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 – www.pmi.org
Software Engineering's SWEBOK - www.swebok.org
Busniess Analysts' BABOK – www.theiiba.org


  1. Great post, helps to situate the BAs in terms of needed knowledge. If I had read it earlier, I would not ask about what to do with all those BoKs.

    I agree about the closeness between business analysis and project management, I used to perform both until we finally managed to have a dedicated project manager in the team. Now I´m free to be "only" a BA and the previous experience told me that:

    - Wen you are a BA and you don´t care about project management you risk to get overly focused on the requirements (as you wrote). It has happened here and the project´s strategic alignment is being helpful to put things in context for the BAs.

    - Being both in the same project has revealed something really tiring for me, not only due to the amount of work, but the internal shock of interests constantly happening inside my head.

    That´s why I like the idea of having a different person assigned for each role but having clear knowledge about the surroundings. (let´s focus on average to big projects).

    Craig, you are a PM and a BA and I´m curious about how you deal with that, do you perform both roles in the same project?

    If yes, don´t you feel like being responsible for too much? Does not your PM side often allows your BA side to do things a real PM would not do and vice-versa?

    Is it fair to have two seats in the project´s change committee for example?

  2. Kerber

    When I wear both hats it is usually on simple projects.

    Usually I would want to have someone working for me in the BA role, but given my background as a BA I have a strong understanding of the BA work and so pay a lot of attention to it.

    It's an intersting contract to some discussions where former developers step up to be PMs and face the challenge of letting the doing work go to focus on management as a BA work is akin to management.

    At the end of the day though the same principles apply. you need to focus on your job and let your team do their without intererence (but with feedback and QA.)

    As for representationson change comitees; I believ it's more a matter of personality than numbers in things like that, and in smaller projects where you would wear both hats things tend to run more informally.

  3. Craig,
    I appreciate your comments here. I am coming from the business side, already having an MBA in Marketing and Media Communications Management (new media). I am interested in changing career paths, having been a small business owner of an architecture firm. I have a lot of experience on the project management and operations side as an entrepreneur. But I don't have an IT background. Can you advise what supplemental education or certificates I might need? Also, I would like to get some experience, but am not certain how to present my skill set to the market. It seems that my business experience would really apply, but some core skills may need upgrading. Any suggestions are appreciated. Thanks!

  4. quipped to manage enterprise scale projects with your background.

    You are not expected to be an expert in everything, particularly the IT parts, although some grounding is very useful.

    I would start by visiting local networking groups and speaking with people in your local market.

    Specifically look up the PMI for project management roles, and the IIBA for business analyst role.

    Do let me know how you go and email if you want to ask any more questions.

  5. hi Craig,

    Great post! i am looking for change in roles from being a software developer to a BA, what areas do i need to be working on to kick start with? I am working on the higher education domain currently for the past 2 plus years. please guide.


  6. Hi,
    It has been an interesting post.
    I have a Q's. I am working as a project leader and will be promoted as a Project Manager shortly (next 6 months). Now, I have an opening for BA. I am confused on what to choose.
    Please suggest which role has more monitory benefit.

  7. Just want to add to my earlier post...
    Pls let me know which post has career value in the long run (next 5 hours)

  8. Shanky (and Amey)

    For the project at hand you need to start with the skills and knowledge that is in demand.

    For example, if your project needs someone with a systems thinking and problem solving skill set look for tat. If you need someone who is good with people, look for that. it's a person in the context of a team, so consider the whole team and what they can already offer.

    A key (the most important?) consideration is how the new hire will get along with the rest of the team.

    Lastly, if you are wondering which path to pursue for yourself? Choose the one that's most interesting to your personally. Being interested and engaged will yield better results from you and this will translate into better opportunities in the future. (And always remember your long term success is about dealing with people.)

  9. HI,
    I am a fresher.I worked in SAP Labs for 8 months. Now i have joined a good analytical comapny as a BA.But i am confused in choosing the career between BA or S/W developer ??
    Please guide me .
    I also have a offer from Wipro to join as a S/W eng .

  10. Suchitra, Let me refer you to two other websites that have good advice for beginners;

    www.modernalanyst.com and http://www.bridging-the-gap.com/

    I hope one of these (or both) helps you find the answers you seek.

    Good luck,