Many project managers work with Business Analysts (a BA) on their projects. It can be a very useful role to have on the project team, but the role itself can be quite a mystery to the uninitiated. So, if you have never worked with a BA before, here is a brief introduction to how they contribute to a project team.

What is the BA responsible for?

Different companies view the role of the BA in different ways, so what each individual business analyst is responsible for will largely depend on their job description. However, here are some of the areas of common ground where BAs normally work:

  • Researching and investigating existing business systems. This normally covers more than just process or system mapping and can include looking at how the organisational structure works and any elements related to staff involvement or development. This usually involves doing detailed analysis of the 'as is' state.
  • Identifying the actions (with input from the relevant business users) required to make system improvements. This follows on from the task above and results in analysing and mapping the 'to be' (desired) state for the system. This can involve more than simply proposing IT changes and can also involve suggesting areas for more training or redeploying staff so that the whole process/system works more effectively.
  • Documenting business requirements. This is a very common area for business analysts to work in, and normally follows a period of requirements elicitation, where the requirements are gathered from the relevant business users and then documented. The BA has to take into account the requirements but also the technical and system constraints.
  • Ensuring that was is built maps back to the requirements. The BA can be very helpful during technical and system testing (and early, during any build phase) to make sure that what is being delivered is actually what the business has asked for.

Business Analysts have a range of tools at their disposal to elicit requirement, document them and interact with the business team to balance the needs of all the stakeholders on the project. They are effectively the point of interaction and translation between the business users (project customers) and the project team. In this role, they can be very complementary to a project manager. As a project manager, you will work out how to implement changes - a BA will work out what changes to implement. You will both need to work together to effectively implement business, system and technical change that 'sticks'.

The senior BA role

Some companies have taken the role of BA beyond that of someone who is instrumental in the requirements gathering part of a project. Here are some of the responsibilities you may find a senior BA taking on.

  • Contributing to business strategy. Because a BA has a detailed knowledge of the business processes and systems, they can be helpful when it comes to formulating a new business strategy. They can also work with senior executives to establish how best to implement strategy using the systems currently in use - or identifying which ones to change.
  • Redesigning business processes. Continuous improvement projects often include some element of business process redesign and a BA can be involved with this.
  • Producing business cases. Business cases are often predicated on savings from business change, and the BA can be best placed to understand these changes and the potential benefits that will come from them. They can work alongside other experts such as a financial analyst in order to be able to prepare this documentation.

What skills does a BA need?

The skill requirements for a good BA are similar in part to what makes a good project manager. If you are looking to recruit a BA for your team, here are some of the things to look for. A good BA should have:

  • Excellent communication skills, both written and verbal, as they will need to prepare documentation and interview or work alongside business users to elicit requirements.
  • A consultative nature, as they will need to work with a wide range of project stakeholders.
  • The ability to interact at all levels of the business - you should look for someone whom you feel confident sending to a meeting with senior executives.
  • Technically capable, with confidence to use a wide range of business analysis techniques and models to manage their work and the resulting change.
  • An openness to change (of course!) and the attitude that implementing change successfully is the mark of a job well done.

Have you ever worked with a business analyst? Let us know how you got on in the comments.