Professional development is relevant for those joining the profession, who need to get to grips with the core skills, as well as those who are experienced who need to refresh their knowledge or keep up to speed with new techniques or developments. Business analysis is an evolving field, and staying up to date is absolutely crucial. Continuing professional development takes a number of forms, both formal and informal, can include anything from reading blogs and articles (on sites such as BATimes.com), attending IIBA chapter events, participating in webinars, mentoring, running or attending ‘lunch and learn’ sessions and of course attending a specific BA training course.
At this point, those of us that have been around for a while will probably be rolling our eyes. I’m sure we’ve all attended or have been sent on the occasional training course that hasn’t been effective. It’s very easy to attend a training session that is logically designed, fun to participate in, but that makes absolutely no difference to our day-to-day practice. You might have even been on courses where the only highlight was the coffee and doughnuts.
It absolutely doesn’t have to be this way! Training, alongside other professional development activities, can be useful and effective, if we plan effectively. Here are some points worth considering.
- Use BA techniques to establish the need: We have a whole range of BA techniques that can help us establish needs and requirements in an organizational setting. These same ideas can be used for an individual or team too. We can turn our analysis on ourselves and carry out a SWOT analysis, understand key skills gaps, and then translate these into requirements. If we notice a particular skills gap in our team we can then research, assess and decide amongst multiple options for plugging that gap.
- Training isn’t the only solution: As discussed above, training is by no means the only ‘solution’ to a skills gap. It’s easy to overlook the wide range of resources at our disposal, and often there’s a wealth of experience that exists within organizations. If you are lucky enough to be part of a Community of Practice, it may be that you can use Community of Practice meetings to exchange knowledge and build skills in a safe environment. Training is absolutely useful, but it is most useful when blended with other techniques that support it.
- Own the plan: As BAs we need to own our own professional development. Even if you are lucky enough to work for a company that will send you on training, it is still worth having your own (personal) development plan, based on your own goals. Of course, like all plans, it should be malleable and fluid—but it shows the broad direction of travel at any point in time, and this can help figure out immediate next steps.
- Choose the provider carefully: If you are booking external training, be selective with the provider you choose. Ask questions like “will the trainer be an experienced BA?”, “When was the last time they worked on a project assignment?”. If you are running the course on-site for your team you might want to ask “Can you customize this course so that it is relevant for our context?”. Ask around your colleagues and network to find out which training providers they would recommend.
- Training starts before the day itself: Training is likely to be even more effective if we are able to come prepared with ideas, questions and ‘real life’ dilemmas and situations to discuss. Keeping why we’re attending the training in mind, and assembling these ideas in advance can be very helpful.
- Commit to action: During the training, after each technique or concept is covered, it is worth consciously considering aspects such as:
- In what situations can I use this?
- When is my next opportunity to use/practice this technique?
- What are my next steps?
Using a brand new technique in a radically different way for the first time is sometimes tricky, so you might choose to use it in a team meeting, or some other ‘safe environment’ first. More routine techniques can be picked up straight away.
- Ask ‘when will I revisit or re-read my notes’?: Learning can be great fun, and revisiting old training material can help us to refresh, reflect and jog our memories.
Training can be a useful professional development tool when chosen carefully and executed well. Questions such as the ones above can help us in choosing the right course and getting the most from it. I hope that you have found this useful, please do get in touch with any other tips that you have—I’d love to hear them!