Coming Of Age: Building BA Capabilities In 2011 And Beyond

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.

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  1. Brietner,

    Is day the same question applies to project managers, developers and testers. And.the answer is always “it depends” which is to say that a BA specialists contribution is about systems thinking and analysis, not industry domain. Industry domain knowledge is the customer job. And if the customer doesn’t have it then:

    a) why is the project in play, and
    b) who in the team can fill this gap best?

    It may be important that the BA has this knowledge, bit it may not.

  2. Nice article. I work in an IT company which is a pioneer in the Agile movement. My query to you is that- is there a need for a BA to be a specialist in a particular domain (like finance/retail/insurance….)? or can a BA be a generalist who doesn’t have an in-depth knowledge of any particular domain.. What are your views on this…

    • Curtis Michelson says


      I would concur with Craig that the answer is not necessarily, but I would add that from my own personal experience, in my practice working with publishers, it definitely helps to speak their language. I wouldn’t call myself a domain expert, but I do believe I have a much firmer grasp on the ‘business’ of publishing than most IT consultants that are contracted to work with publishers. When conducting stakeholder gatherings, there’s no need to pause and ask “what is meant by that?” I can ask the more informed question “how is that different at your publishing house from most other publishing houses that do this particular business function this other way?”

      As I’ll touch on later in this series, I think the most important characteristics for BA’s going forward, will be less domain expertise in either business or IT, but rather, the intangible creative thinking skills. Innovative thinkers will win the day (I’m betting on it at any rate!)


      • Breitner,

        I would like to augment what Curtis said. I have been in the business for many (sometimes I think way too many, but that’s a different topic) years. Since the mid’80’s, when the concept of “Business Analyst” was more a wild idea than reality, I have performed business analysis on projects in the fields of atomic energy, telecommunications, finance, insurance, county government, state government, national government, manufacturing, military, accounting, sales and marketing, retail, wholesale, tourism – just to mention a few. Obviously, I do not consider myself a domain expert in all of those domains (let’s say in none). What I do consider myself an expert in is busness analysis.

        Having said that, I do consider it critical that in my role as a business analyst, I need to be a quick study in the language and concepts of the subject matter expets with whom I am working. As Archimedes noted, “Give me a place to stand and with a lever I will move the whole world”. The tools and techniques of business analysis give you a place to stand and the lever you need is the domain knowledge of the subject matter experts – if you can understand what they are saying. Given those conditions, you can analyze any buisness.

  3. PS: catch you again in Florida. 🙂

  4. Awesome blog Curtis, you’ve really ‘hit the nail on the head’ and Tom has highlighted something I believe is critical to the growth and maturing of our profession. Inspiring colleagues in what’s possible and educating other related professionals about our capability sets is firmly reliant on training and sharing knowledge.

  5. Curtis Michelson says

    Thanks Tom. You’re really spot-on with the fact that Training, Mentoring, Collaborating, Sharing (5&6) could undergird the rest. In fact, I think I might take my follow up pieces out of order, and start with those last two for just that reason.

    A million good wishes to you!

  6. Curtis,

    I enjoyed reqding your post and wholeheartedly agree. As one who has been beating the business analyst drum since the ’90’s, I hope your post gets a million views. As a trainer and mentor, I obviously believe that your dimensions 5 and 6 are critical to the rest.

    Keep up the good work.

    Tom Hathaway

  7. Curtis Michelson says

    Thanks Craig.

    I should mention that the IIBA just announced yesterday the official date and location for Building Business Capability 2011 – Fort Lauderdale, Florida, October 30th through November 3rd.

    Hope to see you there! 😉

  8. Brilliant post Curtis.



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