What do Business Analysts do?

If you’re wondering what it is that Business Analysts (BAs) actually do, here’s a simple explanation to get you started. It’s a role that you don’t need to be ‘technical’ to do. You just need a passion for asking questions!

A BA helps work out what should be done in an IT project. When there are problems to be solved, the BA investigates and gives advice on what to do. And we are also great at finding problems no-one else had spotted yet.

Illustration of a woman and man in front of a board with post-it notes and writing. Illustrates how BAs might help problem solves in a workshop.

A practical way of thinking about this is that the BA is like a translator working between business decision-makers and the technical teams. Each side has different areas of expertise, priorities and specialist language. This specialist language and knowledge often don’t make much sense to the other side. The BA ‘translates’, keeping the priorities in mind and sharing the right level of detail with each group.

But the BA doesn’t just help the business and technical sides to communicate effectively. People sometimes need help working out what they really want and why. It’s not always what they say they want, or what they think they want. This is one of the most important parts of being a BA: discovering what the requirements really are.

Illustration of a woman working on her laptop and a visualisation of the documents she's investigating.

So we’ve worked out what the business wants changing. Now the BAs work with experts from other business areas to find out what the options are to make the changes happen. BAs investigate those options to make sure they would work. We also give guidance on them to business decision-makers. Lots of people who have to make decisions don’t have the time or expertise to do the investigating, which is why they need the support of BAs.

Very importantly, BAs make sure all of this gets appropriately documented. “Appropriate” depends on the type of project and/or software development approach. There really is no one right way to do this so I won’t go into detail about it here.

Illustration of two men putting different kinds of documents into a folder.

The exact details of a BA’s role can vary quite a bit depending on what type of BA they are. Some BAs may be very technical, working closely with developers and technical architects. Others might be specialists in a particular area of BA expertise. Some work closely with Business Change teams or on process improvement roles, which might not be focused on technology at all.

Diagram shows the way similar roles relate to the BA role. A line stretches from stategy and business development to software development. In the middle is the BA role, and closer to sofware development is the system analyst or technical BA role, and then at the other end with strategy and business development would be the roles of process improvement BA or Business Change.

What the BAs are doing also depends on how the project is run. Roughly speaking though, they are mainly involved earlier in projects. They will still be involved throughout, especially in agile projects.

Diagram of the project lifecycle and the BA involvement at each stage. At Kick-off Senior or Lead BAs support the business case; in Discovery BAs do the analysis needed to find the requirements and document these; during Development and Testing, BAs support the developer and tester questions (in agile projects this and the discovery stage can be repeated as needed); and in the Release stage, BAs support Business Chang activities and Senior BAs help identify if the benefits in the business case were realised.

So practically, what do BAs spend their working days doing? In general, it is a mix of people-focused meetings and quiet analytical work on their own. Some of the common tasks are:

  • Meetings
  • Workshops
  • Emails or updating shared project tickets
  • Analysis
  • Documentation (diagrams, spreadsheets, text documents, etc.)
  • Managing people and schedules
  • Learning – bring all your curiosity!

Of course, no two projects or BA roles are exactly the same. Junior and Senior BAs will have different levels of responsibility within projects. And, in small companies, BAs might be doing the technical changes or development, as well as picking up some Project Manager and Testing work too. In larger companies, a BA might be more of a specialist in pure BAs skills. They could work with Technical BAs and Technical Architects who provide in-depth knowledge of systems and technologies.

If you think being a BA could be for you, that’s great! I love getting to investigate, problem solve and learn about tech, and I get to work with really interesting people who are passionate about what they’re doing.

Cover image from South West Business Analysis Meetup Group, showing a process flow of joining the group, being inspired and sharing your skills.

If you’re near Bristol and want to find out more, click here to join the BA Meetup group that I co-organise or send me a message, I’m happy to help with questions.

Trello, a tool for organising projects

Trello is an online tool for organising your projects which I find really useful for personal or small group projects. It’s like a digital way of putting sticky notes onto a pinboard. And unlike sticky notes, there is no risk of a sudden breeze blowing them all away. If this sounds useful, keep reading to get a really simple introduction to what Trello is, how it works, and why you might want to use it.

I’m doing a series of posts on useful apps and tech skills for people who don’t feel so confident with technology. I have lots of conversations with people who don’t know where to get started but there’s so much you can do once you know how.

What is Trello?

The three key things you get in Trello are:

  1. Boards
  2. Lists
  3. Cards

Cards are like your sticky notes and you can add lots of information to them. You can add cards into lists and move them up and down the list, or from one list to another. Lists let you organise your cards, from one list to many.

It’s worth giving Trello a try as it’s both a useful tool and a good example of popular way work is managed in tech companies. And it’s free as long as you are happy with the basic parts.

Try signing up to Trello and creating a board. You will need an email address to sign up. Trello has really user-friendly instructions to help you get started. Trello has a useful guide to explain exactly how to use all of its features: https://trello.com/guide 

How does it work?

Boards

Once you have signed up for Trello, the first thing is to create a board. Your boards are just like pinboards and you can use them for lots of things:

  • Researching a holiday
  • Planning your revision or training
  • Organising a trip with friends
  • Managing a project to-do list

You control who accesses your board. It can be private to just you, public to anyone online, or share access across a team. To give access to a team, you will need to set up that team and add people to it, and they’ll all need Trello accounts of their own. 

On a more fun note, you can set a background for your board, including lots of amazing photos that you can use in Trello for free.

Screenshot of a Trello board for gardening, showing lists for summer, autumn and winter, with cards for gardening tasks, including tags, images and dates.
A screenshot from a gardening board I started recently.

Lists

There are lots of different ways you can use lists in Trello. 

A screenshot from a To Read Trello board, of columns for Non-fiction and Booker Prize, with book titles in the cards.

One option is to have different lists for different topics. For example, if you are using a board to store meal recipes you could organise it by have lists for starters, mains, desserts and snacks.

Another option is to have different lists for different stages of progress. If your board is being used to plan a day-trip with friends, you could have different lists for tasks that are being sorted by different people. 

An easy way to start using Trello would be to have two lists: one for tasks that are To Do and one for tasks that are Done. You could later add more stages such as In Progress and On Hold. This can be a really good way to keep a project on schedule.

Cards

Screenshot of a Trello card which shows the key features, which are minimised icons in this view from th board.

To create a card, the only thing you need is a title. This is the same as you’d write on a sticky note or on a to-do list. To get started with Trello, you could try creating a few cards and dragging them up and down the list. If you also make some lists, you can practice moving cards from one list to another.

You can use Trello really effectively without ever needing more than the title for your cards. But, there are lots of other useful parts to cards that you might want to try.

Description: you can keep your notes here. This might include links to helpful websites or reminders to yourself of what needs doing. This is especially useful for boards you share with others.

Labels: choose the colour and name of your labels and add as many as you need to a card. You could use labels are to show how important a card is, what type of task it is, or if it has been finished.

Checklists: these are to-do lists within a card. Use them to keep on-track with complicated tasks and see your progress.

Attachments: you can add pictures and files to your cards. This is great if you have a more visual memory or just like your board to look stylish.

Due date: keep tasks on track by adding dates and reminders. 

Comments: if you are sharing your board with other people, you can use comments to talk about a card. Or, you can leave yourself comments to track how things are going.

Why use Trello?

Trello is a useful and free tool for getting organised. It has lots of extra features if you want to pay but I’ve never found I needed those. It’s great for working on group projects and a whole range of ideas. Below are some more ways I use Trello:

Manage personal projects

I use a Trello board to manage what I need to do while refurbing my house. I put all the tasks I need to do into different lists – one for each season. This way, I don’t have to worry about forgetting something that needs doing, but I don’t end up with a horribly long to-do list.

 

Turn ideas into blog posts

Another way I found a Trello board useful was to gather ideas and inspiration about topics that interest me, and then group them up into topics for blog posts. All the ideas go into one long list and then when I start to figure out a topic, I make a list for that topic and drag all the related cards into that.

 

Zapier has an excellent article suggesting different ways you can use Trello: 20 Creative Ways to Use Trello and Organize Everything

If you liked using Trello, there’s lots more you can learn to do with it using the helpful guides and inspiration boards from the Trello team. And once you are able to use it confidently, you’ll also have learned the core skills for using similar project management tools such as Jira, Asana or Microsoft Planner