The Decline of a Business Analyst’s SMEness

Kupe_March29Over the past few weeks I have been hearing a similar theme from managers of people performing business analysis. The questions come in many forms relating to business analysis and the need for subject matter expertise. The root issue comes down to this: ‘Should a BA be a subject matter expert (SME) or should a BA have the necessary skills to learn about the business?’

There are so many factors at play to answer the questions. Instead of starting with “it depends”, I start my response with this; if the BA is new to an area they have to have some deep subject matter expertise in the area they will be working in. If they are a more senior BA, (see this post for my definition of a senior BA, The Six key Characteristics of a Senior Business Analyst), subject matter expertise may not be as necessary.

The first thing everyone needs to understand is that a business analyst’s SMEness declines the day they leave the business area they were experts in. Organizations have to realize the BA in the IT group is not the one that should be defining the requirements for the business. Paul Mulvey wrote a good blog, Stay Out of the BA ‘death zone” , about the downfalls of SMEs becoming BAs and the things to watch out for. I won’t repeat those here.

So what is a manager to do knowing there is a natural decline in SMEness and that senior BAs aren’t required to be SMEs to be effective. This opens up possibilities to be more effective as a team, more effective as a profession. If SMEness goes away, then BAs can be assigned to projects outside the business area where they have experience. This opens up the door for a shift in how BA teams are structured. There needs to be multiple levels of BAs collaborating together to be efficient and provide opportunity and growth. As I mentioned earlier, a new or junior BA who has fewer skills should start working in the business area they are most familiar. When I started my BA career I worked on accounting application projects. Since I was an accounting major in college and worked as an accountant it was a good fit. From there I was able to build my BA skills through working with mentors and formal training. As my BA skills improved I began to work on projects in other areas of the business. As individual BA skills and experience increase there is no longer a need to know the business area in great detail. A senior BA learns enough about the business area to address the needs of the project. Most of all they know to find the right people in the business to define the requirements.

By building organizations where there are multiple levels of BAs, companies can reduce salary cost and provide increased opportunity for growth. The senior BAs can be used in two main ways. They should mentor junior BAs or be put on critical projects regardless of the business area. The junior BAs should work on projects in their sweet spot and use the senior BAs as mentors. In most cases a junior and senior BA should pair up on projects. The senior BA should help scope and plan the BA work and assign the appropriate tasks to the junior BA. If working with junior BAs does not seem appropriate for the senior BA, they can be used on critical projects regardless of the business area.

By structuring teams in this manner you will keep the senior BAs excited and motivated and give additional growth opportunities to both senior and junior BAs. For junior BAs they have the upward movement to senior BA. For the senior BAs they gain relevant experience to move into management positions and/or a strategic BA role.

The decline in SMEness is not a bad thing. Recognize it, embrace it, and structure your BA resources to address it.

All the best,

Kupe

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.