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  • Writer's pictureNicholas Ross

Who Wants To Be a Business Analyst?

Given the prevalence of Business Analyst roles in the workforce in Scotland's financial sector and around the world, I found myself wondering recently why the role is so little understood outside work

I concluded that the issue fundamentally boils down to one question: What even is a Business Analyst?

For a long time, when my children were younger (and even my wife wasn't entirely sure what it was her husband did every day at work), I used to tell them I was a spy. It was just easier than explaining the role to a couple of nursery age children. Naturally, this culminated in much mirth at parents evenings, as the teachers greeted 'James Bond' with a wink and a tap of the nose.

So - why couldn't I explain to the children (or their mother) exactly what it is that a Business Analyst does? I mean - if you need to explain a job to others is it even a proper job? Never have a I felt more of a fraud than the time a friend who fits blinds for a living introduced me to his train driver friend in the pub. "And what is it you do yourself ?" the train driver asked me.

".... I'm a spy."

(I once made the mistake of avoiding the answer 'Business Analyst' when talking to someone at a party who asked me what I did for a living, opting for the more glamorous 'Consultant' instead. "Oh - which hospital ?", she asked...)

Perhaps the vagueness stems from 'Business Analyst' being such a broad church of roles. I've worked with Business Analysts who are more technical than many Developers, and others who know everything there is to know about pension administration but who struggle to copy & paste some text in Word. (It's worth noting that both groups have, at various times, viewed my jack of all trades skillset as bafflingly unemployable).

Another challenge is that you don't train - in the higher education sense, at least - to be a Business Analyst. There is no degree in Business Analysis; it's simply one of the roles that you may fall into if you happen to find yourself working in and around IT, or on projects of any kind. No child grows up wanting to be a Business Analyst. Why would you - when you don't know what that is?

My 16 year-old son recently completed a Careers Guidance process at school, and came back telling us that his 'top most likely jobs' were Accountant or Stockbroker. Bemoaning the fact that no high school children with my son's blend of numeracy, literacy, problem solving and chutzpah (he gets that from his mother) weren't being told they could be Business Analysts, I read the materials he'd been provided, and there - at a "94% match based on aptitudes and preferences" was... Business Analyst. The guidance materials suggested that interested candidates "May like to study English, or a numerate subject or IT" in order to find a role as a BA. Stretches the definition of 'guidance', really.

A further quirk is the absolute absence of any Business Analyst camaraderie or sense of belonging. As above, the vast spread of competencies required to function as the correct / most apt 'flavour' of Business Analyst in a given role means there is little shared experience or sense that you are a part of some 'Business Analyst family'.

It's a strange role, the Business Analyst. It helps to be comfortable being the least well-informed person in any given meeting, and this doesn't come easily to many people. On one side you have The Business (with their 'Needs' and 'Must Haves', which are perhaps actually 'Wants' and 'Have Sniffed An Opportunity To Gets While There is Budget Kicking About') - and on the other side you have the technical teams who know all there is to know about the technology and the software (and who perhaps view what the company actually does as a nuisance that distracts from working in what would otherwise be a lovely, tech-focussed IT company). Two opposing sets of absolute specialists - and in the middle, the Business Analyst. Charged with cramming the pint of requirements into the quart pint pot of technology capacity while simultaneously knowing they will be upsetting the end users who are the recipients of all of the spillover workarounds and unimaginable knock-on impacts.

Nobody loves the Business Analyst, then. But it's not all bad. For a start - it's indoors, for the most part. There is no heavy lifting, and (handily in the current environment) you can do the job from anywhere, really.

It's worth noting, too, that working on projects (whatever the role) rather than in 'Business As Usual', or operational roles does mean that there is arguably more variety. Not just in the content of the working day - but also in the tempo and stress through the lifecycle of a project. Early stage projects tend to be more relaxed, before (eventually) implementations and post-implementation bedlam ensue; that panic-stricken period when something you wrote down 9 months ago as the 'least bad solution' to a fundamental disconnect between business wants and needs and the technology designed to deliver on this turns out to have missed some tiny but butterfly's wings scale impacting 3rd order effect. The best of times.

Think of it as Interval Training, but with stress - rather than cardio.

I left the previous phase of my career as an IT Developer / Analyst to become a Business Analyst some 15 years ago when it felt to me that the technical aspects of the code were becoming more valued than what that code was actually trying to achieve. Since then, I had a sojourn as a Project Manager, as a 'promotion' from a Business Analyst role that was as flawed as most such promotions which take someone who has proved to be useful in a particular role and rewards them by giving them an entirely different role to do. I'm no Project Manager, and I was immediately happier when I returned to a Business Analyst role.

So - Who Wants To Be a Business Analyst ? I do... how about you?

(Originally published on LinkedIn, February 2021)

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