The increased professionalism of business analysis is reflected in the value that business analysts (BAs) bring to an organization. Good BAs:
Increase process and project efficiencies, saving time and resources
Define the most valuable requirements needed for an effective system or solution, cutting scope and reducing the risk of project failure
Increase customer satisfaction, whether internal or external customers; if external, increase retention and new customer creation
The skills and experience that produce these outcomes are no longer limited to the traditional tasks of eliciting and drafting requirements. Communication skills, leadership skills, conflict resolution skills, critical thinking skills, abstraction and decomposition skills—all are needed for BA competency and effectiveness. As a result of these added demands, it has become increasingly difficult to on-ramp and train new BAs and to rapidly mature their skills. Creating a BA Center of Excellence (BA COE) is a proven method for effectively reaching these goals with a BA team. In addition to improving BA performance in the traditional fields of elicitation and drafting, they aid in improving the other ‘soft’ skills that are becoming increasingly mandatory for a BA to possess.
Reason 1: The BA COE is a way for organizations to increase the number of BAs who are “good”—whose skills and experience are mature.
By defining and formalizing a BA Center of Excellence, organizations are taking the steps needed to improve the maturity of their BA teams.
The development of a BA COE can be incremental and iterative. Each level of requirements maturity requires incremental improvements in the following functional areas:
People. Skills and knowledge of the IT product managers, business analysts, quality assurance, systems developers, SMEs, and business stakeholders.
Process. Practices for all stages of requirements, including templates, guidelines, assessments, training, and mentoring.
Tools. Requirements management, requirements collection, document management, team collaboration, issue tracking, and knowledge repositories.
Click image for larger size COE poster.
The stages of BA COE creation are iterative, and build upon each other.
Stage 0: Ad Hoc. There is no consistent BA maturity, and no requirements maturity. Requirements are created ad hoc, project scope is based on “squeaky wheel” direction. The BA COE vision is laid out; influencers and strategy stakeholders are identified.
Stage 1: Individual. Although individual efforts may align with business strategy, there is no consistent measurement of business return.
Stage 2: Team. Teams now share an understanding of business objectives; some individuals may share an awareness of strategy. While individual projects may be measured for return, there is no organization-wide validation of project return yet.
Stage 3: Business Unit. There is strong portfolio management across multiple teams. Teams and finance consistently define and evaluate the project return across the portfolio. More than one business unit may be at this level of maturity.
Stage 4: Organization. Throughout the organization, there is strong portfolio management based on organizational strategy. The scope of projects is aligned with the strategy, and the entire portfolio is regularly analyzed for business return.
By improving the organization’s maturity towards Stage 4 in each of the aforementioned functional areas, BA teams will be more likely to add value to projects they are involved with. There is a noticeable difference in the measured capabilities and performances of a BA team at Stage 0 and one at Stage 4. Much like Project Management Organizations (PMOs) with Project Manager efforts, BA COEs enable businesses to better align BA efforts with those of the greater business strategy.
Reason 2: The BA COE increases the consistency of BA output by unifying approaches and methodologies within an organization.
A complaint we’ve heard from many organizations is the inconsistent output they receive working with different business analysts and product managers. This often occurs because each BA uses different approaches and methodologies in elicitation, facilitation and documentation, leading to countless numbers of different formats for use cases and functional requirements. This inconsistency makes it extremely challenging for business users to review and verify requirements, and for developers and testers to understand the requirements.
By training BAs on a unified, consistent approach to elicitation and facilitation, overall efficiency across many departments will increase. This will simplify on-ramping, training and updating training materials, and it will make it easier for business users and development teams to do their jobs rapidly and with better outcomes. By unifying methodological approaches, a BA Center of Excellence will, over time, lead to consistent output (and results) for every project. In addition this will lead to faster, higher quality outputs as the team becomes more skilled with the methodology.
This consistency is invaluable in situations where compliance and adherence to standards is mandatory such as companies that must adhere to Statement on Audting Standards No. 70 (SAS 70) or Statement on Standards for Attestation Engagements No. 16 (SSAE 16). With a unified approach it becomes much easier to audit and attest as there is only a single standard being evaluated, not countless individual standards. This also makes implementing changes to meet compliance standards much easier as these changes are made to the same single standard and training is only to update knowledge from that one standard.
Reason 3: The BA COE provides a path for BA career growth, increasing retention of the most talented and skilled practitioners.
By defining skills, providing a framework for methodologies, and developing metrics for performance, the BA COE helps BAs further their careers within, and while contributing to, their organization. Through mentoring and other collaborative techniques, senior BAs become invested in their more junior colleagues’ growth. The organization will also benefit from the organic growth of the BA COE whereby senior members are building everyone’s skill set when they create new processes. By aligning performance metrics with those of certifying organizations such as the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA), BAs will be better able to pursue certification if they choose to do so. A BA COE also provides a community from which connections to professional communities can and will arise. Further, as the incremental stages of the BA COE develop, BAs will have exposure to business strategy and the competitive environment; this increases overall knowledge and exposure to multiple facets of the business. For those BAs who have an interest in other roles, the BA COE provides exposure to other roles while enabling the organization to retain talent and lose little productivity.
To recap: a BA COE will enable organizations to more rapidly on-ramp, train, and mature BA skills. By creating a framework for a unified approach to skills development, methodologies, and performance metrics, a BA COE will simplify how business users and developers use, review, and verify requirements. That same consistent and unified approach will simplify how an organization maintains and updates training material, leading to consistent output and results for every project. And a BA COE provides a clearly defined path for career growth for BAs, increasing retention while providing opportunities for mentorship and leadership both within the organization and in professional communities.
Author: Balaji Vijayan (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Product Manager at Seilevel, a professional services firm that specializes in helping Fortune 1000 clients redefine the way they create software requirements, in order to enhance their business outcomes. He writes about BA best practices in blog posts that can be found at http://requirements.seilevel.com/blog/.