Establishing a Business Analysis Community of Practice (BA CoP), Part 1

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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?

Definitions

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 Champion

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.

Apprenticeship

What the new need to know, but the old withhold.

Cohesiveness

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.

Community

Business analysts and the people who love them. This can include PMs, Developers, Architects, program managers, SMEs, sponsors and organizational leadership.

Curiosity

Passion, excitement and inquisitiveness. This is a much more fundamental driver than “career development.”

Expertise

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:

  • Analysis
  • Collating massive amounts of information
  • Communication
  • Creativity
  • Facilitation
  • Organization
  • 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.

Leaders

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.

Looking outside

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:

  • Lean
  • 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)

Mentoring

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.

Participation

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.

Purpose

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.

Shared Spaces

This implies several things:

  • Shared storage spaces: an intranet or SharePoint site.
  • Shared knowledge:
    • BA Toolkit
    • BA Playbook
    • Templates
    • Guidelines
    • Project examples of artifacts in use
    • Case studies
    • Industry references
  • Shared technology, which can include tools used for:
    • modeling
    • prototyping
    • requirements
    • QA
    • versioning
  • 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.

Stability

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.

Standards

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.

Coming Soon:

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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COMMENTS

peterleather posted on Sunday, March 29, 2009 12:55 PM
Hi Sam, Really pleased to see this topic! I have experience in implementing a BA Community of Practice in the UK. The benefits of CoPs can seem a bot intangible to some senior people. Don't be afraid to align the CoP with the real buisness issues facing the organisation - you then get the credibility to do all the less tangible stuff!!

We used ours to drive significant growth in the Business Analysis capability of our organisation and focussed on tangible measurable benefits.
* Achieved CMMi Level 3 - new processes developed, processes deployed consistently, BA’s trained and capable, processes measured and under continuous improvement,
* Significant cost savings by reducing numbers of expensive contractor resources and reducing re-work of requirements
* Grew the number of fully effective, permanent Business Analysts from 25 to c100
* Raised levels of staff satisfaction and employee engagement amongst the BA’s
* Raised professional credibility of the BA community with key stakeholders
* Implemented an improved performance management and career development framework.

I then went on to lead 7 CoPs (covering IT and PM professions). Case study details at http://exceptional-performance.co.uk/case-studies/.

Look forward to your next articles.
ndaza posted on Sunday, March 29, 2009 1:46 PM
Thanks very much for this article. This is a fantastic idea. We are a small company with five business analysts assigned to IT. However, I am going to explore this concept with my management colleagues.
ITBloke posted on Monday, March 30, 2009 3:37 PM
Sure it does sound like a great idea. If followed even partially, would enhance our (BA) effectiveness. I think we need to identify "A Champion" at our work place to get ball rolling. I am going to forward this link to one such at my work place.
Meanwhile, let us pour our thoughts to start something of similar virtually.
Anonymous posted on Tuesday, April 7, 2009 7:30 PM
100% agree CoPs are a good idea - even if they are only partially successfully implemented.

If I could add one comment that ISN'T 100% enthusiastic though - and perhaps this comment is more a prequel to your "commonly encountered problems, issues and risks" article - it is the following...

More than any other profession, a business analyst is required to embrace change. I think therefore this profession has a tendency to attract people who like change for the sake of change. CoPs can become vehicles uniting such people. So make sure there are some cool heads involved who have been there and done that and can evaluate potential changes objectively to avoid domination by those who might want to try a different methodology every month.

samcherubin posted on Wednesday, April 8, 2009 8:07 AM
1) To Peter’s comment, I absolutely agree that the business value must be established up-front.

I will provide of method of doing just that in a forthcoming article.

2) To Nelson’s comment, I think a CoP can be extremely valuable, regardless of an organization’s size.

Even in a small organization, it can provide consistency and knowledge sharing among BAs.

3) To ITBloke, yes, the Champion is critical.

It is not a good idea to “delegate” a Champion, or have an Executive Sponsor “stand in” as Champion.

The role requires a high degree of participation and supervision. The Champion is in charge of getting the BA CoP up and running, and lending their guidance in the background once the CoP is established.

4) To Anonymous, I also agree that methodology for methodology’s sake can prove costly in the long run.

In reference to Peter’s point above, increased sales, lower project costs, higher customer satisfaction and better quality are the ULTIMATE purpose of a BA CoP . . . not more templates, process and Méthodologie du jour.


druss80 posted on Thursday, July 9, 2009 9:23 PM
Great article. I am a recent software engineering graduate and am in the process of learning all I can about BA's. I've been told by a couple of people that a BA is a good starting point for someone with a BSSE degree. I'm wanting to get some second opinions.

What do you think? Any tips you have for someone staring as a BA?

chuggard posted on Wednesday, December 28, 2016 1:31 PM
I'm rather late coming to the game, here, but this is a great series. I've been charged with establishing a BACOP for NYS Office of Information Technology Services, and this has been a great resource. Thank you!
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