Business analysts may well be the unsung superheroes of every project. They work to understand organizations thoroughly and then figure out how to make them better. In other words, they can take companies from where they are to where they want to be. Whether you’re considering a career as a business analyst, looking to take your skills to the next level, or wondering how to identify first-rate talent for your company, read on to learn more about the top five traits of effective business analysts.
5. An Analytical Mind
There’s a saying often (falsely) attributed to management legend Peter Drucker that you can’t improve what you can’t measure. Certainly, data and measurements are key for gauging success. But business analysts have to go beyond just measurement to understanding.
After all, in order to help improve an organization, you must first understand and analyze that organization’s systems, processes, and goals. That’s why it should come as no surprise that business analysts need strong analytical skills.
In today’s world, companies often possess seemingly endless quantities of data. One of the keys to analysis is knowing which data to focus on – or how to find the signal within the noise.
Business analysts evaluate data quality, understand the context that produced the data, and use data to answer questions and glean insights. A good analyst also identifies trends or patterns, opportunities for improvement, causal relationships, and more. Not sure when to choose a SWOT analysis over MOST or PESTLE? Don’t worry. These are skills you can learn. (After all, no one’s born knowing what PESTLE stands for.)
Finally, once you’ve identified the problem and explored it from a variety of angles, you must evaluate the impact of potential interventions in terms of cost, benefit, feasibility, and more. Feel like your data analysis efforts could use a boost? While some people are analytical by nature, it is certainly possible to sharpen and hone these skills with courses in data visualization, analysis, querying and more.
4. Ability to Solve Problems
Once you’ve taken the time to identify and evaluate your problem, it’s time to find solutions. That’s why problem-solving is at the heart of what effective business analysts do.
Problem-solving involves a mix of creativity, critical reasoning, and analytical skills. It’s identifying the root cause of an issue and not just a symptom – as well as the next steps to resolve it.
Sometimes the solution to a problem is obvious. Many times, however, it is not.
The best business analysts think outside the box – or, rather, think as if there is no box. This doesn’t necessarily mean always opting for drastic change or vastly new ways of doing things. Instead, it means questioning assumptions that most of us take for granted and examining an issue from a variety of perspectives.
By letting go of assumptions and shifting your point of view, you’re free to think of more creative solutions to problems – solutions that might otherwise seem impossible. You may ultimately decide that certain barriers (like cost or time) make some of your more creative options less desirable. But freeing your thinking will improve your ability to innovate and create change.
Once you have your preferred solution in hand, you’ll also need an action plan for success. This means breaking your plan down into actionable steps and defining how you’ll evaluate success.
3. Top-Notch Facilitation and Negotiation Skills
After lots of brainstorming and careful analysis, you may identify what you believe is the perfect solution to a problem – or an amazing way to boost your company’s bottom line. But to enact that change, someone has to ultimately make a decision.
As a business analyst, it’s your job to help move that process along.
Part of this work happens on the front end of a project, by making sure you understand the needs, preferences, opinions, and concerns of all involved parties. You may find yourself facilitating meetings, asking questions, and making sure all stakeholders’ and collaborators’ voices are heard.
Another part of the work occurs when you’ve brought everyone back together to present solutions.
You may not be the ultimate decision-maker at the table. But building buy-in for the solution you’re offering can ultimately help keep everyone happy – and ready to move forward with your plan.
Finally, while running an effective meeting may not be enough to help people coalesce around your proposed solution, running a meeting poorly can certainly jeopardize all of your hard work. Brush up on those facilitation skills! Your colleagues will thank you for it.
2. An Ear for Communication
“We have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak.” -Epicetus (Greek philosopher)
While it may seem counterintuitive at first glance, active listening is at the heart of good communication. We’ve all been in conversations or meetings when it seems like the other person is just waiting for their chance to speak. Not fun, right?
When you take the time to listen, you not only build better relationships with colleagues, but you can also better understand their concerns, interests, needs, and limitations.
Listening up front also saves you time down the road as you’re able to deliver an effective solution the first time around that addresses leadership’s goals and focus. As a bonus, you’ll enjoy better rapport with colleagues by truly listening to them, and it may make your work more satisfying, as well.
Business analysts with strong communication skills can also:
- Help colleagues understand the importance of their own contributions.
- Articulate why a given solution is the right one.
- Streamline the workflow by reducing the need for clarification down the line.
Looking to strengthen your communication skills? There are plenty of tips and ideas online, including paraphrasing what you hear, paying attention to body language, embracing silence, and more.
1. A Love of Learning
The best business analysts are naturally inquisitive. Asking questions, after all, is a key part of the job. Possessing a true love of learning everything from new tech tools to data analysis techniques to ways to streamline processes will only help you in your work.
If you’re a business analyst who contracts with different clients, you’ll need to constantly dive into new systems, processes, cultures, and industries. If you work in-house, you’ll still need to keep current with best practices and industry trends.
Remember: The only real constant in the business world (and, perhaps, in life) is change. Embracing the need to constantly retool, rethink, relearn, and grow will only make you more valuable in the workplace. It might even make you happier and healthier, as well.