If you consider yourself as a “Technical Specialist” you are most likely a software developer, engineer, researcher, scientist, project manager, financial professional and so on. Have you ever considered how to better leverage your skills in order to take on more business responsibilities? Or perhaps you are a consultant wanting to improve your overall skills. Have you considered taking on a business analyst role and gaining some new skills in the process?
If so, then read on.
The business analyst is concerned with the link between the business needs and the technology systems and processes used in a company. In practice most modern business processes are supported by IT systems so there is a natural synergy between IT professionals and business analysts.
Many technical specialists will be quite comfortable with a career path that remains purely technical in nature. This will normally involve increased specialisation. By mastering a subject you can be very fulfilled in your work and will be rewarded for your expertise. However in an information economy where information is just a google search away you need more than just knowledge in order to succeed, and there are many “softer” people skills that will become very important as well.
On the other hand others (like myself) will regard their technical skills as the foundation in a journey towards a longer term goal involving starting or running a business. These professionals are interested in having a greater role in the business of their organisation. Some might even be planning to leave the corporate environment to start a new business, and therefore be needing additional skills to realise their vision.
A growing opportunity for professionals
In the USA and Canada alone it was estimated that there was a need for over 1 million new business analyst related professionals in 2016. Business analyst is one of the fastest growing professions. This trend is likely to continue in future, particularly as IT systems become even more more central to business processes. [US Bureau of labour statistics, employment projections program].
Progressing from technical specialist to business analyst
With formal training in engineering for example you will likely find that moving into a business analyst role is a natural evolution of your skills in the workplace. The same might apply to other scientific or financial based undergraduate qualifications.
According to the PMI, the following skills and expertise are the most important for anyone performing business analysis on programs and projects: (PMI Institute, Business analysis for practitioners, 2015)
- Analytical skills,
- Business and industry knowledge,
- Communication skills, including strong business writing and verbal communication skills,
- Conflict management,
- Creative and critical thinking,
- Cultural awareness,
- Decision making,
- Familiarity with multiple project and development methodologies,
- Issue management skills,
- Leadership skills,
- Learning skills,
- Negotiation skills,
- Organizational skills,
- Political awareness,
- Presentation skills,
- Problem solving,
- Systems thinking,
- Technical awareness, and
- Ability to work effectively in a team environment, including virtual teams.
BA skills and expertise are of course not unique to BA’s alone. They can really augment your technical skills and make a significant impact on your career trajectory. In order to take advantage of this opportunity you need to be very intentional about what you want and know exactly how you will go about acquiring and developing these new skills.
Purists versus functional specialists
In my definition, BA “purists” as those that are qualified and in a full time analyst role. They focus exclusively on formal analysis techniques independent of the underlying subject matter. They can diagnose a problem in one company today, and use the same technique to solve a different problem tomorrow in an entirely different industry. They make good consultants. They are facilitators, focussed on the right processes, not the business domain. Their skill is to ultimately help others in the business understand the need and develop the solution. They don’t solve problems themselves, they lead the customer to their own solution.
In practice not all BA’s are purists or in full time BA roles. More often than not the BA role is incorporated into what is normally expected of an engineer, project manager, team lead or functional manager who already has work experience and a good understanding and background in the industry in which the company operates.
The techniques used by business analysts are also to a large extent the same used by project professionals. What is perhaps different is that a business analyst should be entirely focused on the sustained business value of the project outcomes while the project manager is short term task driven around actual delivery and schedule/cost management.
Get noticed in order to progress
Business analysts often have a great opportunity to gain visibility in an organisation from which they can make a significant impact. BA’s frequently get to interact with the business decision makers responsible for strategy and setting direction of the organisation.
The varied nature of assignments gives the BA an opportunity to nurture relationships with influential people across the organisation and gain their confidence and trust. Far more so than a person who operates in a single department, over time the BA can develop a good overview of the whole organisation.
Leverage what you already know
Most technical specialists such as engineers will already possess the problem solving techniques necessary for a leadership position. The formal methodologies and techniques used by BA’s are also excellent tools to use when you have to solve problems, be a facilitator, analyse opportunities or problems and recommend solutions.
Arguably it is easier for a technical specialist to learn BA skills, than a formally trained BA to learn the nuances of the technical role, so you will have a head start in your industry.
Seek opportunities outside your immediate job requirement
In planning your career you might want to seek out and proactively take on opportunities as a functional analyst, systems analyst, business systems analyst or perhaps a requirements analyst as these arise.
If you are in programming, sales, finance, quality, customer service, project management you are also well positioned to consider business analysis as a career move towards general management.
Along the way the business analyst role will evolve from intermediate, senior to a leadership role. Ultimately as you take on more scope of responsibility and start becoming influential in setting direction and company strategy, you could well move into a director level position.
Call to action – decide on what skills to acquire
As mentioned, you need to be intentional and proactive about your career development in order to succeed as a business leader.
If you are a technical specialist and interested in a formal route to business leadership then I recommend you look at the IIBA which publishes the relevant BA body of knowledge (BABOK) and various certification programs.
The PMI also has a good selection of resources for BA’s and has a certification “PMI Professional in Business Analysis”.
Certifications like this can be daunting, for example the PMI requires over 4500 hours of business analysis experience which is a big commitment. It is therefore not really intended for those who merely are looking to augment their current skills.
You might prefer a more flexible approach and acquire specific skills as they required in your job. There are many relevant training programs on offer that offer courses in the following areas that you might want to consider when planning your professional development goals:
- Business needs and requirements analysis
- Business process management
- Advanced problem solving
- Elicitation and interviewing techniques
- Mapping system functionality and system selection
- Business process modeling and engineering
- Change management techniques
- And so on…
Finally, a discussion on business analysis as a career choice is incomplete without a mention of product management, more specifically software product management. A BA might plan to transition to product owner, product manager or product strategy executive. This can be a very exciting journey ultimately leading to business leadership. More on this to come!
I am in the process of putting together an online training program to help professionals with the transition above. The program is called TechnicalLeaders. Until the product is ready to launch I am keeping it below the radar, in the meantime if you are interested in this topic please feel free to send me your comments and suggestions!