You can't wing it or phone it in. You may be able to for a short time, but success will not be yours on an ongoing basis. Project management is not easy, designing a solution is not easy, managing clients and client expectations comes with a high price and just when you think you're done you often are not. Fool!
In order to be a good manager of team, time and money as well as the client, the business analyst needs to be a savvy communicator, a good negotiator, an independent thinker, a subject matter expert (SME) and a project manager of sorts all rolled into one. Let's look at each of these separately...and be thinking about your own list or discussion points for my list...
Savvy communications expert.
For project managers we all know that communication is Job One, right? Well, it essentially is for business analysts as well. Maybe more communication with the home solution delivery project team than really anyone else, but the business analyst needs to be ready, willing and able to communicate well with the project customer as well as be the project manager of the moment when called upon to take over or fill in. The customer is who we are there to please, who we are there to supervise, who were are there to serve. And the business analyst is often – usually – that liaison between the tech team and the project manager. A good business analyst can also see through smoke the tech team may blow their way on project status, hours expended, etc. so they help the project manager stay apprised the to real world status of the project financials and task management issues. Again, communication is key and accurate communication is absolutely necessary on complex projects where a bit of re-work here – especially do to misunderstandings and miscommunication or ambiguity – can result in a financially failing project and that is no good.
Top notch negotiator.
We all wish it didn't have to be that way but it does. Negotiations are part of the territory. When my wife and I traveled to South Korea in 1987 when we were adopting our now 20 year old daughter, we walked into a regular department store... similar to something like a Kohl's... and actually negotiated a price for two umbrellas during monsoon season in July. Strange. On projects and consulting, you need to be a good negotiator. Good give and take negotiations can save key deliverables, get projects back on track in terms of timeline and due dates, can gain needed revenue on a project, can keep the project profit margin high or where it should be and – when done well – can keep customer satisfaction at a high point even when you're getting them to pay more for new services they are asking for on the project.
Independent idea maker.
There no doubt that the business analyst works very closely with the project manager. But he also works closely with the project team and client as well. Given that, there always going to be times when decisions must be made, ideas must be originated and formulate and project direction must be decided with or without project manager and team presence. The business analyst is sometimes going to need to be proactive and make key forward thinking decisions without the project manager and team and inform them later. It happens on nearly every project.
Expert of the technology or solution at hand.
When I say expert, I don't mean they need to be a detailed expert – that's what the technical team is for. But they need to be a “crossover” expert... enough technical knowledge to make key decisions and help advise the project team and client, because if that is not the case poor or insufficient decisions and directions may be taken or the customer may be make misguided decisions. The business analyst is often almost a project manager and a tech lead all at the same time. This may mean re-education, albeit very quick with the shortest learning curve imaginable if new technology is being implemented, but the business analyst often has to do what must be done. Jack of all trades? Sometimes. Which leads to my next topic...
Wannabe project manager.
While the business analyst is not the project manager, there are often times when the business analyst must become the project manager. There are times the business analyst will need to lead the weekly customer status meeting or the team meetings depending on the subject matter or the status and availability of the project manager. Some of the best project managers I know used to be business analysts and some of the best business analysts I know used to be project managers. And since my focus has been tech projects for nearly my whole career, I can say that the best business analysts have some tech background... same goes for project managers though and I can definitely say it has helped me when I've seen other project managers without technical backgrounds fail on large, complex project undertakings.
Summary / call for input
What are your thoughts on some of the unspoken roles the business analyst must play and the soft skill that this position really needs to possess? Did I get it right? What have I left out? Please share your own thoughts and experience – tell me when you've been a business analyst and had to become a database expert. I know as a project manager I've had to do that. Had to go from zero to sixty on a new technical skill fast while onsite with a client. It wasn't easy but it certainly helped get data loaded while the rest of the tech staff worked through other issues as we were all trying to get back to family for Christmas. You do what you have to do.