Business analysis has continuously ranked highly on LinkedIn's list of most in-demand skills. It's one of the few hard skills every professional should have as most roles require some level of business analysis to make decisions.
Are you considering a career in business analysis? Already working in the sector but are stumped as to how to grow? Or are you one of many professionals without the business analysis title but have been tasked with strengthening your business analysis skills?
In our recent online event, our panelists explored employment, education and community in this demanding field, and how you can springboard your career with strong business analysis skills.
Let’s meet the panel:
Jay Ashford, ATS Partners founder and IIBA Bay Area Chapter secretary
Kellyn Jezierski, IIBA account executive, corporate business development manager
Becky LaMaita, Apex Bay Area senior recruiter and delivery lead
Mufaro Nyachoto, IIBA Bay Area Chapter president
Steven Harris, Certificate Program in Business Analysis graduate
Heather Sheehan, Certificate Program in Business Analysis graduate
What trends are you currently seeing in the profession?
Becky: The demand for business analysts is extremely high here in the Bay Area. Unfortunately, the supply of business analysts is low. And because the business analyst skill set has proven to be extremely beneficial for other jobs and qualifications, many qualified BAs are using this skill set to get into several different opportunities and career paths—product owner, product management, data analyst. This is really thinning out the talent pool. So the biggest trend here is that it is a candidate market right now.
Kellyn: We're also seeing BAs play critical roles in several different teams throughout an organization. Agile analysis—BAs playing product owner and proxy product owner roles. We're also seeing BAs helping to deliver data initiative and cybersecurity. I work a lot with our corporate leadership members, and they often say, “I can't interview fast enough, I can't hire fast enough.” So demand has truly skyrocketed.
How do you break into business analysis, and what are the possible career paths that you can pursue?
Heather: My story is a little bit different. I graduated high school and began working as a customer service rep at Nature's Bounty; now it's The Bountiful Company. I never got the opportunity to go to college. I did want to—and I really wanted to go to Berkeley! So when I became a QA analyst, I dove into the technical processes and different applications. And then a business analyst opportunity opened up, and with all of the knowledge that I had from the business, I jumped into my role. But I realized that I had a gap in my knowledge with processes and techniques. And I really wanted to use tools to not only make myself great for our business, but also learning business analysis is way more than just your core. I really utilized those tools to broaden my background and how I currently function. This certificate gave me the opportunity to get those skills, but also a little bit of a college experience. I'm very grateful for that. And I was able to really grow myself because of this certificate.
Steven: I got my undergrad degree in business information systems, and it was a well-rounded program where it taught you different pieces around IT. I started my career in different positions of supporting products at software and startup companies. And then I moved to a help desk for a site and then became an application engineer. About four or five years ago. I was mostly in project management. I got my PMP® certification because I was leading a lot of initiatives and I wanted to feel more confident about going through the right steps. The BA certificate was something to help me propel my career. In my division, I have to wear a lot of hats, like so many other people. And I found that I needed a way to be able to cut through the ambiguity and figure out what people wanted, and how to get solutions brought to them. With the BA certificate, it helped me to learn different skills, such as propping up my presentation skills, how to do elicitation better, how to get things out of people, giving me the confidence to use different tools. I still use all of those skills and I fused them with business analysis and project management.
Becky: I've also seen folks that started out in HR or business operations and were asked to start documenting processes and so forth—really turning their career toward that business analyst profile. I've seen folks jump right into different business analyst internships or entry-level business analyst roles directly out of college or these training programs.
Tips on interviewing or things you hear back from hiring managers?
Becky: Some of the common feedback that I get from hiring managers is that candidates tend to speak in generalities. What they want to hear is what you did, what accomplishments you made, your responsibilities, your deliverables. You have to walk that fine line between being too arrogant and being humble.
What about working with a recruiting firm, such as Apex? What can candidates do to maximize the value out of that relationship?
Becky: When you're working with a recruiter—such as Apex—make sure to really communicate why you are looking for a new position and your motivators. This will only help us present opportunities that you are going to be interested in.
What are the benefits when an employee can speak the industry jargon or use that common framework of language, terminology and ideas?
Steven: It gives the employer some comfort and relief that they don't have to train that person in that area that you're hiring for. That lends itself to an opportunity where a person can learn institutional knowledge and create relationships with people, and then you can start applying what you've already learned. That just propels the organization ahead if you already have those skills in place.
Heather: I think that if I were hired already having those skills, it would have been an easier transition. If you already have these BA skills, you're able to go in and start breaking things down. A business is a business, right? You can make any requirement into something if you have the tools to do that.
Mufaro: A common terminology allows you to describe your work in a common, shared manner, which makes for a better team. It also makes it easier for you—regardless of industry—to say, “Hi, this is what I do,” and find other people who you can connect with.
Kellyn: If I'm the hiring manager, I want to ensure consistency and how we're providing business analysis services to our internal or external customers. When I hire someone who speaks that common language, then I know, for example, Steve has a common approach that I have for elicitation. He can hit the ground running, and it's just a win-win for everyone.
Know your power and know your role, because oftentimes entry-level BAs can have difficulties knowing where their role starts and ends. You can lead and really add value.
What do you see as common mistakes made by newer or junior business analysts?
Steven: I read an article recently about how BAs sometimes might try to use rapid-firing of questions when someone comes to you with a problem. And while you have to get those questions answered, that's not always the best approach. You want to spend time getting to the crux of why they're coming to you. I had an impromptu conversation yesterday with one of my colleagues. They were telling me about this issue and I started down a path of “solutionizing.” Then I stopped myself and had the conversation about what are you looking for? Digging deeper and trying to find the why instead of just peppering questions from a checklist.
Mufaro: I think we have to teach them that they're not order takers and that their soft skills are really important because they have to engage with people as change agents. They have to work with people, and people are challenging, but they are what change is about.
Kellyn: Know your power and know your role, because oftentimes entry-level BAs can have difficulties knowing where their role starts and ends. You can lead and really add value.
Becky: Remember everyone's going to make mistakes. But the way you learn and grow is going to show your next employer or your current manager that you’re ready for the next step in your career.
You get the information from them, you regurgitate it back. They kind of give you a spin on it, you come back with a remix on it, and you go back and forth until both sides feel comfortable.
What has been your experience when working with stakeholders and eliciting requirements from them?
Steven: Earlier in my career, I used to hear what people said and deliver that, and it wasn’t what they wanted. It takes different iterations to soundcheck and test what they're telling you. You get the information from them, you regurgitate it back. They kind of give you a spin on it, you come back with a remix on it, and you go back and forth until both sides feel comfortable.
Heather: Sometimes the business doesn't actually know what the solution is. What is your business case and what are you trying to resolve? I'll have a stakeholder come to me, and say, “I want to do this and we should do it like this.” That's when we take our tools into consideration, and ask, “Does this actually make sense? Let me see if there's a better, easier way.” The why is so important.
What's the biggest challenge that you see in the workplace or perhaps in the discipline or the industry as a whole?
Steven: How to keep all of these different skills sharp. My role isn't strictly BA: I might be working on someone's computer or I might be leading an initiative. And I'm getting into some scrum master responsibilities. Trying to time splice and make sure that I keep those skills sharp. Dial up when I need to and dial down on certain things when it's not needed, and make sure that I'm still at an adequate level.
Heather: Using the tools and the processes in an already existing framework. So if our IT department was already functioning in an Agile manner, and then I jump in and try to use tools with a team that has a development and planning life cycle, finding where we can make our tools work. People don't like change and everybody gets stuck in their rut. That's the biggest challenge that I face is jumping in and using what I know in a current Agile lifecycle.
I think business analysis isn't going anywhere. It's just hiding under different titles. I usually call myself a business analysis professional. I'm always going to have the core of business analysis and then whatever else I put on top of it—project management or process management.
Why is it important to get involved with a professional association when you are focused on career development?
Mufaro: You'll find other people who are business analysts. You can see where your skills line up. You might see some industry trends, you might find some opportunities to network and meet others. You never know where your next job is going to come from. It's just a great way to have an impact on the profession itself.
Kellyn: With our chapter, you can go in, and ask, “I'm looking for this tool, what are you using in your organization? Or, “We're facing these challenges,” or, “We're having conversations about going Agile. Who can help me with that?” Our chapters also have study groups. If you decide to study for a certification, if you want to fill those knowledge gaps, they have mentorship programs. Whether you're starting your profession or whether you've been in it for 15 years or you're thinking about what's next, you have someone who can help.
What does it mean to be part of IIBA's community of business analysts professionals?
Kellyn: Our IIBA members could participate in an event in more than 120 global chapters. Not only is our organization harmonized, but it's a global world. A lot of professionals are remote, so maybe you want to network with someone in New York or India or England, and that's available to you. So whether you're working on finding the next job, upskilling or staying relevant, the connection is there for you.
I've seen these skills rolled into other job titles such as a product owner or a product manager. So even though they're not called business analysts, they are 100 percent using these qualifications for these positions. I see a lot of overlap.
What trends are you seeing as industries are moving to a more adaptive or Agile approach and the role of a business analyst?
Kellyn: What we see in our research is, regardless of the methodology used, organizations that are using business analysis to help with business agility are having more success. So it’s important when you're discussing the role that business analysis is going to play—whether that is in a data-driven organization or an Agile or product-centric organization—you can say this is how we're going to contribute. This is the value that we're going to bring.
Becky: I've seen these skills rolled into other job titles such as a product owner or a product manager. So even though they're not called business analysts, they are 100 percent using these qualifications for these positions. I see a lot of overlap. I have employers looking for a combination of product owner and product managers. And others that are looking for business analysts/product owners. I've also seen the scrum master/business analysts.
Mufaro: I think business analysis isn't going anywhere. It's just hiding under different titles. I usually call myself a business analysis professional. I'm always going to have the core of business analysis and then whatever else I put on top of it—project management or process management.
Having the knowledge to be able to create certain workflows and understanding of the breakdown of the data—that's going to benefit your data analysis altogether.
Audience question: I'm considering both the Business Analysis certificate and the Project Management certificate. Which program would best benefit me?
Steven: It largely depends on your interests and what you are going to be most closely doing. If your manager is constantly asking you to lead certain initiatives, maybe project management is the thing to do. But I will say that if it's a small shop and you're the project manager, and you're also jumping in and working on the project, you're going to use a lot of business analysis skills. With project managers, you're looking at the schedules and making sure that the project is on track and on time. In the BA role, you're focused on figuring out what the customer wants and which path to take to bring that to fruition. Those lines are very, very blurry because they can overlap. But if something goes wrong with the project, the question is going to go to the project manager because they’re responsible for the whole project being done and the health of it. And the BA has a role of trying to figure out what needs to be done, leading people and pulling the right people together to make those things happen.
Audience question: I am interested in data analysis. Would business analysis skills be helpful?
Heather: Absolutely. Data and business—they're one and the same. Your business is utilizing your data. There are certain techniques that you could utilize to break things down. Having the knowledge to be able to create certain workflows and understanding of the breakdown of the data—that's going to benefit your data analysis altogether.
What advice would you have for someone who is considering a career in business analysis?
Mufaro: Get some sort of education, take some courses. That'll give you confidence, you'll understand what the different skill sets are, what the different tools are. And then network. Reach out to other BAs and find out what they're doing because business analysis is across industries, it's across roles, so you never know where you might fit in. Volunteer—get out there, see what there is.
Heather: Your learning is your expertise, your tool to be successful. Never stay stagnant, keep taking those courses, keep reading those articles because things change rapidly.
Steven: If you have an interest in this program at UC Berkeley Extension, it is great. It was great to interact with folks from different industries and you can talk this common language about solving problems. These skills are transferable.