Six ways to succeed as a business analyst

When you search for a definition or a role description of a business analyst, you probably end up with an exhaustive list of definitions including all required capabilities, skills, knowledge areas and experience levels. But apart from all the titles given to a business analyst and all of the required hard skills, what about the soft skills? What makes a business analyst successful, regardless of the specific business context, the involved technology, the agreed project methodology, or the required experience level? Let’s take a closer look at some of the most important “invisible” behaviors that makes you stand out from the crowd as a business analyst.

1. Care about your stakeholder(s)

It’s important to keep in mind that every project is unique. When you show you care about your stakeholder’s context and problem, you will begin to build a foundation of trust and confidence.

A stakeholder can be any person involved in the project, directly or indirectly, whether that is the client, the client’s client, a subcontractor, a vendor, or one of your colleagues.

Often, the challenge will be to come up with feasible solutions for those problems, but that is always a joint effort with many aspects to consider. However, with an atmosphere of trust, it will be much easier to accomplish.

2. Listen actively and ask the right questions

Caring is the first step, but in order to truly understand, it is of utmost importance that you listen, interpret, reframe and ask the right questions. This is typically done during a workshop or refinement session. The business analyst is seen as the translator between technical experts and business representatives.

If the stakeholder’s expectations become too complex to understand, it’s helpful to summarize it in writing and ask validation of your interpretation. By making things explicit and transparent, you avoid potential misunderstandings, rework, missed deadlines, or even budgetary issues.

3. Choose the right medium to communicate

Communication is key in every interaction, whether those communications are through email, chat, phone, or video conference. Every medium has advantages and disadvantages so you should carefully consider which medium is the most appropriate for each type of communication. The below Numbers of Meaning are therefore important to consider:

  • 55% of a person’s perception in any communication about feelings and attitudes is based on what they see
  • 38% of the perception is based on how it sounds (tone, volume and speed)
  • 7% of the perception is based on the actual words that are spoken

These Numbers of Meaning help us understand how people make sense of their communications with others, and how misunderstandings can arise. Anytime there’s a difference between what you see, what you hear and what is actually said, there’s a potential for people problems.

4. Coordinate & ensure close follow-up

Almost every interaction implies that one or more actions are supposed to be taken. As a business analyst, you are responsible for coordinating those actions closely and following up on their outcome to ensure that the right progress is made, stakeholders are aligned, and timely decisions can be taken. By doing so, you show your engagement and it further increases the confidence of your stakeholders.

Validation of what has been discussed or agreed upon is crucial to every project. Depending on the nature of the project, validation can be an extensive step in the process or a quick double check which is repeated on a regular basis. In any case, without proper validation (which requires coordination and follow-up of open actions), the project is deemed to be delayed, rework might be needed – which leads to frustrations – and a lack of confidence in the business analyst may arise.

5. Manage your meetings

Excellent time management is a crucial skill for a business analyst. Everyone’s time is valuable and when you schedule a meeting, people take time to speak with you. Plan your meetings well in advance (if possible), make sure there is an agenda so participants can come in prepared, have your priorities clear, and appoint a timekeeper in case elaborate discussions may jeopardize your meeting agenda. This means some discussions might have to take place outside of the respective meeting.

With regards to recurring meetings, it is a bad practice to cancel them. If you start doing so, your stakeholders - who are also very busy - will start to consider your meetings less of a priority. You might be seen as an unreliable meeting facilitator.

It’s better to always keep the meeting. Even a quick status update from all persons involved will make the meeting worthwhile. It will also maintain open lines of communication and ensure nothing falls through the cracks.

6. Keep your management in the loop

Not every stakeholder is involved on a daily basis with the project. Some may only get involved if something goes wrong. When that happens, people start to get nervous and will have questions. Then there is no time to build credit, show what went well, or explain which efforts were made to keep the project on track. You should be prepared to discuss how to get the project back on track instead of going into defense mode.

For that reason, it is a wise decision to keep all your stakeholders involved on a regular basis.  Informal meetings, even over coffee, may be enough to maintain open lines of communication.

The below template can be used as a mental reminder which stakeholders reside in which quadrant. This can be helpful when the organigram of the organization you are working in / for is not clear to you or when you notice that relations other than the official reporting lines are playing a role within the project. Depending on the influence versus the interest of the stakeholder, your approach to involve him or her should be different.

Many other soft skills will make your life easier, not only as a business analyst, but as a business partner in general. However, when you become familiar with the above 6 behaviors, every stakeholder will be willing to cooperate with you, take action(s) on your requests, make time for your schedule, listen to you, and keep you informed when needed. And aren’t those the basic ingredients for a successful and enjoyable journey throughout the project?

Katy Willems

Katy Willems is Business Consultant at Amplexor, based in Belgium. Specializing in Business Process Analysis, she focuses on capturing all the business and functional aspects of projects and translating them into solid technology solutions. Katy has over 5 years of project experience when it comes to delivering a solid business or functional analysis report.

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