requirements Engineering Board). It is also good to read the industry publications, papers and articles. In short, a certain level of theoretical knowledge cannot be avoided.

Knowledge of techniques

To reach a goal, regardless of the project’s stage or its domain, a Business Analyst uses specific techniques. Of course, each one of them has a different purpose, advantages and limitations. But knowing many techniques enables an analyst to select the most appropriate one considering the project’s goal and its specific conditions, instead of being limited to only one known. When speaking of techniques, I refer to ways the requirements are collected and described, analyzed, updated and maintained. Useful techniques are also those centered around effective group cooperation, communication and developing common understanding of needs, requirements and proposed solutions. The techniques worth knowing are, for example, User Story, Use Case, creating Glossaries, Backlog Maintenance, Workshops, Interviews, Prototyping and many others.

A great compendium describing many techniques (50 in version 3) is BABOK (Business Analysis Body of Knowledge).

Creating models and knowledge of formal notation

In my view, an essential skill that every Business Analyst ought to have is the ability to create models. In other words, the ability to model processes, data, states, etc.

Most popular modeling notations used in Business Analysis are BPMN (Business Process Model and Notation) and UML (Unified Modeling Language). They offer many options to advanced users on one hand, providing a relatively low entry threshold for beginners, on the other. This means that it is easy to learn the basics, and when needed, use more advanced characteristics and applications.

Knowing the software development methodology

Usually, software is developed using a particular methodology. Often it is one of the agile methodologies (Agile, Adaptive) such as Scrum or Kanban. There are also products developed according to traditional methodology (Predictive), for example, the Waterfall model. There are the hybrid methodologies as well. A professional and successful Business Analyst should know and understand foundations of different methods, along with their advantages and weak points.

UX knowledge

Some of the requirements are best depicted in form of a mock-up user interface. To be able to prepare and present them properly some basic knowledge of the UX (User Experience) area is required.

Logical and analytical thinking, effective knowledge absorption

It seems obvious that a Business Analyst must display the above mentioned skills as the core of the analyst’s work is acquiring, analyzing and later synthesizing large quantities of information.

Interpersonal skills

The majority of Business Analyst’s work revolves around the cooperation with stakeholders. This means plenty of interactions, both, with different individuals, as well as with groups. It is therefore essential to have strong communication skills, be able to work with a group of people and manage a team. At some point, ability to resolve conflicts might also prove to be of the essence.

Knowing the tools

An Analyst uses different tools for their daily work. Tools are used to manage the requirements, organize previously collected information, ensure efficient communication, create diagrams or user interface mock-ups, etc. It is essential to know your tools to be able to select the most appropriate ones, adapted for a particular goal you want to achieve.

Business knowledge

An important factor influencing the quality of a Business Analyst’s work is the level of the business domain knowledge. On the course of his or hers career an Analyst participates in different projects, pertaining various subjects and industries. Therefore, the ability of absorbing business knowledge is vital.

As stated in the beginning, this is my subjective view on the subject, and in no way a complete list of skills useful for Business Analysis.

My recommendations

  • If you plan a career as a Business Analyst, try to gather the skills in most of the mentioned areas
  • Learn continuously to develop your knowledge and skills
  • When starting a new project in an industry you are not very familiar with, spend some time to learn the terminology and read the industry publications