How to Excel in Your Career as a Business Analyst


Being successful as a business analyst is not a feat - reserved for a select few. Neither is it rocket science. It is achievable and within your grasp, if you apply a well-rounded approach to how you manage your career. While these tips are centered around the business analysis career, they can be applied to any career.

How to Excel in Your Career as a Business Analyst

Create mental space

One of the reasons that holds us back in our endeavors to succeed in our careers is clutter that is in our heads. We get distracted by so many things, we procrastinate and make promises that we end up failing to fulfil. Our stakeholders get frustrated with us because never get back to them as per our promises to do so. We never attend to items we promised to attend to, and this slowly depletes the confidence they may have in us. To succeed, we need to know what matters most to our business stakeholders and our customers. It does not matter how trivial these things might seem to us, we need to acknowledge that are big to stakeholders, and they are eagerly waiting for them to be resolved/actioned/delivered, etc. We cannot achieve this understanding if we have a lot of clutter in our minds and are not thinking straight. The distractions that creep into our mental space can make us lose sight of what matters to those we serve as business analysts. Also, this clutter might lead us situations where are trying to deliver or action too many items at the same time. As a result, we may get overwhelmed when we realize that we have resolved/delivered none of what we set out to deliver. We may end up starting so many items and completing none. Creating mental space is also about creating mental capacity to plan, sequence and prioritize what needs to be done. It is about creating patience to action one item at a time and ensure that item number 10 (in terms of priority) waits until we have executed items 1 – 9.

Create focus

Nothing beats focus. However, this does not come naturally. While it might be achieved much easier by others, it is not a talent that some people are born with. It is the outcome of deliberate and intentional conditioning of one’s mindset and behavior. It is a conduct that is cultivated and mastered over time. As business analysts, we are tasked with bringing clarity out of a chaotic environment. We are expected to breakdown complex business problems into simple chunks of information that can be understood by systems developers so that they can be able to develop technical solutions that meet business needs and address customer pain points. We are expected to come up with business processes that reduce costs, improve customer experience, remove redundancies and duplications, and easily adopted by people who execute them. How can we achieve all this if we are not focused? If we are all over the place in terms of our thinking and approach to engaging with our stakeholders. Being able to create focus not only helps us in managing our demanding role, but it comes in handy when the entire project team is taking a different direction that creates confusion to every team member. We know that there are some stakeholders who need to be reined in from time to time. And we can only do this if we are focused on what needs to be achieved, why it is important for it to be achieved and how it should be achieved. This is a skill that we must develop and sharpen continuously as business analysts.

Be teachable

No one knows everything. No matter how good we can be as business analysts, we must always know that we can never know it all. We must open ourselves up to learn from people around us – whether they are junior or senior to us. We must open ourselves up to learn from our business stakeholders and from our technology partners. It is unfortunate when we refuse to learn a new technique or a new area within business or within IT, because it does not interest use or is not part of our job description. It is not a crime to identify what we are not interested in and what we are interested in. However, if what we do not know will contribute to making us better business analysts, it is unfortunate when we shy away from learning about it. Growth comes from continuous re-invention and re-positioning. It is always convenient to take refuge behind what we already know, and not expose ourselves to what we do not know. Maybe this is because we feel like opening ourselves up to be taught by fellow colleagues – especially if they are junior to us – might lead to our embarrassment. That mindset is only to our detriment and slows down our growth. We should allow ourselves to be vulnerable.

Share knowledge

While it is important to allow ourselves to be teachable, we must realize that mastering a piece of work item or skill or technique comes through explaining it to another person or demonstrating it to someone else. The logic behind this is very simple - unless we can explain a concept to someone else to a point where they fully understand it, we cannot claim to understand it ourselves. It is through the process of teaching that a teacher gets to the light-bulb moments and the insights. In the process he then appears to be smarter than his/her students. Let us think about instances where we had to prepare presentations that we had to deliver. We had to do research, anticipate questions that might come up, read up even more, and eventually gain the confidence and insights we needed to explain the phenomenon better. And at times, during the presentation, we got asked questions we never anticipated, and this triggered the need for us to investigate the phenomenon further. This led to us obtaining even better understanding of that phenomenon, even post the presentation. We go to that moment of revelation. Therefore, it is important for us to take each opportunity we get to share knowledge with our stakeholders. And in this way, we grow at a much faster pace than we realise or anticipated. Sadly, some of us as business analysts want to hoard knowledge because it makes us feel indispensable. This mindset is flawed because no one is indispensable. Instead, we end up missing out on the opportunity to fast-track our own growth through sharing what we already know with others.

Be patient

While we must be always focused, be teachable, respond with a sense of urgency to our stakeholders needs and be always willing to share what you know – we must also be patient with ourselves. Most people we see around us, who are successful in their careers or endeavors, have come a long way. They have been relentless in their pursuit for excellence and remained steadfast and determined to succeed, regardless of setbacks they experienced. We may feel like our careers are stagnating and we do not see where we are headed. We may feel we are completely lost because we do not seem to be making traction in getting our careers on track. And we may be tempted to take short cuts to speed up our growth – by starting to oversell ourselves or over promise or even take more than we can manage. Unfortunately, in these cases, we are only doing ourselves a great disservice. We are only attracting mental and physical health issues (depression, anxiety, fatigue etc). We need to balance the ambition with patience that paying school fees is a sine qua non of career success as business analysts.

Be deliberate

Career success is not accidental, it does not land on our laps by luck. It is important that in our practice as business analysts, we are deliberate about how we want to be the best business analysts. Achieving this is only possible through strategic thinking on our side. This strategic thinking involves keeping at the top of our minds how are we continuously developing our business analysis skills, our people skills, our stakeholder management skills, and our professional persona. In short, how we want to show up everyday at your workplace. This is an everyday mindset. It is like a small handbook or mental checklist that we must have/keep in daily engagements, on every piece of work we create and distribute to our stakeholders, on our email communication, on our facilitation skills, on the professional touch we put to our presentations (regardless of our audience), on our dress code (even behind our laptop cameras on Teams meetings). All these items, which may seem unrelated, make up the total package that represents our personal brand. They contribute to us being different from that of our peers. When carefully planned and executed, they contribute to a type of business analysts who do not blend in but stand out among their peers. When we are deliberate about how me manage our careers as business analysts, we easily gain the confidence of our stakeholders, because they see that we are headed in a good direction, and they can sense that we are in control. We must remember that confidence is contagious, and our stakeholders are only confidence in us to the extent that we demonstrate confidence in ourselves.

Be willing to work hard

Nothing good comes easily, and nothing worth having gets given to us. We need to be willing to put in the hours to be able to show mastery of our domain as business analysts. Our stakeholders can only teach us so much about the business or IT landscape (if we are lucky). For us to truly make strides in our careers, we need to need to have grit. We need to have tenacity and the drive to pull through, no matter how challenging the tasks at hand might seem. Second guessing ourselves or making half-hearted attempts to overcome the impasse we are will not get us anywhere. Some business environments are more complex than others, but it does not mean they cannot be understood. All they need is for us to be willing to work hard. If we are those business analysts, we are bound to succeed in our careers.

Knowing our blind spots

No one is perfect. No matter how good they are. So, what makes us think we are a perfect. This mindset leads to a situation where we are unable to receive feedback – especially feedback that highlights our areas of development. And we end up rejecting it without processing it and coming up with ways to improve in our areas of development. We cannot overstate the importance of knowing which areas are our blind spots. If we do not know them, we cannot manage them. But if we know what they are, we will be able to spot them when they show they ugly faces before someone else does. We will be able to spot them when they kick in out of nowhere to cripple our delivery rate and execute a recovery plan before they cause irreparable damage to our careers. For instance, one of the most effective ways of dealing with our blind spots is to surround ourselves with teammates who have our blind spots as their strengths. In this way, you can always lean on them to assist us where we are not strong. However, we will not be able to do this if we always dismiss unfavorable feedback that we receive from our stakeholders. What we are guaranteed to get out of such behavior is a missed opportunity to learn about our blind spots, and they will forever manage us.

AuthorEdward Ngubane, Head of Business Analysis, DVT

Edward Ngubane, the current Head of Business Analysis at DVT, started his career as a mathematics teacher at Senaoane Sec School in Soweto. He has been in the IT industry for almost 20 years, and worked for the following companies: Telkom SA, Investec, BMW Financial Services, Wesbank and FNB (Online Banking and eWallet Solutions). He has held numerous positions, viz:- Systems Developer, Systems Analyst, Business Analyst, Product Development Manager, Business Analyst Manager, Head of PMO, Practice Lead (Business Analysis and Architecture), Practice Manager.

He has setup and ran BA CoP’s (Community of Practice), developed and mentored a number of business analysts and published papers on the business analysis discipline. Over the years he has received numerous awards, and is passionate about the business analysis domain.

He holds five degrees, two of which are at the Masters level – the M.Ed (Maths Education) and the MBA (Cum Laude) – both from the University of the Witwatersrand. The title of his dissertation for his M.Ed was ‘What are links between a teacher’s views of mathematics and his/her classroom practices’. And the title for his MBA dissertation was ‘Managing IT Knowledge workers within South African Financial Industry’.

He is currently doing his PhD (part-time) at the University of the Witwatersrand, and is a recipient of a Post Graduate Merit Award. His thesis is on the ‘The development and sustainability of SMME’s through Cloud Computing in South Africa’. He is the former Secretary and Treasurer of the IIBA-SA, and is currently the President of the same organisation.

Contact details:
Edward Mzwandile Ngubane
Head of Business Analysis : Gauteng, South Africa
Business Enablement Division
Mobile +27 (82) 851 3638
[email protected]


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