Business Analysis: Developing Business Knowledge

Any business analyst would appreciate the importance of business knowledge and awareness which is a key input while carrying out business analysis task/activities. As an experienced BA, you are expected to hit the ground running and become productive within a few days and it is always challenging to come up-to speed in a new business environment /domain within a short period of time. In this article, I explore the importance of business knowledge and we can go about developing it in the best possible way.

To understand the importance of business knowledge and awareness, let us take the example below:

You are going on a holiday trip to a foreign country and suppose you didn’t care to find out details such as weather, language, culture, food, places, transportation system, healthcare system, law & order, people and so on. There is a very high possibility that your journey may turn to be a nightmare and most of time you end up struggling to find basic information and you come back from the trip with no good experiences and memories. Similarly, when you move into different project / programme or different organization, you may face struggles and may find it difficult to do your business analysis job in absence of certain level of business knowledge / background about the organization and the business initiative. You may constantly need to improve upon your business knowledge and awareness along with delivering your task / activities. Business knowledge / awareness not only works as a navigator to guide you through the project milestone and destination but also helps you to acclimatize with the business otherwise you would be treated as an outsider. There is a saying ‘Be like a Roman in Rome.’ and this can be applied in any work environment as well.

The initial challenge is always to overcome the business language (including jargon, abbreviation, glossary), culture barrier and start doing fruitful conversation & communication, then other aspects of business knowledge (people, organisation, business system, domain expertise, processes, business model, functions, industry and so on) come into play. Some of the basic actions I take are:

  • Time is always the essence during project and during initial phase it is tough as you have to deliver your BA outputs and at the same time have to learn so many new things. Optimizing utilization of your time is critical so cutting down on non-productive time and prioritizing/planning your tasks/activities at least 2 weeks in advance help you to work in an organized manner as well as helps in reducing stress. During initial days, I used to spend extra time after work on learning and I cut down my leisure time significantly. Also, I tried not to spend too much time in emailing. Instead of responding back & forth to emails, , I would prefer to have a quick chat to close down the matter and respond to non-urgent emails during breaks or after work hours.
  • Analyzing and researching project information and stakeholders and identifying knowledge hub/ intranet /libraries so that you are quick to find where or to whom to look for help.
  • Maintaining my personal learning, query log and library, indexing my learning log with key information location/documents and having different sections/tabs on learning log for different kind of knowledge/information.
  • Researching company website, department/business intranet, company’s knowledge hub, community SharePoints, forums which helps retrieving valuable business information and indexing them into my learning log and updating the query log so that it is one click away if I need to refer it again.
  • Attending different forum meeting, townhall, business executive huddles, training webinar /sessions, brown bag sessions, knowledge sharing sessions, online training session where possible and where it would be helpful for my business initiative.
  • Having 1-1 session with individual/team who can resolve my queries and validate my understanding. Better to accumulate a number of queries /questions so that it is covered in one session rather than bothering them many times a day.
  • Writing my own notes during conversation/workshop/meeting, analysing these afterwards and building the right questionnaire before raising these to concerned stakeholder/team via email or meeting.
  • Ensuring not to ask same question again so updating the learning log with all responses.
  • Planning and defining learning activities over a period of time and focusing on learning on items which required in immediate use.
  • Build my own brief, one page/slide summary, mind maps, process/context diagram, sketches and so on, logging them in my personal learning library. Playing them back with relevant colleagues/stakeholders for validation.
  • Taking part in volunteer work, team lunch, informal drinks/parties which help in building relationship. Providing helping hand to team and wider stakeholders. Once I was not able to connect with a particular stakeholder and I was a bit hesitant to talk to him with open mind as he always looked serious, had a daunting personality and gave a probing look. When I got chance to talk to him informally during informal get-together/ parties, my misconceptions & pre-judgements went away and after few such engagements I was able to develop a collaborative relationship with him.
  • Informal/formal conversations with colleagues and wider stakeholders as much as possible to build relationship and gaining better understanding about stakeholders. Someone has well said that

The road of knowledge is via people, connection, conversation and relationship.

  • Sharing my artefacts during learning phase with wider team and stakeholders. It is not only going to enrich your knowledge but will also help to build team spirit and relationship. If you have knowledge then let others light their candle with it. I would like to mention a quote:

                       “Knowledge is like money, to be of value it must circulate and in circulation it can increase in quantity and hopefully in value. – Louis L’amour

  • Don’t take too much of learning dose at a time.
  • Have fun and be creative.

In a fast changing work environment and business operating model, you have to be good at ‘Learn, Unlearn and Relearn’. The best way to unlearn something is to start doing it a new way and don’t hang on to old learning (such as specific technology solutions).

I would like to remind you a famous quote by Alvin Toffler

                      “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”

To gain mastery (unconscious competency), practice is the only way. You need to apply your knowledge in day to day work and keep improvising it.

Now I like to highlight some of techniques which are very useful in developing business knowledge when you practice them in your day to day work.

POPIT Model : Business analyst normally use four lenses view(also known as POPIT Model)  technique for business impact assessment and same could be used to gain holistic business knowledge on people, processes, organisations and Information & technology. Using this during your impact analysis will help bring a holistic view/information and reduce the chance to miss any scope item.

Cultural Web Analysis: This is another way to deep dive into the working style, organization culture and to know how things happens back to front. Analysing symbols, stories/myths, rituals/routines, control system, organisation structure and power structure help to have a deeper understanding of belief, value and assumption.

Business Model Canvas: Understanding of business model will provide you insight on core product services, how effectively organization is making profit or fulfilling their business objectives, their target market and so on. In essence business model should tell how any organisation makes profit and what they do to sustain the growth. Try to get hold of business models, value chain and other business artefacts from any existing knowledge hub/library or individuals.

If you don’t have access to business model, then try to create a draft business model and keep it updating it as you learn more.

Mind Maps, rich pictures, process diagram and context diagram:  It helps you to draw visuals of business concept/business flow/ business system interactions/dependencies.  As you say a picture tells a thousand words so practicing these techniques while you make notes, brief, summaries will help you build your own knowledge library which you can go back to when you need to refresh information. Mind maps/Rich Pictures helps you go deeper into different aspects of the subject under consideration. The process diagram is very useful to visualise end-to-end business process or customer journey while context diagram helps in understanding how business/technical system interact with wider world and dependencies/ interfaces associated.

Mind map example


Rich Picture example


Process Diagram example


Context diagram example


There is a long list of useful techniques which help in learning and build your knowledge base. You can refer to BABOK (Business analysis book of knowledge) from IIBA or Business Analysis book from BCS, UK. At the end, I would like to say that a consistent, planned approach for learning with full passion and intent and inculcating some of these techniques as second in nature will certainly help you to leverage them in your day to day business analysis work and ultimately to take your business knowledge and awareness at higher level.

I hope you find my blog useful and please do share any comment/feedback.

Ravi Kumar

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