Career Paths for Business Analysts

There are a couple of accreditation bodies globally that define a set of standards for the Business Analysis profession, namely British Computer Society (BCS), International Institute of Business Analysts (IIBA) and Project Management Institute (PMI). The PMI has a Business Analysis Certification (PMI-BA)

My views in this article are independent of the suggestions made by the BCS, PMI or IIBA.

Getting into Business Analysis

I became a Business Analyst by default. I started my career in Training and Development. I worked on developing both classroom learning content as well as e-learning content. I also helped organizations transition to e-learning through the implementation of bespoke learning management systems. My experience of working with developers on Learning Management systems exposed me to the business analyst role. From that point on, I found myself defining requirements for new IT solutions, mainly CRM systems, mapping business processes across organizations and driving enterprise change programs across multiple levels.

Your path may be different. Many of my colleagues and students also found themselves in Business Analysis by default while some actively sought to transition to Business Analysis actively.

One of my friends worked for a local authority within the UK for many years as a financial assessor. He found himself writing requirements for a financial solution with a 3rd party supplier as a subject matter expert and by default was the council’s representative with the suppliers. He became a Business Analyst by leveraging the experience gained on some of the projects he worked on.

Another friend of mine was a community engagement officer with a Housing Association. She was involved in helping residents get much-needed access to facilities, training, support etc. she worked on a project to set up a community online platform that residents could use to report issues and get support from the Housing Association. She was pulled into other similar projects within the organization and found herself being successful in a Business Analyst role.

Growing as a Business Analyst

As a Business Analysis consultant, I was brought in to help an organization write requirements for a software system they built so that they can carry out end to end testing of the solution effectively. I spent some time understanding the business challenges and then proposed a dual approach to the sponsor of the program. I suggested that 50% of the time I had with them should be spent on writing their requirements whilst the other 50% should be spent assessing the readiness of the business to support the solution. The sponsor accepted and I was given the opportunity to develop an operating model for the business and make recommendations on how they can improve as they scale their business.

One of my coaching clients got a job as a Business Analyst within a healthcare organization and supported the development of a business case for the implementation of a Customer Relationship Management system. After a few months, she was leading the business change function in charge of aligning benefits across all the organization's programs to its strategic goals.

There are several paths for a Business Analyst and here are my top suggestions:

  1. Senior/Lead Business Analyst – typically a natural path after a few years of experience as a Business Analyst
  2. Business Architect – Perhaps the most natural career progression option for the Senior/Lead Business analyst. Many of the skills acquired as a Business Analyst are the basis for the tasks carried out by Business Architects, for example, high-level Process models are used to determine the organizations' Value Stream, the Business Activity Model may be used to determine the Capability Model and Target Operating Model
  3. Enterprise Architect – Enterprise Architecture includes Business Architecture, Data Architecture, Applications Architecture, and Technology Architecture. A natural progression for the Business Architect who wishes to be more technology focussed.
  4. Product Owner – Within rapidly changing organizations, it is not uncommon to have someone dedicated to the development of products from its ideation to its business benefits realization. A Business Analyst can be ideal for such a role
  5. Head of Business Analysis – Another natural path for a Lead Business Analyst or Business Architect who wishes to develop a BA function within an organization. Many organizations are beginning to see the value of a robust and mature BA function
  6. Business Change Manager- At a program level, the BCM tends to be responsible for the benefits realization of all change initiatives. This strategic level role has become more high profile in recent times

One role that I have seen on many similar lists as the one above is the Project Manager role. I have chosen to leave this role out of my list as I believe that the BA role is very different from a PM role and although there are many transferable skills, the core skills of a Business Analyst lends itself more to better development with the 6 roles mentioned above.

Ultimately, the BA can develop skills that will be suitable for many strategic level roles within an organization.