Like a business analyst, the terms hard and soft skills can be applied to many occupations. Think of a programmer who is predominantly concerned with applying hard skills (writing software) or a social services counsellor who needs to be an expert in people (soft) skills.
However there are not may jobs requiring a strong mix of both hard and soft skills, the business analyst being a notable exception. You’ll need people skills to empathise with clients and explore their needs yet also have the hard skills necessary to specify these needs as requirements.
The following diagram by one of the pioneers of business analysis training neatly illustrates this.
Notice that good soft skills are closely related to how to think compared to hard skills – what to think.
Herein lies the problem as it’s well recognised that many analysts will exhibit a leaning to one set of skills or another. You see this every day, some prefer a defined, structured role where they can apply their skills to get the best possible outcome. Others prefer the unpredictability of dealing with problems or issues where no two days are the same and where the definition of success can vary on a case-by-case basis.
Many organisations have a “workaround” for this – two teams of business analysts. The soft skills team – called business BAs – and the hard skills team called IT BAs. But the well-rounded, most effective and most employable analysts are those who have strengths in both hard and soft skills. So how do you acquire these skills?
Hard skills tend to be knowledge based. You can often learn them from a book although you still need to practice them to be good. However it’s not so easy to learn soft skills. For example you can’t practice interviewing skills by yourself !! There’s no substitute for learn-by-doing.
A final word – don’t think you don’t need both. I remember a team of business BAs who came up with some beautiful process diagrams for a new workflow system – but were not aware they needed to investigate where the data to support the process was to come from. After some embarrassment – and lost time – it was back to the drawing board.
For more on the types of skills needed by analysts, visit our training roadmap.
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