Business Analysis is a term that covers a wide range of different disciplines, which has grown in scope over the past 10-15 years. BAs can become involved in a variety of different activities, depending on the organisation and the particular project that they are working on – these can range from very technical to very business focused activities.
So if you're working as a Business Analyst, or working with a Business Analyst, what can you expect? I've split this article into two sections, firstly focusing on the activities that a BA can perform and secondly looking at the job titles that they can hold.
PART 1: Activities
You should expect the following characteristics and capabilities to apply to all BAs as standard:
- logical thinking
- constructive challenge
- independent perspective
- broad knowledge of both business and technical concepts
- problem solving
- facilitation and negotiation
However, they can use these capabilities to perform different activities which are briefly explained below:
Nowadays, most BAs will not be responsible for systems analysis, and some will deliberately steer well clear of it. However, it used to be the case that what an organisation called a business analyst was in fact a systems analyst and this is still the case in some businesses.
Whilst you can argue that an organisation or business function is as much of a system as an AS/400 application, systems analysis tends to be geared towards technology. The BA in this context is interested in determining how an existing system works so that changes can be specified – and in my experience, systems analysis tends to be a term applied to existing systems rather than new developments. Systems analysis in this context provides a better understanding of an existing situation to inform requirements definition and design. Having said that, systems analysis can be applied to new systems, and can be particularly relevant if needing to frame requirements within the context of a defined technology.
This is a more recent term which tends to be applied to more strategic analysis roles that sit very close to the business. This role involves assessment of business strategy, definition of vision, strategy and business goals as well as development of business cases in close consultation with sponsors. It can have a sizeable crossover with business architecture activity but this is not always the case – I prefer to think of this as distinct activity that covers what the business wants to do and why, whereas business architecture considers how it will be achieved and the impacts on the current operations.
Requirements analysis is by far the most common role for a Business Analyst, and can be considered the bread and butter activity for many BAs. This is concerned with eliciting, documenting and analysing the problems that the business is experiencing, translating these into requirements and effectively communicating them to those that will design and build a solution.
This is a less common role but it does exist and can tie in closely with Enterprise Analysis. This role sits very close to the business, often to only one or two individuals and acts in a consultative capacity, providing advice relating to business change or specific concepts such as benefits management.
A variation on this activity is for the role to provide a focal point for Business Analysis resource for a particular business unit, with the responsibility for performing feasibility analysis, subsequently allocating BAs to individual projects and providing guidance across that business unit's portfolio.
Feasibility analysis is another common role for a BA to fulfil; this relates to the upfront shaping and scoping of business change and the assessment as to whether the organisation should proceed with a project to deliver it. This role can include business case development as well as requirements definition, although the latter will be at a high level . Feasibility analysis often includes vendor selection processes such as Request For Information (RFI) and Request For Proposal (RFP)
and as a minimum, the BA should define the requirements and participate in the scoring process. In some organisations the BA runs the whole RFI/RFP process, but ideally this should be managed by procurement professionals.
This is another “technical” role that many BAs will not be required to perform. Note that data analysis is distinct from data modelling (conceptual or logical) which is a core BA skill, and should be part of requirements definition. Data analysis is concerned with understanding existing data items and data structure in order to specify detailed requirements or (more likely) inform the design and should really be considered a technical design activity rather than a business analysis one; however, some organisations will categorise this as the latter.
Whilst some organisations have specific teams dedicated to process analysis (often relating to LEAN concepts), Business Analysts often become involved in process analysis on a project. Most business change results in some impact on business processes, and therefore there is a need to determine which processes need to change (and how) and this is again a core skill for a BA. This activity involves both traditional analysis and facilitation, as well as resulting in high quality documentation relating to the as-is and to-be processes.
This activity is becoming more and more common, although it is still something of a rarity. Organisational analysis itself is concerned with understanding what elements of an organisation need to change to accommodate a business change. Many organisations prefer to use a third party consultancy firm to perform this, both from a transferral of risk perspective (having someone else to blame) and from a lack of awareness that these skills exist internally.
Organisational analysis is classic analysis activity, in terms of defining the as-is and to-be states and analysing the gaps between them, or analysing specific impacts across an as-is organisational model. This can include both the structure of the organisation in terms of reporting lines as well as precise measures such as spans of control. Note that this analysis is often focused on the hierarchical organisational model rather than on the overall operating model which is where Business Architecture comes in.
Business Architecture encompasses organisational analysis (and indeed other ypes of analysis) but is distinct in that it brings a higher level perspective by focusing on the entire operating model. This could be across the whole organisation, or it could be focused on a particular business area. It considers the customers of the subject area, the services or products that it offers and the channels that it uses to offer those services as well as how the business is organised and where it is located.
There are a variety of different frameworks used for Business Architecture including Zachman, TOGAF and POLDAT but all of them focus on holistic analysis of the subject area and the relationships between different elements.
The actual capability to perform Business Architecture is not too dissimilar to core Business Analysis, although it does require training to use a particular model. Given the exposure that this role is likely to have, it is suited to those analysts who have experience in influencing and negotiating with senior stakeholders as well as those who are comfortable with cross-functional analysis throughout the entire project lifecycle, as opposed to just detailed requirements gathering.
PART 2: Job titles and roles
Several organisations distinguish the levels of experience of their Business Analysts through different job titles, for example Senior BA, Lead BA, Principal BA and so on. One of the benefits of this sort of structure is that it gives a clear career path. However, this can cause confusion in practical terms, as someone who is defined as a “Lead BA” may not in fact be acting as a lead on a project, whilst someone defined as a “Business Analyst” may be leading a team of other analysts but not have the title of “Lead”. Also, it does lead to certain behaviours by making the grade of the individual visible to all concerned (for example on your email signature). This can result in a team of ambitious BAs who are constantly pushing to move up to the next level for the kudos associated with a rise in rank and ultimately with more “managers” and less “doers”. I have seen situations following a promotion to a more senior role whereby the BA is less inclined to perform core analysis activity or where they won't be assigned to a particular project because the work that is required doesn't reflect their new title: “you can't assign Jane to that project, she's a Lead BA”.
There is nothing wrong with ambition, and people should be encouraged to perform at their full potential; however, organisations need to balance the demand for analysis resource with the need to reward high performers and if the only way to reward staff is to give them a management role then the organisation may quickly run out of individuals that are actually doing any work.
This situation also has a negative effect on the individuals who are not being moved up to the Senior or Lead grade; they will see colleagues promoted that are subsequently considered “too senior” to work on the projects that they themselves are working on, thereby degrading the work that they are performing. This can have a huge effect on team morale, leading to a “them and us” mentality amongst BAs.
My preference is to separate the role from the grade and move away from the militaristic use of rank when referring to BAs. The role of “Lead BA” is an important one, but it should relate to the temporary role that a BA performs on a specific project, not their job title. I could act as the lead BA on one project, but as a regular BA on the next.
There is still a need for some form of distinction within an organisation to define pay and rations and reward those who take on extra responsibility but I don't think this should be part of the job title. My preference is for 3 key roles, none of which imply any seniority over the others and none of which are necessarily job titles.
The BA performs Requirements Definition, Requirements Analysis and System Modelling on a specific workstream or project, receiving direction from a Lead BA. The BA will perform the key analysis activities on the project, such as facilitating workshops, producing models and analysing requirements
A lead BA is the person responsible for the Business Analysis deliverables on a project with multiple analysis workstreams; they will be responsible for providing team leadership and direction to the individual workstream BAs, whether this is a physical or virtual team, and will perform this role throughout the life of the project. The lead BA may be responsible for shaping and scoping the BA deliverables at the start of the project, and may be the person who conducts the initial feasibility analysis. In this regard there can be crossover with the role of the Enterprise Analyst although the latter will tend to perform analysis before a project is defined.
This role tends to work on pre-project activities, working closely with the business to shape concepts, develop business cases and in some cases conduct feasibility studies. The Enterprise Analyst works cross-functionally, examining the impact and benefits of the proposed change across the whole business.
Where required, the Enterprise Analyst will also fulfil the Business Partner role discussed in part 1 above.
Hopefully this article has explained that varied role that BAs can play throughout the project lifecycle, and has touched on the value that they can add. I also hope that the article has stimulated some debate around the different job titles that they can hold. I don't know how successful separating role from grade will be in practice and I'd be interested to hear feedback from anyone who has come across similar issues with job titles and how they've resolved them.