Who Makes the Best Systems Analysts?


"Systems are logical, programming is physical."
- Bryce's Law

Over the last four decades I have met a lot of Systems Analysts in a lot of different industries. Some impressed me greatly by their knowledge of their business and the systems they designed, but I have also met a lot of duds along the way. When I think about the better ones, I consider the attributes they share which I can narrow down to three areas:

1. They are in-tune with their business. This doesn't necessarily mean they graduated with a business degree, although some did, but rather they took the time to study the business and placed themselves in the shoes of the managers, clerks, and other workers they were charged to support. In other words, they took the initiative to assimilate the duties and responsibilities of the end users.

Conversely, the duds tended to take technical solutions and tried to jam it down people's throats with little thought of the applicability for solving specific business problems. As a result, personnel in the user departments tended to resist such technological solutions, even going so far as to sabotage efforts for its implementation.

2. They can conceptualize and possess an analytical background. Although they appreciate the need for detail, they are able to think big and look for pragmatic solutions. In contrast, the duds tend to get sidetracked easily over minutia.

3. They possess strong communication skills, both oral and written, allowing them to effectively interview people, articulate problems and solutions, and be very persuasive. The duds have trouble communicating at any level.

You'll notice I didn't include a knowledge of technology as an attribute. The better analysts understand the need for monitoring technology trends, but are not driven by it. Basically, they understand technology is physical in nature and changes dynamically. Instead they are more focused on the logical business problem and how to solve it. In essence, they realize "there is a million and one ways to skin a cat."

There is an old argument as to who produces the best Analysts: the Business Schools or the Computer Science Schools. Although I have seen some good people from both ends of the spectrum, some of the best Analysts I've met do not come from either school. Instead, I have seen them come from entirely different backgrounds including Library Science, Music, Engineering, and Mathematics; disciplines based on a governing science yet allows for the expression of creativity.

Frankly, I haven't met too many successful Analysts who graduated from the ranks of programming as they typically only see things through the eyes of the computer. They tend to believe the only valid business problems worth solving are those that can be addressed using the latest technology; everything else is considered inconsequential. I refer to this as a "tail wagging the dog" philosophy.

One of the best Analysts I ever met was a young woman from Wisconsin who worked for a government agency there. This particular agency was trying to overhaul a major financial system, an effort that stalled after several months and using quite a few people on the project. To break the logjam, the Director assigned the young Analyst to the project, but gave her latitude to operate autonomously. In three months time she had methodically documented the existing system, noting its strengths and weaknesses, defined the requirements, and designed a totally new system which was then turned over to programming for implementation. In other words, she had been able to accomplish in three months by herself, what the whole project team hadn't been able to do in twice the amount of time. She was organized, she could conceptualize, and she was disciplined. After reviewing her work, I asked her about her background. I was surprised to learn she possessed a degree in music, something she took quite seriously and claimed helped her in her work. "What was her instrument?" you might ask; the piano (with a working knowledge of the harpsichord to boot). Her forte though was in music composition which she found analogous to system design; interestingly, she considered playing musical instruments as essentially no different than programming. In other words, she grasped the significance of logical and physical design, and the difference between Systems Analysis and programming.

If you would like to discuss this with me in more depth, please do not hesitate to send me an e-mail.

Keep the faith.


About the Author

Tim Bryce is a writer and management consultant with M. Bryce & Associates of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the field. He is available for lecturing, training and consulting on an international basis. He can be reached at [email protected]
Comments and questions are welcome.

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Copyright © 2008 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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Abdullah Al-Attas posted on Sunday, September 28, 2008 11:31 AM
I graduated from computer engineering can I be system analyst without experince in programing???
Tim Bryce posted on Monday, September 29, 2008 6:32 AM
Can someone who doesn't know programming be an effective Systems Analyst? Yes, absolutely, it's been done for years. In fact, you are not imbued with a lot of bad habits programmers have and can probably think outside of the box.

Tim Bryce
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