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Author: Gail Toussaint

Inspiration, Enthusiasm, and Triumph – The Journey to Becoming a Certified Business Analyst

They say a journey starts with a single step forward, but the reasons behind taking that first step can lead you down paths you never thought you would be able to walk upon.

This is the story of my journey into becoming a certified Business Analyst.

This whole journey didn’t start out with great fanfare. The reason behind why I chose to pursue the IIBA Certified Business Analysis Professional CBAP® certification was not actually a lofty one. It did not stem from a need to align myself with, at that time, the rapidly growing global network of professionals dedicated to raising the awareness of Business Analysis value through Business Analysis standardization and professional designation. Nor did it stem from a desire to authenticate my many years of Business Analysis and be recognized by the established Business Analysis standards association. The only reason I had initially for obtaining my certification was that I thought was doing a good friend a favor. But, by the time I sat for the CBAP® exam, my reasons had evolved!

It was the winter of 2008 in Minnesota when a dear and trusted fellow BA stuck his head into my cubicle at work and announced, “Hi, I am applying to sit for IIBA’s brand new CBAP® certification exam in June, and YOU are going to do it with me! We can study together!” Well, I thought to myself, it is winter here in Minnesota, after all, and there will not be much to do over the next 2-3 months.

“Okay,” I responded to my friend, “Let’s do it!”

So, my friend and I started our preparation for the CBAP® exam.

In 2008, the IIBA was all of 4 years old, but it had literally exploded from a start-up 37-member work group into an established association of over 5,000 members worldwide. There was a published Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK Guide®), an implemented certification program and IIBA chapters were being established all over the world. In those four short years, there had arisen a groundswell of Business Analyst and industry support for the IIBA and everything that it stood for. This phenomenon was evidence of the high dedication and well-placed vision of the initial 37 members and of all those who joined their ranks in the next few years.

Our first step in preparing for our certification was to apply to sit for the exam. Sitting for the CBAP exam requires that applicants meet a specified number hours of BA work experience, with a minimum number of hours spread across a minimum number of the BABOK’s Knowledge Areas (KA). Being the dedicated BAs we were, we used a requirements management approach to filling out the exam application.

First, we broke down our resume’s work history into Business Analysis related tasks within projects, listing each project’s start and end dates. Using this chronology, we built two grids. One grid, cross-referenced our Business Analysis work history to each of the BABOK’s Knowledge Areas (KA,) where it applied, and the second grid calculated, by project, the net number of work hours spent on each BA task within each project.

These two grids made it very easy to calculate the total number of BA work hours and BA work hours by BABOK KA for the exam application. One huge advantage to building these two grids was that we had to survey each BABOK KA deeply enough to understand what each KA was about and understand where our work experience applied. Building these grids to fill out the exam application provided us with the perfect overview of the BABOK.

Once our applications for the exam were completed and submitted, we turned our attention to studying. The first thing we did was to set a realistic, but solid goal of 3 months to prepare for the exam. We quickly figured out that we could not memorize the entire BABOK in 3 month’s time, to the depth it would take to pass the exam. So, we needed a targeted approach to guide us through consuming all of the knowledge in the BABOK.

Today BAs are very fortunate to have so many and valuable resources available to them. There are certification prep classes offered by many training organizations, multiple study guides, practice exams available both online and through training organizations, and study groups hosted by local IIBA chapters. There are also virtual study groups, online blogs, online flashcards, etc. Searches online for ‘how to study for the CBAP’ bring up a plethora blog posts for your review. These blog posts are certified BAs mentoring fellow BAs and are a very valuable source of information for anyone wanting to sit for the exam.

In 2008, there were good resources available to assist with studying, albeit not as many as available today. After surveying all the available resources, we chose our strategy. We signed up immediately for a prep class through one of the training organizations. And we purchased practice exams and prep question flashcards from two different training organizations.

The prep class we took provided the perfect guide for consuming the vast amount of information in the BABOK and enabled us to pass the exam. The class took us through the tasks and activities within each BABOK KA and taught us the inputs (most important) and outputs of each activity. The class also took us through all the different types of modeling: usage, process, flow, data, and behavior models and showed us when to apply each one during Business Analysis. Lastly, the class pointed out important terms and definitions to memorize and gave us mnemonics to help memorize lists of Inputs/Tools/Techniques/Outputs (ITTO).

My friend and I formed our own 2-member study group, tossing practice test and flash card questions at each other throughout our workdays as often as possible, over our 3 months of study. The practice exams and the flashcards were also invaluable in helping us prepare for the wording of the questions on the exam. The exam questions go through multiple reviews before becoming exam questions, and they are designed to test subtle understanding. The questions are written to ensure that a BA can distinguish between what is correct and what is almost correct in a given situation. It takes practice to learn how to read and understand these types of questions correctly and to answer them accurately. The practice tests and flashcards taught us this critical skill.

Prior to 2008, I had not been highly involved with the local IIBA chapter. I periodically went to monthly chapter meetings and occasionally read their newsletter. I had been a Business Analyst for over 25 years and loved the work. But, my experience was that there was widely varied understanding of what the discipline of Business Analysis involved. The importance of Business Analysis was not consistently valued, and the role of a BA was often not as empowered on a project as it needed to be.

Shortly after delving into studying for the CBAP® exam, I discovered how much momentum and dedication was behind the IIBA organization and the solid value that IIBA was bringing to the Business Analysis discipline through standardization and credentialing. My reason for pursuing my CBAP® matured from merely doing a friend a favor into a sense of total pride for my profession and excitement over becoming part of this movement and obtaining my CBAP®. Today, I get excited over the growing list of certified names on IIBA’s Website and that IIBA now offers 4 established levels of certification in Business Analysis.

The journey can be rough, but very rewarding. In the end, Business Analysis certification was the most rewarding part of my career.