What makes a business analyst a senior business analyst and what exactly are the key characteristics of a senior BA?
It may be worth noting that the number of years as a BA is not an indicator if someone should be classified as a senior BA. Although you can get to the senior level without a number of years of experience, the number of years alone is not an indicator.
1. Business Analysis Techniques: Breadth and Depth of Knowledge and Experience
BA's need to have knowledge and experience in various techniques to elicit, analyse and communicate requirements. They need a large tool box which they can pull from to meet the specific needs of each project. Without this large tool box their ability to perform at a high level for any project type that they're are a part of is limited.
2. Project Types and Business Area Experience
Senior level BA's need experience working on multiple project types. At the highest level there are three types of projects necessary, COTS (commercial off the shelf), new development, and enhancements/support. Each of these project types requires some different techniques and skills. Having worked on different types of projects gives you the knowledge of which techniques work best for each project type. This will aid in planning which is characteristic number three, coming up next.
Working in multiple business areas within a company helps lay the foundation for strategic thinking, characteristic number four. By being involved in multiple business areas you start to see overlapping functions and interdepartmental dependencies. This allows you to start recommending solutions that benefit the whole company, not just the specific business area you are involved in.
3. Business Analysis Planning
How do you answer the following question when you are first assigned to a project? "How long will the analysis effort take?" Senior BA's respond to that question with an intelligent business analysis work plan. They think through the people they will be working with. They identify the stakeholders, get to know them and understand key characteristics to best work with them. They think through critical project characteristics like the size of the project, the business risks involved, and how many interfaces the project will include. They think through the processes that need to be adhered to for the project. They make sure they understand what project methodology is being used for the project, project roles and responsibilities, and what deliverables are required. Thinking through the people, project, and process gives you the ability to outline the tasks and deliverables needed for the project, to estimate their time needed, as well as the time of the stakeholders involved.
4. Strategic Thinking
A senior BA needs to see the big picture and do a deep dive for the project. Senior BA's will try to see the bigger picture before heading into the details trying to understand where this project fits in with the organisational goals. They will also be aware of, or try to determine how the project they are assigned to impacts other projects or business areas. They also take a look at the big picture during the project.
5. Advocate and Advisor
Many BA's report into IT departments, but still need to be viewed as part of the business team they support. You work for the business and need to truly be an advocate for the business and their needs. If there's conflict between the technology team and the business at some point, a senior BA steps up to resolve the conflict to provide the best solution for the business.
A way to know you have this characteristic is if the business calls you for advice before and after a project. Do you have discussions with the business to determine what's most important for an upcoming project? Do you attend their staff meetings to find out their pains and to understand their values and goals?
6. Ability to Learn a New Domain
The need to have domain experience for BA's is one of the biggest debates in our profession. I do think you need some domain knowledge prior to starting a project, but that does not mean you need to have worked in that domain for years. A senior BA needs to be able to learn a new domain to be effective. Here are three ways to learn new domains prior to an interview or starting a project.