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Building a BA Centre of Excellence.

Where to Start and What to Consider
 It strikes me as odd that, given the number of clients I have dealt with over the years, there remains a constant assumption that, because you provide training to a group of individuals in any given organization, you, by right of passage, become a “mature” practicing organization.   Get them together on an individual basis, however, and any one of them would tell you quite the opposite.  Disarray is perhaps the most fitting descriptor for this case.
We are always willing to acknowledge that which we continuously seek, industry standards. Sadly such industry standards are nowhere near where we want them to be.  Take, for example, the Chaos Report developed by the Standish group.  It maintains that, of all the projects it assesses in North America, only 34% of them would expect to finish on time, on budget and within the original scope defined.  ESI clients have shared with us in a recent survey the fact that the number one challenge in turning requirements into deliverables is poor requirements definition, followed by improper risk management and finally, scope creep.

 Why are our projects in a state of disarray?  It’s likely not the project management practice. Most organizations have a well-defined PMO and all the disciplines have been identified to conduct their day-to-day activities.  It is business analysis and the lack of structure, discipline and rigor around its day-to-day activities that, I believe, is the traceable root cause of project distress.

 It’s the situations where we have no formalized process for eliciting, analyzing, documenting, validating/testing, and tracking our requirements.  I’ve seen it time and time again where great degrees and variations of the above exist.  Organizations have 47 flavors of Business Requirements Document templates and they call this a standard. Their corporate solution development lifecycle gets hacked down, expanded, massaged, and tailored to meet a particular business unit’s need, and again we call this a standard. Methodologies are adopted and then tailored or crafted according to need or thought de jour!

 Another area of weakness: how can our resources possibly be expected to deliver with any degree of accuracy if we are not even clear on the tasks and activities that need to be performed to achieve the desired results?  Even more seriously, there is no linkage to our “standard methodologies.” As such, we insist on sprinkling the “magic fairy dust” over unsuspecting subject matter experts, and with a mighty push out the door in the direction of our stakeholders, who “don’t know what they don’t know,” expect them to achieve great results. Tell me that’s not a problem waiting to happen!  The other very interesting situation that continues to present itself where competencies and career definition are concerned, is that organizations continuously expect that PMs and BAs can perform each other’s given tasks.  Our resources are stressed out, and being asked to do more with less, in a shorter period of time. Clearly this need for speed is not working in our favor.

 It’s interesting to note that, while we would all acknowledge and recognize the errors of our ways, the real error is not being able to identify a starting point from which we can begin the process of maturing our BA practice. In a world where our daily activities are under constant scrutiny, I find myself repeating an old Japanese proverb “vision without action is a daydream and action with vision is a nightmare!”  The question still remains: where do we start?

Three things must be considered. 1) Have a plan, 2) Be patient and 3) Know your capabilities.  To have a plan, a project plan, means that, to some degree, you have considered the scope of what it is you and your team are about to embark upon. You clearly understand the major tasks and deliverables, and the time frame in which to accomplish such goals. Tactically, all tasks and activities that need to be accomplished to fulfill the needs of a developing Center of Excellence (COE) are easy to accomplish. Strategically, a cultural shift will not happen overnight, as a change in business practice must be carefully nurtured over a period of time, so we must be patient. Knowing your capabilities will allow you to understand the scope of what it is you are about to undertake. Being honest about the true level of maturity will allow the sponsoring organization to focus on the priority issues. Not all problems can be solved at once, even using advanced “technologies, thoughts and process.” For example, if it is understood that your organization is in its BA development infancy stage, why apply the most complex formulas to begin your baseline metrics. You must walk before you run.

Any good project manager or business analyst will tell you that, without active support, input and feedback, your initiative may be all for naught. Consider your stakeholders with thoroughness.

  • The Executive Team:  The strategic decision makers
  • Executive Sponsor:  May or may not be the same individual or individuals, but essentially hold the budgetary and resource means by which you will accomplish your endeavour
  • BA Director/Manager or Supervisor:  This individual will serve as the liaison between the tactical and strategic sides of the endeavour; they will be ultimately responsible for managing and maintaining the COE.
  • BAs:  Get them involved! Give them a sense of ownership; have them solve some of the challenges facing the organization; select a team of champions that represent the diversity of the BA group. After all they will be on the frontlines!
  • Project Managers:  Without requirements there are no deliverables. Without deliverables requirements have no meaning. This is a mutually exclusive relationship, and should be treated as such. Not including the project managers will encourage a siloed/ independent approach to the delivery of projects and alienate team members. Also consider that much of the structure and foundation of how PMOs evolved can be used as lessons learned for the development of a BA COE.
  • Functional Managers: There will come a time when the COE will have to engage the functional managers to provide additional resources for the definition and creation of requirements. As such, the borrowing of resources should not be impeded by a misunderstanding or lack of knowledge of what the COE’s purpose is.
  • Customers: Frequently, customers can be heard complaining about analysis paralysis, and are more focused on the outcome rather than the process used to get there.  It is the lack of knowledge and appreciation of this that is important to share with clients. Their feedback and assessment of the performance of the COE will be critical to its growth.

Have a plan, be patient and know your capabilities.

Levels of Maturity: Ask any organization and fifty percent of the time they tell you flat out that they are mature in their BA practices. They tell you they have three standard methodologies, and did some training, “our people are very competent” and, therefore they are operating at a Center of Excellence capacity.  The reality is this: while it may be true that investments are made to develop resources and put into place tools and methodologies this by itself does not constitute excellence.  The sum of all parts and the practice of organized and disciplined business analysis over a period of time constitutes maturity.  For the sake of this article, I have defined three possible levels of BA maturity. The titles themselves are arbitrary and may be changed according to the requirements of the sponsoring organization. It is the classification and characteristics of each level of maturity that will provide the needed assessment and guidance for development.


Level I – Community of Practice

Most organizations today are performing business analysis at a community of practice level.  They have recognized the need to develop the skill sets of their BA resources, and may have even gone as far as doing an assessment and evaluation of the level of competency of their BA group. As such they were able to identify any gaps that might exist in both performance and overall competencies and job descriptions.  Other organizations have also begun to put into place a solution development lifecycle and are likely to be in the process of either redefining or developing one.  A common question that comes up is this; what do we develop first, the people or the processes?  My response is go with the egg, eventually the chicken will come!  The processes need to define what needs to be done, and how it will be done, in the context of an SDLC. Job descriptions must define the ability, skill and knowledge necessary to perform the tasks and activities defined in the SDLC. The solution development lifecycle and job descriptions/career paths and competencies must be closely interrelated. They may begin to demonstrate an alignment with the PMO.

An overall acknowledgement by the organization of the role of the business analyst and its importance to the success of overall project deliverables is beginning to form. At this point our services, if sought, perceived as being reactive in response to an immediate need, and generally sought after as a utility. At this point, our accomplishments are only beginning to have any real recognition at the middle management level because of the tactical nature of our services.

Level II – BA Bureau of Maturity

There is no doubt in my mind that many organizations have demonstrated in some capacity their level of maturity given a specific area with the guiding principles in level of maturity. They may include some of or all of the following items, but in order to move from one degree of maturity to another demonstration of the following with consistency over a period of time is necessary.  A direct reporting structure to either the PMO or the CIO may be in place a Director of the BAB is likely to be the leader of the BAs and as such is making strides to present his team as a distinct business unit. The team is clearly a distinct pool of resources.  From a services perspective they are beginning to show signs of credibility amongst the business unit leaders as a result of consistent performance excellence. Business Unit Leaders are seeking out the team to provide assistance when needed, and the recognition of moving from a tactical to strategic role is beginning to form.

Level II – Center of Excellence

You’ve developed partnerships with the executive. Your team is sought after as the change leaders of the organization. You are clearly recognized as a customer service solution. You and your team have demonstrated your discipline both tactically and strategically. Most importantly, you have clearly defined the art of Enterprise Analysis (EA) and demonstrated your ability in the five areas of EA including, Business Architecture, Information Architecture, Application Architecture, Technology Architecture, and Security Architecture. Your team is providing and sponsoring studies to participate in overall corporate advanced and BPI & KPI’s and overall business effectiveness.  Your continuous assessment and evaluation of performance on internal process and customer satisfaction has become commonplace.

There are two keys to clearly understanding your level of maturity with the presented model. Acknowledge that it is likely that your organization may demonstrate maturity at a variety of levels given this framework. Also consider that true excellence must be demonstrated and evaluated as consistent over a period of time. As an example, training may be delivered in order to move the organization into a Community of Practice / level one of maturity. Training and learning do not stop here. Certification, coaching and mentoring, participation in improvement initiatives, and membership in organizations such as the IIBA, are the contributing factors that move an organization from one level of maturity to the next. In short, the sum of the parts is equal to the whole!

Glenn Brûlé, Director of Client Solutions for ESI International, has more than 15 years experience in many facets of business, including project management, business analysis, software design and facilitation. At ESI, he is responsible for supporting a global team of business consultants working with Fortune 1000 organizations. Glenn’s background as an educator, communicator and business consultant has served him well through his many client engagements that have focused on understanding, diagnosing and providing workable business solutions to complex problems.In addition to his position at ESI, Glenn serves as a Director at Large for the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA). His primary responsibility is to form local chapters of the IIBA around the world by working with volunteers from organizations across various industries and government agencies. Glenn has successfully launched eight chapters in major Canadian cities and is currently working on launching eight more U.S. chapters and nine outside of North America. Glenn Brûlé is a frequent speaker at professional association meetings and conferences around the world, including ProjectWorld/World, Congress for Business Analysts and IIBA events. He has authored numerous articles on business analysis and was instrumental in the development of ESI’s white paper titled “Eight Things Your Business Analysts Need to Know – A Practical Approach to Building and Improving Competencies.”  

Watermark Learning Reports Increased Demand for Business Analysis Training

 As awareness grows in the project management industry, demand is increasing for business analysis training, since business analysis is frequently cited as a key problem area for providing inconsistent deliverables. As a result, companies such as Allianz Life have established a Business Analyst Center of Practice to ensure that their business analysts have the framework, processes, skills and techniques to excel in their profession.

 “Allianz Life engaged Watermark Learning for training because of its Masters Certificate Program in Business Analysis as well as its practical learning approach based on best practices,” said Lynn Lang, Allianz Life.

 “In today’s competitive landscape, businesses must perform with razor sharp efficiency and productivity,” said Terri Swanson, Watermark Learning, COO. “More business leaders are recognizing the value that business analysis training brings to an employee’s contribution and the effectiveness of an organization as a whole.”

 Since launching the Masters Certificate in Business Analysis in July 2005, Watermark Learning has received hundreds of participants in the program, including Allianz Life, a life insurance company.

 Allianz Life identified the business analysis process as their key problem area providing inconsistent deliverables. They established a Business Analyst Center of Practice to ensure that their business analysts had the framework, processes, skills and techniques to excel in their profession. As part of this initiative, Allianz Life looked to partner with a training vendor who could provide a professional business analysis certification program based on industry best practices, designed to specifically address their business needs.

 “Allianz Life engaged Watermark Learning for training because of its Masters Certificate Program in Business Analysis as well as its practical learning approach based on best practices,” said Lynn Lang, Allianz Life. “Not only will our business analysts receive a Masters Certificate, but they will also gain Professional Development Units through PMI as well as CEUs through Auburn University.”

 Watermark Learning is actively involved in raising industry awareness of the value of business analysis and was named an IIBA Endorsed Education Provider. It’s principals and founders, Elizabeth Larson, PMP, and Richard Larson, PMP, have helped develop the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK), a document created to identify the key tasks that a business analyst would be expected to understand and perform