If it is complicated to explain, it is easy for people to underestimate the value it brings!

In this interview we talk to Maia Nikolova about her career to date and her life as a Business Analyst.

You can connect with Maia via LinkedIn here

Can you give a brief summary of your career path to date?

I lived in the United States at the beginning of my career. I started out in Executive recruitment for a couple of years but then went back home to Bulgaria to join one of the government agencies for about a year. After that I joined Dun & Bradstreet as a Product Analyst and that is when I really became interested in the role of the Business Analyst. I worked on projects with BAs and thought to myself that their job seemed very interesting so I knew that’s what I wanted to do in my next role.

I moved to London in 2014 and joined Betway as a BA. It was at Betway that I had the opportunity to become Senior and Lead. I also realised that alongside my love for the role of Business Analyst I truly enjoyed growing BA teams too. This led me to News UK (home of The Times, Sun, Virgin Radio and talkSPORT) where I started initially as Principal BA and where I am currently the Head of Business Analysis.

In your view what is the core role of a Business Analyst within an organisation?

In its core the BA role has always been about change. It doesn’t matter if you are a BA in technology or strategic offices, if your work is in agile or waterfall projects, your role is always about understanding what change is needed, why it is needed and after that how to go about making the change happen.

Additional core skills are being a facilitator of difficult conversations and decisions AND making sense of the ambiguous. Following a thread until it becomes clear what is the real problem or opportunity at hand.

What would you say is your proudest achievement so far?

Working as a Business Analyst and seeing projects come to life always makes me proud. Additionally, growing the BA teams at Betway and News UK has given me many happy moments.

Managing BAs and thinking of ways to maintain a BA community especially in a large organisation like News UK is a challenge but is also something that I love doing and that is of real benefit to the people in this discipline.

Organising BA focused meetups has also been very interesting. It all started as a result of my own frustration that I couldn’t find any meetups in London that allowed for BAs to meet and talk about projects, frameworks and/or trends.

After I arrived at News UK I found some like-minded people and we started our own meetup. We have now had a few covering topics like “What is the role of the BA in Agile,” “Working with remote teams” and “Business Analysis and Data.”

Have there been any low points in your career and how did you deal with those?

I can’t think of a particular low point. As I move up in my career this brings bigger challenges which make me question my own abilities constantly but I have learned that pacing myself and doing what I believe is right is the best way to make a role your own.

As an overall, I think I have finally accepted that in my job as a BA often I am the person with the least subject matter knowledge in the room but I have a reason to be there just as much as everyone else. I am there to help uncover problems and identify solutions and help make change happen that otherwise people struggle to do on their own.

What do you think are some of the particular challenges that a BA faces in today’s business world?

I think as BAs we are highly flexible and the skills we learn can be applied no matter what a BA role is called in an organisation or no matter the role’s remit.

That being said there a couple of things we particularly need to keep an eye on:

  • Understanding of the role – because of a BA’s ability to be a flexible, helpful and an overall “fill in the gaps” person the role of the BA gets blurrier and blurrier. This is what makes it interesting but ultimately also makes it complicated to explain to others especially those unfamiliar with the role. If it is complicated to explain, it is easy for people to underestimate the value it brings!
  • Being pigeonholed into the role – if you are a great BA nobody wants to lose you so they will continue giving you BA work even if you want to go into something else like project management. It is key for those managing BAs to actively support their career aspirations even if they are outside of the discipline.
  • Data – getting a firmer grasp on analytics and data is a must for BAs. Understanding how to interpret the data in front of us and telling a story through it will only be more appreciated by businesses going forward. Get yourself some training and shadow the analytics teams in your company if you can!

Do you have any career aspirations for the future that you would like to share with us?

Sure! Next on my list is to explore the field of Business Architecture more and identify its similarities and differences with Business Analysis.

What advice would you give to anyone who is early into their career as a Business Analyst or considering a move into the profession?

Be open minded and try companies of different sizes. Don’t be afraid to put on Project Management or Product Management hats but also invest in your career – go to training sessions, join a few meetups, watch webinars and reach out to more experienced BAs who can be your mentors.

What about your life outside of work, can you tell us a bit about that?

I love travelling and I recently came back from Patagonia which has been on my bucket list for ages.

In an ideal world, I will travel 6 out of the 12 months of the year. I just need to figure out how to make it happen!

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