I see a lot of clients and organisations looking for specific domain knowledge when they think about hiring a Business Analyst (BA).
Before we discuss any further, let’s clarify that when I use the term ‘domain knowledge’, I am talking about the knowledge or expertise of a specific field or industry, like insurance, finance or healthcare.
The two key attributes BAs need to excel at their roles are strong analytical and elicitation skills. Domain knowledge should not be a prerequisite.
In this article, I will explain to you 5 reasons why businesses don’t need to hire BAs with domain knowledge.
1. They won’t be afraid to ask ‘dumb’ questions.
Many industries believe that domain knowledge is critical for BAs because they need to be able to communicate with business people to understand the specific requirements of a project.
Not having industry knowledge seeds the need of asking what some people call ‘dumb’ questions. Asking ‘dumb’ questions helps to clarify the topic of discussion further and reduce the chance of ambiguity within the team and requirements.
A BA with domain knowledge may hesitate to ask any domain-related questions for fear of looking like they don’t know what they should know about that domain.
A BA without domain knowledge will bring an outsider’s perspective, and they may come up with innovative ways of solving a problem, which is not always clear for people who are deeply engaged within the domain.
2. They won’t make assumptions
A domain expert BA may make assumptions on business problems or requirements due to their understanding of the industry, and these assumptions may be incorrect for the current business or customer problem being solved.
The Role of Domain Knowledge in Requirements Elicitation: an Exploratory Study explains this point with a simple example of how a knowledgeable analyst may not ask a question on the colour of the sky, assuming it to be blue, while the expectation may be of a grey sky.
On the other hand, a BA without domain knowledge has no assumptions to work from, and so will get even the minute details clarified.
3. Not all businesses in a domain are the same
Even though you may have domain knowledge of a specific industry, you will still find nuance in business processes and applications of different organisations within the same industry.
As an example, I have worked with a couple of accounting and bookkeeping companies, yet their internal processes and software are vastly different from each other.
Having domain knowledge may help in understanding the basic concepts of an industry. But as companies within an industry can be so different, that knowledge really shouldn’t outweigh the analytical and elicitation skills of a BA.
I would argue that a BA who has worked across multiple fields with experience of diving into new projects and learning basic industry concepts quite quickly, is more valuable due to their broad perspectives and speed of learning.
4. There is less room for bias
Having extensive experience of the domain can induce the BA to take a certain path during the requirement gathering sessions. They may guide the conversation on a topic which they believe is crucial for the business due to past experience, and end up focussing on this more than the actual pain points.
Whereas a BA without that domain knowledge, will spend more time understanding and investigating the existing problems of the business, without being biased by past experiences within the domain.
5. A BA is not an adequate SME replacement
Many companies want to hire a domain expert BA so that they don’t need a Subject Matter Expert (SME) on the team. What these companies don’t realise is that SME and BAs should always be two separate roles.
IIBA defines SME as “a stakeholder with in-depth knowledge of a topic relevant to the business need or solution scope”. An SME is usually a person who has been in the company for a few years and knows the problems, issues and strengths of the company, in-depth.
Likely this person is in sales, account management or another department, and is fantastic for guidance on business and customer problems, but may not be great at defining requirements.
A BA works with SME to clarify any industry/business related doubts. SMEs play an essential role in the product development process, and therefore, companies shouldn’t downplay that role by hiring a domain expert business analyst.
You don’t need a BA with domain experience
Sometimes having a wide range of experience brings a fresh perspective in finding innovative ways of solving problems. Not having domain experience can remove assumption making, bias and remove the fear of asking questions no matter how ‘dumb’ they might sound.
A BA requires strong analytical and elicitation skills to do their job well. If a Business Analyst has these two essential skills, then they can collect all necessary product requirements from stakeholders, being able to make recommendations and work to deliver them successfully no matter what domain they are working in.