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In 2019, Dulaine Stander, an FTI lecturer, authored this fascinating article, which we thought was well worth reading and still so relevant today.

The Specialist Vs. The Generalist BA:  The Dark Cloud That Goes with Every Silver Lining

During the last few weeks, I have been reflecting on my career. Many people have asked me how I became a Business Analyst after starting out as a pharmacist. And when I look at my certificates and degrees, it took me exactly 14 years from qualifying as a pharmacist in 2003 to becoming a qualified Business Analyst (NCBA) in 2017.

The generalist in the context of Business Analysis

During the first days of all our Business Analysis courses, we define the role of the business analyst in organisations. We always say that a BA doesn’t have to be an expert at anything except extract information from the experts.  The importance of the information gathering skill cannot be stressed enough in your role as the Business Analyst. This means that an experienced BA can work in any industry, in any organisation and quickly start being valuable to that business.

This, in my definition, is a generalist BA. Adaptable, quick to assimilate and a valuable asset in any business.

So, what is the value of a specialist BA?

I see myself as a specialist BA with deep knowledge and understanding of the Healthcare industry in South Africa, and quickly learning about the international industry as well. But “so what”, you may ask? How does this benefit the organisation? What makes me a better BA than any other BA? And the answers to these questions were exactly the reasons why I became a BA.

In my role as business owner of new technology going into pharmacies, I found myself perpetually frustrated with the lack of understanding of the industry in which the business operated. I found myself having multiple “training sessions” with the BAs assigned to my projects to explain the regulatory environment in which the organisation operated. This added a significant time to the analysis phase of all the projects. Having these sessions with the BAs proved to be valuable, as they then understood why certain solutions are not feasible and are rejected outright.

And this is exactly where I saw the gap in the BA team. The need for a specialist BA that understands the industry and regulatory environment in which the organisation operates. A BA that has the ability to articulate the complexity of solutions in a specific environment without taking time to get to know this environment. And by no means do I assume or imply that any other BA will have this ability.

The business value of this was obvious – a BA that understands the language of the stakeholders and has an inherent understanding of which solutions will be feasible in terms of the regulations that dictate the way that the organisation does business. And:  “ta-daaaa!”  less time spent on analysis, which meant less time from analysis to implementation.

But every silver lining has a dark cloud

Off course the silver lining in the story is the fact that there is a premium attached to this specialist knowledge. There are organisations that need this specialist knowledge and are willing to pay the premium attached to this.

So, what’s the dark cloud? Being a specialist potentially narrows your options when looking at career paths, depending on the area of specialty.  You become too expensive to be a generalist BA (even though you have these skills), and depending on your location, there might not be many organisations that employ BAs in your area of specialisation. And this is the harsh reality.

So how do you avoid the dilemma of being over-qualified and under-paid, or worse: over-priced and without a job? And I can assure you, the reality is real. I was retrenched a few years ago and had to look for a stable source of income. And for those of you who know me, you know I am passionate about shoes and not starving to death. I am also the main breadwinner for my family.

The answer was surprising in its simplicity:

You work hard, right from the start of your career, to build a reputation as a professional. Not just a professional BA, but a professional knowledge-worker. Put in the long hours, sacrifice the social life, and build your brand and never compromise on your work-ethic. When I first started out as the Compliance Manager, I used to call it “eating vegetables for my career.”  Build your reputation in the industry in which you specialise and build your network. As BAs we have the unique opportunity to communicate with a wide variety of internal and external stakeholders. This is where you build your network, and it is from within this network that opportunities will start to arise. People start recognising that you have a special set of skills and knowledge that makes you more valuable to the organisation. Not just your BA and/or other qualification, but as a professional.

I was extremely lucky that I “ate my career-vegetables” when I was younger. I had a solid reputation and recognition, and when the time came for me to explore other opportunities, I had the necessary skills, experience, and expertise to find exciting areas of work.

I still work hard; I still focus on delivering value and I still eat those vegetables. I work on fostering relationships and continue to build my network.

Published with Permission~ ©Dulaine Stander

Final Thoughts

At the very core of everything you do as a BA, whether specialist or generalist, you should always deliver value through excellence.

Life is too short for ugly shoes and mediocrity.