If you do need the “best of the best”, then what skills or characteristics are you looking for? What defines the best for your organization's project needs? While BAs are not project managers, the most successful BAs manage the entire business analysis effort. This means that the BA is proactive and dependency-aware. It also means they manage themselves well, the stay on track with respect to commitments and deadlines and can handle task delegation, decision making and issue management as needed on the project.
I've thought about the overall skill set and characteristics needed to pull this role off efficiently and productively and coupled it with my experience leading projects, working in combined project manager and business analyst roles I've come up with my list of ten characteristics of an awesome business analyst. As you are reading through these, please be thinking of your own personal experiences and comment with your additions to this list...
Great customer interface. The great business analyst is a critical liaison between the project manager and the technical team. This person is often the driving force behind the accurate, complete and detailed documentation of the final project requirements. Why? Because the organizational to tech cross-over ability and skills that many project managers will lack must be handled in this role. And they help the tech lead interpret those functional design ideas into technical design specifications for the design and development work on complex technical solutions.
Subject matter expert. The skilled business analyst is vital in his project team role as a subject matter expert. This helps him to work with the client to document accurate business processes that are then used to create detailed, complete, and accurate project requirements. The business analyst's technical knowledge coupled with his understanding of the design process and the likely end solution makes him an invaluable resource for the project manager the project team and the project client.
Good technical cross over. The very valuable business analyst has a diverse amount of technical knowledge. Not necessarily tech lead or developer knowledge, though that is a plus, but rather a very good technical acumen that gels with the project management-type organizational skills and knowledge he also likely possesses.
Can project manage it when needed. The indispensable business analyst can and often does act in the role of project manager both when the project manager may be tied up on another project and also when interfacing with the team and client and a decision needs to be made on the project's behalf and the project manager isn't currently available.
Critical attention to detail. Detailed oriented focus is needed by the business analyst on the project for a variety of reasons: to assist the project manager and fill in there as needed, to work closely with the customer sponsor and team and the project team to define and document requirements, and to help track and resolve issues throughout the engagement.
Skilled communicator. I've often said that communication is Job One for the project manager. However, communication skills are possibly the most important characteristic of the awesome business analyst if for no other reason than the vast responsibilities this position has on the project and with the team and customer. Miscommunication can lead to so many problems on the project and this role ends up interfacing with all stakeholders...making accurate and thorough communication necessary.
Facilitation skills. The business analyst is going to be required to facilitate many meetings and sessions during the project such as periodically leading the team meetings and formal project status meetings for the project manager and then requirements meetings with the customer as well as design sessions with the technical project team.
Experienced critical thinker. Business analysts are responsible for evaluating multiple options before helping a team settle on a solution. While discovering the problem to be solved, business analysts must listen to stakeholder needs but also critically consider those needs and ask probing questions until the real need is surfaced and understood. This is what makes critical thinking and evaluation skills important for the business analyst on the project.
Skilled with PM and organizational tools. The business analyst needs to have a good command of the use of various project management related tools such as project scheduling software, basic tools like Word, Excel and PowerPoint, and others that might be needed such as task management software, bug tracking software, risk management software, file management software, and even modeling tools like Visio, etc.
Conflict resolution. From time to time conflicts can arise. I'm not talking about fisticuffs...at least I hope not. But disagreements among technical team members or with members of the customer's staff can arise. The skilled BA will recognize this quickly and work with both sides to come to a mutual agreement. Patience is also a virtue...because any conflict resolution requires patience and understanding. And good listening skills.
Summary / call for input
The business analyst isn't necessarily the leader on the project, but his role may be the most diverse and sometimes the most critically necessary for project success. The project manager will serve as the overall communicator and decision maker on the project, but the business analyst will likely have an even closer customer facing role than the project manager...meaning this position may be the most valuable in helping ensure customer satisfaction and completeness and acceptance of project work performed by the project team.
How about our readers? If you're a business analyst, what do you think about this list? What would you add to or remove from this list? What are your top 3 or top 5 characteristics for a valuable business analyst? Some organizations – often smaller organizations – may only hire a project manager or business analyst to handle both roles. Have you worked with such an organization and did you find it to be successful?