What is a Business Analyst? (We know, but do they?)

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At a recent networking event, it occurred to me that the majority of the population is unaware of our existence as Business Analysts, Business Architects, and Product Managers. I found myself time and time again explaining what it is I did for a living. Contrast that with folks who work in more familiar professions such as nursing, accounting, sales, education, or even development: by simply providing their job title, people have a general understanding of what their roles and responsibilities are.

With that in mind, here are a few ways I’ve heard to describe what a business analyst is and does that get a laugh and convey some of the value we provide.

“We’re the translators between the suits and the nerds.”
A coworker of mine used this line a number of months ago and it struck me as extremely insightful yet humorous. In our day-to-day work,the majority of our time is spent talking to people in the business eliciting requirements and transforming them into documentation that is usable by those in development teams. This one-liner captures the essence of those activities and adds some “Office Space” style humor. It also piques your listeners’ curiosity, often leading to questions that can be used to educate others about our profession.

“We figure out what the business REALLY wants and how to make it happen.”
Everyone identifies with this line, especially when you emphasize the ‘really’ part of it, as people are well aware that there is a difference between what people say they want and what they really want. In business analysis it is common to hear stakeholders take a position but not disclose their interest. It’s our job to get past their position and find what their end interest is so the right solution can be found that satisfies every party. This line highlights the challenges we face in working with difficult stakeholders to arrive at the best solution for the business – a scenario many people are familiar with.

“We determine what software has to do so businesses can get back to the business of running their business.”
Business Analysts and Product Managers are some of the most people-friendly people in an IT organization, and they are usually aware enough to realize that most companies do not revolve around the IT department. The company’s core competency is rarely IT, but it is often is IT-dependent. In our modern economy, software is required for any current organization to succeed. Business Analysts and Product Managers speed IT projects along so they complete sooner and with a higher rate of success – ensuring the company doesn’t get bogged down into a multi-year implementation that leaves a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth. A well-executed, successful project will have the entire organization giving accolades to the IT department for dramatically improving how the business operates without detracting from any of the core competencies of the business.

Next time you are at a networking event, holiday party or just talking to someone who doesn’t know what you do, try one of these lines. I’m sure you’ll elicit smiles and laughter, and you’ll have educated another person on the value of business analysis and product management – something that helps everyone in our field!

And my wish to you: happy holidays and a great 2012 for all my Business Analyst, Business Architect, and Product Manager friends and colleagues!

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