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The BA Practice Lead Handbook 6 – Will the Real Business Analysts Please Stand Up? – Build a Capable BA Team

It goes without saying that a successful BA Practice requires a team of capable, credible business analysts. In fact, it is a bit of an understatement. But being capable in BA practices is not enough in this complex, global world we now live in. As the complexity of projects increases, BAs need to be accomplished, perhaps gifted strategic thinkers and leaders of change. Therefore, the first step in determining the optimal make-up of your BA team is to determine the type and complexity of work they are and will be performing.

Step 1: Assess the Complexity of Project Assignments

Before you begin to build your BA team, conduct an assessment of the current project portfolio and the backlog of potential projects for the next twelve to eighteen months. The goal is to categorize projects according to their complexity. Using the Project Complexity Model 2.0 depicted below, determine the profile of each project by selecting the cell that best describes the project for each complexity dimension, and then applying the formula following the model.

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Step 2: Determine the mix of BAs needed to build your Capable BA Workforce

Obviously, the skills required by both PMs and BAs differ widely depending on the complexity profile of their project assignments. Referring to the BA Individual/Workforce Capability Model below, determine the number of BAs needed at each level of complexity to successfully execute current and anticipated projects at each level of the model. From this information, you are ready to begin to build your BA team. The model is four-tiered for both project managers and business analysts as described below. The levels of the model are based on the escalating complexity of typical project assignments, as follows:

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Level 1: Operations and Support Focus

To maintain and enhance business operations, both generalists and system specialists are needed. These BAs typically spend about 30% of their time doing business analysis activities for low complexity projects designed to maintain and continually improve business processes and technology. The remaining time they are often fulfilling multiple roles including developer, engineer, SME, domain expert, and tester. As legacy processes and systems age, these BAs are becoming more valuable since they are likely the best (and often the only) SMEs who understand the current business processes and supporting technology. Many organizations are creating separate groups of PMs, BAs and developers to manage maintenance of current business processes, the legacy systems that support them, and the vendors who are engaged to help support the legacy IT operations.

Level 2: Project Focus

To ensure business objectives are met through projects, both IT- and Business-Oriented BAs are needed. These BAs work on moderately complex projects designed to develop new/improved business processes and IT systems.

  • IT-Oriented BAs improve operations through changes to technology. The BAs are mostly generalists, with specialists that include Experience Analysts, Business Rules Analysts, Business Process Analysts, Data Analysts, etc.
  • Business-Oriented BAs improve operations through changes to policy and procedures. Business-oriented BAs are mostly specialized, focused on Finance, Human Resources, Marketing, Manufacturing, etc. In decentralized organizations, these BAs are dedicated to a major business area, improving the processes and the corresponding technologies that are used to run the operations. In other more centralized organizations, these BAs are organized as a pool of talent whose efforts can be transferred seamlessly to the areas of the enterprise that are in most need of project support.

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Level 3: Enterprise Focus

This group includes very seasoned PMs and BAs. PMs are trained and experienced in managing highly complex projects, programs and portfolios. The BAs often specialize into two groups: Enterprise Analysts and Business Architects, who are operating at the strategic level of the organization ensuring that the business analysis activities are dedicated to the most valuable initiatives, and the business analysis assets (deliverables/artifacts e.g., models, diagrams) are considered corporate assets and are therefore reusable. Enterprise PMs and BAs focus on the analysis needed to prepare a solid business case to propose new initiatives and work on highly-complex enterprise-wide projects; while Business Architects make the enterprise visible and keep the business and IT architectures in synch.

Level 4: Competitive Focus

Business/Technology Optimization BAs are business and technology visionaries who serve as Innovation Experts, Organizational Change Specialists, and Cross Domain Experts. Business/Technology BAs focus outside of the enterprise on what the industry is doing and design innovative new approaches to doing business to ensure the enterprise remains competitive, or even leaps ahead of the competition. Business/Technology BAs forge new strategies, translate strategy into breakthrough process and technology, and convert business opportunities to innovative business solutions.

The capabilities that are needed at each level of the model differ significantly. BA technical capabilities are needed at every level; leadership and soft skill competencies and techniques are needed to succeed on higher-level, more complex projects. See below for a listing of capabilities and techniques needed to perform successfully at each level of the model.

BA Technical Capabilities 

See BABOK® Guide for detailed descriptions of the tasks, activities, and techniques used for each capability

Project Focused

  1. Business Analysis Planning and Monitoring
  2. Elicitation
  3. Requirements Management and Communication
  4. Requirements Analysis

Enterprise Focused

  1. Enterprise Analysis
  2. Solution Assessment and Validation


Operations/Support-Focused Business Analyst

1. Acceptance and Evaluation Criteria Definition 12. Observation
2. Brainstorming 13. Problem Tracking
3. Checklists 14. Re-planning
4. Continuous Process Improvement 15. Requirements Change Management
5. Defect and Issue Reporting 16. Requirements Documentation
6. Document Analysis 17. Requirements Prioritization
7. Estimation 18. Sequence Diagramming
8. Functional Decomposition 19. Stakeholder Analysis/Mapping
9. Interface Analysis 20. Time Boxing / Budgeting
10. Interviews 21. Voting
11. Non-Functional Requirements Analysis

Project-Focused Business Analyst

1. Baselining 22. Requirements Briefings and Presentations
2. Business Case Validation 23. Requirements for Vendor Selection
3. Business Process Analysis and Management 24. Requirements Traceability/Coverage Matrix
4. Business Rules Analysis and Management 25. Requirements Decomposition
5. Change Management 26. Requirements Workshops
6. Conflict and Issue Management 27. Requirements Review, Validation and Signoff
7. Consensus Mapping 28. Responsibility Matrix (RACI)
8. Communications Requirements Analysis 29. Reverse Engineering
9. Business Process Design 30. RFI, RFQ, RFP
10. Data Dictionary and Glossary 31. Risk Analysis
11. Data Flow Diagrams 32. Scenarios and Use Cases
12. Data Modeling 33. Scope Modeling
13. Decision Analysis 34. Solution Modeling
14. Delphi 35. State Diagrams
15. Expert Judgment 36. Structured Walkthroughs
16. Focus Groups 37. Survey/Questionnaire
17. Force Field Analysis 38. User Acceptance Testing
18. MoSCoW Analysis 39. User Stories and Storyboards
19. Process Modeling 40. Value Analysis
20. Prototyping 41. Variance Analysis
21. Requirements Attribute Assignment 42. Vendor Assessment

Enterprise-Focused Business Analyst

1. Balanced Scorecard 12. Future State Analysis
2. Benchmarking 13. Goal Decomposition
3. Business Architecture 14. Gap Analysis
4. Business Case Development and Validation 15. Last Responsible Moment Decision making
5. Business Opportunity Analysis 16. Lessons Learned Process
6. Business Problem Analysis 17. Metrics and Key Performance Indicators
7. Business Process Reengineering 18. Organizational Modeling
8. Competitive Analysis 19. Organizational Change
9. Cost/Benefit Analysis and Economic Modeling 20. Portfolio Analysis
10. Current State Analysis 21. Project and Program Prioritization
11. Feasibility Analysis 22. Root Cause Analysis (Fishbone Diagram)
23. SWOT Analysis

Business/Technology-Focused Business Analyst

1. Breakthrough Process Design 10. Intuition
2. Cultural Change 11. Investigation and Experimentation
3. Divergent thinking 12. Metaphors and Storytelling
4. Edge-of-Chaos Analysis 13. Mind Mapping
5. Emotional Intelligence 14. Pattern Discovery
6. Experimentation 15. Research and Development
7. Idea Generation 16. Strategic Planning
8. Innovation and Creativity 17. Systematic Inventive Thinking
9. Innovation Teams 18. Visualization

Build Your Capable BA Workforce for Levels 1 and 2: Low to Moderately Complex Projects

There are likely many kinds of analysts hidden within the nooks and crannies of your business. Which of these are actually performing business analysis tasks? How do we cull through the various analysts within our organization to build our BA team?

Take an inventory of the individuals currently serving in the BA role on your projects. Most will likely be operating at the first two levels of the model, focusing on requirements discovery and definition. This is the core business analysis function. Defining, analyzing, and documenting requirements is a highly creative and iterative process that is designed to show what the new/changed business system will do, and explore options for how it will be done. Therefore, the requirements in their textual and graphical form represent a depiction of the system, serving as an intermediate step between the business need and the solution design. The requirements development process is typically subdivided into business need identification, scope definition, elicitation, analysis, specification, documentation, validation, management, and maintenance and enhancements. These sub-disciplines encompass all the activities involved with gathering, evaluating, and documenting requirements (Young, 2001).

Don’t fall into the trap of believing that expertise in the technical area of the project is the key requirement for the position of business analyst. In this case, business analysis is treated as a subset of the technical discipline. Time and again, projects encounter difficulties not from lack of technical expertise, but from an inability to gather, understand, analyze and manage business requirements, and convert them into useable system specifications. Projects are often initiated, and design and construction of the solution is underway, before IT team members have a clear understanding of the business need. Often, tolerance is low for technical failure and high for inadequate and ever-evolving requirements. All too often, projects suffer from requirements creep due to the “Let’s start coding and see how it turns out” syndrome.

Look for candidates (both in the business areas and in IT) that understand that business requirements analysis differs from traditional information systems analysis because of its focus, which is exclusively on adding value to the business. In particular, build a BA team that focuses on providing more detailed project objectives; business needs analysis; clear, structured, useable requirements; trade-off analysis; solution feasibility and risk analysis; and cost-benefit analysis.

To build a team of capable BAs, technically adept engineers often are asked to make the professional transition to the disciplines of project management and business analysis. Often, these individuals assume a trio of leadership roles on projects: technical lead, project manager, and business analyst. Inevitably, after requirements are captured at a high level and the project plan is being executed, technical activities tend to elicit the majority of attention. When that happens, requirements and project management suffer, and the initiative is positioned to become a runaway project.

Research shows that there are still gaps in capabilities for BAs operating at levels 1 and 2. Assess the capabilities of the BAs you recruit, identify gaps, and create and execute a learning an development plan to close the gaps. To close gaps that exist on current projects, you may need to solicit experienced consultant BAs to ensure project success.

Build Your Strategic BA Workforce for Levels 3 and 4: Highly Complex Programs and Projects

It is increasingly clear that while technical BA knowledge areas are necessary, they are insufficient for successfully managing requirements on the large, enterprise-wide, complex, mission-critical projects that are the norm today. Just as a business leader must be multi-skilled and strategically focused, business analysts operating at the strategic level must possess an extensive array of leadership skills. As your BA Practice matures, recruit systems-thinking business analysts capable of assuming a leadership role on critical projects, and quickly elevate them to senior positions within the your BA team. As the IT contribution moves beyond efficiency to business success, the business analyst becomes the central figure on the project team who must be “bi-lingual” in speaking both business and technical languages. To perform in this pivotal role, the business analyst must possess a broad range of knowledge and skills. Browsing through the more than 5,000 job postings for business analysts on turned up this job description:

“The main purpose of the role will be to design and specify innovative solutions which meet the business requirements allowing the business benefit to be attained; and to facilitate divisional communication and awareness of the standards and quality expectations within the System Analyst teams.”

Clearly, individuals performing business analysis activities at the strategic level do not always consider themselves part of the BA career family. But make no mistake; this is the path for the talented and ambitious business analyst. Look for individuals who have leadership qualities, are well respected, and carry influence within your organization to fill these most important BA roles.

Will the Real Business Analyst Please Stand Up

Many job titles exist for individuals performing BA activities, including business analyst, business systems analyst, business system planner, business architect, business rules analysts, and even principal solutions architect to name a few. Regardless of the job title, a strong, experienced business analyst is critical to complex project success. It has been said that if an organization only has resources and budget to put into a single life cycle area to improve project performance, that area should be business analysis. Depending on the level of responsibility and placement in the organization, business analyst duties at all levels include the following:

  • Identify and understand the business problem and the impact of the proposed solution on the organization’s operations
  • Document the complex areas of project scope, objectives, added value or benefit expectations, using an integrated set of analysis and modeling techniques
  • Translate business objectives into system requirements using powerful analysis and modeling tools
  • Evaluate customer business needs, thus contributing to strategic planning of information systems and technology directions
  • Assist in determining the strategic direction of the organization
  • Liaise with major customers during preliminary installation and testing of new products and services
  • Design and develop high quality business solutions

While the business analyst is fast becoming a relatively senior position in the business world, historically it has been considered a mid- to low-level role. A recent survey revealed an increasing demand for senior individuals who can perform the ever-widening range of business analysis functions. Since business analysts walk in both business and IT worlds, they will arrive to your team from various fields. Some come from the ranks of programmer/analyst positions, while others have conventional business expertise supplemented by some IT training. To successfully fill the business analyst role, one must acquire mastery of a unique combination of technical, analytical, business, and leadership skills as depicted below.

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Putting it all Together

So what does this mean for the Business Analyst?

If you are a practicing BA, determine the complexity of your current project assignments, and identify gaps in the capabilities needed to be successful. If you have significant gaps in BA capabilities on your project, work with the project manager and your BA Practice lead to fill the gaps with experienced BAs to serve as coach and consultant to your project team. In addition, identify the level of BA work that you aspire to, and draft your personal learning and development plan to achieve the level of your choice.

So what does this mean for the BA Practice Lead?

This article presents the case for a BA Practice Lead to methodically build a capable BA workforce. Use these tools and this broad approach to BA team recruiting and development to build your world-class BA Practice.

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