What Everybody Ought to Know About the BABOK

When working with new and even some very experienced business analysts, I often receive the following questions about the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge® (BABOK®) Guide:

Should we use the BABOK process?

Do I need to understand how to follow the BABOK methodology?

How can we apply the BABOK framework in our organization?

The idea that the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge contains a business analysis or requirements development process is a common misconception. The BABOK professes to do no such thing and we’d make a huge mistake if we use it that way.

The BABOK represents the collection of activities that make up business analysis. It’s the stuff that we BAs do. It’s not a process or a methodology.

At the risk of being self-referential, here’s the BABOK definition of a business process.

A set of defined ad-hoc or sequenced collaborative activities performed in a repeatable fashion by an organization.

Here’s a quote right from the master of the BABOK himself, and VP of Professional Development at IIBA, Kevin Brennan:

The Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge is not a methodology. While it defines the activities, tasks and knowledge that a business analysis professional needs to know, it does not do so from the perspective of prescribing an order or sequence.

While the BABOK is not a process, a careful reading of the BABOK might help you define your business analysis process. Because it collects together the set of activities that make up business analysis, you might find a technique or a way of thinking about a knowledge area that helps you improve your business analysis process. But the decision of what to do when needs to be yours.

The process that works for your organization or your project will be heavily dependent on the following factors:

  • How is the BA role defined? And, what are the other roles on the project team?
  • What type of project is it?
  • Who or what has the knowledge about what needs to change? (This could be in people, such as subject matter experts, or documents, such as regulations.)
  • What sorts of decisions about the project need to be made by the project team or organizational heads outside the project team and how will these decisions be made?
  • How will the solution be implemented?

This last one might surprise you. While the early requirements documentation to scope the project might not be affected by solution decisions, the detailed documentation to implement the solution will definitely be. For example, you are not going to create a detailed functional specification if you are buying a third-party tool. That would be a ridiculous waste of effort. You would instead focus on your key features, your integration requirements, your customization requirements, and your data migration requirements.

On the other hand, if you are building custom software from scratch, you’ll likely create very detailed functional requirements.

Yes, turn to the BABOK for a list of ideas that you might consider and as a checklist of activities you might do, but don’t let it do your thinking for you. It’s simply not designed to achieve that objective.

Looking for more? I developed a business analysis process based on the principles I’ve found help me be effective as a business analyst.

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Comments

  1. I’m new to BABOK and I am still learning the framework. I appreciate your article, and I understand that a framework is not a methodology; however, do you know of any general examples where someone has taken the BABOK framework and developed their own methodology to handle a repeatable project type (e.g. software upgrades)? I’m trying to make a jump between theory and everyday usage.

    • Hi David,

      I get your question, but typically this happens in reverse. The BABOK is actually designed to be a representation of real BA practices in the community. So ANY implementation of a BA framework could be aligned with the BABOK.

      I’d suggest working through this in the reverse way. Go through the BABOK and map it to your own work experience. This is the part of preparing for the CBAP I found most fulfilling.

  2. Is the Babok really valuable? I find i learn better from books that show real project examples vs lists of to-do’s. will the babok help.

    • Kai, The BABOK is not designed to do this. I’d actually suggest looking at training programs that include a case study or Ellen Gottesdiener’s and Mary Gorman’s recent book Discover to Deliver that incorporates a case study.

  3. Thanks, Brandon and Anthony. It’s definitely a pervasive problem and I often find that BAs are asking me what their managers are asking them!

  4. Great post, Laura! I recently purchased the BABOK, and I can see the endless possibilities to take the activities listed in the book and apply them in practice that best suits my organization/situation. Very well, said.

  5. Great post Laura. It’s amazing how many people mistake a collection of techniques for a methodology. It’s something that is so frustrating about the PMBOK too. I find it’s often carried through to inaccurate job descriptions too. Something akin to “Tell us about your experience with methodologies such as UML etc etc”.

  6. Thanks for your comment Leslie. It is sometimes the practical approach that we need to share and emphasize. It can be overwhelming learning about business analysis for the first time and it can often feel like everything you do naturally well becomes less important the more you learn about the formal BA knowledge and methodologies. I wish more training programs emphasized how to select the most appropriate processes and templates (or sections thereof)…to me that is one of the most important things a BA can learn to do.

  7. “The BABOK represents the collection of activities that make up business analysis. It’s the stuff that we BAs do. It’s not a process or a methodology.” Thank you Laura for this. I can’t get over how many times I sit with BAs developing their career and see them completely miffed or overwhelmed in a training class thinking, “You expect me to do all this!?!” For some reason there is a preconceived notion that if you teach a BA a new technique for gathering or modeling requirements, then they will be required to use it in every project going forward. Or even worse – they will be required to add it to the already novel-like requirements document they must produce. Any time we can get practical content in front of people like this it makes a difference. Thanks again!