Every business analyst should know the optimal tools and techniques to use in any situation. Having this skill reduces stress, improves performance, and enables better results
Chaos! Stress! Everyday mess! Isn’t this an everyday situation for a business analyst (BA)? If not, either you have reached job satisfaction or you have not been introduced to the real world of business analysis.
A person might possess great business analyst skills, however, (s)he might not be able to utilize skills without the right mix of tools and environment. Having a collection of proven applications (a “toolbox”) enables an analyst to implement the skills more efficiently and effectively. Possessing necessary tools is just the one part of the requirement; an analyst must have the knowledge to utilize the right tools at the right time to address the solution and ensure timely and committed delivery.
What are these tools? How does an analyst map the usage of tools to the given circumstance? How should each application be used most effectively? Does it depend on the solution or the approach?
What are these tools? How to utilize them efficiently?
To be a successful business analyst, one must be able to perform searches to gain answers to queries. It is important to know the right keywords for the search, which depend on the situation and the context: metadata. Learning to be specific in framing the questions for a search is an essential aspect of every query an analyst performs, regardless of environment, domain, service or solution.
Tool usage is determined by the environment, domain, service and solution. Not every tool is used in every situation, but some tools are used in every situation. Tools like MS Office suite are used almost daily in each analyst’s professional life. However, other applications have a specific use, based on the following categories or situations.
Process Management Tools
These tools are the framework of any project. They help a business analyst manage their work and artifacts by adhering to the best practices and approved processes. The chosen process management application should be used from the start of the project until the delivery. These tools can be compared to a file organizer. A file organizer organizes files according to the logical requirements. Similarly, a process management tool helps the organization manage and organize the process so that the analysts’ workflow and artifacts are delivered according to the process management defined steps.
Enterprise Architecture, SQL querying tools etc., are specialized to help business analysts manage some or all their activities through the use of one or more pieces of software. These applications have the potential to manage common business analyst deliverables like writing use cases, creating use case diagrams, performing requirements management and traceability, etc. To utilize these tools efficiently, a business analyst must learn a variety of functions in each application. However, once the application has been mastered, daily management of the relevant business analyst’s activities is streamlined.
Performance analytics and reporting applications help convert information into insights, and can be among the most powerful pieces of software in an organization to support business analysis. They provide actionable insights and decision-making power with utmost visibility and transparency of information. Representation of information in a particular way defines the insight it provides. Visual representation of information is the most commonly used approach in these applications, which serve as a bridge between a business analyst and executives.
Data analytics applications convert raw data into information. Their prime objective is to make sense out of data from one or multiple sources. These tools are a business analyst’s optional friends. They are not used regularly but in a data-driven project or environment, these applications help an analyst make sense from a large amount of data with a variety of presentation capabilities.
Domain Specific Tools
Many applications are used in a specific industry domain (e.g., accounting, finance, payroll, manufacturing, insurance,, etc.) Business analysts may be involved with these tools as long as they serve that industry. If a business analyst moves to another industry, most likely they will not continue to use that application. Gaining competency with these tools can give a business analyst an advantage over others in the same industry, but that skill will have limited value if they move out of the specific domain of that application.
Service Specific Tools
Service specific tools share similar properties to that of domain specific ones. These applications have a specific area of operation i.e. the service area within an industry (e.g., CRM, human resources, IT service management, etc.). When a business analyst moves from a particular service area to another, the knowledge of a particular service specific tool is no longer useful, and they must learn a new application. However, the advantage of context switching can be enormous for business analysts when they gain experience with service specific tools, since the best practices often shared among various services.
Every business analyst uses a variety of applications to support their activities, regularly and occasionally, making the life of the professional easier, more efficient, and more effective. They facilitate day to day work of many roles within organization and are not only for business analysts, and include facilities such as cloud file storage and sharing, web conferencing and communication, device-independent note taking and storage, etc. A 21st century professional’s life would not be imaginable with these tools, and more of them appear all the time to streamline work.
Learning about the variety of tools and applications available to business analysts is important. However, understanding the value each application brings to the role of business analyst and to the performance of that role, along with connecting the tool to the situation is truly essential. A business analyst does not need to learn all possible tool properties and functionalities. In short, business analysts need not be a master of any one tool but a jack of all available tool categories which can enable him/her to deliver the committed work, thereby ensuring timely and efficient project completion.
Note: a version of this article was published previously on “Modern Analyst” at http://modernanalyst.com/Resources/Articles/tabid/115/ID/5083/Lets-explore-Business-Analysts-Toolbox.aspx