Career pathways into tech #5: business analyst

28 July 2021

Luke Ryan is an Opencast business analyst, currently supporting Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC). In our latest career pathways into tech post, Luke tells us about his career to date.

What does a business analyst do?

“We work with organisations to help them improve their systems and processes. We work alongside a range of other roles to do this. We work with stakeholders to understand what is required; designers to understand how something should look and feel for the people who use the product; and developers to understand any technical limitations and complexity of work.

“Often there’s a lot of negotiation required to come to a consensus solution and my role is to facilitate that. Agile business analysts also work closely with their product owner to position the product to best deliver value to end-users and stakeholders."

How did you become a business analyst?

“I suppose my journey was quite unusual, but there are so many different routes into the role. I’m from the north east, but went to the University of Sheffield where I completed a degree in maths. I’d loved maths at school, but didn’t particularly enjoy the degree and knew I’d be happy to leave maths behind when looking at a career. I knew I wanted to work with people, so started working at a recruitment company in Manchester. (That’s still part of the job I love so much – working with people).

“I then moved to a recruitment company in Newcastle, working in the engineering and manufacturing sectors, and then to a Tyneside-based building society, working in its recruitment department. I started working on side projects there as a business analyst and built up some valuable experience. A job came up within the business analysis team and so I moved across. I went on to join Opencast as a BA in late 2019.’

A man in a brown coat standing in front of a castle
“We’re problem solvers and bridge the gap between tech and businesses, so good communication skills are vital. You also need to be curious and inquisitive"
Yours was an unusual route, so how do people normally start their careers as a business analyst?

“There are so many different routes. I don’t think anyone leaves school with the ambition of being a business analyst – it’s not a widely known role. My family have a joke that a business analyst is a Chandler Bing (from TV show Friends) sort of job. Nobody knows what he does!

“There are some specific courses, and you can start off as a junior business analyst and work your way up, but most people come to the role through another role. A lot of jobs (technical or non-technical) build up soft skills and analysis experience which is valuable for a BA. I know software developers and testers who have become BAs, but it works the other way round too. I know BAs who have moved into writing code.

“There is usually a clear pathway to more senior business analyst roles. Very senior BAs work with organisations’ senior leadership teams to develop and refine strategies.

“Alternatively, down an agile development route, you could move into a product owner – or even to senior management.”

What makes a good business analyst?

“We’re problem solvers and bridge the gap between tech and businesses, so good communication skills are vital. You also need to be curious and inquisitive. You need to want to know how things work in order to understand the clients’ challenges.

“There are plenty of soft skills you need – you need to be able to negotiate, to facilitate, to persuade. You also need a degree of confidence as you’re leading discussions on change, which isn’t always easy.

“Seeing the bigger picture is also important, so you can take everything and every viewpoint into consideration before helping to design and implement a solution."

As well as the softer skills you mention, what other tools do you use?

“Having a good interview technique and being a good facilitator which help you get to the best solution for the client.

“In terms of software, we work in an agile environment so we use Jira. I also use tools for process mapping such as Miro, and Visio.”

Where are you working now?

“I’ve been embedded with HMRC since I started at Opencast. I worked at their offices until Covid and have worked at home since. The team consists of Opencast and HMRC personnel as well as team members from other consultancies.”

What do you particularly enjoy about the role?

“I really like working with people and being part of a team. I enjoy helping people come to a consensus about what solution is best to solve a problem.”

Day in the life

“My days tend to start at about 8.30am when I check emails to see if there have been any major issues I need to know about overnight, particularly if the service is live.

“We have quick-fire stand-ups at 9.15am and then 10am. The first is about live issues, which need urgent attention, the second is about what we need to do next and if any ‘blockers’ have been identified.

“Three days a week I’ll then have a catch-up with the client and stakeholders to update them and answer any questions they may have.

“At other meetings we’ll be horizon scanning, looking to see what is coming up over the next two to three weeks and checking with developers to make sure they’re 100 per cent clear on what we need.

“Afternoon meetings tend to be with developers, ensuring everyone has the correct understanding of what needs to be done. There are always queries or problems that need exploring. Afternoons are also for investigating and analysing problems, in an agile way of course.

“We have regular sprint planning sessions when we’ll look at what we have planned for the next two weeks, and we’ll also have spring review sessions where stakeholders can see the work completed in the previous two weeks.

“There are also other meetings that don’t fit into a weekly schedule. We’ll have regular meetings to refine the roadmap of work – what’s coming up, particularly in a live environment when we have a lot of meetings or catch-ups to make sure everything is going as expected.

“Out of work I enjoy sport – particularly playing and watching football, playing golf, running and following NFL (American football). I also enjoy cooking and watching movies.”

Business analyst reading

What does a business analyst do on an agile project?

Serendipity and BA Digest