As a business analyst, you’ll need several tools to be able to do your job. Programmers have development environments and API libraries, testers have automation tools, and project managers have Microsoft Project. But what tools to business analysts use? Isn’t it all just writing? Read on to find out five of the best that I recommend.
1. Microsoft Word
Yes, this is an obvious choice, but a good word processing tool is the bread and butter of a business analysis role. Microsoft Word is the standard word processor in many organisations, and no matter how you feel about Microsoft products, it’s a good tool to use.
It lets you easily create documents, both small and large. It has all kinds of formatting options. It has some good tracking and revision history abilities – letting you know when things have changed and using a comment system to allow for contributions from others. It’s compatible with objects from other Microsoft products as well, such as Excel charts.
While it does have its drawbacks, such as being fiddly to get the formatting to work sometimes, it is a great tool. Learning how to use this, and use it well, will improve your efficiency as a business analyst.
2. Microsoft Visio
Visio is probably one of my favourite tools to use as a BA. It’s Microsoft’s flowchart and diagramming application, and comes as part of the Office suite of applications.
It lets you put together diagrams quite quickly, using a drag-and-drop interface and allowing all kinds of formatting and customisation. It can be used for a broad range of diagram types, but it includes some very useful diagrams for BAs such as many UML diagrams (use cases, sequence diagrams). Even the general flow charting diagram is good for a lot of situations.
It has the ability to save to image as well, which is very handy for sending to others and embedding into other documents.
The main drawback of Visio that I’ve found is that it can be hard to manipulate some diagrams to get them exactly how you’d like them. Visio isn’t always included in the standard installation of Microsoft Office, which means you need extra licenses to use it (similar to Microsoft Project), making it harder to get installed at work. This will depend on your employer, but sometimes Visio isn’t available.
3. Rational Rose
Rational Rose is IBM’s tool for developing UML (Unified Modelling Language) diagrams. I believe the licenses aren’t cheap, and I haven’t seen a lot of clients use it (maybe I’m just at the wrong clients!).
However, it’s a fantastic tool and has a lot of options for creating diagrams. It’s been highly recommended by others, and while I don’t have a lot of experience with it, it’s rated as one of the best applications for diagramming and process modelling.
There is quite a range of applications, from the traditional Rational Rose Modelling to those that are used for creating databases, and Rational Rose Technical Developer which actually has a design-to-code feature (which can help technical business analysts or programmers).
4. Balsamiq Mockups
Creating prototypes or mockups of screens or applications is another task that business analysts are sometimes required to do. A great tool for doing this is an application called Balsamiq.
It’s an easy-to-use tool that can be downloaded for Windows, Mac or Linux, and can help you create mockups for interfaces or any other diagrams that need to be done. It’s not a free tool (but neither are the others), but it’s a good one. Prototypes can be created easily with this tool and it can help you demonstrate ideas and images to those you work with.
5. Snipping Tool
This tool comes with Windows 7, and since I discovered it, it’s made my life so much easier as a business analyst. Gone are the days of getting cropped screenshots by using the “print screen, paste into Paint, crop, copy and paste into a new file and save”. Well, there may be an easier way than that, but that was the way it was usually done in Windows XP (or without any additional tools installed).
Snipping Tool allows you to capture a section of an open window using a rectangle selection box. It then saves the image in the memory, allowing you to either save the image to file, or copy it to the clipboard. Both are useful features – you can copy it straight into a Word document for example, or save it to disk for later use. It’s great for getting screenshots of existing systems or preparing user manuals, or other kinds of technical documentation.
Well, there are my thoughts on the top five tools for business analysts. Do you have any to add? Have I missed out some? Let me know in the comment section below!