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Author: Angela Wick

The Missing Link to BA Competency Development

When I think about what it takes for BAs to be successful, it always comes down to the same thing: Using hard skills and soft skills together strategically to get results and engagement from stakeholders. When I think about what it takes to execute on any BA activity or technique and to be good at it, it is rare to find a scenario when both hard skills and soft skills are not needed. This may not be new to anyone as underlying competencies (many of which are soft skills) are foundational to performing the various BA tasks. Where we fall down on this is in executing this concept well in a variety of situations and complexity levels and showing the path to truly deepen these competencies.

Why is it that we rarely look at the path to developing skills in underlying competencies in the context of BA tasks and techniques? Or when they require an elevated and advanced level of complexity to execute well?

I would like to look more closely at these skills in additional dimensions.

For example: It is easy for someone to say they have been trained in facilitation, and may have some successes and good experiences in facilitation, and therefore they feel they are a great facilitator. But what does it really mean to be a great facilitator? Are those learned skills and experiences really enough to succeed in new and more complex situations? Would they really be successful in facilitating a highly complex topic while working to build consensus with a group of executives?

A BA organizes and facilitates a meeting with a group of stakeholders to review the future state of a business process. The process flow being reviewed was technically correct and the facilitation methods, tone and techniques were flawlessly used. However, the meeting still failed to achieve a desired goal of reaching consensus from a group of executives on the future vision of the business process. 

What happened?

This was an opportunity to strategically use the skills of facilitation and process modelling together aligned to the purpose of the meeting. In this example, what gets missed is thinking about the goals and purpose of the meeting as well as the audience, and thinking about how to use these hard and soft skills strategically for the purpose. In many cases like the scenario above, the process flow and meeting planning were thought of as needed together, but not strategically planned and executed together; they were performed as separate tasks in the same meeting. There is an opportunity for the meeting goals, agenda, and expected participation to drive the level of detail that the process flow is presented at.   The review and discussion, along with expectation setting with the participants on the level of detail is critical to the success of the meeting. This was a missed opportunity to engage executives in the facilitation techniques used by modelling at a higher level appropriate to the ways they engage.

The soft skills needed to be a great business analyst are difficult to develop. It is hard to find resources, mentoring, etc. that really help develop these skills in the context of being a BA in a variety of contexts, situations and different stakeholder groups.

We hear from our leaders about how important soft skills are, and are usually trained on them separately from BA tasks, activities and techniques. It can be a challenge to apply what is learned to the BA context. Rarely do we discuss or hear about leveraging them together. This makes it difficult to grow and apply the skills and build awareness of when to use soft skills. Some would say it is intuition, and either you have it or you don’t. I believe there is some truth to that, but that much can be learned through developing experience and awareness.

My callout to the leaders of BAs:

Give mentoring and feedback that shows the context and linkage of soft skills and hard skills together to your BAs in the context of business analysis. Help your BAs build an awareness of situational complexities.

My callout to BAs:

Seek feedback in specific situations on a variety of soft skills and how the situation and tactical activity could be improved through soft skills.

Focus more on developing these skills together and seeking feedback on how we use these skills together.

Truly bringing tactical and influence skills together by thinking differently about how we plan and execute our BA activities and technique usage is key to developing strong competencies as a BA. 

What are your thoughts and examples of how BAs can leverage tactical hard skills with influential soft skills? 

Don’t forget to leave your comments below. 

BACoE, Competencies, Best Practices? What Comes First?

Where should an organization focus first? Building a BACoE, understanding the state of business analysis practices as an organization, or evaluating BA competencies? What is the right approach to all of this?

I have worked with a lot of organizations on these efforts and typically advise a handful of organizations at any given time on these topics. I have seen great success with any of the three approaches and even with all of them at once. In reflecting on what really makes the efforts successful, the following themes come to mind:

The History

Has creating a BACoE or assessing competencies or practices been done before in the organization? Has any other type of CoE or assessment been part of the organization in the past or present (PM, QA, Dev, etc.)?

Looking at the history of these types of initiatives can provide a great amount of insight into how the effort may be perceived by stakeholders in the organization. Understanding these perceptions will be crucial to developing support for the CoE. Successful CoE efforts look back at lessons learned and successes of similar efforts in the organizations to leverage the successes and manage perceptions and expectations of past challenges.

The Motivation

Who is motivated to make the CoE and/or assessments successful and why?

Where the motivation is coming from has a strong influence on the approach an organization needs to take. This can determine some of the goals and objectives and ultimately the priorities of the organization. The motivation could come from the top or from a passionate team and/or manager looking to improve a team and with its success influence the broader organization.

The Goals

What goals and objectives is the organization looking to achieve in creating the BACoE or doing as assessment?

Each organization has an interest in these efforts for similar high-level reasons, but typically more specific goals are in play. Putting on our BA hats to truly understand the drivers behind the goals is critical. I find that many teams think they have their goals defined but need another level of detail defined to effectively align to a higher-level strategy and set the path to maximize results.

The Influencers

Who will most influence the stakeholders of the BACoE or assessment and in what ways?

Influencers can be internal or external and have positive or negative influences on the effort.  Use your business analysis and stakeholder analysis techniques to discover and manage the influencers. I like to use a power/interest grid to organize my understanding of everyone impacted and my strategy to involve, communicate, educate and ultimately partner with individuals in executing the plan for the CoE. This stakeholder analysis also sets up the organizational change management pieces to plan on how to engage the influencers in supporting the changes being implemented.

The Pace

Is the pace to achieve goals realistic?

To align pace and goals, BACoEs and assessments need to take a hard look at two things;  the commitment levels of the leadership team and the change management activities to build support.

Leaders’ commitment may exist in thought, but how much time do they really have to focus on the effort vs. managing projects, people and other responsibilities. Organizations that commit more time from leadership make better progress and do so more quickly.

A common barrier to achieving goals at a desired pace is the change management needed to garner support inside and outside the CoE. Without this in place, the changes needed in practices, competency development, attitudes, and process changes will stall due to inconsistent levels of support from those who influence BAs.

Let me know your thoughts on how these factors impact the plans and progress of your CoE efforts.

I hope this provides some guidance and thoughts to consider for those thinking about embarking on or who are mid-stream in managing a BACoE.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.