Thursday, 26 May 2016 05:27

Is a Multi-tiered BA Certification Program the Way to Go?

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For anyone waiting for the unveiling of the new certification program from International Institute of Business Analysis™ (IIBA®), I have been wondering whether such changes will be helpful for organizations and the practitioner community as a whole.

The one thing I have learned over the years from the community was that the certification process, including how one applies and qualifies for these exams needs to be more straightforward and avoid complexity at all levels. Having been proposed for some time now, we still don’t know enough about the changes being made to the program to form an opinion - or do we?

Here are a few factors I have been thinking about with regards to these changes. I would love to hear what you have been pondering. In this post, I am simply putting the questions out to the community for consideration. I form no opinion, but as a current Certified Business Analysis ProfessionalTM (CBAP®) I am really interested in knowing what other certification holders are thinking.

Related Article: Top 5 Reasons Organizations Should Support Certifications

1. Level 1 – Today knowledge based certificates in business analysis are plentiful as a large number of training providers already offer BA certificates. Will this new Tier 1 certification be a differentiator in the industry? Several years ago IIBA spoke with EEPs about providing a jointly branded BA certificate, and for many really good reasons Endorsed Education Providers (EEPs) did not want IIBA crossing the line into the training space. Has enough changed here? Do employers and practitioners believe Level 1 recognition from IIBA which assesses general BA knowledge (no experience) is more significant than a certificate from an EEP whose sole focus is on training?

2. Level 2 – The market for the Certification of Competency in Business AnalysisTM (CCBA®) has never really taken off, as of today after 5 years, there are only 850 CCBA holders. Are the proposed changes to scenario-based exam questions significant enough here to help IIBA grow this certification or are there other issues with this certification that if addressed would help the viability of the CCBA®?

3. Level 3 – The CBAP® used to be the gold standard, and those of us who acquired the CBAP® felt like we were demonstrating our senior level experience to employers. After all, the CBAP® has always been an experienced based exam. In the early years, many of us struggled to find employers who found the certification as a differentiator or who deemed it mandatory for employment. Over the years some awareness has taken place; although still not as widespread as the PMP.

CBAP® recipients felt the certification demonstrated their commitment to the profession and identified themselves as senior practitioners. With the proposed changes, CBAPs will no longer be the top tier. Are CBAPs ok with this? Do CBAPs feel an urge to run out and spend more time and money to get back on the top tier of the ladder? Anyone feeling like their credential is less attractive or valuable to you, to your employers or to the BA community? On the other hand, are the CBAPs excited about pursuing this next higher level certification?

4. Level 4 – Lastly, the new level geared to thought leaders. It has always been the case that thought leaders are recognized in the community by their contributions. Their credibility is achieved through the engagements they are completing within organizations, with the research they are performing, the articles, books, and other products and services they provide the community at large. If you look today, many very influential, experienced, top-notch thought leaders do not have a credential nor do they need it because they are already well-known in the industry for the work they are doing for all us. I am very curious to hear from the community whether our thought leaders require a certification to be recognized or acknowledged as a thought leader? If organizations are looking for thought leaders to be validated through such a process, is such a model scalable since level 4 will require an assessment?

Lastly, I want to ask about the idea of moving to a competency-based framework for certification. Back in the day when Angela Wick and her team developed the Competency Model, it was and still is an amazing product. The team spent countless hours building a framework to help articulate what skills and competencies define a novice business analyst from an expert business analyst, but it was a tool that must be applied along with a lot of other factors to be able to tell an accurate story of competency.

For example, if you are a business analyst in an organization and are not working on large, complex, transformational projects you may never leverage a lot of the skills in the upper categories of the competency framework. For your organization, for the role you have been hired into, does that make you less competent? What about the business analysts in financial institutions responsible for bringing their clients online with a standardized financial service, where each client is a new project, but the projects have little variation to them? These business analysts become very proficient working in their organization as a business analyst/implementation analyst without needing to leverage many of the top tier skills in the framework. Does this mean they are less valuable or less competent to their organization because their projects are consistent in type and size?

In my opinion, the role of the business analyst is defined by the organization based on a multitude of factors that really can’t be standardized across industries because there are an infinite number of factors that apply. To make an assessment of competency, consultants have to work with the organization to conduct interviews, look at templates, watch processes and practices first hand, and understand the project environment to assess competency within context. Knowing this ‘as-is’ state is very critical before conducting a gap-analysis to assess what competencies are missing. I have performed competency assessments for years in this fashion. My question here for the community is could a 3rd party working outside the walls of your organization assess competency without having this ‘as-is’ picture? Is this approach old school and is this 4 tier approach answering some newer needs organizations have today about the competency of their BA resources?

Lastly, I myself am interested in understanding the research completed to support a 4 tier certification. Typically I have seen a role delineation study conducted to provide the insight to align and structure a product like certification. I am not proposing it has not been done, but simply asking whether anyone knows. Since I don’t know, I am really interested in raising some dialogue in the community to hear your likes/dislikes to the pending 4 tier structure.

Please share your thoughts and provide different perspectives.

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Laura Paton

Laura Paton, MBA, PMI-PBA, PMP, CBAP, CSM, and CEO, BA Academy, has over 25 years of business analysis and project management experience. She has worked across many industries, held board positions within her local BA professional chapter, served as IIBA Head of New Product Development, Project Manager for BABOK® Guide, version 2, Chair and writer for BABOK® Guide, version 3, and Chair and writer for PMI’s first standard in business analysis, Business Analysis for Practitioners: A Practice Guide. Currently she is chair and contributing writer for PMI’s Foundational Standard in Business Analysis due to release in 2017.

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