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5-years into a 20-year Process

I was commiserating with a former Requirements Engineer about having to write a Business Analysis Manifesto, discussing why the profession and skill set is not yet recognized for the value it can add. Then he asked a great question, “How do you think we’re doing?”

Pausing just a moment, I replied “I think Business Analysis is 5-years into a 20-year process.” We have made great strides in defining the role, competencies, technical skills, and expectations for a Business Analysis, but really, we are still at the beginning of the journey.

In my mind, we are in a struggle to remake the world. I am sure I watched too much TV as a kid, but I want BAs to emulate Oscar Goldman talking about Steve Austin, “We have the technology. We have the capability to build it better than it was before. Better…stronger…faster.” And have not reached our potential yet. [Some license taken in this quote]

Anyway, looking back over the last decade, I see a radical improvement in the average BA. We still have a long way to go, but we are so much better than we were before. When I started interviewing BAs I ran into many who were not ready for my teams. It was common to find a BA who…

  • … had never had a supervisor who understood their role, or gave them the right assistance and encouragement.
  • … had never been to related training or conference.
  • … had never read a book or blog post written for BAs.
  • … had invented most or all of their own tools and templates.
  • … were given the title because they were former super-users, helping with the last version upgrade, but didn’t understand the greater role or responsibilities.
  • … was a former developer, but never received the support and time to understand business needs and processes.
  • … and so on.

The expectations were so wrong, of course our profession was struggling! I used to draw the following diagram:

Expected versus Actual BA Skill Levels

You can see I thought we were terrible. And by “we,” I include myself in that chart. But the world of business analysis has drastically changed over the last few years.

 

Some factors in the change come from the much greater abundance of materials about our profession. You may not remember this, but BA blogs were big in the pre-fb, pre-twitter days and BAs globally started writing about their experiences. It was a heady time just to read the barrage of information being put out into the world.

And a bunch of BAs in Canada were so cold one winter day they said, “Hey, why don’t we form an organization dedicated to helping our profession.” In just 8 years, the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) is now 20,000+ members strong, chapters in 61 countries, and working on volume 3.0 of the Business Analysis Book of Knowledge (BABOK). The amount of relevant knowledge codified by these volunteers is breathtaking.

Following these leading factors, conferences, books, and networking opportunities for the profession are much more prolific than they used to be.

Simultaneously, if not proceeding the above, companies of every size were living what we read in the Standish Group CHAOS reports. Projects were failing everywhere and it wasn’t too hard to figure out the need for requirements would be a significant help.

Now we know the problem with project failure is ongoing and much of corporate IT attention has turned to Scrum and Agile, but first they started hiring and building their Business Analysis capabilities.

 

Now, if you’ve read this far you understand my take on our recent history. But how does this translate into 5-years into a 20-year process? Of course, it’s just a guess–you never know where you are on the path to a singularity until it happens–but my guess is based on the following factors:

  1. I am once again explaining to corporations the role and value of BAs.
  2. I am surprised by the differences of opinions even among BAs, some of whom believe anyone can do this job and think we do *not* have responsibility for understanding the larger goals of the business.
  3. The basic understanding of competencies (ala Lominger) for BAs is rudimentary.
  4. The basic technical skills a BA should have are growing, but still spotty.
  5. I have found dramatic differences in expectations for our contribution based on corporation size, industry, SDLC, and even geography.
  6. Conversations with BA managers / directors and Center of Excellence leaders show me some of the ongoing conversations about our role and value are ongoing, been lost, and sometimes not yet started.
  7. Talking with authors and speakers shows me we are repeating the basic message many times over and seldom getting to meaty, difficult topics because the audience (which includes both BAs and almost always their working environment) is not ready for it.

I’m encouraged. We’ve made great progress; more progress than I dreamed possible six years ago, but despite some wins the journey has a long way to go.

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