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There is a small company working on a software projects - mainly medium-sized integration project for big clients from financial industry. There is a PM, a few developers, a couple of quality engineers, a system administrator, but they're looking for business analyst (BA) to hire. There's no one in the company working in that role at the moment and PM was given the task to run recruitment process.

What should be checked during interview with a candidate for business analyst role? I want to focus specifically on core BA's competencies. I assume the PM knows how to verify general soft skills on satisfactory level.

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I think the first point that needs to be clarified is the BA level. Regardless of the kind of projects that the company works on the BA role may vary according to the field or area that is going to cover. For instance, there at least four tiers of BAs;

1. Planning Strategically – The analysis of the organization's strategic business needs

2. Operating/Business Model Analysis – The definition and analysis of the organization's policies and market business approaches

3. Process Definition and Design – The business process modeling (often developed through process modeling and design)

4. IT/Technical Business Analysis – The interpretation of business rules and requirements for technical systems (generally IT)

Basically, this range depends on the level of thinking about business analysis and would also on the organization's core business. However, given the scenario, I will assume that this Company is planning to hire an IT/Technical Business Analyst (#4).

The role of the BA is focused, primarily, on capturing business requirements in some form of requirements management tool, whether a simple spreadsheet or a complex application. At an interview level the candidate should highlight the following core competencies;

  • Ability to produce concise and objective specifications of business need (both functional and non-functional requirements) and to articulate them in a way which supports Board level decisions across business, technical and financial management interests prior to initiating a project to fully define and implement a solution.
  • Strong communication skills, including good verbal, interpersonal, and written communication capabilities at all business levels. I personally consider this particular skill as key for successful liaison among functions.
  • Business acumen. The BA must have a fair understanding of the core business (industry, trends, etc) and product/s (target customers, competitors, etc). Although I tent to believe that this is NOT a MUST HAVE (anything can be learnt) it is always preferable.
  • Project Management experience/understanding to fully understand and support projects adequately - I would recommend the candidate holds a relevant professional body qualification or accreditation (for example ITIL or Prince2)

Strong candidates should be able to provide the interviewer with examples where the above items are (successfully) covered in detailed to demonstrate their ability as Business Analysts.

Additionally, for IT/Process Design projects, desirable candidates should have certain level of knowledge/experience on Process modelling through the use of including Data Modelling tools and structured analytical techniques, e.g. UML

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I am sure the reasons of hiring BA would describe her competences the best, nevertheless I can generalize a little. BA's common competences are probably:

  • identification of requirements (stakeholder's, customer's, business strategy, functional, quality)
  • translation of the requirements to the IT specialists
  • business value evaluation

Above competences in terms of skills and attributes means:

  • open minded
  • analytical thinking
  • customer-centered thinking
  • ability to describe use cases / user stories
  • mediation skills

It leaves us with business area skills unevaluated (if PM does not have the appropriate competences or does not want to examine it)

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Business Analysts are a vital link between technical team members and business representatives. They are the ones who need to define and articulate the business requirements, identify needs for improvements and translate that into functionality required in an application. I'd suggest you check for the following competencies:

  • knowledge and experience of business & process analysis techniques and tools (process mapping, process definition, gap analysis, process improvements definition).
  • knowledge and experience of business processes specific to the financial industry: it's important to get someone who is familiar with how things work in your industry and is fluent with the language and terminology.
  • experience in business and functional requirements definition and analysis, including requirements prioritization techniques and change management.
  • experience with information gathering and analysis including workshops facilitation with business subject matter experts.
  • communications skills: BAs act as the bridge between the developers and the users so they need to have very good communications skills; ability to translate business needs into functional terms, ability to explain technical aspects to non-technical stakeholders, ability to handle a wide range of stakeholders (from the highly technical app developer to the demanding busy business representative).
  • experience with user/business acceptance testing (BAs are often heavily involved in facilitating/supporting this type of activity).
  • technical skills; BAs don't need to be highly technical and know how to code but they should have a firm grasp of the technology from a functional/user perspective and understand technical speak (what tools do they know/use, level of proficiency, etc.).
  • documentation skills and tools used.

Hope this helps.

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