How to become a Business Analyst

Quick Thoughts

16 May 2016 • Written by Luke Johnstone

Luke Johnstone, 13 years’ BA experience

My BA career started when I was working on a help desk at a small company that manufactured smart electricity meters and the back office software that collected the data from the meters. The company went from solely manufacturing to providing a managed service to electricity retailers, hence the need for a help desk.

As a member of the help desk, I’d spend my day using our software and talking to customers, end users and field staff installing and maintaining the meters. So I was in a good position to gather feedback and work out what worked and what didn’t.

The company employed a small team of technology professionals to build and maintain its products – there were software engineers, embedded firmware engineers, systems engineers and even a tester. This meant that, whenever I had a complaint (quite often) or a good idea (less often), I had access to the folks that could make stuff happen.

About 12 months after I started, the company won a major contract to replace an old prepayment system with our system. As such, a project team was formed and I was seconded onto the project to provide expertise to the team on what changes should be made to enable the replacement to run effectively. At this stage, I was just happy to be doing something different and influencing change. It was intoxicating. As it turned out, the team required me to write down my thoughts and then walk them through them to ensure they understood correctly! The project took about six months and was deemed a success by those in the know.

Afterwards, I was told I should apply for a Business Analyst role that the company created to work with the in-house development team. I remember having to ask what a Business Analyst does! Despite my ignorance, I ended up getting the job and so my career as a Business Analyst started.

In the first couple of years, I was fortunate to attend several professional Business Analyst courses. This training was supplemented by getting advice and feedback from the development team and by following websites such as requirementsnetwork.com and various LinkedIn groups. I also read Software Requirements by Karl Wiegers and Mastering the Requirements Process by James and Suzanne Robertson. I didn’t have a mentor as I couldn’t find any other Business Analysts, but I now wish I’d tried a bit harder to find one.

The advice I give people now who want to get into Business Analysis is to do some research into what it is, then find scenarios in your current job or personal life where you can perform some Business Analysis. Keep a record of these examples and show them to prospective employers or mentors.

Scott Hay, 8 years’ BA experience

“I was originally trained as a multimedia developer specialising in web technologies. We were a one-stop-shop at the time so the organisation had no such thing as BA's. We were cross-trained as analyst programmers – common in the early 90's – and undertook numerous BA training courses, the best being the five-day Business Analysis course facilitated by Shane Hastie.

Out of the team, our various stakeholders seemed to relate to me best so I took on more and more of the BA-type work with the business users. The hardcore developers were happy and, over time, I grew more and more into that role. We’d also previously outsourced some of the BA tasks and had pretty poor results with vague and missing requirements etc., so I had a pretty good idea of what not to do! When the team was restructured, a BA practice was created so I jumped ship and switched focus entirely to a BA role (although I still code on occasions and enjoy web design etc.).

Early on in my career, I was a pretty big fan of Shane Hastie and followed his blogs etc. He also started me on the road to Agile thinking. I've also been lucky with the organisations I've worked for, being tasked to assist in developing a BA best practice for Statistics NZ. I’ve also been mentored by some pretty good BA's over the years. Having someone you can bounce ideas around with is pretty key.

I had read BABOK early on and thought it a little overblown. For me, it was more about communication and a common understanding than ‘thou shalt do things this way’ –developing experience over time, developing a toolkit through trial and error etc., based on real experiences and discussion approaches with colleagues.

I still find the IIBA really useful when directing others to understanding what we do and how we do it, but would recommend talking to others, being a part of a project where BA’s are involved or, better yet, part of a cross-functional team that gives you the opportunity to work some of this out yourself and within a team environment. For me, this is the best way to get into Business Analysis.

Aimee Palmer, 8 years’ BA experience

I went down a Test Analyst career path before realising pretty quickly that I could do alright as a BA. I indicated this on my development plan and was buddied up to work on some small pieces of wireframe work with a senior BA. As I proved myself, I got to work on these pieces alone. Gradually, I was given more responsibility like presenting to the client etc., but always with a mentor. It was that support that really got my career off the ground. I did no formal training at all until I did a business process modelling course which was pretty common sense. I credit the start of my career to my mentor and what I was taught. I also found my own mentor who I often call on for career decisions as it helps to have someone impartial. I credit all of my biggest career decisions to them.

Terence Kruger, 10 years’ BA experience

I didn’t know I wanted to be a BA from the get-go. I came from a hardware background (building PC, laying networks etc…). After I was retrenched, I knew this wasn’t what I wanted going forward.

I went to study Business Information Systems (Informatics) with the idea of getting into software development. In my first job as a UI developer at a financial institution, there were BA’s doing the specifications and, as I worked with them, I realised this is what I would like to transition to as it ticked all of the boxes involving:

  • Creative (wireframes, process maps, different models)
  • Business (getting involved with business, how it works)
  • Learning (always learning something new as each business is different and does things differently

I moved into researching object modelling, UML, BPMN, SDLC and then worked as a BA getting ‘on the job’ experience.

Craig McLintock, 12 years’ BA experience

BA’s are often seen as the people who can speak to geeks and normal people. The good BA’s I’ve known have been either:

  • A technology person e.g. developer, tester etc., or
  • A business person who has become an SME

In both scenarios, these individuals have excellent people skills first and foremost and can leverage their domain/solution knowledge to help organisations. I don't know too many who started as a BA fresh from school.

My journey was initially as a developer for a cheese company that took over the country’s refrigerators. We bought company after company for several years growing from 600 to 2800 staff. 

We had BA’s but, since being a grad, I always got out into factories/warehouses/on trucks etc., meeting and interacting with the people who used the solutions I developed ­– my customers. I was doing analysis at a solution level, but couldn't help myself working out how it fitted into the bigger picture. 

When I started to get bored of managing a team of developers, I utilised my knowledge of the company, the systems and people to move from development into the light of the world of BA’s. 

I didn't really read anything about BA-ness but I had a couple of really really good mentors who guided me. 

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