Igor Arkhipov

There are as many definitions of a business analyst’s (BA) role as there are companies in the world, resulting in a wide range of business analysis tools. And there is a reason for that.

The role of a business analyst is to:

“Enable change in an enterprise by defining needs and recommending solutions that deliver value to stakeholders.”

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This is a great definition, as it grasps the very gist of the profession. But at the same time, it is a very broad definition that allows for a lot of interpretation. That is why the specifics of business analysis differ so much from place to place. And so do the tools that business analysts use.

Person looking at graphs and dashboards on tablet

As an aspiring professional trying to become a business analyst, you may get confused about which business analysis tools for business are worth your time and effort. In this article, we will bring at least some clarity to this complex question.

First of all, let us understand which types of business analyst tools there are

The modern world is underpinned by technology. Virtually any task occurring in the work environment is supported by a variety of software development options. And it is impossible to know them all.

Yet, it is important for you to know the types (or classes) of systems that you are likely to use in your work. And then, if you know at least one or two systems from a particular type, you will be able to use this knowledge to pick up a new tool in less time.

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As a BA, you will use a variety of software applications to:

A big part of your job is ensuring a healthy communications flow, which was never an easy task. The COVID-19 pandemic did not make it any easier because it isolated people from each other. Communication technology became the main factor in ensuring a business can operate at all. And this is the first type of business analysis tool you need to be aware of: communication tools and technology.

Once you’ve established healthy communications, you will start collecting valuable information. This information will inform your analysis of needs and requirements. This is where the bulk of the modeling and scoping of work is happening, and this is also where you will benefit from your knowledge of requirements and business modeling tools and technology.

The modern world is notoriously fluid and unexpected, so any requirement may change over time. Moreover, the scope of your solutions will adapt as you learn new things. This is especially true if you are involved in agile processes. So, a good working knowledge of project delivery and requirements management tools will be extremely handy.

Last but not least, you will use a lot of general office productivity tools and technologies. You need to be an expert in what others see as “business as usual” because this will allow you to do your job better and will also result in those you work with trusting your professional judgment. Really, it’s a miserable sight when an esteemed consultant or business analyst can’t share their screen or properly format a simple document. Let’s avoid it.

Communication business analysis tools and technology

So, what are these? 

Business analysts use communication tools and technology to perform business analysis activities, manage teams, and collaborate with stakeholders.

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You will use them to plan and run workshops, facilitate discussions, and share information. These become your bread and butter when you work with virtual and distributed teams but can also be useful even for co-located teams (if they still exist?).

Some types of collaboration tools include:

It doesn’t matter which tool you specialize in. But you need to know and be very confident with at least one from each category.

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What do you need to know?

What do I mean when I say confident?

For your video conferencing tool of choice, be prepared to:

For messaging tools, know how to:

For workshopping tools, be prepared to:

If you can perform the activities above with at least one of the tools, with little preparation, you’ll be able to do the same with the rest. Or you could just convince the stakeholders to move to the tool you’re more confident with.

How do you measure your proficiency with these tools?

It is important to understand that even though information technology plays a crucial role in establishing productive communication, the driving factor is you.

No technical knowledge can replace your soft skills. Training yourself on how to be a good facilitator is a must. Then you select the most appropriate business analysis techniques from your toolset to support the intended communication style. Some stakeholders may prefer a collaborative whiteboarding session, while others would love you to present your thoughts so they can comment and discuss in real time.

The ability to select an appropriate and effective tool for the audience and purpose becomes your number one measure of effectiveness.

Sometimes, the best business decisions involve not relying on technology at all and resolving issues via a more traditional phone call or a conversation over coffee. Carefully choosing when to use communication technology and when not to is critical to serve your clients effectively.

And finally, the understanding of and the ability to use features of the tools themselves caps our list of skills.

Requirements and business modeling tools and technology

An analyst uses traditional business analysis tools on a whiteboard to break down a solution

So, what are these?

As a business analyst, you will use a variety of tools to model, document, and manage the outputs of your work and deliverables to stakeholders. All the tools helping with this task will fall under this category.

These tools are usually specific to the field of business analysis and provide capabilities in:

What do you need to know?

There is a never-ending ocean of tools that may support you in your day-to-day business analysis tasks. However, not all of them are useful. You need to start by understanding what is it you want from the tool  —  and then selecting the one that will work for you.

For modeling and diagramming tools, your main priority is to select the notations and approaches that will work for your project and stakeholders. No one will appreciate methodologically sound but overly complicated diagrams. So the tool should never dictate the notation.

Make sure whatever artifacts you are going to produce will be understood by your teammates and interested parties. Then select a tool to visualize them. Knowing one or two multipurpose diagramming tools will generally be a better option because of the flexibility this brings — that is, unless you know that a particular specialized solution is preferred by your organization, and you’re happy to stick with them for a while.

For the tools you pick, learn how to apply a particular notation — but also how to break free from it if there’s a need. Learn how to export and share your artifacts and how to make them look appealing.

With documentation tools, the key is efficiency. You need to know your documentation tool of choice in and out. Also make sure others can easily access your documents and contribute to them when needed. A documentation solution that prevents the flow of information quickly becomes a liability, so make sure you know how to make your docs available and accessible. If you don’t, people may fall back to standard office tools  —  and will be right in doing so.

Requirements mapping tools usually focus on maintaining a repository of requirements. Whichever tool you use, your job is to make sure the latest and most accurate version of any requirement is at your — and your team members’ — fingertips. Just like with documentation tools, if a simple alternative works better for stakeholders you will never be able to convince them to use anything else. So your job is to first analyze the stakeholders’ needs for requirements access. Then configure the solution to present the expected requirements in the expected format and required level of detail.

This is called a “requirement viewpoint,” by the way, and here’s a definition:

A set of conventions that define how requirements will be represented, how these representations will be organized, and how they will be related.

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If you are unable to configure proper viewpoints with your requirements mapping tool, you are in trouble. Just like with documentation tools, the stakeholders will fall back to using standard office suites  —  e.g., Word docs and spreadsheets.

How do you measure your proficiency with these tools?

There are as many different tools to model a process as people with an opinion on what is the only right way of doing it. That is  —  a lot.

To be efficient, you need to first figure out which notations and formats you’re going to use and then select a software application that you find the most user-friendly and powerful.

Once the tool(s) is selected, it is important to show an ability to use it to produce valuable artifacts. This is the ultimate measure of your proficiency with the tool.

Second to it comes your ability to choose the proper tooling for the task. You can, of course, model everything as drawings in PowerPoint (I’ve seen this happening way more often than it should), but… there are better ways. Knowing those ways makes you a better analyst.

Finally, be prepared to use the proper notations but also know how and when the standard flows can and should be breached in favor of increased readability, consistency, or aesthetics.

Project delivery and requirements management tools

So, what are these?

Major publications like the BABOK® Guide do not separate these types of systems, assuming they form a part of BA specific tools. Although it may be a viable approach, I strongly believe these types of systems are too important to overlook. That’s why I’m separating them into a category of their own.

Business analysis can’t exist on its own, separated from the rest of the delivery function. It is impossible to enable change without being a part of the change and seeing it through. So the tools that show progress and help plan work become crucially important.

These include:

What do you need to know?

First of all, rarely will you as a business analyst decide which tool your organization is going to use for its project management needs. Sometimes, you can advise, but that is usually the extent of it. So the first thing you need to know is what your organization is using for managing work and how it implements the delivery processes in those systems.

When you know the systems, your job is to understand:

Make sure you can use the system to:

You may also invest in learning how to configure the tool to introduce new statuses, workflows, filters, and tags to group the elements. This will allow more flexibility in reporting, finding the information, and traceability.

How do you measure your proficiency with these tools?

The main measure of success for a BA when dealing with task and progress tracking tools is to be able to say which requirements are scheduled to be addressed when and how much progress has been made against the initial scope.

Secondary to this, focus on your ability to set up workflows, statuses, and extra metadata for the entries, so all the important information is captured and can be used by you or the team.

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Office productivity tools and technology

So, what are these?

Office productivity tools and technology provide business analysts with the ability to organize, dissect, manipulate, understand, and communicate information clearly.

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Office tools are everywhere. It is impossible to be a white-collar worker without exposure to at least some of them. Everybody sends emails, uses the web, and reads text documents.

However, for a professional business analyst, this is not enough. Working with information and facilitating communication are your key skills. You need to know the nuts and bolts of relevant systems to be efficient , as well as support others.

Typical office systems include:

What do you need to know?

In a nutshell, you need to be able to maintain an image of a literate, modern office worker who is capable of all the basic office operations: from preparing text documents to spreadsheets to presentations.

A lot of office solutions come with basic functions that are used by the majority of users. But they also quite often have advanced settings and options that require time to master. Once you figure them out, you can start using them to increase you and your team’s productivity. You will be expected to compose, edit, and improve files created in those packages, so be prepared.

A lot of business analysts spend tons of time in spreadsheets or preparing presentation decks. The same advice is applicable there: Be ready to not just create or update basic documents but to use some more advanced features. For example, this may include data analysis and visualization in spreadsheets or different presentation modes, animations, and styling in presentation software.

How do you measure your proficiency with these tools?

Measures of effective office productivity tools will include increased efficiency, the streamlining of processes, and the ability to choose the best tool for a task.

Another element to consider is your ability to teach others how to use these tools more productively.

In conclusion

There are a lot of tools you can use as a business analyst. It’s impossible to know them all. 

However, what is possible is to understand the main scenarios where particular types of tools can be used and have at least one or two options for each situation. This way, you will be prepared, and it can be a powerful step toward becoming a business analyst.

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