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Business Analyst: Tools and Principles for Professional Self-Development


Dmytro Lenda, CFA, FRM, CBAP

15+ years of experience in business analysis across different industries and domain areas; CBAP, CFA, and FRM certificate holder; EPAM professional assessment expert



Target audience: Senior+ level analysts with the desire to expand their professional toolset or get an alternative point of view on their further self-development (although more junior people may also find something useful here)



I am thankful to Denis Gobov, CBAP, PMI-PBA, PhD, Head of BA in DataArt and business-trainer; Roman Sakharov, BA manager, and other EPAM colleagues; Lyubov Posvalyuk, CBAP; and Olga Cherkasova, CBAP for their help and advice in preparing this article. My English teacher Sean Meyer helped me with editing the draft. My family supported me all the time I was working on it.


Intro


During my long journey in the BA profession, I found many valuable sources of information and tools that may be useful for BAs. In addition, I generalized my experience and distilled it into a few principles. Both tools and principles presented will help BA professionals in their way to Mastery of the BA profession. Moreover, they may be helpful for practitioners of other related professions, including developers, testers, POs, PMs, etc. I have assembled the most valuable items from my perspective, so this list should not be treated as exhaustive. At the same time, it may help you select valuable items for your professional collection or at least hint to you about the direction of your search or investigation. Business analysis is not a brand-new profession, so you will definitely benefit from the learning experiences from your predecessors in the BA or peer occupations.


I intended to create a place where you could not only detect your gaps in skills, but also return (maybe multiple times) to find a mention of information or link to a resource you need to deepen your knowledge.


Contents




Principles (following Sun Tzu)


  1. Follow the global benchmarks

  2. “Try to learn something about everything and everything about something” (Thomas Huxley)

  3. Knowledge as a background

  4. Go beyond BABOK 3

  5. Go beyond UML&BPMN

  6. Constant experimentation-learning cycle

  7. Shu-Ha-Ri


Follow the global benchmarks

The most important principle. The most effective practices survive on a global scale. Usually, these practices were tested by time and multiple adopters. So, it is probable that these practices will suit you.


The most popular industry codes with the global focus:


• BABOK 3 – 50 techniques

• The PMI guide to business analysis

The profession and codes are evolving:


BABOK 2 had 34 general techniques, while BCS primary techniques guide “Business analysis techniques” increased the number of techniques presented from 72 to 99 in the most recent edition for 2021.


Try to learn something about everything and everything about something

Cross-functional teams tend to be more effective in a dynamic environment, thus increasing the value of T, M, and E shaped skill profiles. It seems to be due to the increasing importance of cross-functional integration nowadays. These profiles vary by the depth and width of knowledge. The proper combination of both should be tailored for the BA needs.


Some types of skill profiles:


• – - shaped

• I - shaped

• T - shaped

• M – shaped

• Etc.


Knowledge as a background

Many local entities develop their techniques and tools, including certification entities, with a local (or personal) focus. These techniques may be a good complement to the globally accepted techniques and be used as inputs to design custom BA techniques and tools. The effectiveness of these tools and techniques was proven by local communities of analysts, so they have successfully passed the preselection. Rational considerations should be used for the selection of new tools or approaches.


Examples of local or personal knowledge banks:


Business Analysis Techniques: 99 essential tools for success from BCS (the actual number of the techniques is higher) (https://www.amazon.com/Business-Analysis-Techniques-essential-success-ebook/dp/B00MF6GOSY)

Russian standards (in Russian) (https://systems.education/standards)


Overcoming existing limitations

Go beyond BABOK 3, go beyond UML & BPMN, go beyond the book of Karl Wiegers, etc.:


• It is a common situation when a tool or approach de facto becomes an industry standard, thus inhibiting its competitors

• At the same time, the outsider approach may have accumulated knowledge that is absent in the mainstream paradigm

• Understanding of the less-popular approaches may give a BA more input for the creation of its BA tools and techniques


Constant experimentation-learning cycle

Usage of a scientific method based on experiments to assess and modify BA tools, techniques, and processes. This approach is actively used in various startup methodologies. How to conclude whether a tool or technique has enough value to be used? A BA may try a technique, collect feedback, correct the technique and try it again with learning as the primary goal of the process. The process may have several iterations and use qualitative or quantitative feedback.


The approach is described in the following books:

SHU-HA-RI

The principle is a part of oriental philosophy, but it has followers in the West. Mastering each subsequent stage is more complex but boosts the abilities of a BA. The abilities of the Master are the most developed according to this model. As a result, the most effective analyst must be able to create his artifacts, tools, techniques, and approaches.


Three major stages of mastering a craft:


• Mastering forms created by other masters (SHU)

• Modifying forms created by other masters (HA)

• Creating your forms, i.e., becoming a master yourself (RI)


Cases


Codes and certifications


BABOK 3 and beyond

BABOK 3 is only the beginning of the journey. In my opinion, currently, there is a tilt towards the BABOK code in the BA profession in Ukraine. At the same time, IIBA produced or shared other documents that are worth noting also.


It may be complemented by the following IIBA resources and documents:


• Agile extension to the BABOK guide (version 2)

• Business Analysis Competency Model (https://www.iiba.org/professional-development/business-analysis-competency-model/; recommended by Denis Gobov)

• IIBA digital library (https://www.iiba.org/professional-development/knowledge-centre/digital-library/) for $50-$110 per annum (cost of membership)


IIBA and beyond

IIBA is not the only professional organization that has developed valuable artifacts. In addition, there is one more major BA institution with a global focus and two more with local focuses on the UK and EU, respectively.


The major remaining ones:


• British Computer Society (https://www.bcs.org/business-analysis/)

• International Requirements Certification Board (https://www.ireb.org/en/service/literature)


BA profession and beyond

There are other professions with established practices and sets of tools that may be useful to know for a BA. This knowledge will definitely increase a BAs flexibility and understanding.


IT Business analysis has dependencies on the following professions and disciplines:


• Project management profession (PMBOK) (1)

• Software engineering (SWEBOK) (2)

• Enterprise or software architecture (EABOK) (3)

• ITIL standard (4)

• SCRUM (Scrum Guide) (5)

• Software testing certification (6)

• etc.


The links:


CBAP and beyond

Business analysis is a mature profession, so someone needs to assess the standard knowledge of professionals. The most popular BA certification with a global focus is CBAP from IIBA, but there are other valuable options. It is worth considering your situation in order to choose the best option for you.


The major certifications:


• IIBA (3 levels of BA certification from beginner to professional: ECBA, CCBA, CBAP) and a plethora of certifications with a focus on various elements of business analysis

• Project management institute (PMI-PBA)

• British computer society (5 levels of BA certification from foundation till expert)

• International Requirements Certification Board (3 levels of BA certification from foundation till expert)


Global and beyond

The following major certification entities have a global focus:


• International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA)

• Project Management Institute (PMI)


At the same time, BCS and IREB have tilted towards their regions, i.e., UK and EU. In addition, there are less popular certifications that may also be taken into consideration.


Tech giants’ benchmark: FAANGs


IT professionals from all over the world dream to get a job in a tech giant company. There is an abbreviation for these tech giants: FAANG (or FAAMG). This is for Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Microsoft, and Google. These are large and influential IT companies. They are known to employ skilled engineers and work on large-scale projects. Their corporate cultures vary, but you could learn from any of them.


The below information may be helpful to you even if you are not going to apply to FAANGs. First, it may help you to improve your skills to pass the interviews. Second, it may help you to improve your skills to conduct interviews and assess candidates. Third, it may be useful for correction of your self-development plan as tech giant companies are the benchmark for others in terms of practices, processes, and corporate culture.


These companies attract the best, so the competition among the applicants is tough. The application process is multistage, and there is a lot of information about it on the Web. Below, I will share my findings of the application process. I would advise you to use them as a starting point for your research.


The interview process

The application process to FAANGs is a real challenge, so it should not be approached carelessly.


The pre-screen phase is usually held online (may contain up to 2-3 sessions, for example, initial and technical screens). In contrast, the latter stages are held onsite on the company campus within one day as a series of interviews.


Usually, the process contains the following stages:


• Pre-screen

• Technical interview

• Product sense interview (as tech giants are product companies)

• Behavioral (& cultural fit) interview


Pre-screen

You may expect various non-sophisticated questions here, i.e., the focus is on breadth, not depth and a part of the questions are common with other industries.


The major goal is to quickly assess the caliber of the applicant and decide whether he/she is worth further interview stages that are more costly.


My recommendations here:


• The first impression does matter (appearance, clothing, video background [for video interviews], and responses [both verbal and non-verbal] should be relevant)

• Invest enough in your communication devices

• Set up your audio and video in a proper way prior to your interview

• Be prepared and avoid stress or exhaustion


Useful links:


Technical interview

You may expect algorithmic, SQL coding, and enigma questions and cases there.


The major goal is to assess the technical skills of the applicant and pick up the best people. It mainly focuses on the low-level areas of the system or product design.


You may use the following resources to be prepared:


• SQL learning books or resources

• Leetcode, Hackerrank, etc.

• Books & articles on the topic of cracking technical interview in FAANGs. This is a plain layer of literature.


Useful links:


Product sense interview

On the product sense interview, you may expect questions and cases on the various layers of product design.


This seems to be in some way similar to the system design interview for developers, where one may expect architecture questions. I think you may also expect BABOK style BA questions at that stage of the interview. This type of interview is more focused on the high-level areas of the system or product design.


You may use the following resources to be prepared:


Similar to the technical interview, you may see a large portion of the resources devoted to the topic.


Useful links:


Behavioral interview

During the leadership/behavioral interview, you may expect soft skill questions and cases.

This may include behavioral cases and assessments of cultural fit. Cultural fit may be a separate interview session, so it is a good idea to know enough about the company and its culture. STAR approach for answering the questions is recommended by many sources coupled with a representation of your experience in the form of different scenarios that may be communicated according to the STAR framework in a company-specific form.

This type of interview requires serious preparation and should not be approached lightly.


You may use the following resources to be prepared:


This type of interview is somewhat similar across different companies and industries, so the relevant resources may be used for your preparation.


Useful links:


General advice for tech giant section

General tips are as follows:


• Be ready to spend enough time and other resources

• Choose reliable tools for your preparation

• Avoid burnout

• Practice mock interviews

• Do not put all your eggs into one basket

• Be ready for the marathon run


Useful links:


Various additional tools


Systems theory: Brief

Systems theory is an interdisciplinary approach to studying systems. System analysis is a stream in the system theory. Systems theory provides a scientific background for systems and business analysis, so some in-depth insight may be found there. In my opinion, this knowledge will be useful mainly for mature analysts that need to structure and classify their knowledge or look at it from the other point of view.


Useful links to start:


Systems theory: Complex systems

During and after WWII people faced a challenge to develop a plethora of systems that may be considered complex, including the output of The Manhattan, Polaris, and Apollo projects. These and similar projects provided the necessity in methods and approaches to design and manage such complex systems. The approaches to such systems may differ from those of traditional style systems. Learning something about these methods may add to a BAs competence. Again, in my opinion, this sort of knowledge is more for mature professionals, than for beginners in the industry.


Useful links to start:


The potential scope of the BA role according to the British Computer Society

Business analysis is a discipline (and profession) that ensure alignment between business needs and business change solutions. This definition as well as the definition below provides a more global view on the BA profession and may help practitioners better assess themselves and their skills and experience; as well as set proper priorities for their self-development.


The three areas of business analysis are as follows:


• Strategic analysis and definition (Strategy focus)

• Business analysis (Process focus)

• IT systems analysis (IT system focus)


Useful web resources: Major

The below is a list of web resources that may be helpful to any business analyst:


https://www.iiba.org/ - IIBA portal

https://www.pmi.org/ - PMI portal

https://www.modernanalyst.com/ - a top BA portal

https://www.batimes.com/ - a top BA portal

https://www.gartner.com/en, https://clutch.co/ - IT industry analytics


Useful web resources: Ukraine

The list below of web resources will be interesting for any business analyst with a Ukrainian focus:


• (+ their FB group IT Network – Business Analysis

• & Project Management)


Useful web resources: Additional

Additional web resources with a global or CIS focus:



Tools (for IT BA): Major

Mastering the tools below is important to be a BA. They cover basic manipulations of information that any business analyst should do:


• MS Office tools, including MS Visio (or other office packages)

• Jira (or other task management system)

• Corporate wiki (Confluence, SharePoint, etc.)

• Relational DMS with SQL

• Prototyping (Balsamiq, InVision, etc.)


Tools (for IT BA): Advanced

Mastering the tools below may demonstrate that you stand out in the crowd:


• Enterprise Architect (from Sparx Systems)

• Jira plugins (3000 +)

• NoSQL DMS

• Etc.


Tools (for IT BA): Sophisticated

An extensive inventory of different tools and systems. The more tools on the list the better qualified the analyst. Knowledge of IT tools is an asset, so manage it thoroughly. These tools boost your professional creativity.


In my personal list are:


• diagrams.net

• R and Python packages for data analysis

• many other tools, including MS Power BI, Azure ML studio, etc.


Path of an analyst

During your professional journey as a BA, you are expected to demonstrate a focus on different tasks. The particular levels vary across companies as well as their numbers. The general rule is that more advanced levels approach closer to communication and people management.


The EPAM career ladder for the BA profession is as follows (with advice from Roman Sakharov):


• Junior (A1) – can resolve regular tasks under the supervision

• Middle (A2) – can resolve regular tasks without supervision

• Senior (A3) – can resolve technically challenging tasks

• Lead (A4) – can resolve communicationally challenging tasks

• Chief (A5) – can resolve methodologically challenging tasks


More information on various ladders and salaries may be found here: https://www.levels.fyi/#


Domain knowledge: How to improve?

Domain knowledge is important for a BA. This is a definite booster of effective communication with SMEs and business representatives. The major methods to collect this knowledge are as follows:


• Professional certificates (like CFA, FRM, ACCA)

• Read top 3-10-50 selected industry books and/or standards

• Get an MBA with the industry focus

• Get a master’s degree with the industry focus

• Short-term programs on Coursera etc.

• Communication with insiders


Visual modeling notations: UML & BPMN and beyond

UML 2.0 and BPMN 2 are the two industry standards in the area of visual modeling. Although these standards are not the only ones that may be useful for BAs. While designing your own customized visual notation you may use the elements of many other notations thus increasing the flexibility of your own customized notation.


The other useful notations:


• IDEF standards were developed for the modeling of complex systems in the USA as a response to the increasing complexity of the systems in use in the defense and other strategic industries

• DRAKON – created in the Russian aerospace industry for the same reason (actively used in Buran project)

• Systems Modeling Language (SysML) – an extension of UML

• DFD, eEPC, ERD, … and many, many others


The useful links:


Data analysis for a BA: IIBA approach

Some parts of BABOK 3 describe tools and techniques for data analysis. In addition to that, IIBA created a distinct data analysis certification with the proper focus. I think it is worth considering.

Data analysis certification from IIBA:


Essential reading sources:


Data analysis for a BA: Data analysis tools

The below are some data analysis tools presented in a hierarchy by the level of complexity:


• Basic: Excel and RDBMS with SQL

• Mainstream: Python (NumPy, Pandas), R, Power BI, Tableau, Google sheets

• Sophisticated: many other tools, including C/C++, Fortran, specialized quantitative and ML libraries, FPGAs, HPCUs, etc.


Conferences: Major global

A conference is an effective tool to present and discuss BA topics, or to listen to a number of presentations about up-to-date aspects of the profession. Attendance of conferences as a guest or a speaker, or even being an organizer is a vital part of professional development. It is one of the most effective ways of networking with colleagues and the exchange of tacit knowledge.


A list of the most prestigious global conferences:


• Business Analysis Conference Europe

• Build Business Capability (BBC)

• Wisconsin Business Analyst Development Day (WI BADD®)

• BA Convention

• BA & Beyond

• European Business Analysis Day

• Business Analysis Summit

• Business Analysis Summit South Africa

• PMBA conferences



Prizes and awards: Major global

Participation in a competition may give you an opportunity to face a challenge. In addition, it is a great tool for networking. Analysis of information about the winners (as well as finalists, or, even, selected ordinary participants) may help you better understand your profession and its development. That research is worth the time spent on it.


Turing award – the most prestigious IT award, similar to Nobel prize (https://amturing.acm.org/)


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edwin_Catmull – Ed Catmull (holder of the Award and… an Oscar!!! at the same time)


There are two additional important IT competitions of comparable magnitude:

IEEE John von Neumann Medal and Japan Kyoto Prize for Information Science


See more detailed lists via the links below:


Major independent conferences & awards: Ukraine & CIS

If your major focus is on Ukraine or CIS, you must be aware of the below:


• UKRAINIAN IT AWARDS https://itawards.ua/en

• BA & PM Z-days (EPAM sponsored) https://community-z.com/events/ba-and-prodm-z-day

• Analyst Days (major in CIS) https://analystdays.ru/en/index


Language skills

Language skills are an asset. Manage it carefully, as they are one of the keys to successful communication. English is a must in the BA profession, while languages apart from English may be an advantage.


Useful tips:


• Find a skillful teacher (native speaker for C1+ students)

• Globally accepted tests to control progress (IELTS etc.)

• Focus on vocabulary, including business (domain) vocabulary i.e., vocabulary textbooks and apps, may help you quickly boost your communicative efficiency in some cases


Professional effectiveness: BABOK 3 and beyond

BABOK 3 has its approach to business analysts’ underlying competencies. Besides BABOK, there is a huge flow of books on the topic. I am thankful to the business trainer and BA Denys Dniprovskyi, CBAP, for his explanation of the usefulness of these methods and tools for a BA to me during his workshop.

The examples of approaches outside BABOK are:


• Controlled use of LEGAL brain boosters: caffeine, nicotine, vitamins, etc. (please select ones of high quality and scientifically proven effectiveness)


Professional ethics

Professional entities developed various approaches to professional ethics in many professions, namely CFA Institute, GARP, etc. BA certification entities also have their codes of ethics. In my opinion, these codes should be treated seriously. They are essential tools of control over professionals in the modern world, where multiple complex organizational systems need to be designed and supported.


The examples of codes relevant to the BA profession are:


• PMI code of ethics (https://www.pmi.org/about/ethics/code)


Appendix 1: Other useful links


https://www.iiba.org/certification/iiba-certifications/ - a list of certifications from IIBA

https://www.coursera.org/learn/system-thinking - systems thinking course (in Russian, recommended by Mariana Kukhtyn)

https://modernanalyst.com/Resources/Books.aspx - selected books on Modernanalyst

https://habr.com/ru/company/piter/blog/258807/ - Путь аналитика. Практическое руководство IT-специалиста А. Перерва, В. Иванова (in Russian)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camille_Fournier - Books of Camille Fournier are about management in IT. I have read her first book, and I am going to read the second

https://www.gayle.com/ - I have read one of Gayle’s books, and I am going to read the others. I decided to put her site again here as her books are not only about interviews but also about building a career in the IT industry


Appendix 2: Advice for switchers to BA profession

The fundamental tools may be used in preparation for the first technical interview.


Easy-to-read entry books (+ Web resources):


Business Analysis for Dummies

How to speak tech (recommendation from Oleksandr Nogai)

SQL for dummies - for financial or data-intensive projects

• Search for Top 50 (or 10 etc.) Business Analyst Interview Questions


Additional resources:


BABOK 3 - an essential book for all applicants

SWEBOK (https://www.iso.org/standard/67604.html) - for people changing careers from other industries to IT

SQL learning resources - for those who seek positions in financial or data-intensive projects

IIBA endorsed courses - I would recommend these courses for all who are seeking a BA position. In Ukraine, the examples are:

BA Certifications - consider obtaining the entry-level certification, like ECBA


Appendix 3: Product management intro

Product management knowledge will be useful not only for BAs in product companies (including tech giants) but also for many BAs in outsourcing companies. Especially, when the customers develop products. There is a layer of related information. The resources below may help you to start your journey in that area.


The entry books for the PMs:


Product management for Dummies

Inspired by Marty Cagan


The most promising PM certification:



Appendix 4: Tech skills intro

Technical skills may help BAs better understand developers and architects, thus improving communication in the team. In addition, sometimes, BAs need to do some technical jobs on their own. My preference for the essential technical skills overview is SWEBOK (https://www.iso.org/standard/67604.html). I would also recommend the following courses:


The topics to consider are as follows (basic understanding is expected):


• SDLC variations

• Technical vocabulary, including slang

• Application architecture

• Algorithms

• DevOps processes and tools

• Operating systems

• Programming skills in at least one language besides SQL + IDE

• Object-Oriented Programming

• Version control systems

• Networks

• Databases

• Hardware

• Cybersecurity

• File formats


Appendix 5: The key trends

We are living in an open, dynamic, and dangerous world full of vast amounts of data. So, the trends below give us opportunities to outperform our peers, making bets on them. In any case, you must recognize the trends and keep them in mind while planning your professional development as a BA:


• Globalization

• Profession is evolving

• Increasing importance of cybersecurity

• Data is the blood of digital transformation


Next horizons

The article is over here. I am sure that you found something interesting and useful while reading it. At the same time, I covered only the most exciting pieces of information from my point of view, so the list is not exhaustive. I would highly appreciate it if you share your links and information in the comments below. Consider this as your homework. These comments will increase your influence in the community and make you the co-authors of this article. If you have doubts about this article's comments or questions, do not hesitate to contact me (on LinkedIn or Gmail) or Denis Gobov.


Best regards and good luck on your journey to your professional perfection!




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