I recently wrote about specialist Business Analyst fields that are hot in the market. Now it’s time to talk about their cousins, the hybrid Business Analyst roles.
What is a Hybrid Business Analyst?
A hybrid Business Analyst is a professional who has knowledge and expertise in another field that complements business analysis.
The hybrid BA is the mirror image of the specialist. A BA specialist has deep expertise in a specific area of business analysis, at the expense of other areas. The hybrid BA, by contrast, is a super-generalist–knowledgeable of business analysis generally in addition to a related field. They are known as a “jack of all trades” but master of none.
Who hires the Hybrid Business Analyst?
Often times a small business organization will hire a hybrid BA. Smaller businesses have to make more with less. They are more likely to need an individual with a cross-functional skill set, because they can’t afford to hire people who just stick to one thing.
Nowhere is this more true than in the startup world. You will rarely find a job posted for a dedicated Business Analyst at a startup. Why? Because they are shoestring operations that have to rely on individuals with a wider range of abilities, even if that means they don’t specialize in any one area.
Sometimes larger organizations end up with hybrid BA’s too, though. In fact this is often where hybrid BA’s get their start. Given how flexible the field of business analysis is, a BA is likely to float around and do different things as he goes from project to project. Sometimes that will require the BA to step outside the usual bounds and learn new non-BA skills. Presto! A new hybrid BA is born.
Here are five hybrid Business Analyst roles that are in especially high demand.
1) Business Analyst / Project Manager
Of all the hybrid roles, this is the one you are probably most likely to encounter. Business Analysts and project managers work very closely together. They work so closely, in fact, that their roles often overlap.
A BA is responsible for ensuring requirements get done. The PM ensures the requirements get developed on a schedule. A BA negotiates with stakeholders to resolve requirements problems. The PM negotiates with stakeholders to resolve logistical or other obstacles. The BA prioritizes requirements, and the PM slices them up into project phases.
See the trend here? A lot of what a PM seems like an extension of work that the BA starts. So why not have the BA take the tasks to their logical conclusion?
A PM does a lot, and is really essential to completion of a project. But her core responsibility is to “smooth the waters” to make sure things get done on time and on schedule. A BA “smooths the waters” by shepherding the project’s requirements. The hybrid BA/PM can do both.
2) Product Owner
The product owner is one of the three cardinal roles in the Scrum method for doing Agile software development that is increasingly popular. (The other two roles are scrum master and developer.)
The product owner is THE key stakeholder for a project. He is literally the Voice of the Customer. The product owner has the vision for what the solution must accomplish, and works closely with others to make that vision happen.
The product owner requires many of the traditional skills of business analysis, including the ability to deeply analyze business problems and working with other stakeholders. But he doesn’t merely write down what the business wants. He IS the business owner for purposes of the project, and its success or failure depends greatly on him. As such, possibly the most important BA skills a product owner uses may well be the “soft” skills of communication, negotiation, advocacy, and leadership.
Additionally, the product owner must know how to work in the Scrum environment. There are specific things the Product Owner has to do to keep his Agile team working properly. For example, the product owner must keep an ongoing, prioritized backlog of all desired requirements (usually as user stories and epics). These requirements are then committed to future “sprints” of software development activity. The product owner will also keep a “burn-down chart” that tracks on-going completion of committed user stories during a development “sprint.”
The world is increasingly moving to Agile and Scrum for developing software. That’s good news for the product owner.
3) Programmer / Analyst (or Business Analyst / Developer)
When a business needs someone who can run the gamut from requirements all the way through coding software, it will call on the programmer analyst.
Some businesses believe that if an analyst can gather requirements, why stop there? The same person could also develop the software solution, especially if it’s not overly complex.
Don’t expect a programmer analyst to bring deep expertise of either business analysis or programming. They are super-generalists, not specialists. Complex requirements or coding algorithms may require bringing in the big guns. But for some business organizations, requirements and their solutions are just not that complicated. The system may have been there for a long time, for example, and just need someone who can quickly “tweak” it to respond to a business need. You don’t need dedicated BA’s and developers to do that.
In other cases, especially in places like a startup, the programmer analyst may need more than a passing acquaintance with software coding. It may form the bulk of their responsibilities. In that case, she will focus mostly on software development, while applying “BA-lite” skills to gather technical requirements.
In any case, someone who can do both business analysis and software programming at the same time is valuable, indeed.
4) Data Analyst
In the article on specialist Business Analyst roles, one field I mentioned was the Business Intelligence (BI) Analyst. This analyst takes data and uses a tool to create compelling stories and insights based on that data. But how does data get to where it is ready for use for BI in the first place? Enter the data analyst.
The data analyst lives in the world of databases, fields, columns, bits and bytes. Data doesn’t just appear spontaneously in perfect condition in a database, ready for a BI analyst to just pluck it. Data is a messy, complex business.
Consider some of the issues a data analyst contends with:
- What is the best source of data? You want data that is as original as possible, not a duplicate of other data.
- Are there any issues with data quality? Maybe there are errors in the data that must get fixed before it can be used for BI.
- What is the relationship of data to other data? You can’t have meaningful BI without having a strong conceptual and logical structure for how one bit of data interrelates to a different bit of data.
- Where does a piece of data come from? Sometimes an analyst has to trace data across multiple systems back to its original source, which may not be known.
So where does business analysis come in? Several BA techniques are used for data analysis. They include gathering (data) requirements, creating conceptual and logical data models, and working with stakeholders to make sure the required data is available. But it also, obviously, requires understanding of the inner workings of data and its relationships. By the same token, while they fully understand data they may not be the deep experts that someone like a data architect might be.
And yes, sometimes a data analyst and a BI analyst are the same person! Such an individual must master front end BI techniques in addition to knowing the “back end” data stuff.
5) User Experience Designer (UX)
Last but not least is the User Experience (or UX) designer. User experience is the field that specializes in capturing everything about the experience that system user has when he interacts with some kind of software system. This includes feelings, emotions, and sensations in addition to rational thought processes.
Should a field appear on the left or the right side of a website? Is the user able to navigate a sequence of events on the interface with a minimum of confusion? Does the user intuitively understand the purpose of interface elements (think of a video gamer quickly grasping what the buttons do)? Does the user experience joy or frustration? These questions, among many others, are the ones that the UX designer seeks to answer so as to build the best interface possible.
The UX designer employs BA techniques like traditional requirements gathering and management, and creating wireframes. But there are techniques that are specific to UX design such as the use of focus groups for testing out UX approaches. They are also well versed in creating working prototypes that can be quickly and iteratively improved with Agile methods.
With the advent of exciting new ways of interfacing with technology such as virtual reality and augmented reality, a lot of UX design hasn’t even been invented yet. It’s a very exciting time to be in this fast-moving field, and UX design skills are among the hottest on the planet.