Establishing a Business Analysis Community of Practice, Part 3

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Why BA CoP's fail: 10 things to watch out for

Understanding why BA CoPs fail is an essential part of strategic planning. If you can identify the gaps in your own organization, you will be in a much better position to put a plan in place to "Mind the Gap."

This article will look at 10 common reasons why BA CoPs fail.

Problem 1: Leadership (or the lack thereof)

The wrong Champion

BA CoPs fail when a Champion wants to have a CoP for cosmetic reasons. They feel having a CoP will make them look good within their organization, but they are not personally invested in its survival.

Remember that it's not a good idea to "delegate" a Champion, or have an Executive Sponsor "stand in" as Champion. The Champion role requires a high degree of participation, consistency and supervision.

The wrong CoP leader or CoP leadership team

Finding the right person to be the CoP leader is not an easy task. Leading a community of BAs needs some very particular skills and behaviors: encouraging participation, managing CoP events and linking with other related communities (such as PM / PMO / Designers / Developers).

A technically talented BA is not necessarily the best BA for the job of leader.

The wrong Sponsor or no Sponsor

Lack of senior level sponsorship will cause a CoP to fail. Organizationally it's usually quite easy to identify senior level sponsors of communities such as PM or IT Architecture - but a BA community often does not have obvious senior level sponsors.

Problem 2: Baby BAs

BAs are too junior

In many organizations, BAs are predominantly a junior resource only - they don't have the leadership skills, or the experience to self-organize and develop a CoP. They may not be aware of industry standards, BA methodology or what is happening "outside their walls."

BAs have inconsistent skill sets

This is common in companies without any standard BA Training, where the BAs have been hired from outside, and have disparate backgrounds, abilities, competencies and domain knowledge.

There may not be enough skilled BAs in an organization to effectively establish and then run a CoP.

Problem 3: Shifting Organizational Sands

High turnover in all roles

If BAs move rapidly in and out of projects and switch domains or business areas, their CoP sponsors may "disappear."

High turnover creates inconsistent material, training, communication and BA orientation.

The Organization is constantly shifting

This can be result from:

  • Acquisitions and mergers, where an enterprise must rapidly reorganize.

  • BAs moving from Business to IT and back again.

CoPs often get lost in this organizational re-shuffling, as waves of change sweep the BA CoP away.

Problem 4: Community of Process

Inflexible / intransigent

Once methods and working practices are documented - this generates a very strong sense of ownership (which is a sign of a strong community). However it can then be difficult for the CoP to be open to change, and CoP members may wish to protect the effort which was put into creating and documenting their working practices.

The danger occurs when real working practices on projects start to diverge from the documented working practices. When this happens, the CoP and its processes start to lose credibility.

Too much methodology and process, not enough responsiveness to actual business needs

Another common error is focusing on BA methodology, templates and processes, without understanding the underlying business problems/needs:

  • Poor communication or facilitation

  • Unacceptable documentation

  • Missed requirements

  • Disconnection with Stakeholders, Subject Matter Experts, PMs, developers or QA

Problem 5: No Time, Participation or Motivation

Many people sign up, but they can't or won't deliver against their commitments

Most people want to be part of a CoP, without recognizing or appreciating the time commitment that's required. In addition, the pressure of project work means that many CoPs try to make progress on their action plan in the slivers of time which people are given (or they create) alongside their project delivery work.

It's easy for these commitments to slip, and it can also be a very ineffective way of delivering: e.g. attempting to deliver a 10 person-day piece of work for the CoP by having 10 people spend 1 day each over the course of 2 months.

It's better to commit resources up front, which needn't be more expensive. Committed resources are very important in the early days to build momentum and to achieve initial business benefits, which in turn creates the case for further resources.

Lack of participation.

Unmotivated or uncommitted BAs may be due to several reasons:

  • Lack of strong sponsorship

  • No focused group activities

  • Uninteresting material

  • Group members don't see the value of participating

Without participation (the practice in Community of Practice), the CoP "fizzles out."

Problem 6: No organizational commitment or investment

Organizational resistance and roadblocks

This includes not allowing BAs to spend time participating in or contributing to their CoP. Some commonly heard objections are:

  • Do we really need a BA CoP?

  • Are we mature enough as an organization to create something like that?

  • Are we big enough to create something like that?

  • Isn't this just more methodology and process?

  • We already have a PMO.

  • We don't have the money.

  • We don't have the right people.

  • We don't have the time.

  • We don't want a Community of Practice; we want a Center of Excellence.

  • What value does it add to my organization?

Problem 7: BA > PM Career Path

Junior BA > Senior BA > PM

In many organizations, the only way to progress to a senior position is to move into PM roles. This has a negative impact on BA CoPs, as those people may consider the time and personal commitment to build or to contribute to a BA CoP as wasted effort.

I.e., if promotion is your aim - why waste your energies developing the BA profession in your organization?

Problem 8: Insufficient reward: no recognition for developing and contributing to a CoP

A handshake, instead of a kiss

If it is an under-the-radar activity, do you get any organizational recognition (even a thank you) for developing / contributing to your CoP?

When CoP-building activities are undertaken on a voluntary, unrecognized basis, they are at great risk of being dropped in favor of more formal objectives.

This is a symptom of being disconnected from organizational objectives. If your contribution to the BA CoP doesn't appear in your annual objectives, then why are you doing it?

Problem 9: The underlying SDLC is disconnected or flawed

Broken SDLC

The underlying SDLC may be confused, with no clear hand-offs between:

  • Business Analysis

  • Development

  • Governance and budgeting

  • Portfolio management

  • Program management

  • Project management/PMO

The Project failed, but the Requirements looked beautiful

BA processes may be robust and well-defined, but if there is no interaction with other groups, then BAs wander like Ophelia, cutting their requirements into paper flowers, disconnected from the Renaissance world of development, testing and implementation.

If there is no genuine collaboration between BAs and developers, or if the developers are doing Agile/Scrum/XP development and the BA CoP has only "traditional" requirements processes, the CoP will fail.

Problem 10: Lack of internal marketing of BA value

The CoP can become inward looking / not sharing / defensive, and not managing their key stakeholders

BAs are usually passionate about the value of their profession and the need for great business analysis processes (requirements development, requirements management, business modeling, etc).

However they are not always as passionate about demonstrating the value with some measurable benefits. They may also not be pro-active in promoting their value to other communities.

If the BA CoP does not market itself internally and does not demonstrate measurable value to the organisation, the BA CoP will be at great risk of being "dissolved" by the organization's Powers That Be.


Authors: Peter Leather & Sam Cherubin

Peter Leather is a specialist in developing the capability of Business Change & IT organisations and a recognised expert in implementing skills frameworks and developing CoPs. He led the implementation of a 100-person Business Analysis CoP at UK Insurer Norwich Union and then went on to oversee the development of seven Business Change & IT CoPs including Project Management, IT Design & Architecture and Testing. He was invited to speak at the SFIA UK Capability Management conference in 2007 to share this experience with 200 IT leaders from the UK & Europe. Please contact him at www.exceptional-performance.co.uk/business-analysis.

Sam Cherubin is a business analyst, consultant and author. He has developed Toolkits, Playbooks and Templates for BA CoPs. He can be reached on LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/samcherubin.

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COMMENTS

clausid posted on Monday, May 11, 2009 8:38 AM
Excellent list. We have struggled with many of these same issues in our own organization in building our community of practice. While ours continues to grow and thrive, it is only due to a small group of dedicated professionals who fight many of the above issues as they are encountered. The value of the BA and requirements role in the success of projects is highly undervalued and frequently misunderstood. Reading this list provides comfort in the knowledge that we are not the only ones fighting these battles, and hopefully with groups and people such as the IIBA, Ellen G. and yourself we can continue to bring understanding to our value.
robins1m posted on Tuesday, May 12, 2009 6:20 PM
I'd be interested to hear the views of others on the statement: "BAs are usually passionate about the value of their profession and the need for great business analysis processes".

Whilst those you meet at conferences and on websites like this are another kettle of fish, the percentage of BAs I've encountered in my working life that I'd describe as "passionate" about the BA profession is actually quite small - certainly less than 50%.

Many see themselves as just "passing through" on the way to another role - PM, sales, etc.

Others have been in the game so long they have become 'old dogs' refusing to even consider that there might be some 'new tricks'.

For these reasons, to connect this to the point of the article, it can be difficult to establish a CoP or, if you do establish one, difficult not to be seen as an ivory tower for boffins - trying to bring about changes that the majority are not particularly interested in.

Your thoughts?
samcherubin posted on Friday, May 15, 2009 8:23 AM
Thanks for your comments.

It’s extremely important to tie CoPs to actual business needs, rather than to a theoretical methodology, the “ivory tower for boffins.”

What we can learn from Agile/Scrum is that methodology can address and solve real needs:

The traditional waterfall requirements process causes dangerously long project delays, and the delivered application is often far removed from the original business intention.

The Agile solution is collaborative, iterative direct work with the business customer/owner, who can provide design input throughout the development process.

There’s no reason that a CoP can’t identify and creatively solve similar problems.

It’s the rigidity we described above in “Problem 4: Community of Process,” that is the roadblock to this type of innovative thinking.

As the economy deteriorates, the ability to think, innovate and solve organizational issues will be a very marketable skill.
peterleather posted on Tuesday, May 19, 2009 4:28 AM
Mobo - Thanks for your comments.

I think you make a legitimate point regarding the number of "dispassionate BA's". I suggest the ratio may be more 80:20 - i.e. 20% of the BA's supply 80% of the passion and drive for a community.

This is another reason why the community needs a strong and engaging leader - who is not necessarily a technically strong BA.

As a leader of a BA CoP - I focussed a lot of attention on the people.

- Helping BA's understand how their role works with others in the organisation, how important the role is and why we needed to improve the way we do things.

-Providing formal and informal training opportunities is a good sign of organisational commitment to BA's.

- Building up a sense of community through regular events,

- Identifying the passionate BA's who will be champions for the community (e.g. we aligned champions to our work products e.g. we had a Use Case champion).

Also important is the work the CoP leader does outside the BA community - selling and demonstrating the value of the profession to stakeholders.

- e.g. I was able to convince our organisation to introduce a career path from junior BA thru' to principal BA - which gave BA's the opportunity for career equivalence to a Programme Manager or Enterprise Architect.

- We also influenced the resourcing approach on projects and programmes to avoid (where possible) having a BA reporting solely to a Project Manager.Before this many PM's would use their BA as a general project assistant (aka the dogsbody) not as someone with critical analytical skills and a specialist in BA methods and tools. We looked at ensuring there were experienced BA's available to support and mentor junior BA's across all projects and they also ensured that the BA's were being used on the right activities. This often meant spreading the more experienced BA's across several projects.

Finally it was key to formally recognise and reward those BA's who were making a contribution to developing their profession and their community.

- I had to tap into the performance appraisal process to do this so that the contributing BA's were formally recognised for their contribution. In addition we gave recognition through the community (e.g thank you's at BA CoP meetings, putting them forward for bigger assignments, putting them on organisation wide working groups, raising their profile).
-A good leader will be skilled at finding effective ways for recognising contribution.

Doing this sets clear expectation of what is expected from BA's; tapping into the passionate 20% helps to drive the community forward and also drags up the contribution of the 80%.

Peter Leather
zakiralmamun posted on Sunday, October 4, 2009 6:30 AM
Excellent topics
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