11 Business Analysis Skills to Enable Agility

Ali Cox

Ali Cox

11 Business Analysis Skills to Enable Agility
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As technology continues to infiltrate every aspect of business, so does the pressure for services and solutions that not only delight customers, but also differentiate an organization from the competition. In order to thrive in this volatile market, it is absolutely necessary an organization focuses their resources on products and/or services that deliver significant value in a responsive and agile way.

Digital people who are skilled in business vision, strategic thinking, and effective communication capacity will drive the organization to realize their goals and strategies. The key competencies of business analysis are essential to ensuring proper alignment between the business strategy and IT to deliver value.

Business analysis may be performed within the boundaries of a project or throughout the enterprise evolution and continuous improvement.  It can be used to understand the current state, to define the future state, and to determine the activities required to move from the current to the future state. At the core, the business analysis skill set includes:

  • Establish Context
  • Elicitation
  • Stakeholder Analysis
  • Interface Analysis
  • Process Analysis
  • Data Analysis
  • Business Rule Analysis

In addition, there are supporting skills that are necessary in order to efficiently perform any of the core skills listed above:

  • Decision Making
  • Communication
  • Critical Thinking
  • Planning

Regardless of title and whether your team is using an agile approach or following a more traditional, plan-driven approach, these are the most common skills used for analysis.

Also, our Essential Skills for Business Analysis course sets the foundation for all seven core and four supporting business analysis skill areas. We’ve also highlighted a class for each core skill to gain more in-depth knowledge and also a related resource that you can download for free.

Core Business Analysis Skills

Establish Context

Where does your project fit? Who all will be affected by what you do? What are the limits of your team’s responsibility and authority? What is it really that the organization wants you to accomplish? How will you know if you’ve done that? If you can’t answer these questions about your project, it’s time to take a step back and understand your context.

Understanding our context and strategic direction helps us better understand goals and what projects need to be pursued to achieve those goals. Context helps us better understand our customers so that we can better solve their problems and fulfill their needs. If you truly understand what you are targeting, the ‘how’ becomes much easier to fulfill.

More on Establishing Context:

Stakeholder Analysis

Stakeholder analysis is so much more than making a list of names, titles, and roles – at all levels of the organization. If the top does not know what the bottom does and vice versa, there will surely be communication problems and conflict. If we do not understand our client, we will miss the mark in meeting their needs.

Thorough stakeholder analysis can dramatically improve engagement and participation, and it can help your team work together more effectively. It also ensures you haven’t missed anyone.

More on Stakeholder Analysis:

Interface Analysis

Human interfaces, system interfaces, data interfaces, hardware interfaces….all of these have to be thoroughly analyzed and understood by the team. Without understanding all the components and their interactions (inputs and outputs), how will you be able to determine the requirements for complete solution?

More on Interface Analysis:

Process Analysis

Someone once said that the six most expensive words in business are “We’ve always done it that way.” Automating an inefficient or error-prone process without doing thorough analysis just means that you’ll make the same mistakes… only faster.

To determine the right solution to a problem, we must understand the current state. How do we know where we’re going if we don’t know where we are? This analysis will help an organization pinpoint the initiatives that are worth pursuing and will provide value.  

More on Process Analysis:

Business Rule Analysis

Business rules serve as criterion for guiding behavior, shaping judgments, or making decisions. They require detailed analysis and tend to change frequently, so it’s important to isolate them from other requirements components so you can manage that change effectively.

The key to adapting to changes more quickly is to have a good control of our business rules and remove the rules and restrictions that hinder us for no reason.

More on Business Rule Analysis:

Elicitation

Getting the right requirements means not only documenting what the stakeholders say, but also expanding on their statements (or asking questions) to understand what they mean, what is important, and why it adds value.

Version 3.0 of the BABOK identifies 18 different techniques for elicitation. That’s a lot! Are you considering all of them? Or are there a handful of “comfortable” techniques that you rely on? We always tell our students, “There is no one-size-fits-all in elicitation!”

More on Elicitation:

Data Analysis

All too often we treat data as an afterthought in analysis. But without data, processes can’t be performed. Interfaces can’t display and collect the right information. Reports can’t be produced. And don’t get us started on data transformation and migration – those can be so complex that sometimes they become projects in and of themselves.

The biggest trends in the last decade around big data, data analysis, business intelligence, and data science are nothing new. Companies that had good data analysis practices over the years are probably the ones that are still with us today.

More on Data Analysis:

Supporting Business Analysis Skills

Communication

Communication is the act of a sender conveying information to a receiver in a method which delivers the meaning the sender intended. Sounds simple, but is it? Words, gestures, and phrases may have different meanings to different individuals. Sometimes the barrier is as simple as making sure everyone has a consistent understanding and terminology. Effective communication requires knowledge, skill, and practice.

Resource on Communication: Collaboration Model Template

Decision Making

Getting a group to make a decision can be really challenging. As analysts, it’s typically not our job to make the decision, but it often is our job to facilitate a group that needs to make one.

Resource on Decision Making Resource: Decision Making Process Template

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking has become something of a buzzword these days. You can find a dozen different definitions on the Internet. To us it’s really the heart of what we do as analysts. We question. We dig. We use logic to reach conclusions. We try to avoid allowing preconceived ideas and thoughts to interfere with true understanding. We propose and test theories. And if we try something and it doesn’t work, we figure out what went wrong and try again.

Resource on Critical Thinking: Considerations for Analysis Checklist

Planning

Ready…fire….aim!!!!

No. Just…no. If you’re still jumping right into your projects without any planning, take a pause. Plans don’t have to be long, detailed, or formal to be useful. They’re great thinking tools to help us make the most of a limited resource – time.

Resource on Planning: Estimating Analysis Time Template

Please let me know if we can help with your analysis!

– Ali

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About the Author

Ali Cox

Ali Cox

Alison (Ali) Cox, Netmind Senior Instructor and General Manager, has experience since the mid-1980s in various areas, including business analysis, project methodology development and training, systems development (mainframe, client-server, and web), and telecommunications management. Alison began her career in the financial services area, and then moved into systems development for accounting systems. She has provided consulting and training in business analysis and project management for small companies to Fortune 500 corporations worldwide and speaks Spanish fluently. Alison is also a partner of TEMSS (Telecommunications Efficiency Management Strategies and Services), which provides telecommunications efficiency auditing and billing analysis services to clients in all areas of business across the United States. She completed her Master of Business Administration in MIS and Accounting from the University of Georgia. Connect with Ali on LinkedIn.

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