Tag Archives: BAcareer

The Mid-Range Project Business Analyst – a job description

Author: Geri Schneider Winters

You probably have three or more years experience in some kind of job, and feel that you have mastered the skills of a Starter Project BA. You are looking for a position with more responsibility, where you can work more independently, and think you have the skills for a Mid-Range Project Business Analyst.

Everything that a Starter Project Business Analyst does and knows applies to you as well. The skills build on each other, leading to positions of more responsibility over time.

If you are a Mid-range Project Business Analyst you work on a project team. This could be a software project, a business process improvement project, or many other kinds of projects. You are responsible for analyzing the information that has been collected and defining the requirements for the project. You will also write all the project requirements, and verify them with the project stakeholders. This is the work most people think of when they think of a Business Analyst.

Like a Research Scientist, your specialty is Analysis. You have to use techniques of Analysis in order to determine which of the information collected actually represents requirements. Then you also have to analyze the requirements to determine if they are complete, and to determine the best form in which to document them. The ability to analyze is what sets you apart from the Starter Project Business Analyst. The ability to analyze is what makes it possible for you to reach more senior roles on the project team and elsewhere in the corporation.

In addition to all the skills of a Starter Project Business Analyst, you need to be comfortable with a variety of analysis techniques that you will use when examining information to determine what represents requirements, and how to structure those requirements. You will be familiar with a wide range of documentation methods, choosing the most appropriate methods for each project and audience. You need to be good at eliciting approval of the project requirements from the various stakeholders, which may mean producing multiple versions of the same requirements at different levels of detail. You should be comfortable mediating discussions when stakeholders do not agree on what the project requirements are.

You do not need to be an expert at every possible form of documentation before progressing to a Senior Project Business Analyst. But the more comfortable you are with a wide variety of document types and technologies, the more useful you will be in your role.

As a Mid-range Project BA you work independently on the project team, though it is quite common for Mid-range and Senior BAs to review each other’s work, even BAs on different projects. You will work with the Project Manager to verify the direction and scope of your work. A more senior BA, Project Manager, or BA Manager will mentor you to develop the skills of a more senior Business Analyst. You are expected to know what to do on the project team and to do the work without much direction. You will develop good relationships with other BAs in the organization.

The most important skills for a Mid-range Project BA are:
• Analysis
• Gaining Consensus
• Organizing Information
• Determining level of detail for an audience
• UML Activity Diagrams
• Use Cases
• User Stories
• FURPS
• SRS
• Business Rules

Technologies you should master are:
• Diagramming Tools
• Tools to organize files
• Version Control tools
• Electronic signature tools

The most important personal traits are:
• Analytical
• Reputation for fairness
• Firm willed
• Self directed

 

The Starter Project Business Analyst – a job description

Author: Geri Schneider Winters

You may have just finished college, or have none of the skills needed for a more advanced BA role. You are interested in a Starter Project BA position either to learn more about the job to see if it is something of interest, or because you have decided on this as a career.

All Business Analysts use the skills of the Starter Project BA. Even if you end up starting as a Mid-Range Project Business Analyst, you will still need the skills of the Starter Project Business Analyst. There are a lot of projects where you will be the only BA, so you will have to have the skill set of all three levels of Business Analyst. The Starter Project BA skills are also very useful or required in a wide variety of jobs.

If you are a Starter Project Business Analyst you work on a project team. This could be a software project, a business process improvement project, or many other kinds of projects. You are responsible for collecting information and communicating it to the appropriate team members.

Like a Ham (Amateur) Radio Operator on an emergency response team, your specialty is Communications. You need to be good at finding all kinds of information by researching in documentation of all kinds and by eliciting it from people. You also need to be good at sharing the information in a wide variety of formats and technologies.

As a Starter Project BA, you need to be comfortable with a wide variety of people and situations. You should not hesitate to make a telephone call, send an email, or instant message any one from whom you need to elicit information. You need to be good at setting up meetings, taking notes, and following up on action items. You should be comfortable talking to people one-on-one, as well as comfortable facilitating a meeting.

You do not need to be an expert at every possible form of communication before progressing to a Mid-Range Project Business Analyst. But the more comfortable you are with a wide variety of people and technologies, the better you will be at any BA role.

As a Starter Project BA, you are not expected to work alone. A more senior BA, Project Manager, or BA Manager will direct your work. He or she will also mentor you to develop more BA skills.

The most important skills for a Starter Project BA are:
• Listening
• Scribing
• Facilitating
• Holding interviews
• Research, both online and in documentation
• Writing

Technologies you should master are:
• Email
• Instant Messenger
• Telephone and VOIP
• Standard office software
• Digital Recorder
• Projector and computer for meetings
• Teleconferencing System

The most important personal traits are:
• Warm and friendly personality
• Comfortable with all kinds of people
• Comfortable in all kinds of situations
• Self-motivated
• Organized

 

The Importance of the Job Description

Author: Geri Schneider Winters

You have been thinking of becoming a Business Analyst, and are not sure how to go about it. Since few people leave college and start working as a Business Analyst, you are probably making a career change, or at least are looking for a way to move from a related role into a Business Analyst role.

Everything starts with a job description. You have to know what you are looking for in order to find it. I think the area of career development for Business Analysts is a bit difficult because the career path is not well defined. There are efforts to define the role – Prince 2 and CBAP – but I don’t think there is widespread agreement throughout the industry yet on really what is meant by Business Analysis. I do have specific suggestions on a Business Analyst career path, including how someone might become a Business Analyst directly after college.

I used to think that a person should work 3-5 years before becoming a Business Analyst. I realized that I was only thinking of a Senior Business Analyst. That is one of the problems currently facing Business Analysts, that we do not have defined levels. So I have defined a useful progression of Business Analyst roles.

I created these job descriptions based on my own experiences as a Business Analyst, Project Manager, and leader of a team of Business Analysts on very large and huge projects. I have asked other people with backgrounds as Business Analyst and various kinds of managers to review these descriptions. They all agree that this is a useful and reasonable approach to a Business Analyst career path.

In defining a series of Business Analyst roles, I had several goals to achieve. First, each position I described had to be useful to a company and project team. Second, there had to be a clear increase in responsibility from one role to the next. Finally, I wanted to be very precise in the descriptions so that you can take them to hiring managers, and the hiring managers can see the usefulness of the work for their teams.

While reviewing the work of very senior project Business Analysts, I determined three clear, useful roles for a Business Analyst to play on a project team. These roles are: Starter Project Business Analyst, Mid-range Project Business Analyst, and Senior Project Business Analyst. There are many other jobs that a person called a Business Analyst can do. In this and succeeding articles, I have outlined the project BA roles because I believe these are the most common roles for a BA.

If you do not have work experience, you will begin as a Starter (or Junior) Business Analyst. If you are making a career change, you will probably be able to start in a Mid-range or possibly even Senior Business Analyst role.

The first step in looking for a Business Analyst position is to look at descriptions of different levels of Business Analyst to see where you fit in terms of your skills and experience. Then you can take the appropriate description to a hiring manager and explain to them that this is the job you want to do. If you do not yet have the necessary skills and experience, then you can use the descriptions to determine where you need further education and experience.

 

Intro to Finding a BA position

Author: Geri Schneider Winters

I get a lot of emails and blog posts from people who want to be Business Analysts, but are not sure how to go about finding a BA position. This article is the first in a series discussing techniques for finding a BA position.

One of the issues all Business Analysts face is that the role is poorly defined. There are efforts to define the role – Prince 2 and CBAP – but I don’t think there is widespread agreement throughout the industry yet on really what is meant by Business Analysis.

In other articles on this site, you will see that I have defined a progression of BA roles. You can look at the pages for Starter Project BA, Mid-range Project BA, and Senior Project BA for descriptions of those roles. Having these descriptions in hand will make it easier for you to talk with a hiring manager about what he or she thinks a Business Analyst is. They will also help you communicate how you can bring benefit to the project team or company.

You need to think about whether you are changing jobs within your current company or looking outside your company. The techniques are quite different in these two kinds of job search.

If you are looking outside your company, the first obvious step is to apply to job ads. This does not work for me, nor have I known it work for many other people. In fact, a friend told me about some research where the best people in a company were asked to put a different name on their resume and send it to their own human resources department in response to some job ads. This was to see the effectiveness of applying to job ads. Not one of those people was offered an interview!

The basic reason is that the people in human resources get a lot of resumes in response to job ads, so they use automated tools to do keyword matching. If the tools do not find the right keywords in your resume, then it is rejected. If your resume is rejected, very often no human has even looked at it.

The next technique you may try is working with a recruiter. A lot of BA positions are only advertised through recruiters. If you find a good recruiter, that person will understand the position you are applying for and will be working closely with the hiring manager. If you do not find a good recruiter, your results will be the same as applying to human resources through a job ad.

In this series of articles, I outline some other strategies for looking for a job outside your company and inside your company. These techniques include networking, direct marketing, and creating a transition plan.

If you try out some of those techniques, post your results on this blog. If you know another way to find work, post that as well, so we can all learn more ways to effectively look for a job.

 

Starting, mid-range, and Senior Business Analysts

Author: Geri Schneider Winters

I have been thinking a lot recently about what I would expect if I were hiring a Business Analyst.  My expectations are very different if the person is a starting Business Analyst, or someone with a few years experience, or someone very senior.

For a starting Business Analyst, I would expect the person to be able to elicit, organize, and verify information with the project stakeholders. Notice I do not say to elicit requirements, but rather to elicit information. I think it takes more experience to be able to determine what the actual requirements are, and this requires a person to be skilled in analysis techniques. The starting Business Analyst should have strong communication skills – listening, speaking, and writing – with people who have a wide variety of personalities and knowledge bases. I expect to spend more time with a starting Business Analyst, reviewing his or her work, guiding, and mentoring.

I expect my mid-range Business Analyst to have strong analysis skills. This person needs to be able to review a lot of information, determine the actual requirements and their priorities, write the requirements in the most appropriate form for the project, and manage the requirements throughout the project lifecycle.  The mid-range Business Analyst will take on more leadership activities, and will be more self-directed. I expect to spend less time with the mid-range Business Analyst.

I think that a senior Business Analyst will be more of a specialist. This person might decide to become more of a project manager, or might focus on human/computer interaction, or develop more technical skills to work more closely with the development team. The senior Business Analyst will be completely self-directed.

Employers tend to focus heavily on subject matter expertise, which in practice I have found to be the least important part of my job. There are plenty of Subject Matter Experts (SME) at any company, and I work closely with them. As a Business Analyst, I am really a communication expert, and I have been extremely effective in that role in many companies. But it can be hard to sell yourself to an employer that way, especially at the beginning, so developing subject matter expertise in order to get your foot in the door is a good plan.

Keep in mind that the point of a Business Analyst job is not the subject matter expertise. Rather, work to develop good Business Analyst skills of elicitation, analysis, communication, and management of information and people. This will allow you to more easily transition jobs in the future, because your work is not dependent on a particular industry.

 

Think about the Business Analyst job. What do the best Business Analysts do? What is a good transition path from starting through senior level positions?

 

Who Runs a Software Project?

Author: Geri Schneider Winters

I work on a lot of really large software projects.  Over the years, it has become clear to me that three roles, and the interactions between people in those roles, are really vital for the success of a software project. These three roles are the Project Manager, Business Analyst, and Project Architect. This article discusses these three roles and their interactions.

The Project Manager is responsible for interactions with the Project Sponsor, and for managing the people, budget, and schedules of the project. The Business Analyst is responsible for determining the goals and business requirements of the project, communicating that information to the project team and project stakeholders, and verifying that the goals and business requirements are met. The Project Architect is responsible for determining the technical requirements of the project, interacting with Enterprise Groups to determine Enterprise level technical requirements for the project, and for guiding the technical team in the implementation. Decisions made by one of these people will impact the work of the others, so all three people work closely together throughout the project to accomplish the goals of the project.

In a very small project, the three roles may be filled by one person. In very large projects, each role may be a lead over a team of people who fill the role.  There could be a Project Manager managing a group of  assistant Project Managers, a Lead Business Analyst managing a team of Business Analysts, and a Project Architect managing a team of Software Architects and Designers.  This is not theory – I have often worked on projects large enough to require teams of people to fill these roles.

In this approach of sharing the project leadership between three roles, the Project Manager is ultimately responsible for the success of the project. The Business Analyst and the Project Architect report to the Project Manager, but being senior members of the team, they will often interact with the Project Manager as peers, each bringing a particular viewpoint and set of concerns to their meetings about the project.

The Project Manager, Business Analyst, and Project Architect meet regularly (at least weekly) to talk about the project and any issues that need to be addressed. Some issues will be resolved by one role, while others may require the collaboration of all three roles to resolve. It is important to the project that the three people in these roles respect each other’s expertise and talents. A smooth working relationship between the three roles leads to a smoothly running project.

Some projects may require additional leadership roles, such as a Deployment Manager or Test Manager.  So the leadership team may be larger for those projects.  I focus on the roles of Project Manager, Business Analyst, and Project Architect because every project I have seen needs leadership in those areas. The larger the project, the more work there is to do, and the more need there is to divide these roles among multiple people all of whom have leadership responsibilities.

 

Think about projects you have worked on.  How did the relationships between the Project Manager, Business Analyst, and Project Architect affect your project?  What other leadership roles have you seen on a project team?

 

Career Paths for Business Analysts

Author: Geri Schneider Winters

People come to the job of Business Analyst in many different ways. Some people graduate from college and immediately start to work as a junior Analyst for a major corporation. Often a Business Analyst has some years of work experience in some related field before starting to work as an analyst.

You may choose to work for a company in the role of Business Analyst, or you may be a consultant and some of what you do is work as a Business Analyst.

Once you are working as a Business Analyst, what can you expect in terms of career growth? This will depend on the experience you bring to the job and your interests.

BA’s with more experience are generally assigned to larger and/or more complex projects. If you are an experienced BA, you will be often asked to mentor junior Analysts, and depending on your other
experience, you may also be asked to mentor the Project Manager, Software Process Engineer, QA group, or even the Project Architect or Designer.

Over time, you may be asked to work on a small project as both the Business Analyst and the Project Manager. This will introduce you to the job of the Project Manager. You may decide to gain experience and certifications through the Project Management Institute (PMI) and evolve your career into management. You could work your way up through the levels of management as far as your talents and desires take you.

You may decide that you really love the BA job. Over time, you will work on more complex projects with more responsibility. You may then choose to create an internal organization for other BA’s in the company, to provide guidance, internal training, and resources such as templates or guidelines for people in that role.

You might decide you really like teaching and mentoring, so go into jobs such as corporate training or consulting. You would work to train and mentor other Business Analysts in their jobs.

You might become very interested in software development processes and become a process engineer. This tends to be a consulting position. Few companies have software process engineers on staff, though you may find such as position as part of a corporate governance or continuous quality improvement organization.

With your strength in the soft skills of listening, speaking, writing, and meeting facilitation, you can look at other kinds of careers that may interest you more than writing requirements for software projects.

For example, if you really like learning to install and use software tools, you might become a tools person – someone who elicits the corporate needs for software tools, determines what tools are needed, and how they will be used to support corporate goals. You might also be involved in creating manuals and training for company personnel to show them how to use the tools in their jobs.

Maybe business is your real passion, so you use your soft skills to become a business coach. You work with people to discover the goals of their business and how to achieve these goals. This is often a position where you work with small business owners who want to improve or grow their business.

Consider a job as a Product Manager. Note that is product not project. A Product Manager is a marketing person who surveys the market and writes the business requirements for new projects. A Product Manager typically works closely with project teams to achieve good products that meet the needs of the marketplace.

As you see, with experience as a Business Analyst, you have developed a lot of skill in listening, speaking, writing, and meeting facilitation. You may have also learned a lot about a particular domain. You can use these skills to develop further as a Business Analyst, or to go into other jobs such as Project Manager (and higher management positions), Product Manager, Tools Person, Governance, Quality Improvement, Business Coaching, Corporate Training, Mentoring, and Consulting.

Getting Started as a Business Analyst

Author: Geri Schneider Winters

Many people write to me to ask how they can get started as a Business Analyst. Here are my thoughts on what you can do to get started in that career.

An Analyst (Business or System) is typically in a leadership role on a project team. So the hiring manager often wants someone with some years of experience for the job. This does not necessarily mean experience as an Analyst, but some years of experience and maturity.

I started out as a Senior Scientific Programmer, then worked as a Field Engineer in a sales organization, then became a Business Analyst. This gave me technical and communication experience, plus about 12 years of work experience before I started working as a BA.

I know other very fine BAs who started as Project Managers, Newspaper Reporters, or experts in their industry (banking, insurance, etc).

If you do not have years of experience, you can look for jobs that are related or that help you develop the skills you will need for an Analyst position. Skills that are important include:

  • Soft skills – listening, writing, meeting facilitation, communication skills in general, negotiation
  • Domain knowledge – knowing a particular industry such as insurance, banking, or retail
  • Technical skills – understanding software architecture, design, and development
  • Leadership skills – project management, chairman or president of an organization

You do not necessarily need all of these skills to work as an Analyst. My own background is weak in any one domain (I know a little about a lot of domains, not a lot of one), but I have the soft skills, technical skills and leadership skills to be successful.

Some jobs you can look for include: junior analyst, reporter, sales person, marketing, technical writer, field engineer. These jobs involve a lot of the soft skills. You can work as a programmer and develop your career through the technical ranks (programmer, designer, architect). You can volunteer to lead an organization in your community to gain leadership experience. Take a junior job in an industry and work your way up. For example, if banking is your interest, take a job as a branch teller and work your way up through the ranks of the bank, taking on different roles, and really learning the business.

Definitely work with contacts, people you know in the business. Sometimes a project can use a junior analyst, but the position is not really advertised. If you know the senior analyst on the project, that person may be willing to bring you in to work with you personally.

Look for internships. For example, Safeway Inc. used to offer internships for Business Analysts at their corporate headquarters in Walnut Creek, California. I do not know if that program still exists. You may also find professional development programs at some companies. For example, Johnson and Johnson hires promising college grads into a 2 year professional development program where you work in 4 different parts of the company for 6 months at a time, learning the business. The goal is to put you into a leadership position at the company.

Look for large companies, and explore what options they have available. Check their websites and talk to people in their human resources department. Analysts work on larger projects, which are usually at larger companies. Banks and Insurance companies typically hire quite a number of analysts, but so do big retail companies (WalMart, Safeway, etc.) and companies in the defense industry (BAE Systems, Lockheed, Boeing).

Are you looking for a position as a Business Analyst? What have you done to prepare yourself to do that job?

Are you an experienced Business Analyst? What would you recommend to someone just starting out?