Get to know your business analysts

How well do you know the business analysts in your organization? Business analysts, or BAs, fill varied roles at companies of all sizes. This career field has been expanding steadily for the past few years, as indicated by this and past Forrester research surveys. Read this article to learn more about business analysis professionals' backgrounds, credentials, responsibilities and aspirations.

Are you curious about the role of business analysts in your organization? The demand for business analysts has risen in the past year, and Forrester’s recent survey shows that these professionals handle a wide variety of responsibilities and bring very important skills to the project teams they work on.

Where do business analysts work and who are they?

According to this 2010 Q3 survey of 1,461 respondents conducted by Forrester and the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA), business analysts work in organizations ranging in size from under 100 to over 20,000 employees. The majority of respondents were from organizations with 1,000 or more employees, with 25% working in companies with more than 20,000 employees. Business analysts, or BAs, as they are often referred to in the survey report, represent a wide scope of industries as well, from media and entertainment to the public sector. Totaling 58%, most respondents work in finance, insurance, business and IT service industries. Seventy percent of respondents are employed at North American companies.

The title “business analyst” is used in this report to represent several different roles, from business architect to business systems analyst. The highest number of respondents categorized themselves as either senior business analysts (30%) or business analysts (26%). BAs also assume responsibilities as product managers, requirements engineers and, oftentimes, as consultants. Nearly half of those surveyed responded “yes” to the question “Are there more individuals at your company who play a role similar to yours today than there were a year ago?” Interestingly, 46% of respondents also said “yes” to this question in the 2009 survey, reflecting ongoing demand for BAs over the past couple of years.

What credentials do business analysts have, and what is next for them?

Survey respondents have varied educational backgrounds; it seems several paths can lead to this dynamic career choice. Most BAs have either a bachelor’s degree or a master’s or MBA, with business or computer sciences being the most common areas of study; however, 10% of respondents identified their degrees as falling within the liberal arts category, and nearly 20% of respondents’ highest education attained is a high school diploma, some college or an associate’s degree.

Despite the fact that more than half of respondents lack any formal certification in business analysis, the vast majority (75%) have worked in the field for more than five years, with a full 19% citing more than 15 years experience in business analysts roles. Many BAs have previous experience as developers, quality assurance professionals, technical writers, consultants and IT directors. Mobility is common, and most BAs aspire to a management role, with a title such as senior business analyst or director of systems analysts.

According to the survey report, “Interestingly, 16% want to move into a business architect position, a relatively new role that is evolving as business-centric approaches to technology become more common. To gain an understanding of the business architect role, see the October 24, 2008, “The Up-And-Coming Business Architect” report and the September 27, 2010, “Business Architects — The Strategy Job Is Open” report.

What is a typical week like for a business analyst?

Most BAs identified themselves as generalists responsible for varying tasks and engaged in projects from software development to process improvement. Many in this profession are responsible for enterprise application implementation, migration or upgrade, or for business process management. They are also involved in a wide range of activities in any given week. The results in the survey report highlight that “Requirements definition (elicitation, analysis, documentation, and validation) makes up about a third of a BA’s normal work week. This aligns with research that indicates getting requirements right early leads to higher project success and saves organizations time and money spent on rework.”

Nearly half of respondents describe their organizations’ software development lifecycle as utilizing a mix of iterative, Agile and waterfall development methodologies, while 34% identify as predominantly waterfall, and just 9% identify as predominantly Agile.

What skills and knowledge are most important for BAs?

Business analysts themselves may be best qualified to identify the skills needed to perform their job functions. This survey found that as in the 2009 survey, BAs value certain soft skills as critical or very important.

Top five soft skills for BAs:

  1. Communication (written and oral)
  2. Analysis and critical thinking
  3. Collaboration
  4. Customer and results orientation
  5. Planning, organization

Similarly, BAs named the most valuable techniques they need to be able to perform their roles.

Top five techniques BAs need to know:

  1. Interviewing
  2. Facilitation
  3. Modeling
  4. Negotiation
  5. Business rules design

Generally speaking, business analysis professionals most often leverage the IIBA Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK) or Strengths Opportunities Weaknesses Threats (SOWT) analytical frameworks to support analysis, and they value business domain knowledge and organizational strategy over technology knowledge.

Conclusion

Business analysis professionals represent a growing, dynamic field and require a diverse skill set to perform the wide-ranging tasks required of them. They fulfill several important functions in both small and large organizations and continue to be in demand.

For more information about the 2009 survey results, see “Learn More About Your 2009 Business Analysts.”

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