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The Science of Business Analysis

This is the second of a four-part series exploring whether ‘Business Analysis’ is art or science. In the first article, Business Analyst, Greg Kulander, discussed how his career has taught him both the science and art of Business Analysis. This week we’ll look at the case for Business Analysis as Science. 

“Is Business Analysis art or science?”

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines art as “a skill acquired by experience, study, or observation” and science as “the state of knowing: knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding.” further defines science as “a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws.”

Business Analysis in the 80s

When I first started out in IT back in the early 80’s, we didn’t have any business analysts at the company I worked for. However, there was still a need to understand what the business wanted in order to develop the right products / solutions for our clients. I fell into the ‘art’ of business analysis mostly because I was the developer who wanted to know why we were doing what we were doing for the project. And, I was the only developer who was eager to talk to the users to find out that information. I definitely acquired my business analysis skills by experience, learning what worked and what didn’t the hard way.

However, while the field of Business Analysis may have been more art than science in the past, over the past decade it has evolved into a science. Business Analysis now has a defined knowledge base, defined procedures and tools for accomplishing the business analysis tasks, and new, defined ways of measuring both an organization and an individual Business Analyst’s (BA’s) competency levels.

IIBA is established in 2003

A large part of the evolution into science was the emergence of a formal association dedicated to the business analysis profession – the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA), which was established in 2003. The IIBA organization created:

  • The Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK) which formalizes the knowledge of the profession, as defined by practitioners in the field.
  • Tools, such as the IIBA Business Analysis Competency Model and the Self-assessment Tool, which can be used to evaluate and measure the effectiveness of an organization’s business analysis practices and the competency level of their Business Analysts.
  • The independent, internationally recognized certification programs – the CBAP (Certified Business Analysis Professional) and the CCBA (Certification of Competency in Business Analysis) – which evaluate and test the experience level and knowledge of individuals in the business analysis field.

With the advent of the IIBA, the business analysis profession entered the ‘state of knowing.’

Tools and Templates

In addition to the industry standards established by the IIBA, there are other signs that the business analysis profession has become a science. Most companies today either have or are developing a Business Analysis process as part of their system/product life cycle. They have a defined process for initiating projects, eliciting and analyzing requirements, managing requirements and change control, and evaluating the quality of requirements. Companies often have established metrics for measuring the effectiveness of their business analysis process and practitioners.

There are also well-defined requirements templates that can be used to capture business, functional, technical and non-functional requirements. While these templates can vary from company to company, they are being defined and followed by most organizations. Business analysts can easily get example templates via the Internet or from professional business analysis books .

Finally, there are now a number of commercial tools available to aid BAs in their job:

  • Prototyping tools (iRise , Serena Prototype Composer, Axure RP, Balsamiq, etc.)
  • Requirements Management tools (Requisite Pro, DOORS, TestTrack RM, etc.)
  • Requirements Definition tools (UML, Rational Composer, etc.)
  • Business Process Management tools (Appian, BEA Systems, IBM, etc.)
  • Agile requirements tools (Mingle, Rally, etc.)

When the Business Analysis profession first began to emerge, it took a lot of creativity and “art” on behalf of the practitioners to understand requirements and the Business Analysis role. We all had to learn a skill that did not have a defined knowledge base, proscribed approaches or tools to help us practitioners. But, today, the field has well-defined best practices, systematic ways of gathering and analyzing business needs, and recognized ways of measuring competency of practitioner’s competency levels.

The Business Analysis field is now a recognized science.

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