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26 March 2007

Business Analyst Knowledge Domains

Business Analysts, like IT project managers should have a couple of knowledge domains under their belt.

Project Managers should know project management, plus a bit of management, plus a bit about the industry they are working on (and for anyone involved in IT) plus a bit about software development.

Business Analysts should know business analysis, plus software development, plus a (fair) bit about project management, plus a bit about the industry they are working on.

The PM BOK used to represent this as three areas overlapping (and then in the latest PMBOK migrated to a more complex but less elegant model of multiple knowledge domains.) For the business analyst the idea could be represented like this;

The most important thing the business analyst should know is the foundation level information surrounding requirements elicitation, requirements management and stakeholder management. Beyond that they become more effective as a project team member if they also understand other things about the context they are operating in.

Project Management
If a business analyst does know something about project management they become more effective because they can work more independently, they understand the project manager’s motivations and constraints better and they can run projects within the overall project or programme.

If a business analyst does not have project management skills they will often clash with the project manager, the sponsor and other project participants as they can become overly focused on the requirements as requested/stated by the business subject matter experts. This situation may find them acting as a gatekeeper to change rather than someone actively contributing to project success.

Software development
Most projects a business analyst works on will involve some degree of software development. It may be as simple as adding a new price to a database or it may implement a suite of new enterprise management systems.

Regardless of the complexity it is important for the BA to understand the processes and systems used by technical teams. Often the BA is the intermediary between marketing, operations and IT staff. They are expected to mediate, translate and facilitate discussions across a business’ functional areas. To do that effectively they need to be able to speak the language of the technical team.

A BA that does not understand the software development lifecycle will have trouble understanding what the consequences of decisions made will be down the development track. They will also have trouble drilling into the technical detail and explaining how requirements have been met, or not met, to business stakeholders.

This will also help develop trust and empathy from the technical team. They will see the BA as their point man in the treacherous world of marketing. Marketers and operations people will also see the BA as their point man in enemy territory if you learn to speak their language also. That’s where industry expertise comes in handy.

Industry expertise
Business analysts often start their careers in operations roles as subject matter experts or managers and have a history of “getting things done” in a company. They often understand the infrastructure, personal networks and regulatory frameworks a business operates in. They bring with them an ability to know the right questions to ask and the ability to drill into key issues faster.

Business analysts without a background in at least one industry often have trouble getting hired. It’s seen in the many posts on the jobs message boards where graduates and junior IT professionals ask how they can become BAs. Having experience in the operations end of an industry is the answer. Not only does it give you the advanced insight into requirements, but it gives management a certain reassurance that you can “get things done.”

That’s not to say BAs can’t travel across industries. It just indicates that junior Bas are more likely to emerge from operations teams that be hired across industry for their first BA job.

Related documents
Both Project Management and Software Development have published Bodies of Knowledge documents. Business analysts interested in doing their job well should make sure they read them both, as well as the BABOK.

Project Management's PMBOK –
Software Engineering's SWEBOK -
Busniess Analysts' BABOK –