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Three Must Know Competencies in the BA Profession

Jennifer Laws, Associate Technical Writer, IIBA  

In keeping with our theme this month we asked Deb Oliver, the BA of International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA), for her top three most important business analysis competencies. With her background in research and aligning strategic goals, Deb has identified the following three competencies as the most important, in her experience:
  • Behavioural Skills
  • Acquisition of Business Knowledge 
  • Business Analysis Techniques
1. Behavioural Skills

These skills (including flexibility, communication, relationship skills, and attention to detail) are not BA specific—no matter what you do, it is always important to be a “people person”. The more you can relate to and get along with people, the faster you can understand their motivations, and then it becomes much easier to communicate in a way that brings about the results you want.

As a business analyst, Deb finds this competency particularly important in elicitation sessions. Sometimes people get stuck in what they want to be able to talk about in terms of business requirements. Whether they need it set on paper, for you to walk them through step-by-step, or they need a recommendation on how to achieve something, it is important that you base your communication on what you know about them as a person. Communication is always more effective if you know what makes them tick, and if you build up that trust and personal relationship first.

If your interpersonal skills aren’t up to par, you run the risk of alienating people. It will make your job and theirs much more difficult if you take a blanketed approach and treat everybody the same—everyone works in different ways, after all. And don’t be afraid to point out the elephant in the room! If there’s a problem, point it out right away—and make sure everyone remains on the same page.

2. Acquisition of Business Knowledge

Before you even start on a project, you need to know what you’re talking about. You need to know the topic, how the organization functions, the systems used—all the pieces of the puzzle that make up the project. Without this knowledge, it is very difficult to satisfy the needs of the business. They count on you to know your stuff, and to be able to hold intelligent conversation about the project.

Deb spoke about her first week at IIBA, about how she had to jump in with both feet.  Having had one meeting, all of a sudden she was expected to deliver on things she had limited knowledge about. The acquisition of this knowledge became her priority. In order to deliver on what the organization wanted from her, she relied on a few key people as her information sources and started doing her own research, going through the iMIS system (the platform on which IIBA functions) and the website. It was a very uphill battle, having come into a project knowing next to nothing about the organization, but by working quickly and asking questions she was able to ramp up her knowledge level sufficiently to deliver in the short amount of time she had.

If you don’t know your stuff, you can’t come up with requirements. If at the end of the day your functionality doesn’t satisfy your needs, all the work that’s been put into the project doesn’t mean anything. It can affect your credibility and ability to build relationships and trust if that happens because of your lack of knowledge.  Bottom line: an unsuccessful project.

3. Business Analysis Techniques

A BA’s techniques are like the items in their toolkit. They are the go-to processes that you can pull out to help you get to what you need. Your set of techniques is cumulative; you build on it over time, but which ones you use will change to suit the project.

Before joining IIBA, Deb worked for a company that was on the ground level in terms of the BA position and they had to improvise. Sometimes that meant pulling a template off the Internet and sometimes coming up with one on their own. A Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge® (BABOK® Guide) contains standards and techniques, but it wasn’t always possible for her to use the BABOK® Guide as prescribed. The BABOK® Guide is a good frame of reference, but you must have a set of techniques you are familiar with so you know you can get to what you need.

As a new BA in IIBA, Deb was put to work on Project Orange—a project to update the IIBA infrastructure—without any real knowledge, and had to get herself up to speed. In the case of Project Orange, the purpose was already set in place, but there were several things she needed to understand: the players, the information she could expect, the information expected of her, what other projects were dependent on Project Orange, how the whole project fit within IIBA, who would benefit and how, and the expected growth from the project. There was a lot she had to know, and she had to use her own set of techniques to acquire this knowledge in order to do her job.  

Had she not had her set of techniques at her disposal, she would have had to “reinvent the wheel” as it were. Without them, you are more likely to spend your time coming up with processes and templates rather than actually working on the project.


I’d like to thank Deb for sharing her thoughts, and leave you with a final word of her advice. Her philosophy is “in life, you need to keep going”. You have to know where you’re going, but also how to get there. You have standards, but you also have real life; at the end of the day, you have to know where to compromise.