The Business Analyst Toolkit – Analytical Skills

What tools and traits are most valuable when it comes to the work of business analysis? There are three main categories that we should look at, analytical, technical, and interpersonal.

First, let's take a closer look at analytical traits and how the apply to understanding the present state, the first step in our role as a business analyst.

The first query we need to consider is what information is valuable to gather and analyze. Here we need to know how to separate the wheat from the chaff. In the data that we collect, in the conversations that we have with stakeholders, in the different documents that we might analyze and read over in order to understand the present state of an issue. What information here helps us to get to the root cause of the issue that we're trying to identify or address, and what information is kind of extraneous and not very helpful. It just gets in the way or distracts us from that root heart of the matter that we're trying to get to.

For example, we might see that a certain process is running 270% behind schedule and we might think, well there's the problem, we've identified the root cause. Of course, if it turns out that this is only a 10 second process within a larger framework that might take several hours of work to accomplish, then maybe that's not actually the bottleneck we're looking for, so we have to be able to put that analysis in the context along with all of the information that we gather and deem valuable toward our fundamental understanding. When it comes to defining the desired future state we have to think about what the optimal outcome might be given the project or business objectives that we face.

Analytical skills can also be important in determining how we get from the present to that desired future state. In this area we need to look at some key information, such as the organization's current competencies.

  • What are we good at right now?
  • What  resources DO WE  HAVE to accomplish?
  • Furthermore, what competencies will be required to move us to that desired future state?
  • What do we need to get good at or what type of talent do we need to acquire?

Most important focus for us would be verify that that expected benefit will in fact exceed the expected cost that we project.

Key tools and skills within the analytical area include, as you might expect, analytical skills such as the ability to think creatively, and to think critically, to be objective, and to look at things from multiple viewpoints, to get the best understanding of where we are, where we want to go, and how we can get there. We need to have a knowledge of our business and our industry because these tasks will change so much in their particulars from project to project, from topic to topic, and industry to industry. We need to have organizational skills, so that we can compile and understand and harness all of this information that we bring into the fold here. If we don't have some sort of way of keeping track of this information it will be very difficult for us to analyze it and to leverage it in a way that can give us a better understanding.

Finally, we also can benefit from project management methodologies. Having an understanding of the project management lifecycle, and different ways that projects can be accomplished, cannot only help us with our miniature project of business analysis, but also in understanding how to put that analysis in the context that a project manager will need  to succeed in bringing that solution to life.