We are not Business Analysts

Have you ever struggled to explain to someone what you do?  Not just to that distant cousin at the family Christmas party, or the random person you are chatting with in line at Starbucks; but people who actually work within your organization?  Or even worse, the senior people who are going to be taking part in your project and who have no idea what a Business Analyst does?

Have you mumbled something about projects, processes, and software?  Maybe mentioned requirements elicitation, analysis, and documentation?  The problem isn’t that you don’t know your job, the problem is that your job title is wrong.  We are not business analyst’s.

This seems like a heretical statement to some, but consider for a moment.  What is it that you actually analyze?  Rarely as a BA are we analyzing the business as a complete entity.  We may analyze a process, a department, a team, or even an application in context of it’s users.  You would argue that those are parts of a business, and thus the title Business Analyst remains correct.  But as a BA in most circumstances we are not analyzing those parts of a business in relation to the whole.  We are analyzing them in relation to potential or proposed changes.  Thus it is not business we are analyzing, it is change.

We seek to answer questions such as these through analysis:

  • Is change necessary or desirable?
  • If so, what changes are possible?
  • If necessary, desirable and possible;  what achievements or results will show that change has been successful?
  • What are the specific characteristics, attributes, and structures of change that will be most likely to achieve the desired result?
  • Will the change most likely to achieve the desired result actually be cost effective or feasible?

These are the questions that are analyzed and where the business analyst is focused.

Then there are the purely semantic issues with the term.  First, business analyst’s don’t only work in business.  There are a great many in the government and non-profit centers.  Second, there is already a profession to which the term business analyst has been applied for at least as long as the technology or project-related profession.  That is the profession that does financial business analysis (who are now mostly called “Financial Analyst’s”).  They actually do analyze the business as a whole for investment purposes.  Yes, the new definition for business analysis is replacing the old, but from a language perspective the original profession is the more correct when the term “business analysis” is applied.

In the end we are change analysts, not business analysts.

Yes, this is change in service of a larger goal.  But Business Analyst’s do not define the goal.  Even Enterprise and Business Architects do not define the goals.  Those are defined by senior management and the Change Analyst helps to define the alternative ways to achieve that goal given the resources and constraints at hand.

Maybe you specialize in certain areas of change and consider yourself a Systems Change Analyst, a Process Change Analyst, a Strategic Change Analyst, a Change Architect, or maybe even a Change Designer (if your name is Tony Heap).  But what we analyze is change itself.  Its possibility, its potential impact, its desirability, its components, its structure, and its success criteria.  We analyze change in a specific context, but it is the impact of change on the context that is our focus.

The IIBA has recognized this truth with the new BABOK 3 definition of “business analysis” which is: “The practice of enabling change in an organizational context by defining needs and recommending solutions that deliver value to stakeholders.”  This definition recognizes both that business analysis occurs within an organizational context, not just a business context; and that what business analysts enable through analysis is change.

If we want to ensure that what we do is understood within an organizational context, maybe it’s time we didn’t just change the definition of the profession, but changed the name of the profession as well?  Just because “it’s always been called that” is no excuse.  Other professions have re-labeled themselves in the past, there is no reason to think Business Analyst’s could not do the same.

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