Defining your role as a Business Analyst


Many professionals and organizations understand the value of a business analyst (BA), however, the role itself is still ambiguous to many. There are numerous articles and resources that outline business analysis and the general role of a BA so I won’t be focusing on those aspects. Every organization and industry is unique therefore the needs and expectations for a business analyst can vary greatly. However, there are a few core competencies that remain consistent. The goal of this article is to give BA practitioners (especially new practitioners) an approach to determine what their specific organization expects from them in order to get on the path of success throughout their career. Below are some steps you can take to define your role in the organization you serve.

Understand the Body of Knowledge

One of the best things a business analyst can do for their career is to become familiar with the Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK Guide). Regardless of the number of years of experience you have in the practice, the BABOK Guide will be of value. The International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) has made significant strides in defining the profession of business analysis with the BABOK Guide. It includes general practices of business analysis and helps BA practitioners understand the general skill set required for the BA role. In addition, BABOK Guide contains common techniques that practitioners can expect to execute throughout the span of their careers.

Acquire Organization Knowledge

The role of a business analyst varies greatly based on the industry and structure of the organization. For instance, organizations in heavily regulated industries may require more predefined or predictive methods of business analysis in an effort to reduce audit findings from regulators. As a business analyst, one can gain organizational knowledge in a number of ways. Observation (job shadowing) is a technique that allows context to be gained in the actual work environment. Ideally, this exercise would be done for key roles in every department (as scheduling permits). Of course, this may also be done as a part of the business analysis activities for projects you are assigned to.

The business analyst should take notes and compile this information to exercise systems thinking to gain a comprehensive understanding of how all of the roles and departments in the organization interact and relate to one another. In addition to the processes, key items to look for are things that might impact future elicitation efforts such as whether or not procedures are documented, how familiar participants are with other job functions as well as general attitudes toward previous technology efforts. Observation also helps to develop relationships throughout the organization. Gaining organizational knowledge will be more challenging for BA contractors or consultants as there are usually more time constraints involved.

Elicit Expectations

The job description for the position that you applied for may be a good starting point for understanding your role in the organization. However, the activities in the description are not always aligned with what you will be doing day-to-day. A good resource for knowing where you can add value is your direct leader. If the business analyst (or similar) role in your organization has been around for a while, it is likely that your leader as developed some expectations over time so it will be important for you to exceed these expectations. If the BA role is fairly new, then your leader will have some insight into the needs that were presented to make a case for the addition of the BA position. It will be essential to meet those needs as well.

Project and technical team members are another valuable source of information regarding the BA role. Typically, roles in the project team include project managers, developers/engineers, quality assurance, data analysts and other business analysts in the organization. It is likely that you will be providing lots of information to individuals in these roles, so it will be important to understand what matters most to them. As team structures may vary from project to project, it may not be practical get this information from every team member, so insight from a few key players may be appropriate. It’s worth noting that in order for this to be most effective; you must understand the roles and responsibilities of these roles as well.

There are various approaches to gather information on expectations. It can be through simple conversation, scheduling focus groups or even sending surveys via e-mail. If there are multiple business analysts in the organization, get them involved as well to make it a team effort. It will also be beneficial to get approval and buy-in from your leader and leaders of the peers that you are eliciting this information from. Their support will increase the likelihood that you will get a useful feedback, especially if a head-up is provided. Leadership will also appreciate that you are being proactive and have a concern for the best interest of the company. Please understand that this is NOT a BA wish list from the people you work with. A business analyst is not a yes-man. This is simply an effort to understand needs and set expectations. If there are things that your peers believe the BA should be doing that you do not agree with, it is our responsibility to discuss the concerns and come up with an agreed upon solution. All of the feedback won’t apply to every project as business analysis activities are generally applied based on the context of the individual project.

Utilize Lessons Learned

Lessons learned (Retrospective) is one of the most underutilized techniques available. Many organizations execute lessons learned sessions; however, very few go back and make the appropriate corrections to issues that were brought up during the session. Effectively utilizing the lessons learned from previous projects and addressing those issues can save organizations time and money in the long run by not repeating the same mistakes. As BAs, we are responsible for addressing issues that are related to requirements business analysis activities. When defining your role in an organization, gathering lesson learned feedback from projects that you were a part of can prove to be invaluable to your career as a business analyst.

If you are new to an organization, it may be helpful to obtain the lesson learned documentation from previous projects that have been completed and take note of issues that were captured regarding the previous BA (if any), so that you are not repeating the cycle of poor BA performance. One thing that I’ve learned is that it’s a lot easier to learn from other people’s mistakes than it is to learn from your own. Lessons learned can also be utilized to discover some successful attributes from previous BAs as well. The method of accessing lessons learned documentation may be different depending on the organizational structure. Generally, project managers or scrum masters are good resources for this type of documentation.

Perform Business Analysis

Once you’ve gotten exposure to the BABOK Guide (the broad view of a business analyst), gained some organizational knowledge, obtained the expectations of your leader and peers (your organization’s view of a business analyst), and reviewed the lessons learned from previous projects, you will be ready to analyze your role within the context of your organization. Now you must synthesize the information to identify what the organization needs from you as a business analyst. This information should provide insight into the desired roles and responsibilities of the business analyst and identify opportunities for improvement in the business analysis process. They key here is to uncover gaps in the current process, resolve existing conflicts and uncover areas where you can add more value. The output of this analysis should be a well-defined job description for yourself as a business analyst in your organization. This may include items such as key business analysis activities, BA responsibilities, BA deliverables or BA performance measures. The items included will vary based on your specific objectives for defining your role. To optimize the impact of this new role, share your discoveries with your leader and ask him or her to share with their peers so that you can get buy-in from influential individuals. This will also give them a chance to provide any feedback on what you’ve outlined. Setting these expectations won’t solve all your problems as a BA but is likely to reduce conflict and make things easier for down the line.

Final Thoughts

Business analysis continues to evolve due to the varying levels of understanding that organizations have of the BA role itself. The value of business analysts continues to grow as well as the likelihood that BA practitioners will serve numerous enterprises throughout their career. In order to keep up with the ever-changing expectations and increasing demand for BAs, practitioners will need to quickly adapt to various organizational views of business analysis. Hopefully, the information above will serve as a roadmap to assist in meeting these demands and excelling as a business analyst practitioner.

Author: Michael F. White, Business Analyst and Founder of The Business Analysis Doctor, LLC

Michael is has an extensive background in business analysis, project management and coaching. He has driven innovation at some of the top financial institutions in the nation and holds a Doctorate in Business Administration. To learn more about The Business Analysis Doctor, LLC visit

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Cauê Poltronieri posted on Wednesday, September 12, 2018 9:25 PM
I have a question for you. Can we consider that the BA will be the PO from tomorrow? Nowadays, the job description is almost the same. Do you agree?
Cauê Poltronieri
The Business Analysis Doctor posted on Thursday, September 13, 2018 7:17 PM
I think it depends on the organization. I am already starting to see hybrid BA/ PO roles. However, there is a clear distinction between the BA and Product Owner which is the fact that the PO owns the product and is responsible for decision making. While the BA generally has significant insight and often makes recommendations for the decisions, the ultimate responsibility of decision making and prioritizing is an obligation of the PO. In addition, the PO has also acquired some traditional Project Manager responsibilities as well, including managing budget and setting the direction of the project, which BAs are traditionally not accountable for. One thing for sure is that BAs will certainly need to train the PO on the skillsets that overlap with the BA role as individuals from the business are often not adept to project related skills. Hope that helps!!!
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