In this interview we speak to Business Analyst Shazia Elahi who gives us an insight into her career and the creation of her own business BA Masters.
Can you give a brief summary of your career path to date?
My first experience in a professional environment was working as an analyst for GlaxoSmithKline.
Working in such a large organisation, where there are more than 90,000 employees globally, makes it easy to get lost. So I allocated time towards networking internally so that I could improve my understanding of the business and find opportunities to promote myself.
From there, I worked at Croydon Council as the Business Analyst for the Transformation Programme. It was an amazing experience, I worked with all types of stakeholders in a Prince 2 / Waterfall environment across a series of projects, and it was while there that I realised the importance of having leaders instead of managers. The then Head of Transformation was both an inspiration and mentor to me.
Since then, I’ve worked for a consultancy on multiple projects before then going on an opening my own Business Analysis consultancy. I spent two weeks re-positioning myself in the market, revising my CV, networking and talking to agencies before being able to land my first client.
But, that wasn’t enough for my entrepreneurial spirit so I decided to launch BA Masters.
In your view what is the core role of a Business Analyst within an organisation?
The Business Analyst plays three crucial roles:
- the mediator
- the problem solver
- the negotiator.
To be an effective mediator, one needs to master the core skills of emotional intelligence that allow us to be able to empathise and communicate with stakeholders. We will often interact with stakeholders from different business backgrounds and from different levels of seniority. By understanding these stakeholders (their needs, motivations, characteristics) we can assess how we can best engage with them.
To master the role of the problem solver, one needs to be curious. Curiosity demands answers and it is the Business Analyst’s role to seek those answers. Generally, these can be sourced through conversations, but if the Business Analyst understands the business domain, and is able to make accurate assessments (i.e. PESTLE analysis) then this will help them help to understand problem statements and the pathway to success.
And finally, the first two points tie in the to the latter, the role of the negotiator. A negotiator is a broke salesman if he cannot communicate, and more importantly, fails to listen actively. Whether you’re a business analyst in the Agile world, or you’re working in Discovery pulling together a business case, you will be required to negotiate on timelines, costs, scope, priority of work and even resources required.
And, given the BA has a holistic view of the problem and the potential solutions, the work required and the challenges, we are often in the best position to provide recommendations.
What would you say is your proudest achievement so far?
Launching BA Masters. It’s hard work launching a new service or product into the market, it forces you to look past the worries and trust the plan and more importantly, your own instinct.
I’ve spent a lot of time working on the business and it’s growing day by day. The ideas that I had to begin with have changed over time as I’ve continued to understand the changing needs of the market.
It’s given me an opportunity to use the Business Analyst skills that I have gained in my professional career, and I’ve had to learn a lot of new skills to support its growth.
I am a consultant by day, and a website developer/marketer/director by night. I’m sure I’ve missed a few hats there. It’s all worth it when I get positive feedback from the end users.
Have there been any low points in your career and how did you deal with those?
In the early days of my career I doubted my own skills and abilities. These were clearly reflected in my day-day interactions where I didn’t feel so confident to engage, challenge or negotiate with stakeholders.
I spent time self-learning on key skills such as communication, facilitation and negotiation. I applied what I learned and reflected on the outcomes – what would I do differently?
Self-awareness is also a very important skill to learn. It helps us to quickly identify both the good and not so good, so that we can act accordingly – Did I receive the desired outcome?
It also helped that I had colleagues that I could talk to over a coffee or two.
What do you think are some of the particular challenges that a BA faces in today’s business world?
Understanding what their role really entails and the responsibilities that may fall within their remit when working in different environments or with different stakeholders.
Also the coming to a realisation that you have the skills to suggest improvements to internal processes within their own organisation and project teams.
Do you have any career aspirations for the future that you would like to share with us?
In addition to working on BA Masters, I’d like the opportunity to work for an innovation hub or maybe work directly in the Product space.
What advice would you give to anyone who is early into their career as a Business Analyst or considering a move into the profession?
Network. But, do not go with the aim of handing out your business cards or adding someone on LinkedIn. Make connections. Ask yourself what opportunities or values can be exchanged with the person I am engaging with?
Speaking to different people will help us learn new things. Whether that’s professionally or personally. It will help us to get a better understanding of the world and how it works.
What about your life outside of work, can you tell us a bit about that?
I like to travel a lot, and quite often this is solo. It forces you to define who you are as a person, learn to trust your instincts, and improve your understanding of worldly issues.
I also like to read and watch documentaries – lately, I’m fascinated by the innovative technology and design space.
You can connect with Shazia via LinkedIn