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Get Behind the Wheel of Your BA Career  

By Neil Bazley, Vice President, Chapters, IIBA  
Where do we go from here?
I often get asked the question “What is the BA career path?” I find it to be an interesting question for a couple of reasons. One is that I don’t think that there is one career path for a business analyst. At this point in the maturity of the discipline, combined with the nature of what we do, I feel that we have almost as many career paths as we have BAs.
The second reason that I find that question fascinating is that, possibly due to our discipline’s immaturity (or just a much more general trend in populations), my fellow BAs don’t have their path defined already. When I present on the future of business analysis and strategy I always ask how many BAs have a career plan. I’m somewhat disheartened that in a room of fifty or so people, only one or two will raise their hands.
As an aside, I’m almost equally disheartened when I hear BAs say that our natural career path is to project management. I’m not meaning to disrespect PMs in any way; PM skills are useful and important. But in no way are the skills we bring inferior to or less advanced than project management skills. I don’t even feel that the progression to PM is a natural one. They are different, but complementary skills. We have to remove this notion from our catalogue.
Turn the mirror
Turn the way back machine to the turn of the century. Ah yes, the year 2000…. We survived yet another imminent demise of civilization in the Y2K scare, the Millennium Bridge in London opens… and closes (Nerd Fact: due to a positive feedback loop caused by a phenomenon called synchronous lateral excitation). Mad cow jokes permeate the late night talk show circuit, and a young man named Tiger Woods was getting noticed for hitting a little white ball with a stick.
In 2000, I was at the tail-end of what some would call a successful career in sales. I started out as rookie of the year in my first few months in a large sales organization. And over the years I made my sales quotas more than I had not. However, I was dissatisfied. After four years there were large parts of the job that I just didn’t enjoy. What I did know was that I liked doing the right thing for the customer.
I did something that was intuitive to me. I performed an honest appraisal of what I was good at in my sales career and what I wasn’t. I rated those skills on a scale of 0 to 5. Then I used the same skills, and rated from 0 to 5 on how much I enjoyed performing them. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was performing a rudimentary SWOT analysis on my own career.
Unfold the Map
When I had my matrix of competencies and desired tasks, I started to research what I could do using those skills. I found a job description that was starting to emerge that used competencies like gathering requirements, negotiation, running meetings and conflict resolution. (Not to ruin the sense of anticipation that I’m sure is building in each of you, but that position was as a Business Analyst).
Head Down the Road
From there I looked at the skills and background that I didn’t have in order to turn into this particular swan. And I built a plan to get those skills and build my credibility to be seen, not as a salesperson, but an analyst. I got training and I rebuilt my résumé to focus, not on sales quotas and other measures of a successful sales person, but on the skills I developed in business analysis.
It didn’t work out the way I thought. I took classes in programming to gain credibility in my career change, but also because I assumed that software development was the most likely landing pad in my career change. 
I ended up in infrastructure. In fact, I’ve never written a line of code in anger. I was flexible though, and like many of my peers then—and like many of you now—I doubled as a project manager (and gained useful skills that will stay with me for a lifetime).
Now I regularly perform the exercise that I outlined above, probably no less than three times per year. It gives me confidence that I’m going down a path that’s not just good for my career, but will give me happiness and satisfaction. I remember that there is no one path, or one end goal.  Four years ago, the pinnacle of my five year plan was to be a VP in an IT shop, on my way to becoming a CIO. Realizing that I had changed as a person, I changed the goal. And my only assumption about my current goals and plans is that they will change to adapt to circumstances and to my evolving interests.
Reaching Your Destination
In summary, if I can give any advice based on my experience, develop a plan for your career using your business analysis skills:
  • Use your analysis skills on yourself
    • What are your strongest competencies?
    • Where do you have the most room for improvement?
    • What interests you the most?
    • What do you dislike the most?
  • Create a matrix of skills/desires and potential paths
  • Set a plan in place to get from your as-is to the to-be
  • Remember that there is no one path, that there are multiple methods to get to your career happiness
  • Constantly re-evaluate your progress, and the goals that you set
    • Don’t be afraid to adjust