I frequently get questions from software developers wondering how they can become Business Analysts. One recent question was from a web developer who had done her job for about 5 years and wanted to transition. How could she convince an employer to give her a Business Analyst job?
The answer is that you focus on the greatest asset you have. You convince your new employer that your asset will greatly help their business. In the case of a software developer, that asset is your experience building code.
Why is knowledge of software development an asset?
When Business Analysts possess technical skills, they can operate in a wider domain than those who do not. Their knowledge allows them to write technical requirements, design software solutions, write code specs, provide system architectures, and more. Understanding software development gives you an innate understanding of what is possible for meeting business needs.
The piece that is often missing for a software developer seeking to transition is the acquisition of a certain mindset. Software development is a “down in the weeds” kind of activity. By the time she writes the first line of code, a lot of work has already been done (by Business Analysts and others) to figure out the business drivers for the solution, the requirements of the solution, the software architecture, and so on. That means someone already answered the questions of why the solution matters, how it helps the business, and what problems it will solve or opportunities it will create. As a result, all that is left for the software developer is to actually build the thing, test it, and deploy it.
The programmer has to begin thinking outside of that box and start looking at the big picture. He can do that by starting to ask “why” a solution is being built rather than focusing solely on how to build it.
Think about the possible business rationales for the solutions your IT shop builds. Consider as well how your code could combine with other applications and systems to create new business capabilities. This lets you think big.
What else can a software developer do to help transition into a Business Analyst role?
Consider these additional steps as well for helping a software developer transition into Business Analysis.
a) Learn the BABOK
The Business Analysis Body of Knowledge is the authoritative guide on Business Analysis. Anyone striving to be a Business Analyst should review it.
b) Develop a competency in Business Process Modeling
Consider learning how to create Business Process Models in Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN) 2.0. For extra credit, use a Business Process Management suite to learn how configuration management is done for business process re-engineering. A software developer should easily be able to master BPMN given its highly logical nature that pursues exceptions rigorously. You should be a natural.
c) Get involved in requirements gathering
This is a core skill for the Business Analyst. Through your work as a software developer you are probably familiar with Business Analysts who gather and manage requirements. They may build the requirements for software projects you have built in the past.
You should talk to these Business Analysts and get to know them. Once you build rapport with them, try to get a seat at the table during the requirements process, rather than at the end when they explain the requirements to you. This helps you learn about requirements gathering, and may even give you the opportunity to try your hand at it.
If you’re lucky, you may even find a mentor to help guide your career progression to Business Analyst.
d) Talk to the business.
If possible, you should cultivate relationships with business owners, and business users. They can teach you how to think from the “big picture” perspective of the business and meeting business needs.
e) Understand the role of your software in the larger system and business ecosystem
It’s not enough just to know what a piece of software does. It’s essential to understand how that software contributes to a larger computer and human system. Gaining that greater understanding will help you see how a system meets business needs, and is knowledge you can take forward in the future.
f) Highlight the value of your background when you apply for jobs
Try to use your resume and cover letter to draw direct relationships between your technical knowledge and the ways in which that knowledge has made business better. Did you improve a process through technology? Have you ever suggested a solution that business owners did not foresee? Did you enable a business to measure its own performance better? Also, think of ways in which your background provided solid benefits to a business (especially if you can back that up with solid metrics such as % effort saved, dollars saved or earned, and so on.)
Just remember that your technical skills are insanely valuable for a Business Analyst to have. You bring an insight into creation of software solutions that many Business Analysts don’t have. The key is to convince the employer that you are able to see beyond programming “down in the weeds” and use your other skills to help drive business change better than your competition.
Need some help figuring out how to leverage your skills and experience as a software developer to become a Business Analyst? Check out my course, Transfer Your Skills: How To Leverage The Experience You Already Have To Find The Perfect Business Analyst Job.