Hi there, many of my readers here on this blog have asked me this question:
“How do you become a Business Analyst in the IT field?”
It’s a great question and one that I’d be uniquely positioned to answer, given that I’ve worked as Business Analyst early in my career.
In fact, I still do some aspects of BA work today in my role as a management consultant.
The thing is, if you want to become a Business Analyst in the IT field, it’s important to understand what the pre-requisites are.
There are skills, knowledge and also requirements for a BA career that you should understand so you can better position yourself for such a role.
There are many ways we can approach such a topic.
In this article, I suggest we look at how you can become an IT Business Analyst by looking at my “Three-Stage Business Analyst Career Model”, as illustrated in the diagram below.
1. My Three-Stage Business Analyst Career Model (Insert Pic)
Ok, so first up, let’s try to get an overview of my perspective on a Business Analyst’s career.
I believe that a BA career essentially goes through three stages, as shown in the diagram.
Stage 1: Aspiring Business Analyst. In this stage, you’re just beginning to take an interest in Business Analyst work. Perhaps you’ve seen some interesting projects that BAs do and wonder if you could break into such a role. You probably already have some years of experience in another field, e.g. Finance, HR, IT and are a technical expert.
Stage 2: Junior Business Analyst. The second stage is that of a Junior Business Analyst. As a junior BA, you’ve already secured a BA job and are starting to learn the ropes. You probably understand a bit about formal BA techniques, e.g. requirements gathering, functional specifications, use cases, agile and Scrum, as well as business process mapping or re-engineering.Case
Stage 3: Senior Business Analyst. In the third stage, you’ve already seen through many projects as a BA and are considered a “veteran”. Business Analysts at this stage are typically senior (and highly paid) with very strong communication and stakeholder management skills. You also have deeper industry and solution skills, e..g. in banking, insurance, healthcare, or areas like IT architecture, data analytics, etc.
Let’s now look at each stage of my model in detail.
Stage 1: Aspiring Business Analyst
For those at the Aspiring Business Analyst stage, you may be a Finance, HR or IT employee in an organization.
You’ve seen some of the Business Analyst in your firm do some interesting work and you want to try out what they do.
The problem is, very often you’re in a technical role and have no idea how to “break into” BA work.
In this section, let’s discuss three tips on how you can anchor yourself and secure a BA role of your choice.
Tip 1: Understand Why You Want To Be A Business Analyst
I can understand the allure of a Business Analyst job.
There are at least three reasons why many aspire to be a Business Analyst.
First, there’s the opportunity to interact with users and stakeholders to discuss industry and business topics. This is much more interesting to some folks than running a script in the application or database server.
It’s more interesting than reconciling financial figures in your accounting system against transactions that occurred for the day.
Second, there’s also the opportunity to travel.
If you’re involved in a large IT implementation project (e.g. core banking), as a Business Analyst, you may get to be trained in the software being delivered.
And that usually means (project budget allowing) traveling to a “training centre” in some exciting place like Barcelona, Madrid, Copenhagen, etc.
Third, the fact that you speak with the “business” a lot, means that you get to network with the business too.
I’ve seen many BAs go on to become COOs or even CEOs because of the important stakeholders they get to know over the course of running projects.
Tip 2: Beef Up Your Business Analyst Skills
For those interested in a BA career in the IT field, I’d say you need to pick up some core skills.
Some of the IT Business Analyst skills in demand are:
- Communication and Stakeholder Management Skills
- Industry Skills, e.g. banking, insurance, healthcare, telecommunications, energy, government
- Solution Skills, e.g. business software solutions (e.g. core banking and insurance, treasury, risk management and payment systems), big data and analytics, Robotic Process Automation (RPA), blockchain, machine learning, etc.
Now, as someone new to IT BA work, it would be difficult to get up to speed on the knowledge areas above.
My suggestion is for you to learn the above “on-the-job”.
Take for example someone working as a IT Developer in a firm.
Maybe you’re in charge of developing reports and scripts for Business Users in a bank.
Now, you should realize you actually know more about IT Business Analysis than a LOT of people!
You understand how to gather user requirements.
You understand how to do testing.
And importantly, you also understand the domain and IT solution you’re working on.
What then is missing, is your simple motivation to put your hand up and say you want to do more Business Analyst work.
Do more facilitation and meeting of users to understand and document their requirements.
THAT is the way to pick up BA skills on the job and move yourself towards your desired BA role.
As an other example, say you’re working in the Finance department and you’re in charge of financial book closure and reconciliations.
If there’s a major IT transformation project that requires you (the Finance domain expert) to perform e.g. User Acceptance Testing (UAT), put your hand up for it!
Many folks will not do this because they think “project work” is over and above their day job.
Well, I don’t think so.
If you put your hand up to be a Requirements or Test Lead for a major IT project in your firm, you not only get the opportunity to learn all the skills I mentioned above, you also gain credibility and recognition from management.
Of course, I’d caveat that you need to do a good job. If you put you hand up to run UAT, make sure you do it well (and not botch it up).
There are other ways you may choose to beef up your Business Analyst skills too.
For example, you may choose to attend some Business Analyst certification courses, or read up on Business Analyst guide books.
Tip 3: Leverage On Your Network
Don’t underestimate the power of your informal networks.
If you work in HR, for example, speak to your boss or someone in another department about how you can break into a BA role.
Perhaps your boss in HR had heard from the Head of IT or Operations that they need to fill up three Business Analyst slots for an upcoming project.
Perhaps another project is shorthanded already and they need a HR domain expert to fill in a BA role.
Talk to the folks you know and avoid formal job listings or posts.
You’d be surprised to find that referrals and informal networks will get you faster and better results as you journey towards a BA career.
Stage 2: Junior Business Analyst
Those folks in the Junior Business Analyst stage would already have recently secured a job as a BA.
The trouble is, most BAs land in their role with very little clue on the big picture, or how to become better at their job.
So here are a few tips for those BAs in the Junior Business Analyst stage.
Tip 1: Gain A Firm Footing In Your BA Role First
As a Junior Business Analyst, your roles and responsibilities can be pretty overwhelming.
You need to manage a quite a number of stakeholders, skill up on fundamental BA techniques and tools.
And importantly, you need to work well with a huge set of business users.
My suggestion to BAs who are just starting out is always this:
Establish a firm footing in your role first.
Don’t try to overstretch yourself and do all sorts of things.
What does establishing a “firm footing” mean?
Well, it means:
- Managing your external and internal stakeholders
- Picking up fundamental, must-have BA skills
- Developing a game plan for your BA career growth
Let’s look at each of these points briefly.
First, as a new BA, remember you have external and internal stakeholders to manage.
When I say “external” it means your end clients. For example, if you’re an IT consultant, your external stakeholders could be your Business users. Internal stakeholders could be your Project Sponsor, or the “insiders” who know and support your project.
The second thing is that you have a set of “must-have” BA skills to pick up.
Things like requirements methodologies, project delivery (agile or waterfall), testing techniques and so forth. You need these to be under you belt so you can be an effective BA.
The third point is to start a game plan for developing your BA career.
And this is so important …
I often see BAs burying themselves into the job (and enjoying it immensely).
But then they forget about developing their career and wonder why other (less analytical and less capable) folks get promoted to more meaty roles.
Always try to draw out a BA career path so that you know where you’re headed over the next few years.
It’ll definitely benefit you over the long term.
Tip 2: Add Value As A Business Analyst
When I say “add value” as a BA, I mean that you need to stand out above the other BAs or project resources around you.
Go the extra mile.
Think from your stakeholders’ perspective.
What do they care about?
For Business users, they may want a system to save them time in their day to day tasks.
They may want the system to be more intuitive and user-friendly.
But as BAs, we also need to balance user requests with project budget and scope.
So help them think of innovative ways to solve their problems.
For example, say a business user wants a Treasury system to capture derivative transactions, but it entails a lot of customization to the base system.
What do you do as a BA?
Well, I’d ask the user what’s the volume of transactions. If the derivatives are only transacted say once a month, those low volumes may not justify the system enhancement cost.
But if the derivatives are transacted every day, then yes, perhaps the time and cost savings for the business user may justify the system enhancement spend.
That is the kind of value added thinking we need to have as BAs.
But quite frankly …
Not many BAs think in this way.
Many, many BAs just capture the requirements as is.
And in the example above, the project would suffer because implementing something that has very low volumes each month will mean your Return-On-Investment (ROI) on the platform is very low indeed.
Tip 3: Start To Lead Teams
As a Junior BA, one of the things u encourage you to do is to step up and lead a team.
Senior management folks aren’t stupid.
They see things.
They like to see proactive mindsets, initiative and a good teaming spirit amongst their juniors.
As a junior BA, if you take the initiative to step up, lead and do good things for the end user and project, you can be sure your efforts won’t go unnoticed.
What I’m trying to convey to you is this …
Leading a team creates visibility for you.
And if there’s one thing high performers have in an organization, it’s visibility.
Again, I caveat that you need to lead teams effectively. Make sure you do a good job, encouraging and spurring your team to action as is required.
Leading teams through fear and menace, or worse, bullying tactics – simply does not get you anywhere.
Worse, your team members will start quitting and you’re left to do the job on your own.
Stage 3: Senior Business Analyst
Let’s move on to Stage 3, where you’ve progressed to the Senior BA level.
At this stage of your BA career, it’s less about executing technical solutions.
In fact, a Senior BA should focus on the following:
- Think of Business Value
- Focus On Industry and Solution Skills
- Develop Thought Leadership
Let me touch on these points one at a time.
Tip 1: Think of Business Value
As a Senior BA, one of the most important tenets you must rely on is a relentless focus on Business Value.
I’ve seen many IT Business analysts who come into senior management meetings, going on about the latest Big Data, DevOps, “two speed IT cloud architectures” and what have you.
A room full of senior executives who stare at the BA blankly and wonder what they’re talking about.
You see, one of the most important things a Senior BA must do is to think in terms of Business Value.
There’s absolutely nothing else more important in an IT project.
If you’re a Business Analyst in the IT field, this is something you have to learn over time.
Senior Business Analysts (the good ones) – always get it.
They think, it we implement this project or this solution, or if we choose this path in the IT project – what does it mean for the business? What revenue uptick or cost savings do we gain for the firm?
Thinking in this way aligns with your senior stakeholders and gains you a lot of credibility.
Tip 2: Focus On Industry and Solution Skills
The second most important tip for those Business Analysts who have progressed to a senior level … is to focus on their industry and solution skills.
Now, sad to say, the days of relying on “pure, generic” BA skills like business process re-engineering, use cases, data modeling, etc. are complete over.
These days, if you step into a meeting saying you’ll do business process re-engineering, I’ll bet you some senior stakeholder is going to tell you squarely in the face “we don’t need that kind of skill”.
What is in demand (and sorely needed) in the industry are …
Industry and solution skills.
I’ve talked about these many times in this blog, and I’ll stress it again here.
Industry skills – the ability to understand e.g. the market in which you’re implementing the IT solution, be it banking, insurance, healthcare, etc. is very important.
If you have those industry skills, your stakeholders will hold you in higher regard …
Because you speak their business language.
Case Study. I was once in a meeting with some Private Banking Operations staff, trying to gather requirements for the product module in a private banking IT system. The five of them gave me dubious looks, as if they were questioning if I really understood their business and private banking.
Thankfully, I had my Masters in Financial Engineering done the year before.
I started to share the mechanics of some of the private banking products these Operations staff deal with day to day, e.g. FX options, dual currency deposits, mutual funds and accumluators / decummulators.
What happened then?
Their faces changed completely.
They started nodding and agreeing with what I said.
They shared all the pain points they had in operations and we had a very fruitful session discussing how the new private banking system would solve their operational headaches.
So, the key takeaway here is …
Industry skills matter.
Don’t believe what others say … they matter and the job boards and Business Analyst marketplace proves it to be true.
By the way, those of you who are interested in structured products, please read my in-depth article here.
Also, besides industry skills – there are the solution skills.
Take two prime examples – data analytics and credit risk management.
Perhaps you’ve well versed in data analytics and have no problems grasping terms like Big Data, Hadoop, Cloudera, Apache Spark, micro services, etc.
You’ll be well placed to play a BA role when gathering requirements related to these topics.
Similarly, if you’ve implemented credit risk systems before, that solution knowledge will become SO important when you gather requirements for a new credit risk system roll-out for your users.
The net of it is this … industry and solution skills are a must in this day and age for a Business Analyst to survive in the IT field.
By the way, if you work in the banking industry and wish to pick up more skills in the banking domain, do check out my guide book here.
Tip 3: Develop Thought Leadership
Ok, the final word here concerning Senior Business Analysts.
If you’re in a senior business analysis role, it is important for you to develop and get involved in thought leadership.
The word “thought leadership” is a little overused, but it simply means knowledge or facts which you provide to others, based on your unique talent, experience and passion.
You MUST focus on thought leadership – writing articles in your LinkedIn account, speaking or sharing at forums.
Why? Because senior stakeholders, whom Senior BAs deal with on a regular basis, LIKE to hear thought leadership.
They want to know the latest trends, thoughts and key concerns surrounding some interest area of theirs.
And we offer our unique views as to what action steps our clients can take.Off of these we also organize breakfast meetings, seminars and forums which our clients can attend and discuss the latest happenings in their industry.Clients love this sharing and engagement and it does wonders for our business development.Even if you’re not in a client-facing role, you can produce thought leadership as an IT Business Analyst and publish it on LinkedIn or internal newsletters.Remember what I mentioned above visbility.The more thought leadership you produce, the more visible you become in your firm or amongst your clients.
And that visibility is ALWAYS a good thing.
I hope the above has given you some great insight into how you can become a Business Analyst in the IT field.
We looked at my Three-Stage Business Analyst Career Model, which broke up your journey as a BA into three stages.
In Stage 1, you’re an aspiring BA who is just starting to get interested in BA work. You should leverage the existing expertise you have (e.g. in Finance, HR or IT) and use that to break into a BA role.
We looked at Stage 2 where you become a Junior Business Analyst and start to gain some of the formal BA techniques around requirements gathering, functional specifications, use cases, agile and business process re-engineering.
Finally, we looked at Stage 3 where you become a full-fledged, veteran Senior Business Analyst. This is where you become a thought leader and have very strong communication, stakeholder management, as well as industry and solution skills.
And the important thing to remember is …
Regardless of which stage you’re in, there are concrete actions you can (and should) take to move yourself further along the BA career path.
Business Analysis is a fantastic career option for folks who like to meet business users and solve problems.
There are many entry pathways into such a career, and I hope the above helps you understand how you can position yourself to break into a good Business Analyst role.
Until next time, have fun doing business analysis and all the best in your BA career!
By the way, if you’re interested in starting a Business Analyst career, do check out my article here.
Alternatively, if you want more guidance and tips, you can check out my book, How To Start A Business Analyst Career, which has a lot of information on the BA topics we just talked about.