ProjectConnections Print View


Got a Question?
Drop us an email, or call us toll free:
888-722-5235
7am-5pm Pacific
Monday - Friday
We'd love to talk to you.


Learn more about ProjectConnections and who writes our content. Want to learn more? Take a site tour and compare our membership levels.


Get Exactly What You Need in 5 Minutes or Less
Become a Member »
Resource Index > Fast Tracks > Business Analyst

Business Analyst

This page is intended for every business analyst, new to the role or with some experience behind you, who wants to know more about what the job is, where to start, what matters most, how to get it all done, and how to get through the day! Becoming a business analyst is not necessarily an easy transition, but we believe you shouldn't have to live through it to learn how to do it. So on this page we give business analysts how-to steps, advice, and coaching via practical, actionable business analyst resources – to help you get going quickly, effectively, and hopefully painlessly in your new role.

What can we help you with today?

What IS this Business Analyst role?
How to get going, organize and support projects
Resources for specific project knowledge areas
How is this role good for my career and how do I create a path?

Understanding The Role
Holy smokes! You've been anointed with the title of "business analyst" – and naturally, you're wondering "What next?" Or, even more shocking, you suddenly find that the business analysis duties for the project have been unceremoniously dumped on your desk, in addition to your regular duties. What's the best way to proceed?

You're in luck – we've been there, done that, and we want to provide some insight and wisdom to help you get off on the right foot. We've answered some of the Burning Questions we've heard from people when they're new to business analysis. The answers will help you get a handle on a business analyst's duties. We're making the premium Burning Questions in this section accessible to Guests and Site Members, because we know how important it is to get off to a good start.

The Business Analyst Role


Doing the Work
Business analysis work doesn't exactly follow typical project lifecycle phases, we've organized this section according to the major activities you will be engaged in during a project. Each activity has been broken down to discuss the 'How-To' of the tasks to accomplish the goal of the activity. Within each 'How-To' we've answered burning questions to provide task related know-how and advice, and links to downloadable tools for doing that task.
How It's Organized:
Flow of the Work
Flow of the work


Steps to take:
Tasks In each Activity

Overview


Overview:
So, how do we actually do business analysis? This section will help you understand the most common, industrial-strength business analysis tasks and processes. Each tab includes a discussion of methods, tools, and strategies you can use to gather, evaluate, and communicate the needs and requirements of the business.

Because business analysis doesn't exactly follow the typical project lifecycle, we've organized this section according to the major activities you will be engaged in. Your first task will be to gain a clear understanding of the business needs, as a foundation for developing a plan to extract and manage the project requirements. Later, as the solution is conceived and continuing throughout its development, you'll analyze options and alternatives for helping the project team deliver the solution in the best way to meet the requirements. Finally, deep into the project, your role will shift to supporting the transfer of the solution to the stakeholder community.


Click to expand each activity     [Expand all | Hide]
Activity
Understand the Need
What steps must you take to fully understand the business need? Review the tools and explanations in this tab—they will help you identify the precise needs. If the business has trouble articulating its own needs, these tools will help you guide them in identifying their needs clearly.


Activity
Create the Plan
To meet your timelines and satisfy the needs of the business, you'll need to proceed in a methodical manner, and address the various tasks and activities in the most efficient order. Once you're sure you've grasped the "why" of the business need, go to this tab to find tips and tools for planning how you'll sort out the "Who, What, Where, When, How" of the requirements. You'll also find tips for preparing to demonstrate that the solution will or won't deliver the desired benefits.


Activity
Elicit the Details
At this point, you'll probably be eager to start capturing the requirements, and anxious to understand where to find them, how to group them, and how to make sure you've got the right ones. How will you proceed? Will you conduct interviews? Set up a Requirements Workshop? Here we discuss how to identify the requirements, gather them in an organized way, and prepare to manage the inevitable changes that will occur.


Activity
Analyze the Solution
Will the solution meet the requirements? The tools and techniques in this tab will help you ensure that the team chooses the best approaches for solving the problem at hand. You'll also find tips for vendor selection, decision-making, and helping the organization accept the new solution and understand the impact of the changes.


Activity
Transfer Knowledge
Okay, you've created a viable plan. In the process, you've acquired in-depth knowledge of the requirements. How can you transfer what you've learned to those who need to share your understanding? Review this tab to discover how to document the requirements so the team will clearly understand them. You'll also find useful guidance on process modeling, use cases, business rules, and help ensure success when it comes time to walking your team successfully through the requirements.


Understand the Need


Activity:
Understand the Need
The more energy and effort a business analyst spends on understanding the business need, the more successful the project—and ultimately the business analyst—will be. The business need ultimately determines what the project is trying to accomplish. Some of the strategies and tools that can help you identify the business need are: looking at the goals of the organization or business unit; calling out any pain points or gaps in the current business processes; identifying the root cause of any problems the business is currently facing; and analyzing the costs and benefits of the current solution, compared with the alternatives.

At times, the business need may be clear at the start—for example, it may be clearly stated in a list of business goals or a clear problem statement. But at other times, you may need to work to uncover them. In most cases, you'll have to help the business understand what it actually needs. Tools such as root cause analysis, gaps analysis, and cost-benefit analysis can help you identify and document the business need in a way that your stakeholders will understand clearly.


Click to expand and see resources for each activity     [Expand all | Hide]
How-To
Understanding Business Goals
Take time to understand the goals of the business. This is a critical step, because by understanding these goals you will be able to see how to align project priorities and objectives to support the business.
Burning questions, problem solvers & other resources


Resources and tools

How-To
Finding Problem Statements
When the business initiates a project to solve a problem, then clearly understanding the problem statement will help ensure that the solution solves the right problem.

How-To
Gaps Analysis
Analysis of the gaps in functionality, performance, etc. between today and the desires of the future can help you understand the business needs.
Burning questions, problem solvers & other resources


Resources and tools

How-To
Root Cause Analysis
Root cause analysis helps ensure that you've identified the true source of a problem, by methodically exploring all the possible causes of the problem so you can address it properly.

How-To
Cost & Benefit Analysis
Cost benefit analysis is used as an input for decision making. When a team must choose between options, it can be helpful to compare the costs and benefits of each.

How-To
Considering Alternatives
There's nearly always more than one way to solve a problem. Therefore, before you decide on a solution, it's important to consider the alternatives—and the right set of alternatives.


Create the Plan


Activity:
Create the Plan
People often assume that business analysts simply have a natural talent for managing requirements. They often overlook the many hours of hard work that a seasoned analyst will devote to preparing to address the detailed requirements of a project in a requirements management plan.

Good business analysts begin every project by planning their approach—the first step generally being to identify and get to know the stakeholders. Only then will they begin to draw up an actual plan for managing the requirements. The successful analyst also allots time for planning how they will measure the requirements, how they'll communicate with stakeholders, and how they'll measure the benefits of the solution.

For every project, large or small, managing the requirements requires that the business analyst complete a handful of core tasks within the requirements process. Experienced business analysts are so familiar with these important steps that they can easily recite them off the top of their heads and develop an estimate of the effort. They've thoroughly polished their skills in planning the optimal approach to fulfill all kinds of requirements processes at hand. The business analyst conducts a stakeholder analysis to promote effective communication—both major and minor. And they plan for requirements measurement and benefits realization before the work begins. Together, these efforts help them create a plan to effectively manage the business analysis activities and deliverables.


Click to expand and see resources for each activity     [Expand all | Hide]
How-To
Planning the Business Analysis approach
Once you understand the "who, what, where, when, why, and how" of the project, you can begin to articulate the "how-long," using traditional project management estimating methods and/or estimating techniques for agile projects, which are surprisingly similar to business analyst efforts.

How-To
Stakeholder Analysis
Getting to know the stakeholders and familiarizing yourself with their needs will make your job a lot easier.

How-To
Requirements Management Planning
Managing requirements can easily become a hairball, especially for large, complex projects. So, before you start any project, be sure to create a plan for how you'll organize and structure the requirements-related activities.

How-To
Communication Planning
Because communication is such an integral part and devours a huge chunk of a business analyst's time, it's a very good idea to plan a careful communication strategy for each project.

How-To
Requirements Measurement Planning
It's difficult to overemphasize the extent to which the requirements planning process success depends on carefully thinking through how you'll measure the requirements, and how you'll demonstrate that the requirements will meet the expectations of the stakeholders.

How-To
Benefits Realization Planning
Part of your role as business analyst is to help identify, document, and create tools for measuring the realization of hard and soft benefits.


Elicit the Details


Activity:
Elicit the Details
There's a common misconception that project requirements are "gathered"—as if the requirements are waiting, like amber waves of grain, for the business analyst to come along and harvest them. The reality, of course, is different—requirements must almost always be elicited. That is, it's your job as business analyst to discover, draw-out, detail, review, and document any and all requirements, and review them again and carefully manage them as increasing numbers of requirements are uncovered.

Some of the techniques that experienced business analysts use to gather elicit the requirements are interviews, workshops, and reviewing all available documentation to understand the requirements challenges. Instead of simply asking the business stakeholders what they want, it's better to probe proactively for answers. Ask questions aimed at uncovering what the business actually needs now and will need in future, how the stakeholders perceive the current state, etc. Over the years, business analysts learn to reference the trends and needs that occur most often in projects, as a basis for understanding the present requirements.

Managing requirements is a large part of a business analyst's job, and it's one that needs constant attention. An organized, detailed approach will save you oodles of trouble and wasted time down the line. That's why it's a good idea to categorize the requirements, as far as possible, and seek consensus about how to prioritize them. Defining a formal process for reviewing the requirements will help you present the requirements to the right stakeholders, at the right time.

Will you be prepared when the requirements change—as they surely will? Once again, advance planning will help greatly. The changes will go more smoothly if there's a clear process in place for verifying that the changes continue to address the business need.

Click to expand and see resources for each activity     [Expand all | Hide]
How-To
Requirements Elicitation
There's a large and important difference between eliciting requirements and inventing them. It's rare for all of the requirements to be clear and neatly arranged, just waiting to be harvested; on the other hand, it's dangerous to invent requirements with insufficient evidence and/or input from the stakeholders.

How-To
Requirements Categorization
Categorizing the requirements will help you stay organized, as you gather, manage, and add new requirements.

How-To

How-To

How-To
Requirements Review and Approval
The best way to choose a process is by studying the realities of the project and choosing the level of review that best supports a successful project completion.

How-To
Gathering Requirements by Interview
A sensible way to begin eliciting the requirements is by interviewing the stakeholders and any subject matter experts.

How-To
Requirements Workshop
If you have more than two or three stakeholders who'll contribute their input on the problem, a requirements workshop may be the best answer.

How-To
Version Control and Change Management
Having a plan in place before the changes occur will spare you a great deal of risk, confusion, and wasted time.


Analyze the Solutions


Activity:
Analyze the Solutions
Successful project management is, to a large extent, a matter of keeping your bearings. Without a map and compass (or GPS), it's all too easy to get disoriented. At various points in any project, an experienced business analyst will pause to check how well the solution is meeting the business needs. Is it still on track, or has have the efforts of the various teams started to drift from the business purpose? Doing frequent status checks, and communicating your findings to the business partners and project team, will help you—and the project—take the shortest route to successful completion.

Early in the project, establishing clear acceptance criteria will help you track compliance with the business goals as the project moves along. It's important to analyze the solution at key checkpoints in the project lifecycle. You'll be expected to play a role in choosing a vendor, analyzing decisions, reviewing the impacts of any changes, and participating in the testing process before final implementation. Any of these activities, and others throughout the project, will almost certainly challenge you to re-analyze the solution. For instance, what if you discover that none of the vendors who respond to an Request For Proposal (RFP) meet more than a small percentage of the requirements? Maybe it's time for the project team to change course and choose new vendors, or consider building solutions in-house instead of purchasing them.

At each checkpoint, as you re-analyze the solution to verify that it still meets the business needs, be aware that the solution itself isn't the only thing to consider. The success of any project is also tied to how completely the organization embraces the solution. A terrific solution will only be partially successful if all the stakeholders don't buy in. Thus, you may need to apply some organizational readiness analysis and change/transition management to find out how completely the organization will accept the solution. The next step will be to help the staff become comfortable with the solution.

Consider: What if a solution meets the technical requirements well, but requires some team members to do their jobs differently? And what if those people are unwilling or unable to change? As the business analyst, you can help create training and other transition activities to help the team understand the value of the solution and how to work with it.

Click to expand and see resources for each activity     [Expand all | Hide]
How-To
Acceptance Criteria Definition
During a project, it's important that everyone understand the accepted standards of quality and completeness, and precisely how strictly the requirements will be met. Thus, it's part of your role to help everyone stay on track by continually refining, defining, and communicating the acceptance standards.

How-To
Decision Analysis
Decision analysis is a formal, structured method for predicting the likely outcome of decisions. It's particularly useful for decisions that are surrounded by complexity or uncertainty, because it brings an almost mathematical precision to discovering the best decision, even if some of the components are uncertain.

How-To

How-To
Organizational readiness
As a business analyst, an important part of your role is to gauge the organization's readiness for the solution, and devise ways to help the stakeholders become comfortable with it.

How-To
Impact Analysis
"Impact analysis" is pretty much what the words mean: it's a process of discovering, in advance, the impacts (positive or negative) of a solution or a course of action.

How-To
Functional Decomposition and Requirements Allocation
Functional decomposition is a fancy term that means breaking solutions or problems into manageable, bite-size portions that can be dealt with more easily, one at a time.

How-To
SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats analysis)
SWOT analysis is often used to help define (or refine) problem statements, clarify business needs, prioritize (or group) requirements, help make decisions, etc.

How-To
Change and Transition Management
A business analyst's role with regard to change and transition management is most often to facilitate training.


Transfer Knowledge


Activity:
Transfer Knowledge
As a business analyst (or a team member filling that role), you're accountable to understand the requirements. But it's also your role to ensure that everyone else understands them, too——at least well enough to build, test, implement, and start using the solution. And the most important tool in your efforts to educate those around you is the requirements documents, because they put the requirements before the users, stakeholders, and solution developers in a tangible form.

Not all requirements documents have the same "look and feel"—some are more visual, others are more textual, some are tabular. Clearly communicating the requirements begins with choosing the right format for the information you're communicating. If you're communicating processes, process models are an excellent way to go. If you're trying to show how various systems interact with each other, or with various business entities, context diagrams can give a clear, visual image of the linkages. If you need to tell the story of how users interact with the system, Use Cases and User Stories will probably be your best choice. Finally, if you need to organize large volumes of detail about the requirements in a consistent way that makes it easy for readers to digest the information, consider building a repository for the data or business rules (e.g., a data dictionary).You will probably end up using a mix of formats in your final requirements documentation, in order to present each data type effectively and ensure users can understand them easily.

Click to expand and see resources for each activity     [Expand all | Hide]
How-To
Process Modeling
Having a clear model of the repeatable steps of the workflow makes it easier to identify gaps and suggest changes.


How-To
Use Cases
A fully developed use case covers the broad scope of user interaction with processes and systems, as well as the gritty details.


How-To
User Stories
A user story is a real-life narrative that broadly describes a feature the user wants the system to include, without going into great detail.


How-To
Business Rules
Business rules can be understood as policies that guide or limit certain behaviors and constrain the way the system behaves.


How-To
Requirements Walkthrough
Walking through the requirements together helps everyone arrive at a common, consistent understanding, and creates a baseline for evaluating any changes and measuring their impact.
Burning questions, problem solvers & other resources
My requirements documents include pages and pages of detailed business rules and data specifications. Do I really have to make my customers or my project team walk through them all?


Resources and tools


How-To
Retaining Requirements for Reuse
If you want to avoid reinventing the wheel every time a project threatens to impact a system or business area, there's no substitute for clear, thorough, reusable requirements documentation.





Developing Specific Skills
Check this section for advice on how to get really good at all various skills business analyst needs to master. Our goal is to provide help on more than mechanics or techniques. We want to share what we've learned about the nuances of key "knowledge areas" of business analysis.
…Things to know how to do
Key Knowledge Area Coaching
Problems are the nature of our profession. Without problems, there wouldn't be a need for Business Analysts to help business users and project teams develop solutions. Problem solving is a fundamental and integral skill in almost every role in the working world today. But when the focus is on you to lead the effort to find the solution to the problem du jour, you need to reach into your bag of tricks and demonstrate truly impressive problem solving skills.

Problem Solving

Problem solving isn't as big a challenge as it's sometimes made it out to be. It simply requires a methodical approach: Gather the resources to identify the right problem, and employ your grab bag of tools to identify the best solution—preferably, flexible tools that will serve you in you a variety of situations. Throw in the willingness to learn from trial and error, and you'll quickly become an effective problem solver.

Even experienced business analysts and project managers can become intimidated by the prospect of solving difficult problems on their own. In fact, problems are nearly always easier to solve when we ask for help. To help you gain some experience in a short period of time we've compiled a six-step process for facilitating problem solving as a group.

Read more on » Facilitating a group problem-solving session

Related Burning questions and problem solvers

How do I know if I found the right problem statement?

We've identified a root cause, but it's not something we can solve. Now what?

…Plus how to stand out!
Personal Effectiveness Coaching

Building trust in relationships with customers, team members, and stakeholders is an essential skill for all members of a project team, especially for those leading significant tasks. The best way to improve your reputation is to actively build trust with those you encounter. Great project managers and business analysts work to be universally trusted and respected by their peers, community members and project teams because they actively build trust with everyone. Trust is earned primarily by doing what you say you'll do. Follow-through is absolutely critical to building relationships. Trust doesn't just happen, and it isn't created by applying formal techniques (though they can certainly help); it is earned by acting consistently. Trust and respect are earned, over time.

Read more on » Building Trust

Additional resources with advice on Building Trust

Making Trust Personal

Operating Across Organizations



Building my career
What separates the best from the rest, what do executives care about, and how can this role help build your overall career? We've selected a few articles and related content focusing on development of a career as a business analyst and helping you stand out in your field.
Career development:
Building abilities, getting ahead
Here's some advice to help you develop your career and look forward toward the future. Not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but knowing what being great in your business analyst role looks like and what the experience and skills developed could bring in the future can help you plan your career development.

Now Is A Great Time To Be A Business Analyst
If you've been thrust into "playing" business analyst as a sideline to your "real" career, thank your lucky stars, because it may just be the career opportunity of the moment. But if you've navigated here deliberately, pat yourself on the back; you've made an extremely well timed choice.

What matters:
Keys to being valued and having a great career
Do you know what others think of when they picture a great business analyst, what executives desire and look for? We've provided this article to give you a picture of what others want in business analysts and how they can make a greater contribution through their role.

A Question of Degrees
No, I'm not talking about certification, and we aren't talking about academic titles, which may indicate little more than a person's ability to take tests, follow rules, and play the game. The B.S., M.S., or Ph.D. after a person's name is never a measure of their greatness. What matters is how far a business analyst is willing to go to excel in each assignment. The difference good business analysts and great ones is, quite simply, the extent to which they deliver more than they promise.





©Copyright 2000-2014 Emprend, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
About us   Site Map   View current sponsorship opportunities (PDF)
Contact us for more information or e-mail info@projectconnections.com
Terms of Service and Privacy Policy