What Makes Great Business Analysis

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Ryan Folster, Business Analyst at Britehouse, talks about great business analysis with Rafieqah Isaacs, in business analysis: the job, the role and the career.

What would be the key difference between a good Business Analyst and a great one?

In my opinion Business Analysis is less of a set of tasks someone performs and more about a way of thinking. At its core Business Analysis is about solving problems. To take that one step further it is about solving problems in a way that maximises the value to an organisation and its customers. A great

Business Analyst is someone that a great at solving problems is a cost effective, timeous way with the highest levels of quality. We are all different, some Business Analysts are great facilitators and some are great at detail but it all comes down to the ability to solve problems.

In my perfect world as a Business Analyst, people would come to me with problems they want solved, giving me the opportunity to solve them. The profession still has some work to do until it can be seen as the problem solving profession. When we have an issue with the taps at home we call a plumber, the same should be true for problem solving, but it’s not there yet. A great Business Analyst leads the profession to where it is or should be heading not where it is currently. Being great means they call you by name and not by profession to solve a problems.

In your opinion, is there a threat to the Business Analysis role becoming redundant?

I don’t think that Business Analysis as a role will ever become redundant but I do think that analysis will find its way into other job roles. Analysis always needs to get done in order to deliver solutions. It does not always get done well but it is done.

With the emergence of agile methodologies and mindsets we are seeing more and more cross skilled teams and individuals. This means that analysis is performed alongside other tasks that need to be completed. In ensuring that value is delivered to organisations many steps need to be undertaken, given my above statement around problem solving, it is easy to see that problem solving and value are what defines Business Analysis to me.

If you as an individual can actively demonstrate your ability to solve problems and add measurable business value then there is little to no risk of you becoming redundant. At a macro level this is harder to achieve. Given some of the recent changes seen in the transition from BABOK version two to three, it is very evident that the IIBA also has the view that the role can be performed by others that don’t have the job title of Business Analyst.

Everything is about problem solving and value. If we take a step back and apply that to Business Analysis we need to look at the problem a Business Analyst is there to solve as well as the value they add.

Currently there is a problem, businesses in general are trying to remain competitive in their respective markets. Those markets are in a constant state of change which means that businesses need to react to that change and evolve. In order to do that they need to accurately ensure that the problems that arise because of the change are addressed to keep their customers happy and to attract new customers. Business Analysts are able to add value by ensuring that they facilitate the constant evolution of customer needs.

Sometimes this is done directly or indirectly from a customer perspective but the ultimate goal is to add value to our customer and drive business profits.

In my opinion the only way for the Business Analyst role to become completely redundant is if the role evolves at a tangent to where the value they create and problems they solve are heading. As a Business Analyst we need to make sure that we focus on value and our ability to demonstrate the value we provide.

What is the greatest achievement for the Business Analysis profession over the last 5 years?

This to me is an easy question to answer. I think that the greatest achievement is the formalisation of the role itself. In professional terms

Business Analysis is a new profession, one that is actively growing each year.

Organisations such as the IIBA have seen great growth in numbers showing that the amount of people that practice as Business Analysts as well as have interest in the profession is growing.

The next step in the journey of the profession is to develop it to a place where it is invaluable to any business. This next part of journey is where the difficulty lies. Ensuring a sustainable profession that not only remains relevant but also grows, not only for those in the profession but outsiders looking in.

Maybe in 10 years when we ask our kids what they want to be when they grow up we will get a few aspiring Business Analysts state their intentions as such.

How do you find the balance between Business and IT in your job?

I currently am working on compliance projects and as such the projects have a large business component that don’t revolve around IT. I am fascinated with compliance and the impact it has on analysis as it forces you to look beyond technology.

Requirements exist irrespective of the existence of or need for a solution.

Often the solution results in a technology change, in fact this is common with project Business Analysts work on. Compliance forces thinking outside of the technology where the changes being made can be to operational processes, mindset changes or policies and procedures.

Traditionally I find that the balance between Business and IT is swayed towards IT. The step between the requirements and the solution, which is critical in ensuring that value is delivered and problems are solved, is often given less priority. This often means that solutions are put in place and only when they fail (partially or completely) do we retrospectively investigate what it is we wanted in the first place.

Projects should never be IT lead as they are solving for business problems and not IT problems. Solutions might be delivered by IT but the thing that they are solving for has nothing to do with IT.

Even when the issue is something like a server that keeps crashing, the problem is not that the server keeps crashing it is that customers are impacted by the servers that are crashing.

In a sense compliance and non-technology related projects have given me a closer understanding of what being a Business Analyst means. I think it is advantageous to take a step back and look at the core principals of Business

Analysis periodically during your career to ensure that you are adding value and not delivering a new system or process. If a fancy new market leading, award winning IT system is implemented but it solves for a problem that doesn’t exist in the first place, has anything actually been achieved?

What has been the most difficult period you have experienced in your career as a Business Analyst?

I think that the most difficult period I have experienced is less time boxed and more a general difficult area. Dealing with Stakeholders at a very senior level can often be tricky and I have worked on a few projects where I find myself having to facilitate a session with Stakeholders with high levels of experience as well as authority.

I have worked on a project where the SME in the room did not fully agree with the business analysis approach being used to elicit requirements for a specific problem as well as how to document them. This became a frustration during the project but the solution was actually easier than expected.

To me it is important to remember that while you sit in a room full of SME’s in their domain, Business Analysis is my domain. I am a Business Analysis subject matter expert. This means that while they are an expert on how the business operates and what is done to ensure it keeps operating I know what business analysis efforts I need to do to ensure that value is added.

Asserting yourself within context of why you are completing something in a specific way is important. In my particular situation this lead to a harsh message but once received gave confidence from that individual on the process going forward.

‘Great Business Analysis with Ryan Folster‘ was first published in the 2015 Inter-View Report. Talk more about great business analysis on Twitter with @RyanFolsterSA and @Raf_Sunshine.

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