The world is in a constant state of change, and as it evolves, trends and demand shift, technology progresses at lightning speed, and external factors such as natural disasters, political instability, and pandemics can significantly impact the supply of goods and services, as well as their cost. This is one of the biggest reasons why innovation has always been a coveted and crucial quality of any successful business.
The point is: time and the world don’t stand still, so businesses shouldn’t either. Take the most recent global example, the COVID-19 pandemic. Innovation was ramping up prior to the pandemic, but when COVID-19 rocked the world, the rapid need for change had companies scrambling to adopt strategic, purposeful, and sudden change within their organizations. These companies relied on their staff and input from others who had knowledge of cutting-edge technology and skills to help with this.
If that isn’t a big sign that we all need to embrace continuous learning and skill-building, I don’t know what is. I wanted to take a moment to provide a little guidance and offer you my input on some of the areas you should be focusing on keeping up-to-date and some of the skills that you should continuously be exercising to keep their practice as habitual as possible.
Why You Should Practice Continuous Learning
There are some pretty big benefits that continuous learning brings, including stimulating your brain and helping increase memory, brain function, mental flexibility, and creativity while also deterring cognitive decline.
Beyond that, there are also professional and social benefits to continuous learning. Professionally, continuous learning will keep you knowledgeable of your industry and expertise, it’ll make you a more appealing candidate for future opportunities, and it’ll help you rise to the top of your game.
Socially, continuous learning can help you become a more empathic person, can help you meet new people as you explore new things, and can even (to put it bluntly) make you a more interesting person to be around!
But how do you know what skills and knowledge to focus on? Learning of any kind is a skill-building and knowledge-nurturing exercise, but let me give you a few tips to help guide you toward some particularly useful areas that can help you excel in your career as a Business Analyst (BA).
Be Knowledgeable About Your Industry
Staying up to date on emerging trends and technologies and how they’re being used in your industry is going to help you propose innovative solutions to issues that your business faces. Understanding how technological trends are evolving will help you propose valuable solutions that could help increase efficiency, lower costs, and mitigate errors in your processes.
Two technological trends that are moving really quickly and are widespread among many industries are automation and artificial intelligence (AI). Just about every industry and business is finding ways to streamline processes and find efficiencies by using one or both of these advanced technologies.
Essential Soft Skills for BA’s
It’s interesting that ‘soft skills’ carry the name that they do. With the word ‘soft’ in the title, it may seem like these are not essential traits to hone, but that’s far from the truth. So many skills come in handy as you progress in your business analysis career, but here are a few that you will definitely need to build yourself a strong career foundation.
We’re constantly uncovering information that’s crucial for creating effective solutions to business problems. There are times when we’ve been as diligent as possible while eliciting information, but new insights creep up after we’ve already completed the discovery phase. Other times, we’ll map out solutions that look good on paper, but don’t always work as planned in the testing phase. These are just a couple of scenarios wherein we need to be adaptable and nimble, working with new information and changes as they come our way.
If it hasn’t become obvious already, as a BA you’ll be working in teams… A LOT. Being able to collaborate with others, encourage others to contribute, and generally work well with others in many different organizational hierarchies is key to being successful.
This skill goes hand in hand with the previous. Clear communication is essential to gaining an understanding of the problem, eliciting requirements, and performing other BA role requirements well. Whether you’re speaking verbally or creating process flow maps, knowing how to clearly communicate is an important skill to nail down.
Critical thinking is an important skill in any role, but it’s especially crucial for Business Analysts who are routinely solving complex business problems and creating (sometimes) intricate solutions. There are a lot of factors that contribute to the problems we need to solve, and a lot of variables that play a part in creating solutions. It takes some strong critical thinking skills to discern the importance of each factor and how it can play a role in both the problem and the solution.
Professional BA Skills to Hone
If you’re curious about some of the professional skills you should work on perfecting, I have some great suggestions to help you get started. While there are so many that come to mind, there are three skills that stand out to me as essential starting points for any aspiring BA or ambitious BAs eager to up their game.
Understand and Elicit Requirements
This is a core skill for Business Analysts and it’s at the heart of what we do in our careers. The roles and responsibilities of BAs can vary widely between organizations, but virtually every employer will expect you to be able to understand and elicit requirements from stakeholders.
Want to brush up on this skill? Take a look at my Understand and Elicit Requirements course here!
Process Flowcharts and Process Mapping
Another essential professional skill that all BA’s are expected to master is process mapping and process flowchart creation. Being able to clearly organize the different steps, actions, and decisions of a process within a company is an important part of visualizing and creating the ideal solution to a problem. Your process flowcharts need to accurately and clearly disseminate the steps and information within processes to other parties such as stakeholders and the employees who will be carrying out these processes or interacting with them.
I created two courses to help you easily expand your modeling knowledge and skills: Process Flowcharts and Process Mapping – The Beginner’s Guide and Process Flowcharts and Process Mapping – The Advanced Guide. No matter where you are in your knowledge of process mapping, you’ll be able to add these valuable skills to your repertoire.
With the majority of businesses – over 70%! – now embracing Agile framework in their projects, if this is a mindset that you’re not familiar with already, you should cozy up to it really quickly! With Agile approaches, you’ll learn how to make change happen faster and more cost-effectively. No wonder organizations are so keen to adopt it!
There are a lot of personal benefits to learning how to be an Agile BA too. I’m talking about increased salary, more career opportunities, and better and more efficient results on the solutions you help shape. Talk about working smarter, not harder!
Dive into the Agile mindset with my Agile Fundamentals course today!
I know that sometimes it can seem like we have a lot on the go, and it can seem like continuous learning takes a lot of effort. Thankfully, a love of learning is one of the things that drew most of us to the BA profession in the first place. Whether you’re learning a new instrument, honing a skill for your professional or personal development, or learning a new language, the benefits make continuous learning worth it and can keep life interesting!
Happy learning, always!
– Written by Jeremy Aschenbrenner, The BA Guide