I want it. I have to have it. What is it?
It’s commonly agreed that it’s good to floss, eat plenty of fruit and have a Business Analysis Community of Practice. So why is there no common industry definition of what a BA CoP is, what it does, and how to protect it from “cost-saving” initiatives?
Since BA Center of Excellence and BA Community of Practice are often used interchangeably, let’s look at the background and use of these terms.
1) Center of Excellence
Although “Center of Excellence” has entered the corporate vocabulary, its origins had more to do with marketing than with excellence.
Hamilton and Fisher write, “The term “Center of Excellence” first came into general use in 1991 when the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) started its Medicare Participating Heart Bypass Center Demonstration project. Initially, designation as a “Center of Excellence” had nothing to do with providing excellent health care; instead it described hospitals participating in the project, which had lowering health care costs as a primary goal.” (http://www2.aaos.org/aaos/archives/bulletin/feb06/fline8.asp)
“Center of Excellence” has been discharged from a purely hospital setting, and is now in very wide use, wandering around the corridors of private and public bureaucracies, with no name-tag or precise definition attached.
“Center of Excellence” has come full circle to where it began: a self-designated title, not a description of functions, activities or purpose.
2) Community of Practice
The term “Community of Practice” has a richer definition and substance. Its origins are in the anthropological study of apprenticeships as learning models.
Etienne Wenger states, “Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly. Members of a community of practice are practitioners. They develop a shared repertoire of resources: experiences, stories, tools, ways of addressing recurring problems - in short a shared practice.” (http://www.ewenger.com/theory/index.htm.)
Because it has both provenance and meaning, I will use Community of Practice in this series of articles.
What does a BA Community of Practice imply?
A tireless, ceaseless promoter, advocate and doer. Optimally, someone on a senior level within an organization.
No champion, no CoP.
A Core Group
Advisors, who help with start-up, planning, organization and dissemination.
This includes setting up monthly meetings, maintaining a shared intranet or SharePoint site, creating agendas, presentations and training materials.
Alignment and Awareness
Internally: with the IT Organization, PMO, SDLC, IT and Business Strategies.
Externally: with the BABoK, BA Methodology and emerging industry trends.
What the new need to know, but the old withhold.
The CoP is the picnic table, bringing together physical and virtual teams from a variety of projects. It is where the babes can come out the woods, and munch their lunch as one.
Business analysts and the people who love them. This can include PMs, Developers, Architects, program managers, SMEs, sponsors and organizational leadership.
Passion, excitement and inquisitiveness. This is a much more fundamental driver than “career development.”
If BAs could lift their eyes briefly from their oars, and close their ears to the sound of the cracking whip, they’d realize that along with their “project skills,” they have deep expertise in:
- Collating massive amounts of information
- Problem solving
- Thinking (critically endangered, and perhaps close to extinction)
What if these tools could be used to solve organizational, economic and social problems?
At least you’d stop rowing.
The senior point-people. They act as mentors, trainers and creators of the BA Toolkit. They are often a subset of the Core Group.
Learning by doing
Show me, don’t tell me. This is best done by collaboration: web meetings, job shadowing and mentoring.
I call the conventional requirements tools and templates “the BA Armada.”
There is an enormous amount to be gained from incorporating tools, techniques and approaches from other disciplines, including:
- Six Sigma
- Systems Thinking
- Process Consulting
Alan Weiss wrote, “Organizations tend to be extremely introspective and self-centered. They fail to consider the competition, consumer trends, economic developments, technological improvements, and so on. Find those outside influences that may have the greatest effect on the success or failure of current strategy and offer suggestions on how to avoid, escape, tolerate, or exploit such external factors.” (Organizational Consulting. Wiley & Sons, 2003)
This can be done by the BA Leaders, or by consultants external to an organization. Either way, it’s helpful to have the consulting mindset: an objective advisor, a trusted expert.
Opportunities to create and teach, to learn and share. We can also call this a BA Community of Participation.
How do we get people to participate? We give them things they want to learn.
The mission of a BA CoP and its ramifications:
- Having projects run smoothly, efficiently and successfully.
- High quality requirements packages, that are genuinely useful to both business SME’s and developers.
- BAs who can think, and ultimately become enterprise and strategic business analysts, contributing to, shaping and redesigning their organizations.
This implies several things:
- Shared storage spaces: an intranet or SharePoint site.
- Shared knowledge:
- BA Toolkit
- BA Playbook
- Project examples of artifacts in use
- Case studies
- Industry references
- Shared technology, which can include tools used for:
- Regularly scheduled meetings where people present, ask questions and come together as a community.
- Shared training – ensuring a level skill set, and shared understanding of BA methodology.
The BA CoP must be immune from constantly shifting organizational sands.
It can't get lost in annual reorganizations and realignments. It shouldn’t get disassembled as the BAs are buffeted between Business and IT, like kittens scampering from one side of the house to another. It has to be stable, and be afforded sufficient senior level protection.
The IIBA has done a profound service to all business analysts. Having industry standards for BA tasks, techniques and knowledge areas has definitively raised the profile of business analysis within organizations.
The Project failed, but the Requirements looked beautiful
The next articles in the Establishing a Business Analysis Community of Practice series will explore:
The initial assessments and evaluations that must be done before a BA CoP is established.
The most commonly encountered problems, issues and risks.
The Interface with Reality: BAs wandering like Ophelia, cutting their requirements into paper flowers, disconnected from the Renaissance world of development, testing and implementation.
Author: Sam Cherubin is a business analyst, consultant and author. His focus is on establishing BA CoPs, creating BA Playbooks and Toolkits, and BA mentoring. If you’d like to know how Sam can help your organization, please contact him at http://www.linkedin.com/in/samcherubin
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