Establishing a Business Analysis Center of Excellence

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Nov 14, 2021
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In a previous organization I worked for, I formed a Business Analysis team by bringing 7 business analysis professionals together for the first time.  There were no templates, no standards, everyone was doing work their own way.  I don’t believe in standards for the sake of everyone doing work the same way, but I do believe in embracing what works best in an organization and striving to use that to achieve repeatable success. 

I introduced the concept of a Business Analysis Center of Excellence (CoE) to the organization.  A CoE is a small group of professionals working on best practices, training, support, and improvements for the whole organization.  Another approach to improving Business Analysis practices in an organization is to set up a Community of Practice (CoP), which is an informal gathering of practitioners meeting to collectively improve how they work.  Either of these structures can work in an organization and there are some organizations that use both.  Here’s a general idea of how they compare: 

Community of Practice (CoP) 

Center of Excellence (CoE) 

  • Informal 

  • Self-organized 

  • Open to all levels of experience to participate 

  • Meet to discuss experiences and learn best practices from each other 

  • Formal 

  • Lead by Managers/Leaders 

  • Focused on standards and best practices 

  • Purpose is to drive consistency and efficiency 

 

A Center of Excellence should be staffed with expert resources.  By using more experienced resources, they have the benefit of knowing what works well and what doesn’t work well with both the culture and structure of the organization.  

Once you have a team selected, it’s time to align on where to focus.  Here are some areas to focus on that I spoke about recently in a webinar discussion panel with Deb Mason from Best Buy and Danielle Robert from Canadian Red Cross: 

  • Project Methodology Steps 

  • Best Practices 

  • Templates 

  • Learning & Professional Development 

  • Peer Reviews 

It can seem daunting to start a Center of Excellence from scratch, but with some planning and prioritization, you can start to deliver value quickly.  For example, you may want to start offering peer reviews of business analysis deliverables.   

Peer Reviews 

It’s easy to set up peer reviews and it will give you insights into some of the deliverables and challenges.  The immediate value that these sessions bring includes: 

  • Improve the quality of work being reviewed 

  • Provides an excellent learning space for junior resources to listen to feedback from those more experienced 

  • May generate ideas for new or improved templates 

  • Brings the Business Analysis team together, which may otherwise be siloed by their work 

Just a word of caution though, it can be intimidating to have your work reviewed in front of peers, so I suggest having a strong facilitator with a supportive approach when running peer reviews. 

If you missed the webinar, you can see the full webinar recording: Start and Grow a Business Analysis Community of Practice.

Starting Your Center of Excellence 

An important step in setting up your Center of Excellence is to understand which project methodology your organization uses so the CoE is built to support it.  In feedback from attendees of the webinar, the majority of organizations are using a hybrid of waterfall and agile.  What works well for one organization may not work well for another, so be sure to start on the right path. 

The methodology may be obvious, or it may require some management discussions to ensure you understand the current state and future direction to ensure you’re aligned on what you’re building.  This is a classic business analysis stakeholder management discussion. 

Once your CoE team is clear on project methodology, you can move on to templates, best practices, and learning.   

Business Analysis Templates

Creating templates for your organization can drive value in a few ways.  As Danielle Robert mentioned in the webinar, templates can provide consistency, which makes it easier to review deliverables for gaps.  They also set the expectation and structure for those less experienced in the business analysis field.  Templates will also make your resources more efficient as they can begin work quickly on new tasks instead of starting from scratch each time. 

Some examples of templates you may want to develop are: 

  • Business Requirements Document 

  • Requirements Traceability Matrix 

  • Process Map Template (with a guide defining shapes) 

  • RACI Chart 

  • User Story Template 

  • Request for Proposal (RFP) 

Using templates also makes communicating with your stakeholders and subject matter experts (SME) a little easier over time.  They will learn what to expect from the business analysis team and where to find the information they’re looking for. 

Best Practices

Repeatability is a key concept to help your business analysis resources be more successful.  Seek out success stories from your business analysis community in the approaches and techniques they use.  What can you do to repeat that success across the team?  This is where you engage the community in discussions about what works and what doesn’t.  Here are some other questions to ask when defining best practices: 

  • How do your top performers continue to be successful? 

  • Where are their frequent challenges? 

  • What are common roadblocks? 

We’re in the business of human interaction, so there are complexities in how we interact with others.  Some of the best practices won’t be specific to Business Analysis technical skills but could be how to work with individual stakeholders in your organization. 

IIBA has a number of resources to help with best practices such as the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge, Agile Extension, Guide to Product Ownership, etc.  To learn how your organization can benefit from membership, go to https://go.iiba.org/corporate-membership 

Learning & Development for Business Analysis 

The Center of Excellence is also an opportunity to share learning and development opportunities.   There may be a new skill that the organization needs, and that can be promoted by the CoE selecting the best training and sharing that with those practicing business analysis.   There are different forms of learning you can support, including: 

  • Formal training 

  • Self-directed learning 

  • Studying for certification 

  • Pairing up business analysis resources on projects 

  • Peer learning 

In the webinar, Danielle mentioned peer learning.  She set these up in her CoE as a monthly demo or Q&A with the team to share their knowledge.  One of the team members highlights a skill or experience they’ve had as a way for others to learn from a project within the organization. 

As Deb mentioned, her organization has dedicated 8 hours per month to learning.  This fosters growth and exploration.  Consider having a discussion with your leadership team about something like this to encourage your business analysis resources to improve their skills. 

I hope you find this information useful.  If you’d like to join online conversations about leadership and management of business analysis resources, you can request to join the Business Analysis Leaders LinkedIn Group.  You must be a Team Lead, Manager, or above for your request to be approved to join this peer network. 

Setting up a business analysis Center of Excellence takes a lot of thought and energy, but it’s rewarding to see the results once it’s up and running.  I’ve had many comments from the business analysis team about how they enjoy the focus and investment in their profession.  I hope your experience will be the same. 


A person wearing glassesDescription automatically generated with medium confidence Author: Scott Bennett, Manager, Business Analysis, International Institute of Business Analysis

Scott Bennett is the Manager of Business Analysis at the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA).  Scott has managed several Business Analysis teams in his 20-year career in the Financial Services, Corporate Real Estate, and Non-Profit industries.  Before working at IIBA, Scott worked at CIBC, Capital One, Sun Life, and BentallGreenOak.  Scott holds a Bachelor of Business Administration degree and is CBAP certified. 

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