What is a good (IT-)analyst like?

Hea IT-analüütik kirjutab häid märkmeid
Analyst’s notes. Photo: Kaja Trees

My past and current customers often give me the compliment of asking if I could take on another project. Or maybe I can suggest someone, who would be just as good. But how to evaluate an analyst?

I consider analysis work to be easily learned. When I told my Granny what I do for work, she was surprised that somebody is willing to pay for this! They are, and more than average salary. You just need certain personality traits and learnable skills.

Active listening

Analyst’s primary task is to find out customer’s wishes and needs, priorities and opportunities. Some people can do it naturally, while others lack information even after talking to customer.

Passive listening is not enough – part of knowledge is not heard and less specific topics remain unclear. Same with intense interviewing, where customer will not talk about things that weren’t specifically asked for (and nobody can ask all details!).

I have met analysts who talk more than listen. The result of this is always unsatisfied customer. Formally, the solution may meet all requirements, but customer’s actual needs are not met.

The best communication technique here is active listening. The analyst follows customer’s talking and asks questions to clarify. When talking strays away from the focus of specific meeting, it shows the analyst customer’s pain points. In this case, analyst writes those down, agrees a time to discuss these, and directs the discussion back to correct track.

Curious

Analyst’s main motivation is unlimited curiosity. They always want to know how things work, and why:

  • How do they make train schedules so that trains won’t run into each other?
  • How the electricity grid is managed to make sure production and consumption are in balance?
  • How can insurance company be sure that there are enough reserves to pay for claims?
  • How can Estonian state institutions exchange information securely?
  • etc etc etc

Like a small child, the analyst wants to know everything. Analyst’s curiosity is independent of specific field and gives energy to find out everything necessary for offered solution. No detail is too small or unimportant!

In addition to details, analysts are also interested in the way those pieces fit together. When discussing a topic, analyst creates an abstract multidimensional picture in their head, how different details influence each other. Knowledge from previous meetings affect ongoing discussion and initiate new questions. New details may come to light that contradict the existing picture – then it is important to highlight this right away and determine, how they could be made to work together. The system must work as a whole.

Systematic

Analyst likes to have everything clear and systematized. There is a lot of information, but how do you know that you found the whole truth?

  • Systematize and catalog the information,
  • Create drawings that show relationships between different pieces of knowledge.
  • Define the terms to be sure everything is unambiguous.
  • Put actions in logical order to be sure no step is missing.

Being systematic applies to behavior as well. A good analyst always goes to a meeting with a plan about what they want to find out there. On a meeting, they make sure that all those questions get answered, as well as any questions that arise during the discussion. No question can be left undiscussed, no detail undescribed! If the time runs out, you just systematically agree next meeting to continue the discussion.

Thinks outside the box

Good analysts always think whether it would be possible to do something better in the field they are analyzing. They know that the way something has always been done, might not be the best way; even customer’s vision may not be best possible solution. Technology is developing fast and customer may not know all the possibilities.

  • Maybe instead of creating a form to insert data, it would be possible to import this information from another system automatically?
  • Maybe instead of showing information as table, you can visualize it using a graph or highlight important data points with colors?
  • Maybe it is possible to redesign the process so that some action can be skipped completely?

Field specialists together with analysts can create truly innovative solutions that make work more effective.

On the other hand, one of my biggest lessons has been that sometimes you need to simplify the solution to fit into necessary time and budget limits. If an out-of-box thinker can figure out ways to automate activities and solve problems in innovative ways, then sometimes it makes sense to actually create a simple insertion form or not automate something, because the development is not worth the effort. Some examples are:

  • support for old services that need to be maintained in new system;
  • if automated solution cannot always give correct result, so user needs to review it anyway;
  • MVP (Minimum Viable Product), pilot or PoC (Proof of Concept) solution, where it is important to deliver quickly even without full functionality.

Flexible

Analyst is always ready to adjust when their previous assumptions turn out to be incorrect. It is not always possible to be ready for all options – especially as we are going there to learn information that we don’t know yet.

We might have built a solution in our head, but it may not be suitable because of piece of information we haven’t got yet. Customer may also come to a different understanding that completely changes the approach to the solution. In any case, customer is the one to decide what to do; and analyst is the one to make sure that the solution is logically whole.

Analyst must be able to drop already completed works and readjust according to new knowledge.

Result oriented

All actions by analyst bring project closer to its goals.

If something has not been done or it is done differently than needed, then it is not useful to play the blame game, but to find a solution. If something comes to light during project that is contradicting project’s goal, then it must be brought in front of other participants as soon as possible. Everybody makes mistakes – even the best analyst is sometimes wrong! -, and in this case the only valid action is to tell about it and find a way forward from it. Even if the issue is with a customer representative, who doesn’t share needed information, or does it too slowly considering project timeline, then analyst finds a way to resolve this as well.

Analyst uses the previously described characteristics to find a solution to every situation, without escalating it on emotional level.

Responsible

Analyst knows the importance of their work. The plans and descriptions compiled by them are the basis for the whole solution. The earlier in development process that a mistake is made, the bigger impact it has on the system. A requirement that has not been uncovered correctly may:

  • mean penalties to customer or project team,
  • need to scrap and redo big part of the solution,
  • or stopping the project because of accumulating problems.

Analyst has big responsibility to avoid mistakes and check the solution’s feasibility from every conceivable angle. That’s why they listen to customer actively, curiously finds out all their needs, systematizes this information, finds suitable solution by thinking outside the box or flexibly simplifies it and does everything needed to get to project result.


When I look back, then I didn’t have all the above characteristics when I started as analyst, and even now I am not perfect. Even so, I have developed far as an analyst and I am certain that the above characteristics have helped me most in this work.

If you are an analyst – do you agree with the characteristics I listed? Is there something important missing or is something I named not important in your opinion? Write your comment below this article, or in ITBAC Facebook or LinkedIn group.

If you are not an analyst, but you recognized yourself in this article, and you are interested in starting in this field – make sure to join ITBAC Facebook or LinkedIn group or our e-mail list! We can help you get started in this field and we offer mentoring to learn needed skills. There is a big shortage of good analysts!

This article was first published at https://liriel.org/.

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