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Clear path for business analysts

Not all business analysts are born equal, but they can reach a common baseline of excellence through diligence.
Read time 5min 40sec

The recent emergence of a career path due to formalisation of the industry has highlighted the fact that some people are predisposed to be good business analysts, while others need to work a little harder at it.

Not only should prospective business analysts be aware of this, but also the institutions that wish to train them.

It's important that candidates have a certain, measurable chance of success. Sending just anyone on business analyst training would result in hit and miss.

The sad fact is that it's often more miss than hit.

Business analysis, because it requires people to interact with business users and IT people on the one hand, while performing highly structured analytical tasks on the other, can be demanding of people's intellects and temperaments.

Finding the balance

Good business analysts must have the correct temperament, which means they need to have a good balance between left and right brain capabilities. That represents only a small fraction of the population. The good news is that those that fall close to, but outside of, that group can use interventions to make up for their deficiencies.

It is advisable to use an internationally recognised test to assess people's suitability to the task. The test makes people aware of their strengths and weaknesses and allows them to focus their training and coaching in the correct areas. It also makes mentors aware of their students' weaknesses, allowing them to properly coach them.

For example, left-brained people will typically be structured and analytical and will pay attention to detail. But that means they'll be more inclined to over-analysis and may often miss the bigger picture. They will also steer away from people interaction, which is a key aspect of business analysis. Right-brained people, on the other hand, will clearly see the bigger picture but will not enjoy drilling down into the detail. But business analysts must do both.

Writing up a requirements document is a structured task and right-brained people tend to be unstructured. While that has its advantages, because they'll keep the overall end goal in sight and will be in closer contact with users, they're less likely to give developers the exact information they need. Left-brained people will probably give developers exact information to design and develop the software, but they may lose sight of the end goal and the information may not necessarily be aligned with user requirements.

Tools of the trade

Only a fraction of the population can do all of that naturally, without any interventions, because they come naturally equipped with the correct tools.

The remainder of people need to learn what the tools are, how to employ them and which tools can be used in situations, in the real world, that fall outside of the theoretical realm.

A person's brain also affects the teaching methods that will work best for them. Right-brained people want to see pictures and diagrams explaining concepts. Left-brained people want a methodical text or narrative explaining and describing them.

Business analyst training must factor in the different types of people and their needs. Tutors must develop deficient areas. And developing the correct behaviour is important for people with deficiencies in one or more areas. It allows them to compensate. Many institutions aren't aware of this. They believe that, because they know the technology and know the business, they can teach people how to do it. But if they're not going about it in the correct manner, then they're not giving the students value for their money.

The government is in the process of rewriting many of its IT systems. As an example, it may need as many as 100 business analysts and will develop that human capital over the next three years. Considering the overall project, they'll want to be sure that they have the correct people up-front. Failure to do so runs the very real risk of project deadline and budget overruns with poor quality results.

Getting certified

Business analysis can be demanding of people's intellects and temperaments.

Robin Grace is principal consultant for business analysis at IndigoCube.

Formalisation of the industry has given business analysts a three-step career path. They can be measured as associates, practitioners or specialists.

Associates have undergone training and written an exam. Practitioners have used the knowledge to gain some experience and will typically have passed some internationally recognised certification in the field of business analysis.

Specialists have gained a wealth of experience that has led to behavioural change and development so that, even in moments of crisis, their automatic response is to apply suitable business analysis methods and processes - ideally these people will be certified by the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA).

The IIBA has developed certification that requires business analysts to have five years of experience. That's excellent because it means certified business analysts really know what they're doing. But it doesn't help SA's business analyst skills shortage in the short term and it doesn't help government's project, for example.

There are a select few local organisations that bridge the gap between the theoretical associate level and the experienced specialist level. They'll assess prospective business analysts before they embark on training and examine current business analysts and test their practical skills after two years, according to internationally accepted criteria, to ensure they're applying their training and developing the necessary behaviour.

Mentors play an important role in that process because they help the business analysts to develop the necessary behaviour.

Useful yardstick

The process not only formalises the industry, giving business analysts a career path to follow, but also gives organisations a gauge by which to judge the level of business analyst expertise, their suitability to their role and their suitability to the project or environment.

The exams and practical tests are essential elements to ensure business analysts have gained specific and necessary knowledge. The practical tests focus on whether business analysts achieve the desired results and whether they followed all the steps, which does not necessarily mean they employed the correct tools to perform the task. There are times when they must be creative.

This career path, which kicks off with theory, progresses to practical and concludes with advanced theory and practical, ensures business analysts develop breadth and depth of knowledge and skills and concretises their career path.

* Robin Grace is principal consultant for business analysis at IndigoCube.

Robin Grace

Principal consultant, IndigoCube.

Robin Grace is principal consultant at IndigoCube. He entered the IT industry via the Van Zyl and Pritchard Cobol Course in 1979, rising through the normal IT ranks to the position of systems analyst. He has been involved with methods and methodologies ever since reading up on James Martin's Bubble Diagrams for Data Modelling. Grace has used, consulted on and taught on many methods since then, worked for Comcon as method manager and spent many years working for Mike Bergen & Associates as a consultant, involved with information engineering among its various clients. He believes the importance of business analysis is under-recognised in the industry. He has been exposed to methods as diverse as catalysis to information engineering, and more recently UML and BPM.

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