The purpose of this article is to describe tools and skills desired for Analysts. If you have a position as an analyst or want a position of an analyst, you will want to read on.
First, why do we make distinction between BAs (Business Analysts), BSAs (Business SYSTEMS Analysts), RAs (Requirements Analysts), or SAs (Solutions Analysts or Systems Analysts)? The job appears to be the same, names appear to be altered to reflect: attitudes; business politics; focus; or (in my opinion) provide confusion and ambiguity. Here, the overarching term 'analyst' will be used. To further level set, the term 'customer' is the person, organization, or other that will be using the -product we are producing or enhancing. They can be called 'Product Owners', or Users.
Basic Analyst Tools
Some skills and tools for analysts are basic. They can be learned from taking classes, IIBA certification, on-the-job training or by reading the plethora of books on the subject. There are two tools you must start with. Consider these the minimum set of expectations. The first tool is elicitation, finding out what the customer wants / needs. The basics are simple: Most customers want to do THEIR JOB, More, Better, Faster. Beyond this, a more honed idea of their needs / wants are what elicitation is all about. Here you deal with the YEABUTs (Yea, I do want that, but...), and the I KNOW IT WHEN I SEE ITs (Just show me what you think I need and I'll tell you if that's what I want). It is important not to give up, press on to understanding. To do this you will need some of the skills described later.
Articulation of specifications and requirements - produce artifacts that will communicate to the customer, and the technical team, the needs / wants for the system. In the analyst world, there are formats and conventions for producing artifacts. These are forms of communication using visuals, audio, and demonstrations. Some examples: Story Cards; Actor Catalogs; Use Cases; Process Flows. For more of the skills that you can learn to do your job, please refer to classes, IIBAs BABOK, on-the-job training and books.
Basic Soft Skills
There are experiential skills to be learned and honed. They can't be learned from classes or books (no matter what the author says). These are 'soft skills'.
As an analyst, a big part of your job is to build relationships. These relationships are critical to your success. Failure to form relationships (or destroy relationships) can sound a death toll on your job and possibly your career. Everyone you come in contact should be opportunities to form relationships. Here are several soft skills you need to examine and improve. Political skills - knowing relationships that exist, the nature of these relations and the reasons they exist. Understanding if and where YOU fit into relationships is key. Many organizations have a hierarchy that should be appreciated. Titles, functions, seniorities are all important to forming, nurturing, and understanding your relationship within an organization. Public speaking is another soft skill to pay attention to. Your job requires that you are able to clearly present opinions, facts, and theories to your team and outside your team. Being able to put a presentation together and effectively communicate verbally is a necessity. Relationships can be started or furthered by an effective presentation.
The ability to communicate through visuals is a great skill to have. This is not difficult if you do some homework and expose yourself to other's visualization techniques. Then copy them! Don't feel you are required to innovate. The important idea here is to create visualization that 'speaks to the audience', 'tells the story'. In other words provides not just information, but the context of the information. A great series of books on this subject are by Edward Tuffte, get them from your library.
One skill that shouldn't need to be listed, but is the Achilles Heal of many analysts -- listening skills. Learn to not only hear what is being said, but understand what is said. Stay off your cell phone, email or other distractions. Be engaged when talking to people. React to what you heard, ask questions, summarize, one suggestion is to use the term '...let me teach back what I understand...'.
As a final point, don’t take things personally. Understand that people are not perfect, if you do your best at forming relationships, and it fails, count your wins and learn from the rest. In other words, have a 'Thick Skin'.
Skills that separate you from the pack
There are other experiential tools / skills that can be real game changers. Most analysts that acquired these have built real success patterns. Once again, these cannot be taught, or acquired from books. You must use them, concentrate on them, and be critical of yourself to sharpen these skills.
Being able to argue is NOT the same as being able to persuade. Persuasion is an art, and depending on the person and the situation an take on several forms. An analyst that is skilled at persuasion can quickly become a change agent, and a leader. Persuasion allows you to 'argue' without potentially offending your audience.
Flexibility is a critical skill to build. To be able to bend without compromising your beliefs, ethics, and values, makes you a person that can build relationships with the most difficult people. The first step of building flexibility is to have a good grasp on your beliefs, ethics, and values. The second step is to understand how others differ from you. Try to empathize with them, possibly sympathize with them. Lastly, find a way to fit into their version of the world while keeping your integrity. HONESTY, this is in capital letters because it may be the most key skill everyone should have. The difficulty comes when you are around others that are less than honest.
When writing a dissertation, the academic advisor gave the following advice, “Remember, all we have are our words. Make them count”. This is great advice for all writing and speaking. In the profession of Analyst, this is not only great advice, it is a requirement. Good communications goes well beyond the ability to write, use standard formats, create great visualizations, and good grammar. The tools / skills must involve using the correct LANGUAGE to communicate ideas. Analysts must be able to understand and use the correct words. There are three important languages analysts should concentrate: Language of the organization; Language of the domain; and vernaculars.
Every organization has their own way to express certain ideas. Some organizations use abbreviations to communicate, this language is a way to articulate 'tribal knowledge' (internal knowledge held by those within the organization). Some terms used by organizations are vernaculars. For example: when discussing the moving of a vehicle, one organization uses the vernacular ‘traction' and another uses 'travel'. When discussing a heart condition one healthcare organization may describe the condition as 'AFib' another uses 'atrial fibrillation' for the same condition.
Learning to 'speak' the organization's language helps build relationships within the organization. There is one great way to learn the language of the organization, listen. Listen in meetings, ask questions when you don't understand, and then USE the organization's language to communicate within the organization. Do your best to fit in and you will improve your communications.
Effective communication also requires a knowledge of 'Language of the Domain' the organization identifies. There are standard languages that hold a uniform meaning within a domain. It allows effective communications between organizations within the domain. We don't need to go very far to get examples for Language of the Domain. Analysts use words that are accepted by all analysts to mean something. Use Cases, Requirements, Stories each express a commonly understood concept.
One of the 'must haves' for an analyst is 'Critical Thinking Skills'. The interesting thing is that this is a commonly misunderstood skill. Let's start with the skill that is often confused with critical thinking - analytical thinking. Analytical thinking is the ability to break complexity into the component parts. Critical thinking is the ability to further learning by questioning EVERYTHING. Critical thinking starts as a young child that constantly asks... 'WHY?' Look for proof of ideas, concepts, and statements of fact. Here is a bullet point list of several components of critical thinking.
- Understand links between ideas
- Determine the importance and relevance of arguments and ideas
- Recognize, build and appraise arguments
- Identify inconsistencies and errors in reasoning
- Approach problems in a consistent and systematic way
- Reflect on the justification of own assumptions, beliefs and values
Use this list to start improving your Critical Thinking Skills.
Always be open to grow…never stop growing and learning.