Managers who supervise business analysts, particularly in large companies, frequently struggle with creating a competency model for BAs. What are the key elements to consider? How to structure the various BA levels and titles? How to make sure that the competency model truly reflects business needs?
Even if it requires a certain level of effort to be developed, a competency model offers a number of benefit to organizations, including:
- signaling to individuals the expected areas and levels of performance, and providing them with a map or indication of the skills, knowledge and personal characteristics that will be valued, recognized and potentially rewarded;
- helping assess candidates during the recruitment process;
- supporting the definition of roles and career progressions;
- enabling managers to assess performance and improvement against objective key performance indicators;
- allowing the organization to structure training and mentoring programs around the desired competencies and identified competency gaps;
- facilitating the effective planing and structuring of the resource pool based on organizational needs.
An effective competency model should reflect the competencies that are most strategically significant to the business. Instead of including an exhaustive list of all competencies a BA should have, it must focus on the key competencies that a BA working for the company must demonstrate, each of which to be associated with levels of performance (e.g., needs improvement, achieves expectations, exceeds expectations) or growth (e.g., developing, skilled, expert).
The task of creating an effective competency model for business analysts can be made easier by starting from an off-the-shelf competency list. Many are available on the web from a variety of sources (you will find a list of resources at the end of this article). Prescribed solutions and mirroring other company's models, however, are not the best approaches, as an external entity does not necessarily understand or share another company's concerns and goals. Rather than just copying an existing framework based on generic best practices, organizations will benefit from adapting existing models to develop their own framework that builds in business relevance and supports the company’s specific mission, vision, strategy and goals.
Business context is crucial for establishing the right set of key competencies to be developed and monitored. A company that specializes in software products for an international audience, for example, may need to emphasize competencies related to knowledge of ethnic-oriented issues and culturally appropriate communication techniques, whereas for consulting company working with local businesses the main focus may be on the ability to quickly understand the problem domain and present possible solutions to clients.
Managers may find useful to consider the following four dimensions when deciding which key competencies should be listed in their BA competency model:
Interpersonal:Skills required to work effectively with others.
Interpersonal:Attitudes, beliefs, values, confidence inherent to the individual.
Business:Understanding the mechanics of the organization.
Technical:Core technical skills relevant to business analysis work.
Once a competency model has been created, how does a manager ensure that it reflects organizational needs? In the article How to...get your competency framework right, Steve Whiddett and Sarah Hollyforde offer a useful list of simple steps to check whether a competency framework is fit for purpose:
Communicate the purpose - Managers should make sure that employees understand the purpose of the framework - for example, to help with culture change, performance management, recruitment or development. All staff should be clear about how the framework contributes to these objectives.
Identify key themes -In addition to having people understand the purpose of the framework, it is necessary to identify the "themes" that capture business aspirations, based on goals, values, business plans, and so on. Key themes are likely to be things such as "listen to customers" and "look after staff". Managers should make sure that their competency framework support these business themes, encouraging behaviors that are aligned with them.
Get conditions right -Organizational conditions, such as culture, resources, procedures, and management structures should be supportive of the framework. "Be realistic: if conditions inhibit behaviors then change the conditions or change the behaviors."
Tackle the root cause -Managers need to understand between the underpinning characteristics that influence behavior (skills, knowledge, attitude) so they don't end up trying to improve the behavior without tackling the root cause. For example, underdeveloped communication skills may negatively affect multiple competency areas.
Keep it simple -"However ‘perfect’ the framework, if it’s too complicated, long or detailed it won’t be used." Its language and structure should be simple and meaningful to the people who use it.
Train, don’t blame -Once a solid framework has been developed, managers should make sure that everyone who uses it is trained in how to use it so it meets its full potential.
Developing and maintaining a tailored competency model for business analysts requires significant investments in time, critical thinking and understanding of organizational needs. The competency framework needs to reflect the company’s specific mission, vision, strategy and goals, and evolve as conditions change: rapid advances in technology, methodologies and business practices may significantly affect the importance attributed to each competency required from BA over time, requiring adjustments in the established competency model.
The benefits of a solid competency framework that supports the recruitment, development, progression, training, resource allocation and performance evaluation of BAs will, however, greatly outweigh its development and maintaining costs.
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Author: Adriana Beal received her B.S. in electronic engineering and an MBA in strategic management of information systems from two of the most prestigious graduate schools in Brazil. For the past 10 years, she has been identifying business needs and determining solutions for business problems for a diverse client base that includes IT, telecom, and major U.S. financial institutions. She works for ThinkBRQ, a NY-based IT consulting firm, and is the principal consultant at 2wtx, a small web agency offering web strategy consulting and online resources for Business Analysts.