The many modes of a Business Analyst

These days, business analysts are plying their trade in increasingly diverse settings and are being pushed more than ever to add value at strategic levels.

Good analysts are showing their mettle by adopting a range of operating modes. Here's a list of the operating modes I've applied myself and observed in others:

1) Orientation Mode

This is where the analyst (or analytical team) gets familiar with the domain and the stakeholders. We expect to see a great deal of relationship building here paying particular attention to the 'agenda setters' within that domain.

What it looks like:
  • Relationship building.
  • Coffee meetings.
  • Taking a passive role in meetings.
  • Conversations over the drinks cooler.
  • Conversations with the movers (and the shakers).
2) Description Mode

An analyst in description mode is focused on describing the current state and the end game and ensuring this is communicated to everyone involved. This is where the vision is captured from the leaders and communicated in as many ways as possible. The aim being to prompt discussion at the tactical/operational level and help the implementers understand how the vision is different from the status quo.

What it looks like:
  • Taking an active role in meetings.
  • Relationship building.
  • Generating descriptions (proposals, business cases, high level conceptual states, GAP Analysis).
  • Presentations & workshops aimed at understanding.
3) Analysis Mode

This mode comes into effect when the analyst has a substantial amount of data to digest. This may be information captured from users, stakeholders, subject matter expects or even simply from themselves which needs to be analyzed and developed to address key questions.

What it looks like:
  • Taking a more active role during meetings.
  • Analytical Modeling, requirements analysis, gap analysis, impact analysis
  • Cogitating, thinking, mulling over...
  • Discussing with other analytical peers
  • Researching analytical methods
  • Testing of theories
  • Recreational activities (e.g. playing online games or lots of breaks)
4) Prescription Mode

Here the analyst has developed a strong sense of direction and needs to communicate this to the implementers (whether that be directly to the developers or the people who manage them).

What it looks like:
  • Thought Leadership
  • Setting the agenda
  • Influencing
  • Providing constant reminding of the destination
  • Monitoring progress
  • Isolating and correcting misalignment
5) Prediction Mode

This mode is underpinned by a significant application of analytical skill-set, estimation. Here the analyst aims to predict the outcome of various conceptual (or committed) paths. It is important to note that the quality of this activity plays a major part in supporting good quality decisions. Often projects live or die by the quality of estimation at the outset.

What it looks like:
  • Estimation workshops
  • Wideband delphi
  • Creating estimation models
  • Trend analysis
  • Data analysis
  • Impact analysis
  • Workshops
6) Validation Mode

In this mode the analyst aims to independently compare actual outcomes with the outcomes envisaged to validate progress or delivery. This mode also aims to test the usefulness of what's been delivered as perceived by the user or customer.

What it looks like:
  • Test strategy formulation
  • Test design
  • Testing
  • Quality Assurance activities
  • User Acceptance Testing
  • User Calibration Testing


  1. Great description! Borne out by our collective experience where we've been called on to show our mettle (and indeed "metal"!).

    Btw, interesting aspect is the relationship with PMs...

  2. Relates straight to my most recent experiences in application testing. Scoping the testing experience at the start of the project, and educating end-users as to what's expected of them, seems to do the trick. Keep end-users informed and involved, as they tend to have solutions to problems which may be missed if we, as IT professionals, don't count them as part of the project team. By that I mean socially :o) treating users as people rather than 'resource' always helps.

  3. Nice post. I'll come back to it to help think through "what mode am I in now?" It's important for us to think about our modes in projects and in the organization as a whole.