Specialist or Generalist

It has often come up in discussions with friends and former co-workers as to what type of job progression is better for career development. Is it better to stay in the one organisation and try different roles or is best to hone one skillset and apply it at various organisations?

The job I had whilst finishing university (and beyond) was the place I wanted to spend the rest of my career in. This was because the organisation of 5000 could offer various opportunities throughout my career without needing to change. The other reason of perhaps equal weighting was that this organisation provided a good working environment and my loyalty to it would reflect my gratitude for having been given the opportunity while I was still an undergraduate student. This notion eventually changed when after two years of service, I decided it was time to move onto a role that matched my profile and aspirations.

Whilst I had at one stage envisaged working there for many years, why did I decide to leave?

This was mainly due to my desire to validate the choice I made at university and to put to use the learnings in my field of study. The best way to achieve this was to pursue the role of business analyst so that I could utilise my strengths and interests to add value to organisations. So in pursuing a specific role, my career has become one where I will work for various organisations but always inside a defined role and skills set. My former colleagues on the other hand stayed on at the organisation however, they’ve since tried their hand at various roles. We are all happy with our decisions and realise there is no way to really conclude what is the best path for career development.

On the one hand, staying inside one organisations allows for the trajectory to senior management to be attainable faster. There are several advantages such as cultivating constructive relationships both within and outside of one’s section which allows for lateral movements and even promotions when the opportunity arises. Staying in the one organisation also allows you to develop a deeper understanding of the organisation’s subject matter as well as culture. Thirdly, persisting at one organisation provides a level of assurance to the employer that you are likely to stay around and add value.

In my experience, working at various places has forced me to prove my skills and worth to all employers at each role. Building rapport with stakeholders is a constant requirement and I think over time, I’ve been able to extend my natural tendency of being an introvert to a learned extrovert. Whilst I haven’t been exposed to work other than business analysis, it has allowed me to further hone my skills in this role and achieve depth in skills rather than depth in one business context.

So in the end, was it worth it?

I think it’s too early to tell but I relish knowing that I’m more confident in my adaptability and the skills I’ve developed so that I can continue to adapt to new environments or stay at one place for a while if the circumstances are favourable. Having said that the BA path is one of constant learning to the extent that it can never be mastered.

Three things I like about Agile SCRUM

The Agile SCRUM software development framework aims to improve IT project success. Since it’s inception around the world, it has gained much support from IT practitioners.

I’ve had experience in performing a business analysis role inside an Agile SCRUM project. Here are the three main aspects I like about the framework. They are not the only things I like but the ones I appreciate the most.

Enforced communication and feedback loops

The Agile framework requires daily stand up meetings where each member of the team discusses the main achievements of the day before, what work they will focus for that day and if there are any impediments to their work. This allows for everyone to know what the team is working on and what issues exist. I found this to be really important as oftentimes, a problem which is identified by one person could also impact the work of other team members.

I also find that sharing what everyone is working on is a subtle way to keep everyone honest. In the workplace, it’s not hard to establish whether everyone is pulling their own weight and in Scrum, this becomes more obvious.

The ability to identify problems early and re-adjust

Agile SCRUM divides the work of the entire project into bite sized chunks called Sprints. These sprint cycles generally range from two weeks to four weeks however, different lengths of time can also be used. If the design of the software solution has any flaws or if the client change their minds, then this can be managed with limited impact. Sometimes an entire sprint cycle of work will be wasted but this cost is much less than changing requirements under a traditional model.

The simplicity of requirements definition through User Stories

User stories are a simple and practical format with which to convey the context and rationale for functional requirements.

The general layout of a user story is something like: As a user, I want to … so that I can …
I find that this relates the requirement in an easy to understand format while giving a rationale as to why it’s important. Each user story also has accompanying acceptance criteria. The use of the acceptance criteria further helps the creation of test cases.

There are many other aspects of Scrum that also assist in improving project success which I haven’t mentioned in this post. From a business analysis standpoint, I believe Scrum has several advantages related to communication, change and conveying meaning among the delivery team.

Challenges of Business Analysis

Working in the business analysis field requires certain skills and adherence to some methods or frameworks to organise the work. What isn’t apparent until you’ve worked on several projects are the challenges involved in the BA field. This article will describe just some of those challenges that BAs should be weary of when delivering BA services.

Education of stakeholders and superiors of planning work required

Whilst not realistic, some stakeholders sometimes think that because you are hired as a business analyst, that they can expect to see some BA artefacts as soon as one week after the commencement of your assignment. Whilst BA artefacts can be done inside one week, such as a communications plan, a stakeholder chart and a BA activities plan, we shouldn’t be ready to deliver parts of a business requirements specification this early. One way to manage expectations that may not be realistic is to inform your stakeholders of the process that you will follow. If you can show a high level view of how your analysis is done then this will help others readjust any unrealistic expectations that may have been made. Even a simple process of: elicitation; analysis; management; will help inform others of your method and expected time frames.

Creating productive workplace relations

To be an effective business analyst, you need to work well with other people regardless of their personality or profession. In the workplace, it is easy to start stereotyping other functional teams, however the BA doesn’t have the luxury of sitting back and making anthropological assessments. The business analyst must be willing to work productively with all groups that are involved. This doesn’t mean that you must befriend all your work colleagues. It’s important to establish relationships built on trust and respect. Eliciting information is a two way street. One can ask all the questions but the other party must be willing to cooperate and provide the information. Trust is an issue because in order to analyse a business, the stakeholders must trust you enough to give you accurate information. 

Delivering bad news

No one wants to deliver bad news so it’s understandable that the first few times, you might hesitate to pass on the news immediately. If the issue is something that you can’t solve on your own then you should notify project stakeholders as early as possible. In fact, even if you have resolved the issue on your own, you should still notify the relevant stakeholders of the interruption. At the very least, you can show your superiors and peers that you can be depended on to proactively address issues.

Keeping everyone informed (as appropriate)

Similar to the point above about communicating bad news, it’s also crucial to keep all relevant stakeholders informed about any news or progress. As a business analyst, you are the central point of information. It’s very easy to forget that there will be stakeholder groups that will be kept in the dark unless you keep all teams informed. This also serves to uncover any risks that haven’t yet been identified. In my experience, there is often a vital piece of information that is held with one or more stakeholders that would not have come to light if it weren’t for the dissemination of information.


The issues mentioned here are not the only challenges that can be encountered in business analysis. Depending on the complexity of the work, there may be several other considerations to address and balance. Being mindful of these challenges will help to deliver good business analysis outputs.

Value your contacts, not your experience

So as we develop our careers, we tend to do two things, acquire vast experience, and make acquaintances. When we write our resumes, we put a lot of emphasis on the years spent on a project or in a role. We demonstrate the amount of experiences we’ve had but what about the relationships?

We don’t tend to disclose how many people we are friends with. How many industry peers we network with or how many mentors we’ve had along the way.

When I look back on all the jobs I’ve had, I cherish the people I met and worked with more so than the experiences they gave me. Sure, I value the maturity and confidence that experience has afforded me but I tend to value the relationships even more.

On LinkedIn, it’s possible to get a glimpse of how well connected and regarded someone is. This is the benefit of having social media enhance your CV rather than just publish it. Firstly you can observe how many contacts a person has. You could also note the number of recommendations the person has received. Lastly, whilst it has received a lot of criticisms for not being validated, the endorsements someone has received can also be an indication. I understand that endorsements are easy to achieve and most of them are “thank you” gestures for having endorsed someone else but quantity can still be still indicate confidence in someone. I have been endorsed for one skill by 45 other connections. Whilst other more connected people might be endorsed by hundreds, it’s worth noting that 45 people who know me, acknowledge the skill I declare to have.

Returning back to my original topic; human relations are unique. You could be working alongside the same people however, each team member will develop relationships differently to everyone else. Whilst I am grateful for all the jobs I’ve had in the past, the most rewarding aspect has been to know the many people I’ve met along the way.

I look forward to meeting so many more people whom I can build relationships with far more than the great experiences that await me.

Business Analysis certification

To become certified as a Business Analyst, the most relevant qualifications are given by the IIBA. After roughly two and a half years of experience, you can be recognized as a BA practitioner by having a Certificate of Competency in Business Analysis (CCBA). After roughly five years, you are considered a professional and duly receive Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP) status.

While waiting, what can you do before achieving these certifications, or in between them? Continue reading