Where Have All The Business Analysts Gone?

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In recent years it has become more and more apparent that the job description of Business Analyst has become diluted and distorted. Can this be considered the natural evolution of a profession or is it a profession that no longer has a clear job description? Is this a profession that has moved past the point of clear boundaries or are the boundaries still there but blurred based on the need to adapt to a changing world to meet the needs of people rather than the needs of the business? What can we do to win back the respect that the Business Analyst profession deserves? Exactly whose responsibility is it to maintain a professional and respected image of this profession? Should the recruitment process of Business Analysts be an exercise in requirements gathering?

Some 5 years ago, you looked for a business analyst to take an idea or a concept and turn this into a tangible solution based on the needs of the business and the strategic direction of the organization. This was achieved by following a discipline and ensuring complete traceability from the idea or concept stage, to the requirements, through to the testing and business signoff. Nowadays, this is no longer the case with the increasing need to place business analysts into a position where there is only the need to justify decisions based on an organizations need to change, or the promotion to a position that doesn't tangibly exist. Requirements are now simply gathered and recorded to justify, if not quantify an exercise rather than endeavoring to establish why a change is required, and if required is the change the right one to make at the time. The distinct lack of root cause analysis removes a level of understanding or traceability as to the origins of a decision or an expected outcome. This does not imply that the position is just a means to an end, but rather that the Business Analyst may have moved to the back line to simply gathers requirements. This has resulted in a gap which in turn has placed Solution Architects and Enterprise Architects onto the frontline to deal with the increasing complexity around the way a business and its technology function on a day to day basis.

Career progression in both the public and private sector has resulted in a need to promote people into positions within the organization based on either BAU or project work. Often these positions are impossible to label with specific titles, as they combine multiple tasks and responsibilities to achieve a selection of outcomes. They are more often than not, un-definable positions. However, driven by the position descriptions loosely fitting into a criteria of a business analyst profession with the individual required to meet with people and put information into documents, or, there is some other form of analysis work required, the position is given the title of a business analyst. Over time this has resulted in the job description of a business analysis becoming shallow and vague at best.

Many organizations that do not fully understand the role for which they are recruiting for often provide the recruitment firms (or the Human Resource department) with a brief if not recycled description of the role that they are trying to fill. These shallow and vague descriptions make it extremely difficult for recruitment firms to ascertain the needs of the organization and is often loosely matched with a candidate who may have a broad skill set, but may not be suitable for the role. Recruitment firms that are able to understand the specific requirements of the organization, and in-turn design a solution that will meet the organizations requirements are far and few between. Many Business Analyst have received a call from recruitment firms advising that they have a position that is perfect, only to find out that it completely irrelevant to their current career path. Should the recruitment agent role be redefined as a Business Analyst then? The simple answer is no, the requirements for the profession are already provided in the form of the IIBA BABOK (International Institute of Business Analysts Business Analyst Body of Knowledge). It is however, critical to the organizations to understand how these requirements relate to their organizations and document these requirements in a form that is understandable to both the organization and the recruitment firms, and which specific requirements are considered mandatory to meet the organizations requirements. This is, and will continue to be the responsibility of the organization recruiting for a Business Analyst. Organizations must be continually aware of the time and money used for recruitment and that these are used optimally for an outcome that is in the interest of the organizations strategic direction.

So where have all the business analysts gone? It would be nice to say that natural progression has taken these individuals based on their ability to communicate and operate with both the IT and business sectors of the business and moved these individuals into roles where they are now able to influence the organization at a level where they are no longer hindered by bureaucracy or politics, i.e. consultancy or solutions architects. However, this is not the case, the individuals who possess the core competencies that are required to be able to fulfill the requirements of a business analysts have evolved and adapted and will continue to adapt to organizational changes and influence the organizations at the levels that they currently operate at. Be it in providing mentoring or training, or analyzing requirements for an organization that understands the value of this profession and will not relinquish their grasp on these highly skilled individuals.

Moving forward, it is important to take the profession as business analysis as seriously as possible due to the nature of the role. A person operating in this profession can make or break an organization based on their ability to listen, understand, interpret and present facts in the form of requirements of both internal and external parties. Independent organizations founded in an attempt to support Business Analysts and provide understanding into the profession such as the IIBA are seeking to achieve a level of respect to fortify the profession, though as the world changes; the profession loses respect due to unqualified and under skilled professionals operating in this space. These organizations will endure and gradually win back the well deserved respect of the profession based on publications such as the BABOK though this will be a gradual and drawn out process and will require ongoing support from training organizations to ensure that any training provided addresses the core competencies required by this profession.

Training organizations around the world have taken an opportunistic approach in the past with the clarity of the Business Analyst profession. A distinct lack of Job Performance Analysis (JPA) has resulted in a variety of training courses aimed at providing the Business Analyst with a multitude of tools and theories on how a Business Analysts should operate contributing to the confusion regarding the profession. Responsibility needs to be taken by a variety of stakeholders to ensure that the profession is regulated and kept in line with core competencies. This responsibility should be spread across the training organizations, Business Analysts seeking the training and organizations such as the IIBA. It is important to share this responsibility with others, such as recruitment firms, human resources, managers and the other Business Analysts in the organization who are currently and will be operating in these roles in the future. With the ongoing publications such as the BABOK we can now fully understand what the profession entails. Even with the ongoing evolution of the Business Analyst position description, we are provided with the information and resources to fully understand how we can operate within these boundaries to restore the respect of the position.

In a world where information is often at our fingertips, online communities which are specifically established to support professionals such as Business Analyst with sample documentation, forums, book reviews etc are, and will continue to provide a haven for professionals. These communities provide the perfect environment for Business Analysts to understand their roles and the roles of others. The possibility of networking via these communities provide vital information for understanding professional strengths and weaknesses which enables us to perform our role adequately if not exceptionally. The profession has and will always aims to provide ongoing improvements to an organizations strategic direction, however, it is often neglected to pass these improvements on to the individual. Self improvement will continue to allow the individual Business Analyst to operate effectively within their roles, meeting the demands of the organization, the profession and the individual whilst continuing to enhance and improve potential career opportunities and maintain the respect of the profession.

Author: Nathan Fulton has spent the best part of a decade working in the Business Analyst profession with a passion for the development of Business Analysts and organizational change management. He has worked across the globe delivering projects for a variety of organizations of varied industries.

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COMMENTS

samcherubin posted on Wednesday, February 25, 2009 3:52 PM
I see at least 7 distinct themes here, each of which deserves a separate article:

1. Inadequate or outdated HR job description of Business Analyst.

2. Problems with recruitment/consulting firms’ descriptions of open business analyst positions.

3. Industry definitions of "Business Analyst."

4. Organizational change management.

5. Boundaries between business analysts and Enterprise and Solution Architects.

6. New, as yet undefined positions that are being called “business analyst.”

7. Conflicting training methodologies and recommended tools.

8. The importance of online communities.


Here are some thoughts:


BUSINESS ANALYST HAS ALWAYS BEEN AN ALL-ENCOMPASSING TERM

In my own career, I have been hired for positions with the title, Business Analyst, where the actual job role was:
• Data Analyst
• Management Consultant
• Process Consultant
• Project Manager
• QA Lead
• QA Tester
• System Analyst

In Britain the term Business Analyst may also refer to a Financial Analyst. This was also the case until quite recently in the US.


THE PROFESSION IS EVOLVING FASTER THAN THE JOB DEFINITION

It is not up to HR to understand what BAs do.

Any definition of business analysis must be expansive and able to adapt to change, rather than being restrictive and static.

The answer is not a more rigid definition, but a more fluid, flexible and dynamic one.

In a forthcoming article on Modern Analyst.com, I write, “Traditionally, business analysts have been forced to sit at the children’s table during Thanksgiving. They are not usually allowed to play in strategic spaces, or poke their sticky little fingers into senior leadership dilemmas. ”

Recently, our sticky little fingers have been poked in an increasing number of tasty organizational pies.


“COMPUTING MACHINERY” ITSELF IS EVOLUTIONARY

I highly recommend the esteemed and venerable organization The Association for Computing Machinery, (http://www.acm.org/) which was founded in 1947.

They are a reminder of the sheer breadth, scope, diversity, history and intellectual rigor behind our industry.

Methodology lags behind technology, just as technology (Techne) lags behind science and art (Poesis).


Sam Cherubin
larryackley posted on Wednesday, March 4, 2009 12:40 PM
Nathan: Just a note -- I think you inserted a typo that fundamentally changes the meaning of one of your statements:

"Independent organizations foundered in an attempt to support Business Analysts and provide understanding into the profession such as the IIBA are seeking to achieve a level of respect to fortify the profession, though as the world changes; the profession loses respect due to unqualified and under skilled professionals operating in this space."

It took me aback for a moment -- have organizations like IIBA really "foundered" in their efforts? I think the IIBA in particular has been extremely effective and is doing many, many things not only right, but very successfully. So I'm guessing you meant "founded", not "foundered". (I'm not trying to be picky, just wanted to help other readers not end up trying to read more into your statement than you intended!)

On the other hand, I was certainly cheering as I read your statement just before: "Moving forward, it is important to take the profession as business analysis as seriously as possible due to the nature of the role. A person operating in this profession can make or break an organization based on their ability to listen, understand, interpret and present facts in the form of requirements of both internal and external parties." Here here! Apparently Fidelity recently commissioned a study of what are the primary causes of software project failure TODAY; and they got essentially the same results as the Gartner Group got a decade ago -- bad requirements are still the main culprit!

Thanks for your analysis!

-- Larry Ackley
(Senior Business Analyst & BA Mentor -- larryackley@verizon.net)
mooselogic posted on Monday, March 9, 2009 10:21 AM
Hi Larry,

Thanks for the great feedback, and well spotted on the typo. This is definitely a typo as I hold IIBA in high regards for their work into our profession. They are a very respectable organisation and I hope that their momentum continues into the future.

I have sent a request for the editor to fix the typo as I do not want people to misunderstand my point in the article.

It is not surprising that bad requirements are still the main culprit for project failures, every day I see bad requirements and the impact they have on organisations. This would be a great subject to write about from a Business Analyst perspective and why bad requirements are often misunderstood as good requirements.

Thanks again

-- Nathan Fulton
dgillies posted on Tuesday, March 17, 2009 3:50 PM
Hi, Larry. I am an IT recruiter and trying to learn the BA/BSA field so as to create a focus on it...and so that I can do a better job both finding correct talent for my searches and also to help HR define exactly what they need. These articles/comments are extremely useful.

I attended this webinar last night:

BABOK® version 2.0 Release Party
Presented by Kevin Brennan, CBAP, Vice President, Professional Development

In tha article, Kevin demonstrated in a pie chart exactly what you mention above. The dismal success rates of projects (especially software are due to poor requirements. 50% responsible....50% of the pie.

The interesting thing is this. There were several other much smaller slices. Two of those slices being "Lack of Qualified Resources" at 3% and "Poor Communiction" representing 14%.

Kevin's theory is that everything is in reverse. Lack of Qualified Resources and Poor Communication are actually the "causative roots" for the Poor Requirements Definition.

It sounds to me like this is a bit of a paradigm shift for the BA market. I think people have just accepted the Poor Requirements Definition model and not looked deeper into the problem...thus, self perpetuating. Is it one that we should embrace...or not?

=======================================

My other point that feeds into the "Poor Communication" vein is this. It seems to me that Communication and Leadership are tools that are the foundation for being a good BA/BSA or PM. One can be an absolute black belt in any methodology...or several, yet if they cannot communicate their ideas to an organzation in a way they they are adopted (leadership!!!), then these theories, methodologies and ideas are meaningless. How many times have you met with stakeholders who met you with closed arms and smirks on their faces. If you can't penetrate that, you are cooked.

My contention is that communication courses should be mandatory in the certification process in the BA/BSA/PM field. We must become as good at communication as process.

Case in point: I was at an AGILE (APLN) round table discussion just recently. A fellow sat next to me who made several public smart alex comments (the first one was funny, but #2 and then #3 became increasingly annoying), seemed quite introverted and closed off, and then proceeded to chew ice that I know the round table participants could hear. (we were only two rows back) My first thought was, "who in the hell is going to follow this guy in ANYTHING???!!!" He is rude, obnoxious, and inconsiderate. I could care less what he knows.

I would be interested to hear your thoughts.

- David


Trizi posted on Friday, September 16, 2011 12:09 PM
@David - A Good Communicator is first generous with their listening, very closely followed by generous with their ideas. I believe that if someone chews ice at a meeting and happens to to also have a great deal to offer to the project, then it is professional to control my thoughts, put aside my own pre-conceived judgements and make use of what he has to offer. As the relationship builds, then decide if it's a noise issue or your own issue and take it from there.
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