In this interview we talk to Business Analyst Karen Newnham who tells us about her career path into Business Analysis, the personal challenges along the way and gives great advice for those starting out in the profession.
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Can you give us a brief summary of your career path to date?
When I moved to Nottinghamshire a friend mentioned a trainee developer program at his company and encouraged me to apply. I had no IT background or qualifications but managed to get a place. I learnt to code and then took a role in the marketing team.
After a few months of coding I realised I was too nosey to be sat at a desk all day. I was interested in why the coding was needed and the bigger picture.
I slowly started to take on more analysis activities, but it took quite a while to get my first analysis job title – Systems Analyst. Later, I moved to another company and took my first role as BA.
I worked in retail and admin before I became a developer, and I would say I have always used my curious mindset and analysed a situation, I just haven’t always had an analyst job title.
In your view what is the core role of a Business Analyst within an organisation?
The core always revolves around people and clarity. The more people involved with different viewpoints and understanding, the more there is a need to bring clarity to the situation.
It is not just writing down what everyone says they want though.
A BA needs to use their skills to ask the right questions, summarise issues and draw out unarticulated needs and conflicts. To understand where clarity is required a BA also needs to understand the context and objectives of the situation.
By acting consistently throughout a project or activity the BA can ensure time and money is not wasted going in the wrong direction or even in many different directions.
These skills can add value at many levels in a business – operational and strategic.
An organisation that welcomes the input of their BA’s and empowers them to be curious and express views and recommendations based on solid understanding will reap the benefits.
What would you say is your proudest achievement so far?
I found it hard to become a BA because the role didn’t really exist at the time. I could see it was important to have someone to ensure what was being delivered met the right needs. At the start I needed to seek out those opportunities myself rather than them being offered to me.
I have therefore always provided as much advice and encouragement to colleagues who also want to be a BA or are struggling on the BA career path.
With some colleagues I set up the BA networking and support group – Notts BA. We are a network set-up to share knowledge about business analysis.
Have there been any low points in your career and how did you deal with them?
I had moved to a new company and was excited to make a difference. However, the culture was difficult and everywhere I turned I found blockers.
I had taken the role to establish a new BA practice and was determined not to be put off at the first hurdle. I tried lots of different approaches but with little support at management level I was finding myself feeling very tired and lacking energy and this was impacting my home life.
Eventually I decided to move on. I still have regrets that perhaps I could have given more but sometimes you must accept the limitations and stop and regroup.
That experience taught me to have more trust in myself. It gave me the courage to start my own company which has allowed me to get involved in some interesting projects and work with great clients and their teams.
What do you think some of the challenges that a BA faces in today’s business world?
Being empowered to provide the best service you can is challenging when the understanding of what a BA can offer is inconsistent and confused.
Also, recently more roles have appeared such as Business Architect and Service Designer that appear to overlap with the BA role. At first, I considered these to be a threat to being able to position myself uniquely.
However, I now think these new roles could be the key to showing our stakeholders what we can offer.
As I said earlier, I have always had a BA mindset despite my role title. Most BA’s I meet genuinely want to add value and so if there are more opportunities to do this that can only be a good thing.
Do you have any career aspirations for the future?
I started my own company to experience the BA role in as many different environments as I can. This will enable me to continue to learn and add value.
I am also working with entrepreneurs and small business consultants to understand their challenges and see how my skillset could be of benefit to even more people.
What advice to someone considering the BA role?
If you are already curious about what people do and ask lots of questions – that’s a great start! Listen to people’s stories and find out what motivates them and what is blocking them.
Whatever role you are in now, I guarantee someone can benefit from your help. Consider a problem critically and put your thoughts together into a structure that summarise the issues, provides options and recommends the best course of action. Persuade people to listen and help them to act.
Build on your natural skills with training. You could take a formal BA qualification, but you can also pick up a lot of relevant skills online for free.
When I have hired BA’s, I have been interested to see where they have added value by being curious and empathetic. If they also showed the commitment to back up their natural talent with training, then they would be straight on my short list!
What about your life outside of work, can you tell us a bit about that?
At home I like to mess around with my guitar and Hula Hoop as a fun way to switch the mind off. Learning tricks on the hoop is fun and physically challenging. I took part in a local event called the Hockley Hustle last year where I showed off my hooping skills in the carnival parade.
Whilst we have been in lockdown I have also taken Notts BA online. We have had a great response from the BA community and we are always happy to hear from people interested in the BA role.