The role of a Business Analyst is not one to be taken lightly. They are the central point of contact for many within the project team, accountable for defining and helping ensure that the right solution is delivered. It is because of this, in my opinion, that the most effective and successful BAs demonstrate the most well-rounded set of skills among those on a project team. Not only do they need to be technically proficient in a variety of tools, but they also need to have strong soft skills.
It probably goes without saying that Business Analysts should have strong knowledge in tools like Microsoft Excel, Word, and PowerPoint (or comparable alternatives) in order to assist in gathering, documenting and presenting the results of the analysis. If projects are more IT-focused, many business analysts also bring skills like technical programming or database knowledge as well. For example, understanding SQL can be very beneficial for times when an analyst will be mining for requirements from an application or the data behind the scenes. BAs should seek to understand the current system(s), processes, and product functions as they begin their work. It provides them with a starting point for advancing on to the next steps of their work where they will use more of the non-technical, soft skills.
Far beyond the importance of the technical aspects of Business Analysts, is the importance of their soft skills. One of the main interactions between the Business Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) and the BA are the requirement elaboration workshops and SME approval meetings. The success of these sessions is critical both because of the quantity of time spent and because of their large impact on the direction of the project. BAs need to have strong facilitator skills, finding the balance between open and detailed discussions, yet knowing when and how to keep the discussions on topic. Everyone involved is typically sacrificing their time from production work to attend the meetings, which makes effective preparation and effective facilitation a must.
Looking deeper at effective facilitation highlights the need for the BA to possess strong communication skills: oral, written, listening and non-verbal. The BA needs to establish a rapport with the SMEs from the outset. Using their oral and written communication skills to elicit trust and demonstrate expertise in their area will help the analyst lay a solid foundation on which to build the rest of the analysis effort. Then, during and after these meetings, those skills are used to identify and document the business and systems requirements. This is critical because whatever is gathered here is what will be provided to architects and developers as requirements. The BA is also using their strong listening and non-verbal communication skills in these meetings. It is key that they are asking the thought-provoking questions and then allowing the creative juices and conversations amongst the SMEs to flow. Here the BA is sitting back, becoming an active listener, absorbing details surrounding the conversations and summarizing as decisions are made. They are observing the non-verbal signals of those involved or not involved, addressing them as needed and identifying those situations where people become difficult or where different approaches are needed to keep the momentum moving forward.
A Business Analyst does not have to master all the skills above; however, the stronger they are in having a solid working knowledge of these skills, the higher the quality of requirements and direction will be at the time of hand-off to the developers. This helps provide that solid foundation which can lead to a highly successful implementation of the project.