From hi-fi prototyping to people management skills, newly qualified business analysts need these 6 best practices for software development projects
Getting started on any new career path can be challenging, and not a little daunting. Business analysis in a software context can be more challenging than most for first-timers. Business analyst roles are often loosely defined and require a heck of a skills soup – IT, project management, people management, business smarts, wireframing & prototyping… And that’s just for starters!
But new business analysts needn’t worry. Applying some business analysis best practices from the get-go will fire up any software engineering project you work on, and boost your career potential.
Check out Justinmind’s 8 tips for newbie business analysts who want to ensure successful software products and engineering projects.
Get a 360 degree view of your business analyst responsibilities
You won’t be expected to know everything up front and right away. But you should have 100% clear what business analysis entails and the tools/methodologies you’ll need to dominate in the future. Business analysis roles in software development projects or enterprises can vary surprisingly. How do you know what your personal role entails?
Business analysis roles in software development projects or enterprises can vary surprisingly. How do you know what your personal role entails?
Simple. Talk it out. If you’ve just started a new BA position, sit down with your Lead Business Analyst or direct manager, and get to grips with their expectations. If you’re managed by a fellow business analyst, ask them what their understanding of success in your role is. If you’re managed by a non-BA, what do they mean when they say ‘business analyst’. Do they want you to do data modelling or is that left to the DBAs? Do they want you to focus more on the business side or more on engineering?
And remember, you’re the person who has to understand the specific problem the software claims to solve, and convey that to the rest of the team throughout the project lifecycle.
Keep learning with business analysis courses
So you got a job, you can sit back and relax, right? Wrong. Continuous learning is expected in many workplaces, especially in fast-moving industries such as software development.
Sign up to any learning opportunities offered by your enterprise. This could be in-house workshops, online courses or sponsorship to attend relevant events.
In your downtime, check out business analyst courses that could supplement your work, or even just recommended reading lists and blogs from fellow BAs. There’s a lot of learning that can happen after you get BABOK certified. Business Analyst Learnings has a useful list of free courses for business analysts.
Don’t fear Agile development; embrace it
Sometimes it can seem that, thanks to Agile, the business analyst role is in danger of extinction. Agile teams often go direct to stakeholders themselves, so where do you as a BA fit into the Agile revolution?
In fact, BAs are essential in reacting to change and defining business strategy in agile environments, and smoothing relations between business and tech teams. So don’t feel threatened by Agile; provide the elements that Agile software development projects lack.
Adopt an evolutionary approach to requirements management and spec fulfilment. Introduce time-boxing to fit in with iterative development sprints. See the connections between requirements and user stories. Agile software projects can be a great opportunity for BAs to add value for stakeholders and improve processes.
Get comfortable with the common (and not so common) business analysis methodologies
Business analysis really is a soup-to-nuts kind of profession, with BAs having to stay on top of a number of different disciplines and markets. this means that the average business analyst’s toolkit need to be jam-packed, as you may be asked to apply specific methodologies on the hoof.
You’ll want to be on top of:
- Project estimation (just don’t tread on the project managers toes!)
- Six Sigma
- Modeling – use cases, business cases, business processes, data… You name it, you can model it
- Item/Issue tracking
- SWOT analysis
- Requirements elicitation methods, such as interviews and interactive prototyping with a tool like Justinmind
More tips on interactive prototyping for business analysts
Brush up your stakeholder management skills
Most BAs will tell you that managing stakeholders is one of the most challenging parts of any software development project. Stakeholders are people, and people are unpredictable. It’s the Business Analyst’s job to actively listen to stakeholders and their needs (check out these BA-specific listening techniques). In fact, communication is so important for BAs that BABOK identifies it as one of the profession’s essential ‘soft skills’.
But great communication is more than listening. Business analysts also have to convey complex problems clearly to individuals in disparate disciplines – that involves a creative approach to wicked problems and a willingness to involve stakeholders in solutions. Tom Wujec has some interesting advice on how to solve wicked business problems in his TED talk.
Conflict resolution is also part of a Business Analyst’s skillset. Carey Schwaber, an Analyst at Forrester Research, points out in CIO that her job involves being something of a smooth operator in tense situations. “(Business Analysts) are good at finding common ground; they are good at being objective,” says Carey. “They are really looking at oftentimes conflicting needs from the business and from IT. So, to be able to understand where each party is coming from is essential.” Elizabeth Larson of BAtimes has some good tips for managing conflict.
Go deep into the tech side of the job
Obviously, business analysts on a software project need to have tech smarts. But that doesn’t mean simply knowing what a software can do for a business; it also means knowing the limitations of software solutions and being honest with stakeholders.
If a new software is highly complex or involves over-writing a long-established legacy system, that new software may not be cost effective. Business Analysts have to understand the full implications of every tech project, and the possible impacts of all software requirements. Sometimes stakeholders may not want to hear that a software solution is not actually the right solution, but it’s the BAs job to explain this in solid business terms.
6 business analyst best practices for newbies – the takeaway
Business analysts needs to have skills in disparate areas, and it can seem a tall order for first-time BAs to get comfortable with the role. But by keeping these best practices in mind, even new Business Analysts will have the tools they need to bring off complex software development projects successfully.