What is a Business Analyst

What is a Business Analyst?

Summary:
The definition that smart-BA uses is a Business Analyst is someone who analyses change requirements and produces a justifiable set of analysis deliverables that are used to design and implement the solution.

If a picture paints a thousand words: Scope of BA role

Justification:
Did you know that there is no standard, definitive and agreed definition of what a Business Analyst is?

That means not only does the profession have no recognised industry standards or an agreed definition, there is also no binding definition of a set of qualifications or standards that all Business Analysts must adhere to.

And that means that Business Analysts:

  • can be all things to all people
  • can define their own role
  • should define their own role so that they have an answer for anyone who tries to dump unassigned tasks in to the remit of a Business Analyst in (for example) your organisation – i.e. you!

This is what smart-BA thinks:

“Business Analyst” – let’s deconstruct (analyse!) the term.

1. “Business” – no, we are not going to define “business”, but we are going to challenge why Business Analysts are called Business Analysts. Apart from working in businesses, don’t Business Analysts also do their work in local and central government, charities, non-governmental organisations, and so on?

We suspect that the term “Business” in “Business Analyst” came about in the 1980s when Systems Analysts (who pre-date Business Analysts) declared that they were starting to get engaged in activities not related to Systems Analysis. If they were not analysing systems, what were they analysing? Their answer was “Business”. However, a more descriptive answer would be “they analyse requirements for change”.

Based on that the role would be more accurately described as “Change Requirements Analyst” but as the name “Business Analyst” has stuck we will continue with that title.

2. “Analyst” – someone who analyses. “Analysis” then is the important definition. Here’s how three sources define “analysis”

  • Internet: an investigation of the component parts of a whole and their relations in making up the whole
  • Oxford English Dictionary:
    1. a detailed examination of the elements or structure of something.
    2. the separation of something into its constituent elements — ORIGIN Greek analysis, from analuein ‘unloose.’
  • Merriam-Webster dictionary:
    1. separation of a whole into its component parts
    2. a: the identification or separation of ingredients of a substance
      b: a statement of the constituents of a mixture
    3. a: proof of a mathematical proposition by assuming the result and deducing a valid statement by a series of reversible steps
      b(1): a branch of mathematics concerned mainly with limits, continuity, and infinite series (2): calculus 1b
    4. a: an examination of a complex, its elements, and their relations
      b: a statement of such an analysis
    5. a: a method in philosophy of resolving complex expressions into simpler or more basic ones
      b: clarification of an expression by an elucidation of its use in discourse
    6. the use of function words instead of inflectional forms as a characteristic device of a language

So analysis is all about breaking a problem down to its component parts to expose the logical inter-relationships between them. The problem being analysed is the change requirements for a project. We ‘break the problem down’ so we can prove that all the components are actually required. We analyse change requirements (break them down to their component parts) and prove that each and every requirement is necessary in order to deliver the project.

And once armed with all these provable facts about the project, new requirements can be inferred (or better yet deduced) from the existing facts. This is where the business analyst really creates value for the project as they discover new requirements that no-one had ever thought of, or realised must exist, based on the current project definition.

Summary: Business Analyst = someone who analyses change requirements and produces a provable set of analysis deliverables that are used to design and implement the solution.

…and here are a few things Business Analysts are not (although none of these roles can function well without an effective Business Analyst producing high quality analysis deliverables!):

  • Project Managers
  • Systems Analysts
  • Designers
  • Coders
  • Testers
  • Implementers

Of course, you may find yourself performing multiple roles on the same project – a common combination is Business Analyst & Project Manager.

Warning: There is a conflict of interest in doing this combined role:
A Project Manager is (typically) measured on delivery of the solution within the allowed time and budget.
A Business Analyst is (or should!) be measured on delivery of the benefits specified in the project objectives.

This poses the question why aren’t Project Managers measured on delivery of project objectives? However, in the real world – typically – they just aren’t!