Taking Business Analysts Gillian and Khalig to coffee

Laptop screen showing the conversation with Gillian and Khalig

Meet Gillian Barnes and Khalig Mamedov, Business Analysts at Emergn. Being a Business Analyst is a license to be curious, they say. Now and then they’re also taking on the role of Scrum Master or Delivery Manager and enjoy the challenge of not knowing it all at the beginning as they put the pieces together.

In this coffee chat, we’ll dive into what life is like inside Emergn for Business Analysts.

What is the Business Analyst role in a nutshell?

Gillian: That’s a good question and not the easiest one to answer, to be honest. And here’s the proof – I’ve known my mother-in-law for many years, but every few months the conversation goes back to what it is that I do at work. And there isn’t one straight answer to that. There are Business Analysts (BAs) that are pure analysts, focused on one certain business piece, almost like a proxy product owner. And then there are technical Business Analysts, who are more familiar with the code and IT systems. The commonality is that BAs are kind of the glue – you’re between both sides, the business and developers, making the communication smooth and aligning on what needs to be accomplished. We translate everything into the language that each side speaks. Also, I think every company has a slightly different description on what a BA does. So, you have to be quite the chameleon and able to adapt.

Khalig: To build on that, I also think there’s a big difference between BAs working for IT companies and other industries. The latter are working with business strategy and business processes more and have a higher-level view of technology.

How tech-savvy should one be to be successful as a BA at Emergn?

Khalig: Out of all product development team members, BAs are the ones who are supposed to have the best communication skills. BA is the least technical role within the team; however, it really depends on the product and assignment how tech-savvy you should be. For example, while working on a product without a user interface or API layer-only application, most likely you would have to be more technical. If it’s a data-intensive assignment, you would have to possess data analytics skills to succeed at this role.

Gillian: It really depends on the assignment. I think being curious about technology and being open to learn is the most important part.

Did you always know you wanted to be a BA? What’s your backstory?

Khalig: Even when I was in high school, I was hoping to eventually land on that sweet spot where technology and business overlaps. I chose to study business, but my second option was software engineering. After graduation, I tried different occupations, from marketing to business development, until I joined a consultancy firm as a BA. I must admit – I didn’t have a clear understanding, nor the knowledge of what a BA should do, so I learned by doing. I was assigned to different clients and projects, and I just had to figure everything out, so eventually, I grew the body of knowledge, core understanding, and skillset I needed to succeed and do my job well.

Gillian: Well, my route into being a BA was a little bit unusual if I’m honest. I actually studied graphic design and worked in that area for a while. Then I did a temporary job in a financial services company. During that time, I started spotting when problems came up, particularly when my manager couldn’t find the right approach and communication style with our IT team. So, I just started to help them out from time to time and ‘translated’ the messages. Eventually, my manager noticed that and offered me a BA role. Since then, I’ve been working as a BA, and I find it a very exciting career path. I like being curious, asking questions, and even more important – listening to people.

The best Business Analysts ask a lot of questions. Is that a true statement?

Khalig: It’s true that one of the most important parts of a BA’s work is gathering and eliciting the requirements. That means you’re required to ask questions to find the right ways of solving the issue and filling the gap of information. So, I would agree that asking questions is very important, but the art lies in asking smart questions and not to overstep that thin threshold of too many questions. That will just start annoying people and break the communication.

Listening is even more important, and it can get quite hard at times. So, in remote work, with stakeholders’ permission, I often record our interviews so I can listen again and gain a deeper understanding of their answers.

Gillian: Indeed, remote work has actually made our jobs slightly easier in that regard since we can record our interviews and have the second chance to listen. Although offline workshops are really amazing, and you can get valuable information out of them, quite often you had to ask someone to co-facilitate or scribe. Asking, active listening, and also thinking of the next question can get overwhelming.

And to tell you the truth, quite often, noticing what people don’t say is also very important. And you can notice that only when you’re actively listening – spotting that gap and understanding what it means for the project.

What are the qualities that make a great Business Analyst?

Gillian: Apart from natural curiosity, listening skills, and an analytical mind, I think you also must be able to read and interact with people very well. You need to know how to adjust and communicate with different people because you’ve got to gain their trust.

Khalig: I would also add that building strong quality relationship with your teammates is very important. The better you know your team, the better communication you’ll have, which ultimately leads to better results. Also, you have to communicate very often with certain people in your team, so having open communication makes the work much more fulfilling and rewarding.

What’s the most exciting challenge a BA faces day-to-day?

Gillian: Being a BA is a license to be curious. So, when I start a new assignment and it requires me to learn something new, that’s what excites me the most. For instance, adapting new technology, trying a different product or approach to customers – I enjoy the challenge of not knowing it all at the beginning and gradually solving the puzzle. It might feel slightly uncomfortable at first, but at the same time very exciting.

And also, it’s working with people. Finding the right approach and opening up even the most closed person, getting them to talk to me. That’s very, very rewarding.

Khalig: For me it varies from one client engagement to other. Currently, I really enjoy studying Scrum and Agile practices and techniques to improve our work and processes.

How are you going to feed your curiosity next year?

Gillian: The one thing I’ve always been interested in is Agile. I’ve been practicing it for many years already, still, there are so many different perspectives to grasp. However, what I’ve been recently up to is learning a foreign language. Whenever I go on holiday, I always try to learn enough to be polite while communicating with local people. And I think language tells you so much about the country and culture. On my wish-list is also learning Python and taking Delivery Management courses this year.

Khalig: Well, I’ve actually given up learning new languages. Instead, I want to improve the ones I already know. I speak 4 languages currently, but you must practice them to remain sharp. From a professional point of view, I want to get my Scrum certification and complete the VFQ Agile Practitioner and VFQ Product Management courses.

What’s the one thing that makes Emergn a great place to work?

Khalig: There are a couple of things. From the first interview to this current day, I’ve seen how much emphasis is being applied to learning and curiosity. And these are not just words, there are so many resources to tap into – books, courses, techniques and general practices. Also, access to the Pluralsight, which opens you to thousands of courses to study and learn whatever you need at the moment.

And the other thing which is absolutely great is our BA practice. We get together to share our experience and best practices and help each other.

Gillian: Although we have a rather young practice here, it’s already very active. You can meet so many different people inside our practice with different backgrounds, cultures and characters. It’s really important that people are all very open and genuine.

Another thing that I appreciate is that you’re encouraged to be deliberate about making contacts. I joined Emergn during the lockdown and I’ve never met anyone physically. But I’ve made some really good friends, which is quite a testament.

We are looking for experienced Business Analysts to help us shape our future and play an important role in our growth. Read more and apply here.