One of the problems Business Analysts always ask me is this: “Where am I headed with this BA job? I can’t be a BA forever!”
To re-phrase, what they’re asking is essentially: “What is the career path of a Business Analyst?“
That’s a very common question which my juniors and also visitors to this website ask me about.
To make matters worse, there are very few resources out there that tell you what a Business Analyst can become.
I think the IT industry is very skewed towards Project Managers – I mean, there are tons of resources for PMs and what paths they can pursue.
But for Business Analysts, the information is very scarce.
That’s the purpose of this article – I want to list down some options with regards to the career path for a Business Analyst.
Those among you who are struggling with the future of your BA role will appreciate the insights I’m about to reveal below. So read on and find out more!
1. Become A Senior Business Analyst
One of the more obvious career paths of a Business Analyst is to become a Senior BA.
There are a lot of such BAs working in e.g. banks, insurance companies and other institutions.
Senior Business Analysts are well respected because they typically know three things very well.
They understand the industry. First, they understand a particular industry well. If he or she is in banking, you can be sure they understand banking operations like trading, investment advice, compliance, etc.
They have in-depth solution knowledge. Second, they tend to also have been exposed to the deep end of specific solution areas, e.g. a particular technology platform or package (like Temenos for banks), Data & Analytics methodologies it cost optimization strategies.
They have top-notch communication skills. Third, they are very comfortable with interacting with senior stakeholders. They can articulate messages to the C-Level suite with ease and clarity.
Another point about Senior Business Analysts is that they can get paid quite well (check out my article here).
This is especially the case if they have specific skill sets which are in high demand in the market.
In banking, for example, some of the most highly paid Business Analysts are those specializing in regulatory compliance.
If you have skills in e.g. the Basel accord, MiFID, CRS, or whatever the latest and greatest regulatory requirement is, you’re pretty wel set for a lucrative BA career in a bank.
If you’re interested in a Senior Business Analyst role, one of the best things you can do is to up skill yourself in a specific industry.
2. Become A Project Manager
Over the years, I’ve found that many Business Analysts confused about their career path eventually go on to become Project Managers.
If you think about it, many of the skill sets that a BA employs (e.g. communication, stakeholders management, thinking in terms of business outcomes) are also skill sets needed by PMs.
Project Management is a slightly different beast from Business Analysis though.
In project management, you do need to be a lot tougher on stakeholders and your team.
If something is about to slip against your timeline, the persons responsible need to highlight the slip to you and explain how they can recover and get back on track.
That sometimes means some tough messaging and deliberations are required – things which a PM must do well.
In my view, many BAs may struggle with project management duties if and when they transition to being a Project Manager.
And here’s the thing …
In many of the cases I’ve seen, it’s usually because the PM is not “tough enough”. To be a strong PM, you must be ready to challenge or even sometimes argue your way through negotiations.
If you’re interested in project management, I’d suggest you read up on some of its fundamentals, which I’ve laid out here.
Also, here are some important Project Manager skill sets you need to master to become successful.
3. Become A Management Consultant
A Business Analyst has many of the skill sets required to transition to a management consultant.
I’m talking about business cases, quantification of business value, definition of transformational initiatives, senior stakeholder management and strategy.
So management consulting is a very viable career path for a Business Analyst.
Management consultants come in different flavors:
- You have the strategy consultants (e.g. McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group, Bain & Company).
- You have the operational consultants (e.g. the Big Four like PwC, Deloitte, EY, KPMG).
- You also have the IT consultancies (e.g. IBM and Accenture) who do some form of technology related management consulting.
Any of these roles can be filled by Business Analysts. And remember – these companies pay very well, particularly at the Senior Manager, Director or Partner levels.
It is important to note that management consulting has pros and cons.
Lets talk about the pros first.
In a management consulting firm, you get interesting projects, perks like travel and air miles, as well as (pretty) high pay compared to the market.
Management consulting is also deemed as “prestigious” in some circles. You get to talk to senior C-level executives and give them “trusted advice. Something you can’t easily do if you’re in a operational role in an end-user environment.
However, management consulting has its cons and downsides too.
For example, it is well known that management consultants work long hours. This is true, but I also see this trend changing.
These days, the consulting firms believe more in work-life balance (as it’s REALLY important to the younger generation of workers).
Trust me, I know because I currently work in a management consulting firm.
If you’re interested in management consulting, you can check out some articles I’ve written over here.
In addition, my guide book on Banking Domain Knowledge would be of interest, particularly to those who are interested in doing management consulting for banks.
4. Become A Chief Operations Officer
You may think it’s impossible, but I can tell you that many Business Analysts go on to hold very senior positions in end user environments.
An “end user” environment refers to e.g. a bank, insurance company, etc. where you work in a role (e.g. Operations Officer, Credit Officer, Settlements Team Lead), as opposed to being a consultant or vendor.
I’ll tell you why Business Analysts are well placed to jump start their career in the end user environment.
For one thing – they have excellent communication skills. Remember, a BA knows how to manage and communicate expectations to stakeholders of a project.
This is one of THE most important aspects of successful project delivery.
If you master the art of communication to your stakeholders, your project has a MUCH larger chance of success.
Business Analysts know how to do that – so that places them in good stead to excel in line roles, e.g. Chief Operations Officer, Chief Technology Officer come to mind.
Business Analysts also have a very good grasp of Operations and IT concepts.
They absolutely KNOW how to solve Operations and IT problems in the context of an organization.
That gives them tremendous credibility as most organizations need a strong back-office (i.e. Operations and IT) to survive and thrive.
One of the useful things you can do to improve your chances of becoming a senior level person in an end user environment is to truly UNDERSTAND the business.
For example, if you’re a Business Analyst in banking, then you need to make absolutely sure you understand a broad swathe of banking concepts and not embarrass yourself by saying the wrong things to your stakeholders.
Go take a short course to learn about the specific industry you’re in – be that banking, insurance, healthcare or so forth – it’ll do you a ton of good (those interested in banking, I’ve got a good guide book here that teaches you about banking).
5. Become An Entrepreneur
Of course, yet another career path for a Business Analyst is entrepreneurship.
It’s easy to say “start your own firm” – but I typically would only recommend it if you have a unique value proposition to sell to the market.
Again, one of the key value propositions from a Business Analyst is the domain or solution he or she belongs to.
This is important – if you have only a generic skill set, e.g. you know about communication techniques and try to sell that expertise to the market, you can be sure there’s going to be quite a bit of competition.
However, if you have a deep area of expertise like regulatory compliance (an example would be investment suitability processes for Private Banks) – gosh, THAT will sell very well in the market.
Trust me, I’ve been in consulting long enough to know that large firms like McKinsey or PwC will charge clients an arm and a foot to get “advice” on e.g. regulations.
Start your own firm, display your credentials and provide more value to the market!
But truth be told …
Entrepreneurship is not for everyone.
However, those who get it right will find a lot of joy and fulfillment.
If you have an entrepreneurial bug hitting you, I say go forth and explore the option.
Just make sure you have the value proposition and skill set to make a difference in the market.
For more tips on starting your own business, you can check out this excellent resource (I learnt a lot from it).
In closing, if you’re still wondering what is the career path for a Business Analyst, the answer is that is really WIDE OPEN.
If you’re a Business Analyst, good for you! You have a ton of choices on what you can do after a number of years in the profession.
For those of you who are more inclined to continue in the Business and IT project delivery scene, I’d say becoming a Senior Business Analyst, Project Manager or Management Consultant is a very natural progression for your career.
You get to leverage on the skill sets you already know from your work as a BA, and you can start getting deeper domain or solution skills on top of that.
If you’re thinking of switching to different career path, do consider executive positions in an end user environment.
The stuff I mentioned about Chief Operations Officer or Chief Technology Officer above makes very good sense.
The hours in an end user environment is usually better (I say “usually” because in some places it can get quite busy too).
But you typically can get a jump in pay and also responsibility.
Of course, the entrepreneurship route is always open – if you’ve been wanting to start out on your own for some time – I say do go for it!
Those of you who wish to find out more about the Business Analyst profession make wish to check out my book, “How To Start A Business Analyst Career“.
You can also read more about Business Analysis in my blog here.