How to Analyze a Business Process and Close Your BA Experience Gap

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What comes first, the business analyst or the business analyst experience? If you’ve looked at BA job postings lately, you’d probably say the experience, as most BA jobs require experience. From one perspective, you’d be correct. But from another perspective, you’d be wrong.

For if every BA role requires experience, how is it that there are hundreds of thousands of practicing business analysts across the world? There must be something that’s helping a certain set of people break into the business analysis profession.

What actually happens in practice is that most business analysts, consciously or not, close their business analyst experience gap while filling other professional roles.

  • A software developer interacts with the customer, learning more about their needs and beginning to practice elicitation, meeting facilitation, and requirements analysis.

  • A subject matter expert is assigned to a business process improvement or technology upgrade project. They learn to communicate about business needs and requirements while also experiencing the lifecycle of a project.

  • A technical writer discovers gaps in functionality while creating the user documentation and begins to get involved earlier in the process, brining the user perspective into the design.

Oftentimes, these experiences happen serendipitously as one opportunity leads to another and a professional follows their calling as a business analyst. As an aspiring business analyst with a clear career direction, you can accelerate your career transition by deliberately seeking out opportunities to practice business analysis techniques and closing your BA experience gap one step at a time.

Because the activities of a business analyst are robust and complex, this might seem like an overwhelming undertaking. The first thing to realize is that you don’t necessarily have to do all of the BA tasks at once. You can try specific techniques one at a time as you get comfortable with your skills and build confidence in your abilities.

There are countless BA techniques and even those with years of professional experience under their belt are always trying new ones. As an aspiring business analyst, there are three primary techniques that I’ve found most professionals, regardless of their job role, find ample opportunities to apply in their work and relatively simple to tackle.

The three techniques are:

  • Scoping a Project;

  • Facilitating a Meeting (or a part of one);

  • Analyzing a Business Process.

In this article, I’ll show you how to analyze a business process and use this opportunity to close your BA experience gap.

How to Analyze a Business Process and Close Your BA Experience GapFirst, let’s talk about how to analyze a business process. I’ll break this down into 5 simple steps you can take and apply in your work this week.

  1. Identify a process. Any repeatable set of steps can be documented as a business process. Look for work you do that’s relatively similar, each day, week, month, quarter, or year.

  2. Identify a clear start point and end point for the process. What’s the first activity that happens or what must be true before the process can start? What’s the last activity that happens or what signals that the process is complete?

  3. List or draw out a series of steps that happen between the start point and the end point. I suggest using pen and paper for your first draft and avoiding complex tools.

  4. Look for exceptions or rules that are followed at each step. Add these to your visual or textual model.

  5. For a visual model, refer to the standard elements of the Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN) and leverage any relevant symbols in your model. Don’t feel obligated to use more than 2 or 3 elements. Most BAs do not use the vast quantity of options available in the notation because they find they only confuse their stakeholders.

That’s it. You just analyzed a business process. Like most BA techniques, if you start with the notation instead of the thinking process, business analysis looks much more complex than it actually is. As an analytical thinker with an orientation for detail, you’ll find this sequence of steps leads you much more quickly to a process model that gets the job done – i.e. it communicates the essential elements of the process in a way that most stakeholders can easily understand.

Now, how do you go about using this experience to close your BA experience gap? First things first, you’ve already begun to close the gap by creating a process model. You can use this deliverable as a work sample and add this experience to your resume.

But you’ve just scratched the surface of opportunity here, because there are many additional ways to build upon this experience. Here are just a few that come to mind.

  • You can take this a step further by facilitating a meeting to review the business process those who perform the process or are impacted by the process. Elicit information from interviews or observation and incorporate their feedback into an updated version of your process model.

  • You can transform the process document you created into training material that gets used when new employees join your team.

  • You can explore opportunities to improve the process, many of which are likely to be self-apparent as you went through the analysis process. You might even scope a project to frame your process improvement effort.

In this way, business process analysis leads to elicitation and documentation reviews which lead to the opportunity to scope a project, setting you well on your way to practicing not just one BA technique but several. And with each technique you practice and apply in a work setting, you have more experience to add to your business analysis resume or talk about with your manager come performance review time. With consistent deliberate efforts, you’ll eventually close your business analysis experience gap once and for all.

Author: Laura Brandenburg, CBAP is on a mission to help 50 professionals start careers in business analysis in 2012. Interested in starting a career in business analysis? Join our free email course.

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COMMENTS

ajmarkos posted on Monday, September 10, 2012 7:34 AM
Hi:

For larger scale business systems, the BA needs to proceed in as top down a fashion as possible in process discovery, else, he/she will "drown in an ocean of detail". Problem: At the bigger picture level, business systems are notorious for being non sequential and for not having a starting point.

Tony

mark.fowler@mwebbiz.co.za posted on Tuesday, September 11, 2012 12:38 PM
I always like these "back to basics" information topics, I have seen so many BA's over complicate the requirements gathering stage. Sometimes we all need to step back and keep it simple and easy
JohnnyBravo posted on Wednesday, September 12, 2012 1:19 PM
Laura,

Many people perform business analysis tasks. But it doesn't make them a BA any more than balancing a checkbook makes one an accountant.

Most often BAs will tell you they just fell into the occupation -- they never planned to do it for a living. Thanks for giving an example of how one might ease into the role of a BA over time.
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