10 Skills Every Business Analyst Needs To Succeed

Apr 15, 2021
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10 Skills Every Business Analyst Needs To Succeed

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Business is rarely 100% smooth sailing. Regardless of the industry or sector, there are always challenges to overcome and obstacles that must be faced on the pathway to success.

Some organizations aren’t strong enough to ride the waves. Others, however, are, and the reason for their strength is that they’re not navigating the murky waters alone - they’re supported by an ambitious, results-driven business analyst. Research even shows that business projects are more likely to succeed with the help of a great BA.

At their core, business analysts are part problem solvers, part change-makers. The core responsibility of a business analyst, or BA, is to work with organizations to identify a sticking point that’s standing in the way of them achieving their goals, introduce a solution to this problem, and help the business to adapt in a way that makes it easy to implement the solution into the business environment.

Typically, a great business analyst is someone that’s confident enough to think outside the box, who’s solution-oriented and innovative. But today these skills alone aren’t enough, especially as the role of the BA is changing.

The Evolution of the Business Analyst

The core of every business analysis strategy is, of course, the needs of the business itself. And right now, we’re at a time when business needs are shifting more rapidly than ever before, in light of the global health crisis. As businesses adapt to ensure continuity during times of change, so must the BA.

This isn’t a situation that’s unique to business analysts, either. Reskilling or upskilling the workforce is a hot topic across many industries right now.

The Evolution of the Business Analyst

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But it’s not all down to the pandemic. Even before COVID-19, the role of the business analyst was already showing signs of changing. Even as far back as 2008, Forrester reported that ‘disruptive internal and external forces such as globalization and the emergence of business process management (BPM) technology and service-oriented architecture (SOA)’ was creating a need for multidimensional BAs.

And just a few years later, the research firm noted the growth of the digital economy as driving a need for a ‘new version of the business analyst’. Therefore, it’s clear that the BA role has been evolving for some time.

However, COVID-19 is undoubtedly accelerating this evolution, sparking a number of new trends impacting business analysis in 2021… and beyond. Some recent new responsibilities of BAs include:

  • Supporting businesses as they reset or reestablish policies during the crisis
  • Shifting from growth and development to survival, sustainability, and resilience
  • Needing to look more closely at longer-term strategic needs & immediate customer need
  • Implementing solutions under restricted conditions
  • Identifying solutions at a faster pace
  • Separating an inherent need to change due from short term, volatile emergency needs
  • Tackling reduced opportunities to rely on use cases for implementing change

When the new responsibilities of the business analyst are laid bare like that, it’s clear that the traditional skills that have got BAs this far may not be enough to help them succeed in the future. Right now, it is essential to learn how to thrive as a business analyst in the new normal. And, in many cases, this will mean exhibiting a selection of additional hard and soft skills that can help you achieve goals.

5 Essential Hard Skills for Business Analysts

1. Technical Skills

Once upon a time, business analysis and technical business analysis were two distinct aspects. There was the business side of things, handled by the BA, and the technical side of things, handled by the TBA. The BA would identify business needs, while the TBA would translate these needs and into technical language, enabling the organization’s tech team to develop solutions.

But as businesses embrace digital transformation, the line between the business side and the technical side is becoming increasingly blurred.

It’s clear that today’s BAs need strong technical skills. And that’s backed up by McKinsey’s 2020 Future of Work Report which predicts that organizational demand for tech skills will grow by 63% by 2030.

Business Analyst - Technical Skills

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Technical skills, in this instance, don’t necessarily mean coding skills. Instead, it’s more about having the ability and the confidence to communicate effectively with technical teams.

And so, rather than learning a programming language, it may be more beneficial for business analysts to work on building and developing a number of skills such as:

  • Microsoft Office skills
  • Microsoft Visio skills
  • Data visualization skills
  • Dashboard skills for communicating data and concepts
  • Infographic and creative skills to translate data into understandable visuals

2. Data Analysis Skills

Big data is on the rise. And for the most part, this is a positive thing. It means that:

  • Businesses can do more with the information they hold about their customers
  • Business can transform information into valuable data and drivers of action
  • Businesses can use data to make smarter, more informed decisions in the future

But there are instances where big data can be a hindrance, rather than a help. Those instances include situations where there’s simply too much business data for a non-data analyst to effectively and efficiently manage.

According to Deloitte’s Future of Work report, ‘few organizations have cracked the code for monetizing data’. The report states that this is ‘an even more challenging task because of the velocity at which data is being generated’.

Business Analyst - Data Analysis Skills

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Today’s business analysts must be able to visualize data; they must be able to use the information an organization holds, and turn it into value. ‘Companies are intentionally searching for people with the aptitude to become data analysts, according to McKinsey, and there has been a definite rise in the data-inspired BA over the past few years. But despite this, the Deloitte report predicts data skills will be hard to find.

To position themselves as attractive candidates and capable professionals, business analysts should consider building and developing a number of new skills including:

  • SQL skills
  • Excel skills
  • Skills that enable them to pull down data
  • Skills that enable them to understand data
  • Skills that enable them to present data in a way that drives business decisions

3. IT Skills

Although business analysts don’t always need software development skills or domain knowledge, this can help BAs to stand out from the crowd, especially in terms of translating business requirements into technical system requirements, helping organizations to design their own in-house solutions to issues.

Business Analyst - IT Skills

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At a time when the technical lines are becoming blurry, it’s becoming more and more important for business analysts to understand where the organization is in the systems and development life cycle, and to bridge the communications and understanding gap between stakeholders and the development team.

This can go a long way towards keeping visions and goals aligned between the business and technical sides.

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While there are many potential programming languages to brush up on, the International Institute of Business Analysts predicts that Python and R will be some of the most in-demand skills for 2021. Demand for Java skills, too, appears to be rising.

4. Financial Planning Skills

The COVID-19 crisis has undoubtedly had a devastating economic impact on business operations. There are a number of factors that are creating change, including:

  • Mandatory closures of businesses under Government guidelines
  • Voluntary closures of businesses as needed by business owners
  • Changing buyer behaviors

These factors have left organizations needing to do more with less, adapting to change while continuing to meet their targets, all the while having access to fewer financial resources. Similar to the technical business analyst, the financial business analyst and the BA were once two separate entities. Now, they’re rapidly coming closer together.

Previously, it was often said that FBAs were destined for the ‘corporate backyard’ rather than the boardroom. But the shifting business landscape has thrust the FBA into the heart of operations. Now, the CFO isn’t just in charge of overseeing financial planning and risk but is also involved in financial data analysis. And the growing responsibilities of the FBA mean they have access to more business data than ever before.

The problem, however, is data silos. When financial roles and BA roles are kept separate and distinct, the situation that arises is that each analyst only has access to a limited data pool. To gain a full picture, the boundaries between the business analyst and the financial business analyst must be broken down.

Business Analyst - Financial Planning Skills

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Given the vulnerable situation that many businesses are finding themselves in following the pandemic, financial budgets can no longer be an afterthought. It is becoming increasingly important to build solutions and growth plans in line with budgetary restrictions and forecasts, right from the start.

That means that today’s business analysts must be willing to build and enhance and broaden their financial skills. Some of the most important skills to develop may include:

  • Cost-benefit analysis skills
  • Gap analysis knowledge
  • Budgeting knowledge

5. Business Process Modelling

Business process modeling allows business analysts to excel in designing, building, implementing, tracking, adapting, and improving on existing business processes. But isn’t this a big part of what business analysts already do? Yes. BPM forms a big part of BA.

Right now, at a time when business processes are being forced to change - and change quickly - traditional modeling processes are becoming ineffective. Consequently, a valuable hard skill that today’s BAs can possess is the ability to model differently.

Business Analyst - Business Process Modelling

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Atlanta-based IT consultant Jonathan Babcock notes that ‘from a business analyst’s perspective, creating visual process models, whether in basic flowchart form or a formalized notation such as BPMN, is valuable in helping to contextualize and visualize a process so stakeholders – both business and technical – can refine and understand it together. And that’s what it all comes back to - understanding together.

We’ve already touched upon the importance of breaking down silos. In order for business analysts to succeed in the new normal, they need to have a big picture understanding of what’s going on across every area of the business, identifying solutions that generate a positive impact on the organization as a whole. In improving business process modeling techniques, BAs can develop processes that everyone, across every department, can see and understand - which is vital for keeping everyone working towards the same goals.

Essential Soft Skills for Business Analysts

1. Organizational Skills

There are three essential organizational skills that have always been vital for BAs:

  • Time management
  • Project management
  • Goal setting

But in the post-2020 landscape, when businesses are handling more data than ever before, working with more information, and having to meet increasingly stricter and more demanding deadlines, there is an urgent need for business analysts to look at how to better manage and utilize data efficiently to adapt quickly to the changing landscape.

BAs have more on their plate than they’ve ever had. Organization is essential for handling competing priorities.

An unfortunate trend that’s being noted amongst business analysts at this time is ‘paralysis by analysis’: essentially, business analysts have so much data to analyze and comb through that they lose productivity and become static due to feeling overwhelmed.

Business Analyst - Organizational Skills

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They must ensure they have good organizational skills in place to prevent this from happening. Having all their ducks in a row can also prevent some of the most common time sinks in business analysis, such as asking non-essential questions or developing more models than are needed. Organizations can turn long, drawn-out processes into speedy solutions.

2. Decision-making Skills

As well as organizational, decision-making skills have long been considered important for business analysts. After all, good business analysis has always been about supporting businesses to not only implement change, but to implement the right change - change that’s going to take them to the next level.

But now, as business analysts become more closely connected to business data - across all departments as silos start to break down - and as they begin to rely more heavily on this data as part of their role, they are starting to have a greater influence over organizational decision making. Business analysts once facilitated decision-making; now, they’re being tasked with making decisions, with assessing opportunity and risk to drive a path forward.

And it makes sense: business analysts have broad insights into businesses that not many others do. And to pave the way to success, BAs must be willing - and able - to transform this insight into valuable action.

Vitally important skills right now include:

  • Emotional intelligence
  • Cognitive flexibility
  • Creative characteristics

Decision-making Skills

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These skills can help BAs to make organizational decisions at a time when businesses are having to change in ways they may never have even considered.

BAs must also be ready to support organizations in creating a company culture that encourages critical thinking and lays the groundwork for smart, data-driven decision-making.

3. Proactive Problem-Solving Skills

The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated how unprepared businesses were for uncertainty. And this has really been a huge wake-up call.

Organizations are now looking for business analysts that are proactive. They want:

  • BAs that have the skills needed to look forwards and anticipate problems
  • BAs that can find solutions to reduce the risk of these problems occurring,
  • BAs that can ensure business continuity and organizational resilience

And so, analytical thinking is naturally emerging as an ‘essential navigational tool’ in the new normal.

Skills such as an ability to analyze problems and opportunities effectively, and clearly identify which solutions will deliver the most value under different potential scenarios and circumstances, are expected to be in great demand over the coming years.

But can proactive problem-solving skills really be learned? Yes, according to McKinsey, who states that ‘great problem solvers are made, not born’. Some good skills to focus on in this area include analytical thinking, active listening, and attention to detail, which can all help to anticipate future sticking points.

4. Managerial Skills

With the growth of the people-centricity trend, business analysts are beginning to take on more of a leadership role within organizations. Businesses are seeing that changes don’t drive results without these changes being supported or backed by their people, and so business analysts are increasingly being tasked with looking at implementing long-standing changes at the employee level to drive real results.

There’s a very widespread shift taking place that’s turning business analysis into a c-suite position (and, interestingly, business is the third most common gateway role into a leadership position).

Business Analyst - Managerial Skills

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One big movement that’s happening in the business world right now is that the board is no longer taking full responsibility for decision-making. Employees are increasingly being pulled into data collection, analysis, process modeling, and change implementation.

After all, involving the workforce in developing solutions that meet their needs can increase buy-in at the employee level. This means employees can be an asset to business analysts… if business analysts understand how to build relationships with employees.

And so, there are a number of skills emerging as essential must-haves for BAs:

  • Teamwork
  • Planning
  • Motivation
  • Collaborative working

These can all help BAs to guide, support, and lead the workforce through change, while also benefiting from valuable employee-level insight. Today, business analysis is no longer a deliverable - it’s more of a collaborative process.

5. Communication Skills

Communication has always been an essential soft skill for business analysts. But now things are changing: BAs no longer just act as a go-between for the business side and the technical side. As the role becomes more inclusive, utilizing insight from financial analysts, and from employees across the entire organization, BAs must be able - and confident - in communicating both up and down.

According to the 2019 International Institute of Business Analysts report, 91% say communication is the most vital skill.

Business Analyst - Communication Skills

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Today’s BAs must be multilingual; they must be able to speak the language of each department. Active listening will play an important role in this, helping business analysts to hear how messages are communicated both up and down the organizational hierarchy, mimic the communication styles, and adapt the style depending on who they’re talking to.

This can help business analysts to put together their ideas in a logical, compelling fashion, and present ideas effectively at varying stakeholder levels.

Why is this important? Because communicating in the language of the receiver ensures that every employee, and every stakeholder, understands the rationale behind the decisions that are being made. Good skills to focus on include:

  • Verbal skills
  • Non-verbal skills
  • Digital communications
  • Active listening
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Negotiation

All alongside standard communication skills needed by BAs.

From Analyst to Leader

Ultimately, no one knows what’s going to happen across the business landscape in the future. But what we do know is that the global health crisis has had a huge impact on business operations, and it has quickly accelerated the evolution that has gradually been taking place in the role of the business analyst.

The traditional skills that business analysts needed are still important. However, standing alone, they’re not enough to ensure that BAs can fully support their organizations through rapid and unexpected change. Business is at a critical turning point: organizations need to maintain their core foundations while building new processes for the next normal. This means that today’s BAs must embody both the skills that are going to support business continuity, as well as the skills that are going to thrust businesses to the next level.

Business analysts are no longer just business analysts. They’re managers. They’re data experts. They’re negotiators. And above all, they’re leaders. It’s clear that the role of the BA is not stagnant - it’s constantly on the move, and business analysts must continue to educate themselves to keep up.


Author: Anita Sambol

With years of experience as a content strategist and creator, Anita has a 'super-power' of being a clear human voice for brands when talking to their audience. One of the projects she currently enjoys the most is being a content associate to EU Business School, where she's writing about business education and online learning.

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Apr 15, 2021
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COMMENTS

msrock1995 posted on Wednesday, April 28, 2021 2:30 PM
This was a great read! It's great to see articles that are updated with information that is current to all of the changes the industry has underwent during the Pandemic and how the role of the BA has changed or adapted. Thanks!
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