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What Makes a Good Business Analyst? 

By Paul Regis, Manager, Research Intelligence and Quality, University of Technology, Sydney
 
imageI have seen a fair few people who seem bad at the job of business analyst, and yet nobody knows why. When you look at those constituents, they tick all the boxes: well-presented professional, well-spoken, knowledge of process design, ability to write documents etc. Everything seems to be there, yet there is something missing and it shows in the way that people describe and relate to such individuals. What could that be?
 
I am not working as a business analyst now, though I do work with them. Going back to the outside has helped me understand it better. So what makes a good BA? Yes, it is includes those things above: documents, communication, professionalism etc. Yet those characteristics belong to many professions. What is special about a business analyst? What do they need over and above all that in order to be fantastic at what they do?

It is the ability to help customers navigate their business needs to create and narrate a coherent story. Doing this well involves bringing those customers on a journey with emotion, respect and integrity.
 
Rarely do we find that customers know everything they want; Steve Jobs is famous for realising that. Instead, we find that customers need to understand what is possible and have it described to them with a beginning, middle, and a definite end. Customers need to picture their project in context, including all its twists, turns, and story arcs. Doing that means both the BA and the customer become part of the story and can write it together.
 
Of course, there are other ways to do analysis work but they often need multiple attempts and often end up wasting time. Doing everything “by the book” does not help, because unless one has that respect from the customer then it simply ends up creating barriers. Imagine getting to the truth by writing long documents and creating process maps that nobody understands? Then you demand “sign off” and hold until that is obtained. The customers do not read documents they cannot understand; the project stalls or goes into a mode where people work on it mechanically, waiting for the end to come. What progress is made? None.
 
Business analysts need to be committed to their cause, to believe in what they are doing and to be story tellers. They need to bring the business story to life. Not necessarily with documents, although they are important. Documents however need to address the needs of the people; it is not the people who are to address the needs of the document.

Business analysts must be fantastic through their humanity—by being passionate about what they are trying to do and create something that can sustain itself rather than needing to be held together with constant effort and frustration. It is the only real, cost-effective and emotion-effective way of getting to the truth and understanding the human/technology gap.

After all, failing to understand the people means you have failed before the technology even enters the room. 

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