Have you heard of Bloom’s Taxonomy? More importantly, have you thought about how you can use the taxonomy to give yourself a performance evaluation?
Benjamin Bloom led a team of educators in the 1950s to identify a taxonomy, or classification, of learning objectives. The committee broke the objectives into three distinct areas, Cognitive (knowledge, comprehension, and critical thinking), Affective (emotional response and empathy), and Psychomotor (physically manipulate body and tools / instruments). For more information, I refer you to Wikipedia and Don Clark‘s articles for more information.
For my part, I want you to focus on the Cognitive function. You can find a number of cool graphics displaying the domain with an online search, but for my part I want to focus on the following chart, taken from “Critical Thinking in the Management Classroom” (by Athanassiou, et al., full reference below.)
When reading this, I translate it into BA practices:
- The basics of our job start with Knowledge, learning about and defining our business’ domain, able to answer a developer’s questions about a given process.
- We daily demonstrate Comprehension, translating business process needs into requirements, paraphrasing and summarizing the business needs into the language of our multiple audiences.
- Application is where we start to prove ourselves, applying business expertise to answer questions and predict behaviors & outcomes.
- It takes deeps business knowledge to do good Analysis, understanding not only business definitions, but seeing patterns, recognizing hidden meanings, understanding the context of information, systems, users, etc.
- Synthesis is all about combining old ideas to create new ones, generalizing for given facts, integrating and designing.
- Comparing and discriminating, assessing options, and verifying the value of different ideas is part of Evaluation.
Note: Bloom’s Taxonomy was revised in 2000, changing the names from nouns to verbs and changing the order of the last two items. The new list is: Remembering, Understanding, Applying, Analyzing, Evaluating, Creating. It is worth considering if BAs should in fact spend more effort on Evaluation / Evaluating and have less need for Synthesis / Creating.
I want to argue every BA needs to be great. Every BA needs to be able to perform at all of these levels. Every BA needs to be perfectly fluent in each of the Cognitive domain areas. But do they really need to? I am better at some than others. In fact, I am better at some higher levels than I am at some lower levels. Does this mean I’m a bad BA? I don’t think so.
Imagine you could have your pick of three BAs. All three are very good at Knowledge and Comprehension. The first BA is outstanding in Application, applying all the knowledge they have learned. The second BA loves Analysis, in particular digging into business operations and understanding how it relates to business rules. The third BA lives for Synthesis, integrating old ideas into something that seems new.
Now continue imaging and tell me which BA would you pick for a project that has to combine information from four different systems into a single report? Which BA should go to the project with the stable team, supporting the finance department with regular upgrades and system maintenance? Which BA should work on building out a new CRM system to track all of customer interactions?
As you can see, different projects have different needs, different cognitive levels. And as individuals, we are better at some tasks than others. So what does that mean?
It means we need to understand and play to our strengths. It also means we need to acknowledge our weaknesses and look for the best way to support our project and team when the project does not match our strengths. You can partner with others on your team if Synthesis isn’t your strong suit. You can push more decisions to the team if your Evaluation level is weak. You can still contribute to a successful project when it needs one of your weak areas, but only if you are paying attention and diligently shoring up this level.
Here’s a checklist to think about your contribution to your current project, modified from Athanassiou’s paper:
- ____ Did you summarize the concepts / goals / stories / requirements covered by your business partners? (Knowledge)
- ____ Did you demonstrate you understood what this project was about by comparing it or contrasting it with other projects, requirements, applications? (Comprehension)
- ____ Did you connect the ideas from this project to other projects, initiatives, business goals, competitor actions? (Application)
- ____ Did you examine the business goals and requirements so that you identified the theories, assumptions, fallacies, and ways of organizing their ideas? (Analysis)
- ____ Did you explore the goals and use this exploration to build a new understanding of the business or formulate new ideas or solutions? (Synthesis)
- ____ Do your actions demonstrate you critique ideas and solutions based on an understanding of overall business objectives rather than personal opinion? (Evaluation)
Athanassiou, Nicholas, Jeanne McNett, and Carol Harvey. (2003). Critical Thinking in the Management Classroom: Bloom’s Taxonomy as a Learning Tool. Journal of Management Education, 27(5), 533-555. Available here (@ $32! for 1 day of access)
Hat tip to Chris Boynick for referencing the above paper and giving me more context to start digging into Bloom’s Taxonomy.