Business analysis is a discipline that requires a plethora of skills like reasoning ability, stakeholder management, domain knowledge and fluency in communication. These must be combined in the right proportions to identify, research and cater to needs that arise in a business. If you’re a business analyst, you must have an innate inquisitiveness coupled with the ability to ask questions the right way. That’s where your soft skills come in handy: They help you not sound offensive. Having been in the field for five years now, I would say that the best skill I can bring to my job is openness.
That term might be a bit amorphous, so let’s talk about precisely what “openness” means here. Openness is the ability to not restrict yourself from being frank, irrespective of any circumstances and consequences. I suggest that there are five places in which openness benefits your work as a business analyst: conversations, learning, creativity, negotiating and collaborating.
Being open to conversations allows you to learn things that will help your career in the long run. The more conversations, the merrier. When we BAs converse with others from similar or dissimilar skillsets, we tend to pick up important information related to projects. These tidbits can range from hidden requirements about the project to unspoken assumptions about its parameters as well as any constraints between different interfaces in a given system. Let’s consider a scenario where I’m talking to a technical expert about new advancements in technology. During my conversation with her, I may learn about a new software solution that has been rolled out with direct applications to my work. Without being open to the chat, I may have totally missed this product altogether. The more we engage with the people around us in our company, the more we can broaden our horizons.
Having said that conversations help you learn about things, I also want to note that openness to learning in itself is another crucial personality trait for business analysts. Grabbing opportunities to up- and reskill ourselves is key. For example, we’re usually not expected to know how to write code. Nevertheless, it’s still important to understand the logic behind the execution of a piece of code that accomplishes the various tasks we must complete. Although we’re not developers, and therefore not expected to know precisely how code works, it still impacts our jobs. If we don’t understand coding at all, how can we hope to explain to a developer what’s wrong if it’s not working? This knowledge is essential to bridging the gap between our roles and other parts of the company. Moreover, with the rapid pace of change in the tech sector, a good business analyst must commit to lifelong learning ... or they’re not likely to be in business very long!
Another vital aspect of the BA practice is openness to creativity. Pablo Picasso once said of his creative process that “Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.” Now, I’m not encouraging any sort of violence here! But openness to creativity will help you to destroy a lot of ambiguity. You should constantly embrace creativity in your practice as a business analyst. This might involve creating a mock-up of the expected outcome of a project, a relational database to visualize how the different elements of a business fit together, a data dictionary to define the attributes in a particular process or a simple flowchart to explain a functional requirement. All of these creations will reduce ambiguity in the long run and make life easy for the team responsible for implementation of any given task.
Negotiation, like your creative practice, is an art. It involves preparation, earning trust and then bargaining so that the agreement benefits all the stakeholders. Being open to negotiation will bring out ways in which you can improve your end product. Consider an example in which your customer has allocated a very small budget for your project, and you know, based on experience, that you’ll need more. Rather than just accepting the proposal and trying to work around it, what if you negotiate? Present a cost-benefit analysis and show them that you can get better end results with a bigger up-front investment. Don’t be afraid to use your expertise to make your case!
Finally, collaboration and stakeholder engagement are crucial. Let’s say we come across business stakeholders who are unable to present their expectations of a product in a conventional way. By being open to collaboration, we can conduct collaborative games to elicit requirements from them, including the product box or fishbowl methods and affinity mapping. The product box method encourages role play among participants to identify the features of a product that are likely to do well in the market. The fishbowl approach separates clients into groups of speakers and listeners in order to find and unpack assumptions that people may not be able to express fully. Affinity maps then allow the team to group all the similar features thus elicited through the games.
I know that a lot of us BAs follow the set processes within a project and restrict ourselves to adhering to conventional methods in our larger business analysis practice as well. Now that we know how being open can do wonders for a business analyst, it’s high time we incorporate these techniques into our work and reap the benefits.