How do you arrive at a career in BA? Three different business analysts discuss their routes into the profession, their growth in the role and the myriad of skills involved in making BA a success in their organisations, in this webinar for BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT.

10 key questions (and answers) about a career in business analysis
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The webinar guest panel includes:

  • Sumit Sethi, MBCS, CITP Business Architect and Analyst
  • Nichola Paterson, Senior IT Business Analyst for Hampshire County Council
  • Saif Ahmed, Junior Business Analyst at JLL
  • Chair: Brian Runciman, Head of Content & Insight at BCS.

When Nichola Paterson completed her degree in maths and became a trainee programmer working on Oracle databases and forms, she probably didn’t realise that a couple of decades later she’d be a BA apprentice.

Sumit Sethi wanted to be a project manager and ‘accidentally’ became a BA to enhance his chosen career - however his accidental BA discovery has, for him been the perfect career.

Saif Ahmed was looking for a technical IT career and his company suggested a BA apprenticeship that mixed both IT and BA. It was a winning combination.

In summary, business analysis is a profession with a great future. And if you have the right BA skills you stand a good chance of enjoying a rewarding career.

1. When does the BA get involved in a project?

Nichola: ‘The BAs get involved at the project gates. So we start off with very high level requirements, then get the more detailed requirements ready while the project's mobilising ready for the project to start. [We start at] business benefits at a high level then get into more detail... it's around getting from understanding the ‘as is’ and the ‘to be’ - where you’re trying to get to. Then in that, I’ve been doing large workshops and smaller meetings and getting all the process diagrams and the requirements validated with the relevant subject matter experts and stakeholders in the business.’

2. What are the starting points for a BA?

Sumit: ‘I tend to get parachuted in quite quickly and, in that moment of activity, a lot of people don't know what we're doing so I tend to step back and try to distil. [I use a] technique of Boscard or Oscar. You know, what's the background? What are the objectives? What are we fundamentally trying to do? And in the early days or when things are quite busy people tend to resist that... I tend to try to understand what we, as a collective [are] trying to change. Why are we trying to change it?’

3. Do the best BAs think in words or pictures?

Sumit: ‘Even in that complexity, I tend to get asked to do diagrams, use cases flows and I think because other people tend to go [to] lots of meetings and maybe not document or produce output, that's where I feel that I add value, by producing a page or a picture and then that really helps me understand what we're trying to achieve... My pride and joy... is my whiteboard.’

4. What are the essential soft skills for a BA?

Nichola: ‘In BA some of the core skills are good listening, questioning and understanding. So asking the right questions to get clarity [and] those sort of soft skills I think are really important [as is] a can-do attitude.’

5. What sort of people make good business analysts?

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Sumit: ‘I think BAs tend to be good communicators but that doesn't mean they need to be extroverts. The extroverts are really good at leading workshops, going to approach people and almost as I call it ‘desktoping’ just turning up somewhere asking a few questions and leaving quite quickly. Then you’ve got the introverts that like the doctrine analysis - we've got 100 pages of this report can you read it, can you structure it in a good way? The ones that can think ‘big picture’ are naturally more aligned to business architecture; the ones I like to think ‘lower level’ are more aligned to product owners or agile. It’s really about whatever skills you have [and] your point of view [which] really defines which part of the BA journey you take.’

6. How do you get interview ready for your first BA role?

Saif: ‘I think it's about how you tailor your CV and how you come across in the interview. So one of the excellent things that I’ve done that's always worked for me especially in interviews is to actually give some kind of examples of work you've done. It doesn't have to be work, just some kind of practice work that you've done showing your skills. It could be using Draw.IO or Microsoft Visio to create dummy diagrams. Those are things that you can bring to your portfolio.’

7. What does BCS bring to a career in business analysis?

Sumit: ‘I did my degree I never did a masters and then I did my chartered status because I wanted to fulfil that gap. Then to move to the BA in BCS I found there was actually a whole pathway to SFIA level seven and then that's how I became a chartered IT professional. So I think for BA experts wherever you are in your career - whether you're head of a BA practice or you’re going into business architecture of the product domain - I think it's definitely worthwhile [exploring what BCS has to offer]’.

8. What’s the best thing about being a BA?

Nichola: ‘I think it's a really interesting and varied role which I’ve been doing for a long time [and] it never gets boring you get to meet lots of interesting people from different business areas and find out all about what they do and what they need. You can [also] work as a part of a team and implement positive change and look back on all the successful things that you've been involved with. So yes, I definitely recommend it!’

9. What’s so good about BA apprenticeships?

Saif: ‘I would say that one thing that's really unique about an apprenticeship is that you get given work on a wide range of competencies, and that's not something that you would find naturally. So as part of [an] apprenticeship I was given work on eight competencies. In a normal BA role you actually won't get that much exposure.’

10. Are BA apprenticeships just for young people?

Nichola: ‘I must admit I’m in my late 40s and I’ve only just got on to the apprenticeship, even though I’ve been doing BA for a long time. My team have a range of ages from quite young to even older than me and some of those have done the apprenticeship as well. So, certainly with the apprenticeship levy out there, there's lots of opportunities for people to gain skills at any age!’