How to become a high-performance business analyst


Many business analysts lack a clear strategy to improve their abilities and increase the value they deliver to their organizations. They don't spend any time considering performance goals and envisioning strategies to achieve them, and as a result, they miss opportunities to continue to evolve and grow their role and responsibilities over time.

How to become a high-performance business analystFortunately, there are some steps that any BA interested in becoming a star performer can take to close competence gaps and learn new behaviors and strategies capable of increasing their productivity and the quality of their work. In this article, I will address one of the most effective ones: setting clear and measurable performance goals, and finding opportunities to practice the related skills that can produce the desired performance improvement.

As explained in the book Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, by Kerry Patterson et al.,

“Influence masters have long known the importance of setting clear and achievable goals. First, they understand the importance of setting specific goals. People say that they understand the concept, but few actually put the concept into practice. For example, average volleyball players set goals to improve their concentration (exactly what is that?), whereas top performers decide they need to practice tossing the ball correctly -- and they understand each of the elements in the toss.”

The idea of focused, deliberate practice as means to quickly enhance performance, common among athletes, is frequently overlooked in the BA profession. The negative consequences of this omission is well summarized by Robert E. Kelley in his book How to Be a Star at Work: 9 Breakthrough Strategies You Need to Succeed:

For too many people, ten years of work experience is merely the first year's experience repeated ten times; there is no learning to move in and out of the basic environment, no leap to the perspective ability that defines expertise.

To make sure they don't become mediocre performers who only accumulates hours of experience without actually increasing your proficiency levels, BAs should have at least one improvement priority that they are working on in any given period. The process starts from selecting one domain (for example, Requirements Management), and then choosing a specific improvement area to focus on (for example, developing accurate estimates for business analysis tasks). In Part I of the ebook collection The Promotable Business Analyst (an excellent resource for BAs interested in developing new skills and creating career advancement opportunities), Laura Brandenburg suggests many useful strategies that can be used to solidify knowledge and enhance analytical skills in the selected improvement area, including:

  • asking one's manager for related assignments, and finding opportunities outside of work (e.g., within professional associations that offer opportunities in a leadership or volunteering capacity) to practice the desired skills;

  • shadowing peers to build competencies that involve multiple facets (e.g., working alongside more experienced BAs to learn how to facilitate requirements workshops, which require both technical knowledge and strong interpersonal skills).

The right performance measures can help BAs confirm which competencies they have developed, identify what strategies did and did not work to improve their performance, and indicate how far they are from achieving their goals. When an organization doesn't have a well-defined performance measurement system, business analysts can start developing their own. As an example, for the goal of producing better time estimates, a BA could measure his/her progress using schedule variance as an indicator, calculated as (actual duration - planned duration) / planned duration.

Gradually, a BA practice regime should introduce tasks that require increased effort and persistence, to make sure his/her abilities are continuing to grow. Performance measures can be adapted or replaced to continue to provide rapid feedback about one's progress.

Many of the persistent business analysis and requirements definition problems that are the cause of project failures stem from a lack of skill on the part of business analysts. Similar to what happen with athletes, self-discipline and the willingness to engage in deliberate practice of clearly defined skills can help business analysts master the various competencies required to achieve high performance in the various aspects of the business analysis activities, and increase the value BAs add to their organizations.

Author: Adriana Beal has a B. Sc. in electronic engineering and an MBA in strategic management of information systems. For the past 10 years, she has been identifying business needs and determining solutions for business problems for a diverse client base that includes IT, telecom, and major U.S. financial institutions. Adriana offers executive-level, management consulting on technology and process solutions and expertise in business analysis and business-side IT operational functions and processes. She recently launched an ebook on measuring the performance of business analysts that can be found at Beal Projects.

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kaa posted on Thursday, November 25, 2010 6:17 AM
thank you
Tony Markos posted on Wednesday, December 8, 2010 8:01 AM
The problem is more profound. When one looks up the word "analysis" in a dictionary, he/she will discover that analysis is largely about partitioning and entity into its component parts. But ask 99.9% of all BA's how they proceed in partitioning a system during analysis and all you will get is a blank stare.

A BA can read all the books in the world on how to be a star, but until he/she knows what analysis is and how to do it, it is not going help much.

Adriana Beal posted on Sunday, December 12, 2010 1:53 PM
"The problem is more profound (...). A BA can read all the books in the world on how to be a star, but until he/she knows what analysis is and how to do it, it is not going help much."

Tony, perhaps you could further explain your point? I'm not sure what you were trying to say here, since my article was not about reading books, but rather about finding opportunities to practicing skills in an effective manner, so you can become more proficient at business analysis.

I also think that it is important for BAs to develop a broad understanding of what analysis means, which goes beyond partitioning an entity in its component parts. Another definitions of analysis in the dictionary is "an examination of a complex, its elements, and their relations". A high performance business analyst will look for opportunities to practice various approaches to performing analysis, from decompositional analysis to systems thinking, integrative thinking, and many other frameworks.
Tony Markos posted on Monday, December 13, 2010 2:36 PM

Perhaps talking about reading books is confusing, let me restate: Until a business analyst knows what analysis is and how to do it, he/she is not going to become a high performing analyst by setting goals. How can one achieve goals to be a better analyst without knowing what analysis is?

Refering to your example example: How can an analyst achieve a performance improvement goal related to developing accurate estimates for business analysis tasks without knowing what analysis is?

By asking a Project Manager how they do such :-)

Adriana, I feel that the definition of analysis that you give is incomplete. Outside of skin deep analysis, before an analyst can examine an entity (complex), he/she needs to partition (decompose) it. Partitioning is especially important in software analysis because, as you can not see it, feel it, or touch it, determining how to properly partition it is especially difficult.


Adriana Beal posted on Monday, December 13, 2010 3:41 PM

Thank you for taking the time to clarify!

"Until a business analyst knows what analysis is and how to do it, he/she is not going to become a high performing analyst by setting goals. How can one achieve goals to be a better analyst without knowing what analysis is?"

I completely agree with your point. I didn't address what business analysis is in my article because there are numerous articles that discuss this topic, here at Modern Analyst, at Bridging the Gap, and in many other websites dedicated to the BA community, but of course, before one starts setting goals, there has to be a very clear understanding of not only what the BA role is in general, but also what are the expectations for the role in the specific organization.

"I feel that the definition of analysis that you give is incomplete."

Oh, I wasn't trying to provide a comprehensive definition of analysis in my comment, I was just pointing out that what you mentioned, partioning a system to look at its elements, is not the only way of performing analysis.

"Outside of skin deep analysis, before an analyst can examine an entity (complex), he/she needs to partition (decompose) it."

I would probably phrase that a bit differently, but I agree with you that in order to understand the "whole", it is important to identify its constituent elements. However, it doesn't mean one has to dismantle or separate the whole into its parts to perform analysis. In many cases, you will achieve a better understanding of a system by examining the linkages and interactions between the elements that compose the entirety of the system, as is done when you apply systems thinking.

Again, thank you for this opportunity to exchange ideas about such an interesting topic.


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