The 7 Skills and Techniques of a Successful Business Analyst

“A Business Analyst is the bridge between Business and Technology. He is the person who acts as a liaison among stakeholders in order to perform certain set of business analysis tasks and activities. Therefore, it is very important for him to possess essential skills and techniques considered as his weapons to perform well in any environment and achieve a success story”

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Imagine it is your first day in a new job! The first thing you will do is to start exploring your surroundings from office logistics to your diverse group of colleagues. You will find some to be quiet ones who usually keep to themselves and only talk when asked. On the other hand, there are social ones; active, helpful in every way and always seeking to solve everyone’s problems, they ask a lot yet listen more. By nature, you will choose one of them to start a little chat to try to figure out how things work in the new place and will approach him for consultation. Over time this guy will make you feel like he is more a friend rather than a colleague and without him your problems can never be solved.  Welcome to the awesome club of business analysts!

A Business Analyst is the person who acts as a liaison among stakeholders in order to perform a certain set of business analysis tasks and activities. This includes understanding the structure, policies, operations of an organization, and the changes necessary for the business or software systems through eliciting, analyzing, and managing stakeholders’ requirements and then, communicating these requirements to the stakeholders in order to recommend solutions that enable the organization to achieve its goals.

“A Business Analyst is the bridge between Business and Technology.

There are essential skills and techniques that are considered perfect weapons for a successful business analyst:

1. The Power of Innovation

Thinking out of the box is essential but insufficient for unprecedented Business Analysts. If you are able to think innovatively and creatively to generate brilliant ideas to solve problems, then you are creative. However, you are also required to find new associations between existing ideas and concepts, in order to use the real power of innovation to be titled as a creative and analytical thinker.

2. Passion, Curiosity, and Behavioral Characteristics

Having the ability to establish trust with stakeholders while remaining ethical in each activity as well as having the passion and curiosity to perform any business analysis task are the two key factors to be a successful and brilliant Business Analyst.

3. Adaptive Social Skills:

Communication skills are an essential factor in the success of a Business Analyst, but these alone are not enough. Humility and the ability to accept criticism are also key factors in a Business Analyst’s success. While the majority of a Business Analyst’s job describes and works towards a desired state in the future, it is also widely exposed to changes and modifications, and thus, vulnerable to criticism after requirements verification by quality assurance specialists.  Business Analysts have to be open to positive criticism to improve the quality of the delivered requirements.

4. Sessions

Since sessions are considered as one of the pillars of business analysis, a successful Business Analyst should be well prepared before any session and avoid being just a note taker. He should have the ability to conduct, manage, moderate, and facilitate different types of sessions from brainstorming,  focus groups, to  structured walkthrough (requirements review). He is required to keep the discussion in the right path to reach the best decision, and achieve consensus on the next steps to be taken.

A successful Business Analyst should be an active listener. Active listening is done by restating the information offered by the stakeholders to immediately confirm complete understanding.

“A Problem well stated is a problem half solved.” John Dewey.

5. Modeling tools

There are multiple modeling types and purposes used by Business Analysts. The following section will describe the most commonly used diagrams all over the world.

5.1. Use Case Diagram “Bubble Diagram”

A Use Case diagram is always tempting for most Business Analysts because it is familiar and easy to understand. It can be used in scope modeling, system interactions, sequences, external, and internal factors.

Use case diagram offers a way to model how the stakeholders interact with the solution capabilities in order to get their jobs done.

This model is commonly used when a legacy system is going to be automated or computerized or when updating the current system. The Business Analyst records the business use case in the old system (As-Is) and creates another theoretical one that is going to be applied with the new system (To-Be).

Figure1

Figure 1: Business use case diagram for an online shopping system

5.2. Process Modeling

Business Process Modeling is one of the essential techniques that the Business Analyst may utilize in order to represent the flow of a process in an easy to understand manner.

According to the process complexity, most process models can handle tasks notations and swim lanes. Task notations are small icons that are displayed at the top of each task, displaying the type of task. One of the most commonly used notations is the Business Process Model and Notations (BPMN). Swim lanes are visual elements that display the role of the task performer, it is placed either vertically or horizontally on the diagram.

The following diagrams are the most commonly used:

  • Workflow Diagram 

Workflow diagram represents the process flow by displaying series of process steps or tasks. Workflow diagrams may have tasks notations and swim lanes.

Figure 2

Figure 2: Workflow-BPMN Diagram

  • Activity Diagram

An Activity diagram is used mainly to represent the sequence of the states of an entity or object and how it is affected by a certain event.  It is considered as a special case of a state machine diagram.  However, it is also used to represent a process flow, as it can handle swim lanes.

Figure 3

Figure 3: An activity diagram for a common ATM transaction

 

Figure 4

Figure 4: Activity Diagram-Swim lanes

5.3. Data Flow Diagram (DFD)

It illustrates how data is processed by a system in terms of inputs and outputs. As its name indicates, its focus is on the flow of information, where data comes from, where it goes and how it gets stored. DFD is usually used to specify and model requirements.

DFD has two commonly used notations defining different visual representations for processes, data stores, data flow and external entities:

  • Gane-Sarson Notation: Common for visualizing information systems.

Figure 5

Figure 5: DFD (Gane-Sarson Notation)

  • Yourdon Notation: Used for system analysis and design

Figure 6

 

Figure 6: DFD (Yourdon Notation)

6. Requirement Traceability Matrix

The generated requirements during data gathering can get lost in the subsequent activities between stakeholders and developers. To prevent this from happening, the Business Analyst uses a special type of table called the Requirement Traceability Matrix.

Requirement Traceability Matrix also provides an easy way to trace requirements in order to make the Business Analyst aware of any dependencies that may occur due to any change in requirements.

It is a tally of each requirement with information on the business process objectives being supported and the events and artifacts resulting from it.  It also allows the Business Analyst to trace the impact of an IT change back to the business objectives, processes, goals and stakeholders.

Figure 8

Figure 7: Requirement Traceability Matrix of a Web Application

7. Empathy Mapping

Empathy mapping is defined as the practical application of the idiom “walking a mile in other people’s shoes” in improving business process. The Business Analyst wants to know what a stakeholder thinks, feels and how he or she will react to the system by attempting to be in the their shoes.

This tool is very tricky to use because the need to get genuine opinions and feelings is essential for the map to be effective. The business analyst needs to be familiar with body language and notice any subtle changes from the stakeholders when presented with a process flow.

Figure 9

Figure 8: An Empathy Map

In conclusion, the Business Analyst, the liaison between the solution provider and the business stakeholders, relies on these skills and techniques to discover, analyze, present, negotiate, verify and validate the requirements for a solution. It is therefore important for the Business Analyst to determine when and how to use each of them within the development life cycle of a solution. There will definitely be new techniques in the future as we discover more innovative ways to improve business processes as information technology moves forward.

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