What is a Business Analyst?

If you’ve ever asked (or been asked) this question, you’ll probably notice that everyone has a slightly different response.  And I like so many of the ways that we could describe our role: liaison and advocate are two that particularly come to mind. But if we were to boil it down to what we really do, for me it all comes down to this:

Business Analysts help their clients understand their needs,
and find ways to fulfill those needs.

Oh yeah, there are a LOT of skills and tasks that go into doing that; but really that’s what we do, right? Let’s break that down a little bit.

We “help clients understand their needs”. You might be thinking “My clients ask for what they want – doesn’t that mean they know what they need?” Not necessarily. It’s not that your client doesn’t understand that they have a need or problem, it’s just that often times your client will ask you for what they think will solve the problem. Our job as business analysts is to make sure that the true underlying need is fully understood. This means that we are sort of like detectives, and we need to look beyond the surface and dig into what the “real” issue is. (Don’t worry, we’ll talk a lot about this on this site.)

(Oh and on a side note…I could have used the word problem or pain in my definition, but those to me imply there is something negative or wrong. The “need” could be a positive opportunity, so I use the word “need” as a more generic term.)

We “find ways to fulfill those needs”. Yes, “ways” is purposely plural. That means that our job is to identify one or more possible ways to solve the need.  Don’t freak out about this! This doesn’t mean you have to know everything and that you’re on your own. You will work with your team to determine what options are available. And if you do feel that you’re on your own, reach out to a colleague or mentor to brainstorm and get ideas on what you might consider. While a large percentage of business analysts work on projects that involve some sort of technology solution, notice that my definition does not mention software or technology. If we’re doing our job right, we are looking at all sorts of options for fulfilling a need and helping our clients make an informed decision.

I know this feels a little broad, and that a lot of different types of jobs could also be defined similarly. (I’ve taken my business analysis skills into branding and marketing with great success as well, but that’s a story for another day). But this also means there is a lot of opportunity to be a business analyst by practice even though you may not have a BA “title”.

Regardless of the type of project, at a high level a business analyst is going to work with their clients (internal or external) to perform the following activities:

(Note: I have referenced typical software lifecycle terminology in parentheses so that you can relate these steps to terms you might be familiar with (and which are used as categories here on this site). While much of what I write may relate to software development or improvement projects, I will also talk about process improvement projects and alternative solutions to software development.)

There are many little (and big) things that you can do to improve your success as a BA. Check out the posts by category to find topics you’re looking for, and see the Tips & Techniques section for those tactical and practical things to help make your job easier. If you don’t see what you need, let me know so I can address it for you and help you become a Real World BA™.