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Underlying Competencies for Business Analysts

A business analyst plays a critical role in a company’s productivity and profitability. As such Business Analysts are expected to demonstrate the right mix of skills, knowledge, on-the-job abilities and they must be able to adapt to the ever-changing requirements in the Business world of today.

The International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) in its Business Analysis Book of Knowledge (BABOK Guide) defined Underlying competencies as the traits that characters display and they were grouped into 6 key areas.

The underlying competencies give a wide range of fundamental skills required of a BA and further defines the requirements for success on the job in broader terms. This provides the knowledge that will enable them to become accomplished and adaptable business analysts. Think of skills as one of three facets that make up a competency, knowledge and abilities being the other two. If you can master this set of skills, being a successful business analyst is only a matter of applying these skills appropriately to your current situation.

These competencies are grouped into six categories are:

• Analytical Thinking and Problem Solving
• Behavioural Characteristics
• Business Knowledge
• Communication Skills
• Interaction Skills and
• Tools and Technology

Each of these competency group constitutes of multiple sub-competencies which are further discussed below:

Underlying competency 1: Analytical Thinking and Problem Solving

Having sound Analytical thinking and problem-solving skills are required for business analysts to analyze problems and opportunities effectively. These are fundamental thinking skills that help to identify which changes may deliver the most value and the best ways to present information to their stakeholders in order to understand the impact of those changes.

This competency assists business analysts when planning their business analysis approach and enables them to communicate business analysis information in a manner that suits the material being conveyed to their stakeholders involved. This competency group consists of the following sub-competencies.

Creative Thinking

Creative thinking involves generating new ideas, concepts and as well as finding the new or different linkage between new and existing concepts or ideas. This may be facilitated through brainstorming, mind mapping and lateral thinking. A Business Analyst must be able to look at the needs of stakeholders, think from a different perspective and suggest exceptional solutions. It is really important for the BA to be a creative thinker as he is expected to be a change agent who facilitates innovation in any organization or an enterprise.

Decision Making

Decision making involves gathering the information that is relevant to the decision, analyzing information, making comparisons between similar and dissimilar options, and identifying the most desirable option.
It is a cognitive process where a BA is faced with having to select an option from a set of alternatives and a decision must be made on which is the most advantageous for the stakeholders and the enterprise. This may include making a decision on which tools or techniques to use, which stakeholders to consult, which solution options to take and so on.

Learning

Ever heard of the phrase “Jack of all trades, master of none?” Right! A Business Analyst is not expected to be ‘A master of all trades’. Instead, he or she is expected to listen, observe, learn and understand. As such, he is capable of applying that level of understanding to determine which analysis activities need to be performed in a given problem or opportunity.

Problem Solving

Many a time, Business Analysts face encounter problems during the entire phase of a project. A Business Analyst’s role is to ensure that the nature of the problem and the underlying issues are well understood by the stakeholders involved. Also, he must be able to recommend suitable solutions.

Systems Thinking

Systems thinking is all about understanding how the people, processes, and technology within an organization interact. This allows business analysts to understand the enterprise from a holistic point of view when determining solution options. In essence, the BA is expected to look at this bigger picture and consider all stakeholders involved when performing his or her tasks.

Conceptual Thinking
Conceptual thinking in business analysis is specifically about understanding the linkage between contexts, solutions, needs, changes, stakeholders, value and in the big picture. It involves understanding and connecting information and patterns that may not be easily defined by the underlying problem or opportunity elated. It may also involve using past experiences, knowledge, creativity, intuition, and abstract thinking to generate alternatives, options, and ideas that are not easily defined or related.

Visual Thinking

Visual thinking is the ability to communicate complex concepts and models into understandable visual representations which allows business analysts to engage stakeholders and help them understand the concepts being presented.

It allows Business Analysts to create graphical representations (graphics, models, diagrams) of the concepts or systems being discussed. The goal of these graphical representations is to allow stakeholders to easily understand the concepts being presented and then provide input as well as understand and appreciate others’ contexts more clearly.

Underlying competency 2: Behavioral Characteristics

Behavioural characteristics have been found to increase personal effectiveness in the practice of business analysis. The core competencies of behavioural characteristics focus on the skills and behaviours that allow a business analyst to gain the trust and respect of stakeholders. Business Analysts are able to do this by consistently acting in an ethical manner, completing tasks on time and to expectations, efficiently delivering quality results, and demonstrating adaptability to changing needs and circumstances.

Ethics

Behaving ethically allows business analysts to earn the respect of the stakeholders. A Business Analyst is a powerful individual within a project context, as he or she gains access to processes and information that may be highly sensitive to the stakeholders within an organization.
Thus, the BA is expected to recognize when a proposed solution or requirement may present ethical difficulties to an organization or its stakeholder. This is an important consideration that can help to reduce exposure to risk.

Personal Accountability

Personal accountability includes effectively planning business analysis work to achieve targets and goals and ensuring that value delivered is aligned with business needs. It ensures business analysis tasks are completed on time and to the expectations of colleagues and stakeholders. Also, it enables business analysts to establish credibility by ensuring that business analysis efforts meet the needs of the business.

Trustworthiness

Most organizations and stakeholders provide access to sensitive information, systems, processes and other high value assets, sometimes even placing their entire business at risk. The BA is then expected to earn and uphold the trust of stakeholders and ensure due diligence is given when eliciting business analysis information and devising solutions that will deliver value to that organization. This, in turn, may offset the natural fear of change experienced by many stakeholders.

Organization and Time Management

Organization and time management involves the ability to prioritize tasks, perform them efficiently, and manage time effectively. Organizational skills help Business Analysts to differentiate important information that should be retained from less important information and at the same time keeping them organized and stored in an efficient manner so that it can be used and reused at a later date. Effective time management also requires the ability to prioritize tasks and deadlines.

Adaptability

Adaptability is the ability to change techniques, style, methods, and approach. Business analysts frequently work in rapidly changing environments and with a variety of stakeholders. As a result, they adjust their behavioural style and method of approach to increase their effectiveness when interacting with different stakeholders, organizations, and situations.
By demonstrating a willingness to interact with and complete tasks in a manner preferable to the stakeholders, business analysts can maximize the quality of service delivered and more efficiently help the organization achieve its goals and objectives.

Underlying competency 3: Business Knowledge

Business knowledge is required for the business analyst to perform effectively within their business, organization and industry as a whole. Business knowledge enables the business analyst to better understand the overarching concepts that govern the structure, benefits, and value of the situation as it relates to a change or a need.

Business Acumen

Organizations frequently share similar practices, such as legal and regulatory requirements, finance, logistics, sales, marketing, supply chain management, human resources, and technology. Business acumen is the ability to understand and apply the knowledge based on these commonalities within differing situations. Although not a must, it is good for a BA to be familiar with the practices so as to consult and advise customers with relevant requirements in an efficient manner.

Industry Knowledge
Industry knowledge provides the business analyst with an understanding of current practices and activities within an industry, similar processes across industries and even the competitive forces that shape the industries. As a result, Business Analysts are required to understand forces such as competitors, current trends, suppliers, market forces, buyers, products, substitutes etc. so that they can identify commonalities and differences that may influence business requirements.

Organizational Knowledge

Organization knowledge provides an understanding of the management structure and business architecture of the enterprise being analyzed. This includes an understanding of how the enterprise generates profits, accomplishes its goals, its organizational structure, the relationships that exist between business units, and the persons who occupy key stakeholder positions, data, technology and other aspects of the organization in place.

Solution Knowledge

Business Analyst must leverage their understanding of existing departments, environments, or technology to efficiently identify the most effective means of implementing a change. This, in a way, prevents them from re-inventing the wheel and also expedite the discovery of potential changes through elicitation or in-depth analysis. Hence, an understanding and familiarity of existing solutions give BAs an added advantage in delivering value to stakeholders.

Methodology Knowledge

Methodologies determine the timing (big steps or small increments), the approach, the role of people involved, the accepted risk level, and other aspects of how a change is approached and managed Understanding the methodologies used by the organization provides the Bas with information regarding context, opportunities, and constraints used when developing an approach. Also, it helps organizations to either adopt or create their own methodologies to fit varying levels of culture, maturity, adaptability, risk, uncertainty, and governance.
Knowledge regarding a variety of methodologies allows the business analyst to quickly adapt to, and perform in, new environments.

Underlying competency 4: Communication Skills

Effective communication benefits all stakeholders and it may be accomplished using a variety of delivery methods: verbal, nonverbal, physical, and written. Business analysts spend a significant amount of their time interacting with clients, users, and developers. Therefore, communication skill is a given as they expected to facilitate meetings, ask the right questions, and actively listen to their colleagues to take in new information and build relationships.
Essentially, a project’s success is dependent on a Business Analyst’s ability to communicate things like project requirements, changes, and test results.

Communication Skills core competencies include:

Verbal Communication

Business analysts are expected to be able to verbally express their ideas, concepts, facts, and opinions to stakeholders. In addition, it must be done in a clear manner. The BA must also be able to actively listen to ensure that ideas generated by stakeholders are clearly understood.

Non-Verbal Communication

Non-verbal communication skills enable the effective sending and receiving of messages through—but not limited to—body movement, posture, facial expressions, gestures, and eye contact. This form of communication is a given for a Business Analyst to be successful in his career.

Written Communication

Business analysts are to have good written communication skills in order to convey ideas, concepts, facts, and opinions to stakeholders. Also, proper command over language in terms of vocabulary, grammar and style and use of other terms is essential to ensure that written text is understood easily.

Listening

Listening is the process of not just hearing words but understanding their meaning in context. By exhibiting effective listening skills, business analysts not only have a greater opportunity to accurately understand what is being communicated but also to demonstrate that they think what the speaker is
saying is really important.

Underlying competency 5: Interaction Skills

Interaction skills are represented by the business analyst’s ability to relate, cooperate, and communicate with different kinds of people including executives, sponsors, colleagues, team members, developers, vendors, learning and development professionals, end users, customers, and subject matter experts
(SMEs). Business analysts are uniquely positioned to facilitate stakeholder communication, provide leadership, encourage comprehension of solution value, and promote stakeholder support of the proposed changes.

Interaction Skills core competencies include:

Facilitation & Negotiation

One of the key elements of a Business Analyst role is to be able to facilitate interactions and group discussions between stakeholders in order to help them make a decision, solve a problem, exchange ideas and information, or reach an agreement regarding the priority and the nature of requirements.
Apart from this, a business analyst may also facilitate interactions between stakeholders for the purposes of negotiation and conflict resolution. This requires remaining neutral and not taking sides, but at the same time being impartial and intervening when required in order to make suggestions and offer insights in order to have a session that leads to the attainment of expected outcomes

Leadership & Influencing

The business analyst’s responsibility for defining, analyzing, and communicating business analysis information provides opportunities for leadership and influence, whether or not there are people formally reporting to the business analyst. Hence, a business analyst is to be skilled in this regard when guiding stakeholders during the investigation of business analysis information and solution options. This, in turn, builds consensus and encourage stakeholder support and collaboration during change.

Teamwork

Business analysts often work as part of a team with other business analysts, project managers, stakeholders, and subject matter experts (SMEs). Relationships with these people are a critical part of the success of any project or business. Hence, it is important for the business analyst to understand how a team is formed and how it functions. Also, recognizing team dynamics and how they play a part as the team progresses through various stages of a project is also crucial.

Negotiation and Conflict Resolution

Business analysts occasionally mediate negotiations between different stakeholders in order to reach a common understanding or an agreement. During this process, business analysts help resolve conflicts and differences of opinion with the intent of maintaining and strengthening work relationships among stakeholders and team members whilst ensuring the overall objective is met.

Teaching

Teaching skills help business analysts effectively communicate business analysis information, concepts, ideas, requirements and issues to team members and provide guidance on the scope of the project. They also help ensure that information is understood and retained by stakeholders. As a result, BAs must be good teachers who are capable of understanding different learning capabilities of individuals and be able to adapt and customize learning material and experience accordingly.

Underlying competency 6: Tools and Technology

Business analysis requires the use of a variety of software applications to support communication and collaboration, create and maintain requirements artefacts, model concepts, track issues, and increase overall productivity. As a result, Business Analysts are expected to be knowledgeable, skilled and proficient in the use of some tools and techniques when performing some business analysis tasks

Business Analysis Tools and Technology core competencies include the following:

Office Productivity Tools and Technology

Business analysts use office productivity tools and technology to document and track information and artefacts. Hence, a business analyst is expected to have knowledge in applications that help carry out day-to-day business analysis tasks. This includes: Word processing and presentation programs such as MS Office suite, Presentation soft wares, Spreadsheets, Communication tools (e-mail and instant messaging programs), Collaboration and knowledge management tools and Hardware tools such as printers, scanners etc.

Business Analysis Tools and Technology

Business analysts use a variety of tools and technology to model, document, and manage outputs of business analysis activities and deliverables to stakeholders. Hence, a BA must be efficient in using these specialized tools which are built specifically for different purposes.
Tools that are specific to the field of business analysis provide specialized capabilities in:

• modelling,
• diagramming,
• documenting,
• analyzing and mapping requirements,
• identifying relationships between requirements,
• tracking and storing requirements artefacts, and
• communicating with stakeholders

Note that: some of these tools depend on the project in place.

Communication Tools and Technology

Business analysts use communication tools and technology to perform business analysis activities, manage teams, and collaborate with stakeholders. Examples of these tools include voice communications, instant messaging, online chat, e-mail, blogging, and microblogging, wikis, electronic calendars, online brainstorming tools, electronic decision making, electronic voting, document sharing and idea sharing tools.

So, if you want to become a successful BA it is necessary that you attempt to be competent in some or all of the above areas.

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