Yesterday, while having lunch with a friend, the CIO of an entertainment enterprise headquartered in Central Florida, I asked what he thought about hiring BAs for his larger projects. His answer was sort of a “huh?”. At which point, I had to backup and explain the term Business Analyst, and the role they play, and as I did so, he nodded and said “oh, they’re really important.” In fact, he described a recent 2-yr long migration to an enterprise content management system where he contracted with an analyst who specialized in just this sort of thing to guide him through the migration process. The notion of the “BA” as a general analyst for all things IT wasn’t on his radar.
This confirmed a couple things: BAs are critical to the success of many projects, but they’re also a bit misunderstood. Sure, in large banking, finance, insurance companies, BAs are common, but in the wider corporate enterprise space, and certainly with mid-sized enterprises, it’s not always so clear who we are and what we do, and the value we bring. And my friend also confirmed, that the term “analyst” itself is not only misunderstood, it carries some baggage. He chuckled when I reminded him of the scene in the movie “Office Space” when the BA named Mykowski is being interviewed by the consultants who were looking to downsize the firm. You’ve probably seen it, but even if you haven’t, watch it again.
I bet you’re feeling a bit of discomfort along with humor as you watch that because, let’s face it, that’s not exactly the distant past for our profession. Not so long ago, the BHRD (Big Hunkin Requirements Document) was de rigueur, along with dry arcane language, that too few people read or fully understood. Not so long ago, and still in use somewhat today, are Waterfall process methodologies that place high stakes on the BAs who may or may not deliver the right requirements at the right time. Sure, these days, BA’s are rightfully more confident. They bandy about best practices and quote credible sources on topics like elicitation, validation, and visualization, but not so long ago, the profession wasn’t quite that sophisticated and nuanced.
The above conversation with my CIO friend, resonated and reinforced what I heard at the recent international conference (Building Business Capability) in October of 2010; namely, that BAs have come of age, or actually, are “coming of age” and are positioned to do great things in the coming years.
However, the underlying theme that I also heard either whispered or implied throughout the event, was also clear: BA’s can be that great IF they’re prepared to deepen their skills and stretch even farther into, what I took away from the conference, these six dimensions:
1. Shift our focus from “functionalities” to “capabilities” This might be the core theme of the event, but it’s clear we can do a better job of moving past the project level of the enterprise, and to the realm and mindset of organizational units needing specific business capabilities. Make that our first and only home.
2. Think first, and always, “Rules” and “Process” This is a bit of a “no duh” idea for many BAs who do this almost as second nature, but there are now real standards for defining and communicating rules and process (this XML like stuff), and amazing tools for managing both those areas that we need to become familiar and comfortable with.
3. Get agile – in two senses. Literally, make creating more agile organizations that can respond quickly to changing dynamics your highest priority, but too, make getting comfortable with working in an “Agile” context (as in non-waterfall like iterative style development) a priority as well.
4. Be leaders in Enterprise Architecture There was a lot of discussion and workshops, and a forthcoming IIBA handbook on EA, and it’s clear that BA’s in the coming years who design and analyze at the level of the enterprise, will be positioned for success.
5. Get trained, get certified IIBA has two certificates available now, and there are really great training companies out there offering courses, webinars, and degrees in business analysis.
6. Collaborate and mentor Several workshops touched on the mutual values of mentoring and being mentored, as well the advantages of creating BA Centers of Excellence (BA-COE’s) within organizations.
Over the next months, I’ll explore each of these themes in more detail, through more in-depth reporting on the Building Business Capability event itself, and by conducting follow up interviews with some of the presenters, so that we can hear more about their ideas and begin to dig in a little deeper this year in our ongoing process of maturing from BA adolescence into full adulthood, and from the cubicle to the C-suite.
In the meantime, I’m looking forward to hearing about your take-aways from the conference as well.