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Speaking from experience: Q&A with a BA

Speaking from experience: Q&A with a BA

It’s no secret that the role of a business analyst (BA) is all encompassing. Not only does a BA facilitate communication between stakeholders and developers, they often play a central role in aligning the needs of a particular business unit with the capabilities that can be delivered.

Louise Vermeulen, a business analyst at BBD, refers to this as “leading from the middle.” With over 25 years’ experience, it’s safe to call her a business analysis expert. But if you ask Vermeulen what her expertise is, she simply says “making things work”.

Like any other profession, entering the world of business analysis comes with its challenges. Drawing on almost three decades of experience, Vermeulen shares her tricks of the trade.

What are some of the best tips you’ve learnt over the years?
Don’t take complete ownership of an outcome. If you want it to evolve to its best possible form, it’s important to have input from others. Always try to be as organised as possible and be methodical about where you keep everything.

What turns a good BA into a great BA?
Being inquisitive, but knowing when to stop questioning and when to move forward. We work in a realm where you’ll never have enough answers. A great BA knows exactly which questions to ask, when to stop asking and when to start doing.

Do you think BAs need coding knowledge?
It depends on the project you’re involved in. I don’t code at all in my current role, but there are some projects that will require you to have basic coding knowledge. However, I do think that you can easily be a BA without coding expertise. Even though you don’t necessarily have to be able to code, you need to understand what developers do.

How would you advise someone to stay up-to-date on general business knowledge and trends?
There are way too many constantly-evolving trends to keep up with all of them. Recognise what you are good at and passionate about, and focus on upskilling yourself on that. You’ll never be an expert at absolutely everything. Tech constantly evolves and you should try evolve with it as much as possible.

What methodologies, analysis or modelling techniques have you found to be the most effective, and why?
I find that data modelling is the one technique used in almost every single project. It’s also extremely important to do a mock-up of the user experience (UX).

How do you steer a client toward a different course of action than the one they were set on taking?
Being a BA isn’t about telling a client what they want – it’s about assisting a client in terms of what is best for their business. You have to prove to some extent that what you’re suggesting is viable and possibly show a prototype. This way you can also prove that what they want won’t necessarily work. But if all else fails, try working towards a compromise.

What advice would you give someone just starting a career in business analysis?
It’s important to carefully consider the projects you start working on that involve business analysis. You’ll need mentors in place or you’ll keep bumping your head and not optimise your learning opportunities.
Speaking from experience, I’d suggest a well-structured project when you first start out. Invest in A Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK). It reflects the collective knowledge of the BA community and presents the most widely accepted BA practices.

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