You probably won't require in-depth subject matter expertise about the target business area. But you absolutely will need to be able to come up to speed quickly, and you must know how to fill any gaps in your knowledge as fast as possible.
If you're asked to serve as business analyst role in an unfamiliar business area, begin identifying subject matter experts right away, and start tapping them early on for a high-level overview of the business. Read all the available documents on the business, including annual objectives, operational plans, manuals, and marketing and sales materials. It's also useful to keep a list of stock questions like these to help you get a quick grip on the business.
- What products or services does this part of the business create or sell?
- Who are the key customers?
- Who are the main competitors (if any)?
- What factors are critical to the operation's success?
- Where does the business area fit within the company's value chain?
- How does the business area fit within the company's organizational structure?
- What are the area's key business processes?
- What problems has this area struggled with in previous months and years?
- What needs is the business area currently facing?
Be sure you understand the answers by reading all available documentation; then follow up with your subject matter experts to validate your understanding.
A business analyst with an "outsider's perspective" can be a huge help to a project or organization. Even if your business background is limited, your fresh eyes can help the team avoid traps of "doing it the way it's always been done."
Your polished analytical skills will enable you to get at the heart of the details quickly, get to the root cause of any issue, and get to know the business by methodical requirements elicitation and analysis. If you ask the right questions, show keen interest, and devote strong energy to getting to know the business, you'll be successful, and your partners will be favorably impressed.