Reader Question: I’m an experienced business analyst and would like to move my career forward. What are my options?
First, thanks for emailing me your question. As a Business Analyst (BA), you have many potential career options based on your previous experience, business knowledge, technical knowledge and leadership ability. The beautiful thing about being a BA is that, by definition, you are the intermediary between the business people and the technologists. As a result, you have the opportunity to move in either direction based on your personal interest, business knowledge and technical ability.
From a technical perspective, even if you don’t want to be become a software developer, which of course is an option, there are a number of the technical professions you may find of interest including the following:
Software Tester: The reason why this profession is a potential option for you is that software testing requires four primary types of knowledge, namely, an understanding of how software should operate, how specific software will be used, how to build and execute test plans, and how to operate various automated software tools. As a BA, you’re half way there. After all, as a BA, your job has been to define the software’s needed functionality and usage. Certainly you will need to learn the business of testing, but these skills can be learned through formalized instruction and on-the-job training.
Web Designer: As a business analyst, you may already have experience defining the flow of web-based applications and the specific functionality of each screen/page. To move into the world of true web design, you would have to enhance your knowledge in screen design, graphic arts, web trends, and ergonomics (the study of computer/user interface).
Technical Trainer: By the nature of a BA role, you have an understanding of application functionality and usage. When this is combined with the ability to relate and interact with business users, you are two thirds of the way to becoming a technical trainer. The key skill you would need to gain is the ability to give presentations. Taking training a step further, instructional design (building class materials) is a skill that can be gained via the combination of formalized instruction and on-the-job training.
From a business perspective, many BAs make the decision to move into the business areas they have been supporting.
Roles within the business you support: Depending on the specific role you wish to attain, your journey toward this destination can be virtually immediate or a matter of years. Generally speaking, the roles that can be attained quickly tend to be within business functions that do not require industry standard or required licensure. As an extreme example, if you are designing systems for use by the medical staff at a hospital, you would have to gain the needed education, licenses, and board certifications to legally perform those functions. In contrast, if you are supporting Budgeting or Purchasing function, while these job functions do require various types of knowledge, skills, and experience, they don’t require regulatory hurdles to be met.
From a leadership perspective, you have two additional choices, namely, becoming a Manager of Business Analysis or a Project Manager (PM).
Manager of Business Analysis: To move toward this management position, it’s suggested you expand your skills in two ways. First, expand your general knowledge of business analysis in regard to the industry trends, leading testing tools/products, new emerging testing methodologies, and best testing practices. The enhanced knowledge will help you be seen as the internal thought leader on software testing which, in turn, will help position you toward more senior BA roles, including the group’s manager.
Project Manager: Moving from a BA to PM role can best be achieved through a combination of on-the-job experience, formal study, and PMP certification. Regarding on-the-job experience, as a BA, you may have the opportunity to lead smaller size projects that require formal coordination, but are not of the size to warrant an office project manager. In fact, with these size projects it very customary to have the BA take the lead. Regarding formal study and certification, moving toward a PMP certification has three large advantages. First, even if you decide not to take the PMP exam, the study materials contain a plethora of great project manager techniques, best practices, and advice. Second, simply telling your manager and others that you are studying for the PMP exam will help position you internally toward being given project management assignments. Lastly, once received, a PMP certification is the premier project management industry credential.
In closing, the role of BA is a great place to spend your entire career. In fact, due to the popularity of cloud computing, business analysis skills are in higher demand than ever before. That said, almost more than any other role with IT, the BA role is a wonderful stepping stone to other great individual contributor and management related positions.
Until next time, work hard, work smart, and continue to build your professional brand.