Knowledge vs Practice vs Experience in Business Analysis


So the purpose of this article is to help myself and everyone else in the universe clarify why knowledge, practice, and experience are all important to a business analyst and the differences between them. Fair warning, I love using analogies, so it may seem like I'm going off the deep end at some points, but I promise to bring it all back around full circle.

1. Knowledge is Power

First let's talk about knowledge, because you have the most control over this and you can literally start working on it as soon as you finish reading this. Knowledge is basically having useful information stuck in your head. The key word there being useful. That is what makes it important, so lets start our first analogy..

Lets say you and a friend decided to start a taking photos two years ago, with the intent of becoming photographers. You guys always practice together and all of your shooting has been outdoor landscapes. You both have become pretty equally good. What your friend didn't tell you is that they have also been reading about how to handle lighting and framing faces for indoor shots. They don't have any experience, but they have been reading. Now you guys are both hired for your first gig and it's an indoor and outdoor venue, and your expected to capture shots of people too. Who will likely have the better pictures?

If this was business analysis, the situation might be one where the best way to capture information for requirements accurately is via a data dictionary, a concept map, or maybe use cases... However if the only thing your company has ever done or that you have been exposed to is textual requirements and process flows, you'll be using a hammer to drive a screw. Getting certified for me helped me get a better understanding of the full scope of process, tools, and techniques at my disposal as a business analyst.

2. Practice Makes Perfect

Practice, takes time, but in some ways you can force yourself to do so, even on the job (see more in business analysis games). Practice in truth helps you gain some level of experience to help you make fewer mistakes when your out in the field... next analogy!

Let's say your training to be a dentist. You've read a bunch of books, you know your stuff, but you haven't done any real dental work yet. Practicing will help you learn more about yourself in relation to the craft and helps to fill in those gaps that reading alone won't ever give you. For example, holding your hand for extended periods of time in one position gets tiring, however, one small change in angle gives you much better leverage. Also practicing over and over even on a dummy help develop the right strength and stamina in the right muscles. This will allow you to perform efficiently and quickly.

For a business analyst, you can either practice techniques or skills (you should practice both), which will give the advantage of being caught less off guard when you are presented with a situation. For example, practicing creating workflow diagrams might help you ask better questions when your eliciting information to create those workflows, because you will know what information you need to complete a flow. I personally like to practice my soft skills purposefully enganging in situations where I can practice, whether BA related or not. For example, I use this blog to enhance my written communication skills.

3. Experience. Learning from Failure

Experience is the final leg in this journey. The difference between practice and experience is that practice is often controlled, where the real world has many more variables. The more you deal with all the different variables, the better you become at dealing with and anticipating them.

Being a chef is a good analogy for experience. As a chef, you might practice making all kinds of delicious foods, have the knowledge of combinations that work well and so forth. As you chef, you might be asked to create a perfect meal for two people. A chef with knowledge and practice might be able to make a perfect scallop and corn chowder, however an experienced chef would know to first ask if they have any allergies. Seems small, but this little miss could be catastrophic. Make this mistake once, will probably make sure you won't ever again. That, my friends, is experience.

For a business analyst, experience helps you deal with the many variables and nuances that happen in real life. Sometimes its how to get time with stakeholders who never seem to have time on their calendar or being able to see situation where not involving the right stakeholders could be costly.

For me, a huge benefit was having to write the test cases and test based on requirements I wrote. Basically any failure that came as a results of my lack of clarity in my requirements was something a learned to do better when writing requirements. I was still pretty green, so there was a lot of mistakes and that EXPERIENCE should hopefully leave me better off in a way that practice and reading don't alway get to.

In Summary

Knowledge gives you more options to solve problems, practices makes you more efficient when applying skills or techniques, and experience helps you make fewer mistakes, which in our world can be very expensive (usually in the form of missed or defective requirements). As a young business analyst, its important to expand your knowledge and practice, which will make you valueble as you build your experience, which only really comes with time. That experience is what will make you more valuable when you are on high risk or high value projects that need the delicate grace of an experience professional.

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