Business Analysts: Role Changes Require New Skill Sets

The business analyst's job has changed this year -- and so have the critical skills that companies demand. New research shows that while communication is still key, knowledge of Lean and Agile methods is a must-have as well.

During the past year, CIO.com has examined the critical role that business analysts play inside today's corporate IT environments, straddling the bridge between IT and business teams at project time. We looked at what business analysts actually did for software implementation projects; explained why BAs were so important for CIOs and IT; identified the six secrets of top-notch business analysts; and showed how BAs can help drive technology strategy that increases revenue.

But like just about everything else in corporate America, there's been a change this year in the skill sets that business analysts now need to succeed.

That's the conclusion of a new Forrester Research report based on a survey of 900 business analysts conducted by Forrester and The International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA).

"While strong abilities in communication, collaboration and analysis will always be the mainstays of strong business analysts, our changing technology environment is altering the world in which business analysts commonly work—and therefore changing the skills they require," writes Forrester analyst Mary Gerush, in the report (subscription required).

Gerush notes that while a BA's traditional skill set is still king—those decidedly non-technical leadership, communication and business-process understanding traits—changes in software delivery methods have altered what business analysts need to offer right now. Two, in particular, include:

The Rise of Agile Methodologies and Lean Concepts

"It's the end of traditional software delivery as we know it, thanks to Agile and Lean," Gerush writes. The survey found that 41 percent of respondents are using Agile techniques and 10 percent are exposed to Lean concepts.

"Organizations are trying and implementing new, lighter-weight software delivery processes on a large scale," Gerush notes. "And this is changing the world of the business analysts, who need stay up to date with changes in methodologies, understand changes to their roles, and modify their practices accordingly."

Agile Approaches Change the Business Analyst Role

Gerush points out that the requirements look very different in an Agile project than they do in a traditional waterfall endeavor. "With Agile, the team typically describes requirements at a high level early on in the process and only elaborates on them when it's time to implement them," she writes. "The team uses different artifacts such as user stories, and the requirements definition process is much more collaborative and iterative."

With an increase in the adoption of Agile methodologies inside businesses today, Gerush adds, BAs need to understand "what's different in the methodologies so that they can help guide the transformation of their role and practices."

If their CIOs and business-unit leaders aren't already adapting the business analyst role to new software delivery methods and process changes, then the BAs might need to do it themselves.

Business analysts need to "obtain cross-functional knowledge and experience by [being exposed] to new technologies and different business units and cross-training...in project management, development and quality assurance," Gerush writes.

"As with most roles in technology, it's never safe to rely on the skills you already possess," Gerush concludes. "Effective business analysts are constantly seeking to improve their core skills and staying up to date with technology changes to add the most value to their organization."

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