Part 1 – An introduction to business analysis skills and domain concepts

by Jerry Foley

In the following six-part series of articles, we will explore the basic skills and concepts of a Business Analyst (BA) and business analysis domains. At the onset, this subject may appear to be redundant as many of us assume we have the skills needed and that we understand the concepts needed to be a business analyst. However, as we delve deeper into the actual tactics of being an effective business analyst, it will become clear that customer satisfaction is equally reliant on soft skills as much as hard process skills. In the series, we will discuss six domain concepts of business analysis. Each article in the six-part series will cover one of the six domains, as stated below, and the value of each, including a needs assessment, goal development and setting SMART goals:

Part 1 – Needs assessment

Part 2 – Information gathering/goal development techniques

Part 3 – Planning

Part 4 – Analysis

Part 5 – Traceability and monitoring

Part 6 – Evaluation

Let’s start off with the basic business analysis domains and related tasks and then apply the skills needed to fulfill the concepts courtesy of the Project Management Institute (PMI).

Needs assessment

The needs assessment domain includes five key activities related to understanding a business problem or opportunity and evaluating different inputs to aid the development of an effective solution. The five skills are as follows:

Task 1: “Define or review a business problem or opportunity using problem and opportunity analysis techniques to establish a solution scope statement and/or to provide input to create a business case” (PMI, 2013).

Task 2: “Collect and analyze information from different sources using valuation tools and techniques to contribute to determining the value proposition of the initiative” (PMI, 2013).

Task 3: Collaborate in the development of project goals and objectives by providing clarification of business needs and solution scope in order to align the product with the organization’s goals and objectives.

Task 4: Identify stakeholders by reviewing goals, objectives, and requirements in the order that the parties are appropriately represented, informed, and involved.

Task 5: Determine stakeholder values regarding the product using elicitation techniques in order to provide a baseline for prioritizing requirements.

Task 1: Opportunity definition/review

After the needs assessment stage, you will want to sit down with the primary stakeholder and have a conversation. Let the stakeholder tell their story so you can better empathize with their situation. This conversation will enable you to write a ‘Problem Statement.’ The basic problem statement format is: The problem of W (goal/root cause) affects X (users/stakeholders), the impact of which is Y (outcomes suffered as a result of the problem), so a successful solution would be Z.



Task 2: Collecting and analyzing data

There are a variety of techniques and tools suggested by PMI that should be in your business analyst’s toolkit. Some of those techniques to elicit information from the stakeholders are:

  • Brainstorming
  • Document analysis
  • Focus groups
  • Interface analysis
  • Interviews
  • Workshops
  • Reverse engineering
  • Surveys

We will go into a deeper discussion of these information-gathering techniques in Part 2. You will probably use more than one or two of these techniques with most of your clients.

Task 3: Goal Development for Projects

It is important, at this point, to acknowledge the large dependency of Task 3 on the proper execution of Task 2. If not done properly, it could very well be the single biggest reason your project may fail. It is incumbent on business analysts and Stakeholders (s) to have clear, concise, attainable, and realistic SMART goals. The project goals will also be critically important to any future project managers who will be tasked with the completion of the project.

There are five basic approaches to setting SMART goals that will help you complete your projects.  

1. SMART Goals

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Results-focused
  • Time-bound

2. OKR Approach

  • Objectives
  • Key results

3. BSQ Method

  • Think BIG
  • Act SMALL
  • Move QUICK

4. ABC Goals

  • Achievable
  • Believable
  • Controllable

5. FRAME Goals (similar to SMART goals)

  • Few
  • Realistic
  • Agreed
  • Measured
  • Explicit

We will discuss these in more detail in later guides.

Task 4: Stakeholder identification

A logical follow-up to Task 3 will be the identification of other stakeholders. Stakeholders will usually be responsible for parts of the business model that have a vested interest in the implementation of a successful solution, and they will be required to have complete buy-in. Business analysts are also responsible for ensuring that stakeholders have a crystal clear understanding of their requirements. An effective business analyst must make sure the stakeholders are informed and involved. This level of involvement will be used by the project manager to develop his communication plan.

Task 5: Requirements Prioritization

Now that you have identified and enlisted other stakeholders in Task 4, the agreed-upon requirements must be baselined with regard to prioritization. Agreement on the priority list of requirements will greatly enhance a smooth project plan design and execution. By paying attention to the responses and nonverbal communications of the stakeholders, an astute business analyst will have very valuable insights into the inner workings of the business. You will be able to ascertain the placement of the stakeholders into the RACI chart (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed). Again, no big surprise that the RACI chart is another deliverable that the project manager will need to have prior to project kickoff/execution.

In Part 2, we will discuss information-gathering and goal-development techniques.


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