Business Analysis 101
Back to the basics
As a business analyst, I often get questions from young professionals on LinkedIn about breaking into the field. But 8 out of 10 times, they actually are looking for advice on breaking into business analytics.
Business analyst, systems analyst, BI analyst, process analyst, change manager, and so on. We use these titles almost interchangeably these days. It makes sense in some ways. There is a bit of overlap in the tools, techniques, and methodologies required by each of these roles. Yet they have subtle but significant differences that make them unique.
Today, I want to tell you about “business analysis.” The real business analysis: what it is, what skills you need, and how to get started in this field. Because, in essence, “business analysis” is a set of skills and competencies that many of us perform across job roles, descriptions, and industries.
If you’re looking for a career in business analysis or want to take your current career in that direction, read on!
Who is a business analyst?
A business analyst uses knowledge of the organization and its processes to help business stakeholders (such as leaders in Marketing, Sales, Operations, and Finance) make good decisions. These decisions could result in a process or a system change.
Ultimately, business analysis aims to streamline how the business is run, reducing friction and saving time and money.
A business analyst could use various tools, techniques, and methodologies to analyze data, identify patterns, assess processes, evaluate results, discover requirements, and pinpoint opportunities for improvement. Business analysts may even research competitors, examine past performance, look at how cost-effective the company is, test market potential, and so on.
Ultimately, business analysts can be responsible for many different tasks, but they primarily focus on analysis within an organizational context.
You could be doing the tasks of a business analyst without even knowing whether you work in operations, HR, or finance.
But, in a nutshell, your job as a business analyst is to make sure your organization operates efficiently. This is easier said than done when you’re not even sure what your role “actually” entails.
So, here are a few examples of tasks that most business analysts deal with:
- Gathering information on business needs
- Researching data about your competition and customer demand
- Evaluating performance against goals
- Predicting future trends
- Ensuring compliance with business rules and policies
- Optimizing business processes
- Building and maintaining tools and systems to support different business functions
What educational background do you need to become a business analyst?
You’ll find that most job postings look for a background in business, computer science, mathematics, or statistics.
A STEM background might help as it signals to a prospective employer that you are detail-oriented, analytical, and have a good head for numbers and data. This will also save you from having to do the legwork to convince an employer that you have the right aptitude. BUT (and it is indeed an all-caps “but”), you don’t need a STEM degree or even a degree at all to get started as a business analyst.
Luckily, business analysis, as a profession, is quite inclusive. It’s open and accessible to people from different educational, cultural, and professional backgrounds. Some knowledge of project management, business modeling, and data analytics certainly helps. But you can learn this along the way.
What you truly need at the end of the day to excel as a business analyst is the willingness to learn, the right attitude, and the ability to communicate your ideas clearly with teams that are both technical and non-technical in nature.
What core skills do you need to become a business analyst?
Business analysts are change agents and, thus, play an important role in promoting innovation at their companies. They facilitate the implementation of change projects. They take abstract ideas and translate them into action steps. They get cross-functional teams moving in the same direction. They take charge of sustaining the forward momentum necessary to execute and deliver change projects.
To achieve all of the above, business analysts need to master three critical skills:
- Good communication
- Detailed analysis
- Concise documentation
However, the key trait that you absolutely must have is curiosity. The curiosity to gather, understand and analyze information/data. The type of information/data you need to collect depends on the business problem you are trying to analyze.
Generally speaking, there are four categories of information:
- Field studies
- Analytical studies
Examples of quantitative data include sales figures, surveys, or polls that measure customer satisfaction through their responses. In contrast, qualitative data includes interviews and observations where analysts must interpret what they hear and see.
Field studies entail visiting locations where customers interact with products or services firsthand. In contrast, analytical studies include statistical analyses that examine past events and their impact.
Your success as a business analyst depends on your ability to get your foot in the door.
This is why it’s important to understand what you’re signing up for before applying for the job.
By following the tips and advice in this guide, you’ll be on your way to developing skills that will help you succeed as a business analyst. And as long as you continue to invest in yourself and stay open to all possibilities, you’ll always be able to find a job that suits your skills and interests.