The Importance of Soft Skills for Business Analysts

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We often discuss the many and varied skills of a business analyst and the importance they play in successful project delivery, especially where that project is long, complex and technical in nature. However, to be a successful business analyst you need more than just technical skills, experience, competence or in-depth business knowledge. To excel in this role you also need certain personal skills to help you do your job better and help you contribute more towards ensuring a successful project.

The role of the BA is fundamentally about ensuring that business requirements are complete, are an accurate interpretation of the client’s needs and are clearly and unambiguously documented. So in order to fulfil this role you must interact with people at all different levels from both client side and supplier/contractor side, and build up good working relationships with them.

This is where soft skills can help you improve your business; but what soft skills are most important and why?

Effective Communication Leads to Better Project Outcomes

It’s no surprise to anyone involved in projects that communication is the key to success but all too often people are talking, emailing, even having face to face meetings but not really getting through to each other. One party does not understand the perspective of the other and vice-versa. This is the critical phase when a business analyst can really add value. With so many projects being executed with disparate groups in different locations (sometimes across the other side of the globe) communication needs to overcome the physical barriers that prevent us from reading the body language of people we are dealing with: the facial cues, inflections in the voice and gestures.

A business analyst needs to be able to listen (and really hear what is being said) and pass on that information clearly to other people, verbally and in writing. They need to be able to decipher what is the really important information and what is just noise.

Effective communication ensures that:

  • stakeholders are engaged with the project and will provide the support it needs
  • the client is confident the final deliverable will meet their requirements
  • the project team are confident that they know what they need to deliver and how
  • Time is not wasted in unnecessary meeting
  • Time is not wasted reading old documentation or reports

Negotiation and Influencing Skills

Projects always involve some form of compromise or trade-off. It is simply unrealistic that every feature that everyone wants can be included and the project stay within a reasonable budget and timeframe. But it is not the act of compromising that can negatively affect a project but how negotiating the compromise is handled.

In their role of understanding both sides: the client and the project team, the BA is perfectly placed to assess on which parts of the project potential compromises can be made. They can interface between the two sides and clearly present reasons for the compromises being necessary in a language that each side understands. By influencing the way each side views the compromise, it can be presented as a means to a more successful project rather than a lack of features or functions.

Good negotiation and influencing skills can prevent conflicts arising and ensure good relations are maintained between everyone involved in the project. Remember people deliver projects so focusing energy on building good working relationships is an essential part of a business analyst’s role.

Of course, the role of BA can vary from project to project, company to company and industry to industry, but developing effective soft skills (or just using those you already have) will always have a positive effect.

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