What do Business Analysts do?

If you’re wondering what it is that Business Analysts (BAs) actually do, here’s a simple explanation to get you started. It’s a role that you don’t need to be ‘technical’ to do. You just need a passion for asking questions!

A BA helps work out what should be done in an IT project. When there are problems to be solved, the BA investigates and gives advice on what to do. And we are also great at finding problems no-one else had spotted yet.

Illustration of a woman and man in front of a board with post-it notes and writing. Illustrates how BAs might help problem solves in a workshop.

A practical way of thinking about this is that the BA is like a translator working between business decision-makers and the technical teams. Each side has different areas of expertise, priorities and specialist language. This specialist language and knowledge often don’t make much sense to the other side. The BA ‘translates’, keeping the priorities in mind and sharing the right level of detail with each group.

But the BA doesn’t just help the business and technical sides to communicate effectively. People sometimes need help working out what they really want and why. It’s not always what they say they want, or what they think they want. This is one of the most important parts of being a BA: discovering what the requirements really are.

Illustration of a woman working on her laptop and a visualisation of the documents she's investigating.

So we’ve worked out what the business wants changing. Now the BAs work with experts from other business areas to find out what the options are to make the changes happen. BAs investigate those options to make sure they would work. We also give guidance on them to business decision-makers. Lots of people who have to make decisions don’t have the time or expertise to do the investigating, which is why they need the support of BAs.

Very importantly, BAs make sure all of this gets appropriately documented. “Appropriate” depends on the type of project and/or software development approach. There really is no one right way to do this so I won’t go into detail about it here.

Illustration of two men putting different kinds of documents into a folder.

The exact details of a BA’s role can vary quite a bit depending on what type of BA they are. Some BAs may be very technical, working closely with developers and technical architects. Others might be specialists in a particular area of BA expertise. Some work closely with Business Change teams or on process improvement roles, which might not be focused on technology at all.

Diagram shows the way similar roles relate to the BA role. A line stretches from stategy and business development to software development. In the middle is the BA role, and closer to sofware development is the system analyst or technical BA role, and then at the other end with strategy and business development would be the roles of process improvement BA or Business Change.

What the BAs are doing also depends on how the project is run. Roughly speaking though, they are mainly involved earlier in projects. They will still be involved throughout, especially in agile projects.

Diagram of the project lifecycle and the BA involvement at each stage. At Kick-off Senior or Lead BAs support the business case; in Discovery BAs do the analysis needed to find the requirements and document these; during Development and Testing, BAs support the developer and tester questions (in agile projects this and the discovery stage can be repeated as needed); and in the Release stage, BAs support Business Chang activities and Senior BAs help identify if the benefits in the business case were realised.

So practically, what do BAs spend their working days doing? In general, it is a mix of people-focused meetings and quiet analytical work on their own. Some of the common tasks are:

  • Meetings
  • Workshops
  • Emails or updating shared project tickets
  • Analysis
  • Documentation (diagrams, spreadsheets, text documents, etc.)
  • Managing people and schedules
  • Learning – bring all your curiosity!

Of course, no two projects or BA roles are exactly the same. Junior and Senior BAs will have different levels of responsibility within projects. And, in small companies, BAs might be doing the technical changes or development, as well as picking up some Project Manager and Testing work too. In larger companies, a BA might be more of a specialist in pure BAs skills. They could work with Technical BAs and Technical Architects who provide in-depth knowledge of systems and technologies.

If you think being a BA could be for you, that’s great! I love getting to investigate, problem solve and learn about tech, and I get to work with really interesting people who are passionate about what they’re doing.

Cover image from South West Business Analysis Meetup Group, showing a process flow of joining the group, being inspired and sharing your skills.

If you’re near Bristol and want to find out more, click here to join the BA Meetup group that I co-organise or send me a message, I’m happy to help with questions.