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Author: Laura Paton

Where Exactly Do Waterfall BAs Best Position Themselves on Agile Teams

Let me begin by establishing who it is I am speaking about, when I use the phrase waterfall BA.

I use this reference to speak to the business analysts who have worked waterfall projects but have zero experience working on agile projects. I also include in this group the business analysts who are working in organizations who ‘say’ they are following agile practices – but really aren’t. While the size of the waterfall population continues to diminish, this is not to say we don’t still have a pretty good sized audience out there who are delivering their projects using a waterfall approach or who have minimally mature agile skills.

In fact, the 13th annual State of Agile Report by Collabnet VersionOne informs us that 83% of organizations are still coming up to speed with agile.

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With this being the case, I am still coming across many business analysts who question their ability to transition to agile, the best approach to get there, and where they best fit in, on an agile team once allocated to one.

In this article, I wish to address the latter.

 So you hear that your organization is going to start running projects using an agile approach to delivery. If they choose to follow Scrum – you understand there are 3 main roles:

  • Product Owner
  • Scrum Master and
  • Development Team

But as a waterfall business analyst – where do you fit?

The good news is that the answer to this question is ‘anywhere you want to’!

Let’s quickly break down the objective of each role and then discuss why business analysts are well positioned to fulfill the responsibilities of any of these positions on an agile team.

Product Owner – the representative for the business or user community. The person who takes responsibility for setting the priorities of the requirements and choosing which features will be addressed in each iteration and release.

Scrum Mater –   the facilitator for the team. The person who takes responsibility for ensuring the team adheres to the agile principles and practices they have agreed to uphold.

Development Team – everyone else. All members of the development team work collaboratively to deliver a product of value to the business/customer. Development team members self-organize and therefore ‘collectively’ take ownership for delivering the final solution.

You might be thinking ‘wonderful’ but I still didn’t see something like ‘the person responsible for eliciting and specifying the requirements’ …so where do I really fit?

Let’s tackle that question by looking at the skills a waterfall business analyst possesses and then tie those skills to the 3 Scrum roles. We’ll then close out and speak to how requirements elicitation and specification on agile projects are different…and why you didn’t see this spelled out specifically above.

The following word cloud was created using the skills as listed in A Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK® Guide) v3. There are close to 30 skills identified as being critical skills a business analyst should possess in order to effectively perform their role. 

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This means that if waterfall business analysts have been performing their current roles with a mature skillset – they possess some of the most important skills needed by agile teams!

Here is a ‘very’ preliminary mapping of business analysis skills to the Scrum roles. I indicate ‘preliminary’ because you could really make an argument for a lot of the skills listed above for each of these roles.


Product Owner

  • Business acumen
  • Conceptual thinking
  • Decision making
  • Industry knowledge
  • Listening
  • Organization knowledge
  • Problem solving
  • Visual thinking  

Scrum Master

  • Conceptual thinking
  • Decision making
  • Facilitation
  • Leadership and influencing
  • Listening
  • Negotiation and conflict resolution
  • Non-verbal communication
  • Methodology knowledge
  • Problem solving
  • Trustworthiness

Development Team

  • Adaptability
  • Creative thinking
  • Facilitation
  • Learning
  • Personal accountability
  • Problem solving
  • Solution knowledge
  • Systems thinking
  • Teaching
  • Teamwork
  • Verbal/written communication

When discussing where the waterfall business analyst ‘best’ fits, it ends up being more of a discussion about which position is most appealing to a business analyst and which would they ‘prefer’ to do.   

For example – an analyst wishing to move into a Product Owner role would be someone who has in-depth business domain knowledge, strong customer empathy, and understands how to make tradeoffs based on value and risk. For someone who can envision the holistic view and enjoys sharing their business insights to others, enjoys setting vision and scope – the product owner role might be your calling.  

If an analyst has strong leadership skills, has a passion for addressing issues, finds motivation from helping others, understands agile principles and enjoys teaching others, then serving as Scrum Master might be your passion.

For waterfall business analysts who enjoy facilitating discussions to discover requirements, has strong writing and communication skills, and enjoys a more tactical role of defining requirements in the format and deliverables expected on agile projects – then lending business analysis skills to develop user stories and acceptance criteria and facilitating discussions around this work is your place.

My last point is to make sure waterfall business analysts understand that transitioning to agile requires more than just a robust set of skills. While several of the activities a business analyst performs on waterfall projects is similar to work that is performed on agile – there are some BIG differences. This is why you didn’t see me spell out requirements elicitation and specification – which are traditional names for activities business analysts perform on waterfall projects.

On agile, we see the differences between waterfall business analysis and agile business analysis appear in 3 main areas:

  • What we call the activities we perform e.g. we conduct a process called approve requirements in waterfall versus activities called backlog refinement and iteration planning in agile to determine the requirements the development team will work on.
  • The approach to our work e.g. we perform our tasks sequentially and prior to any development work on waterfall versus performing our tasks iteratively and incrementally in agile, and
  • The types of deliverables produced e.g. we produce business requirement documents and software requirement specifications on waterfall vs. user stories and acceptance criteria in agile.

If you are interested in knowing more about how business analysis is tailored for agile – check out The PMI Guide to Business Analysis referring specifically to the tailoring tables included within that standard.

Retooling and acquiring new skills for agile means you will require new knowledge and new experiences. Knowledge is acquired from ‘your’ hard work – reading and professionally developing. Once you feel you have acquired enough knowledge and understanding about agile – pair that up with your robust skillset and start looking for opportunities to start gaining on the job experience on an agile team. 

The good news for waterfall business analysts is that there is a position for you on an agile team. You bring with you a strong set of core skills and fundamentals.  Decide which position ‘best’ fits your passion, set your professional development goals, and attain the knowledge and experience you need. Good luck!

IIBA Podcast Episode 7: Data Business Analytics

Episode 7: Data Business Analytics with Laura Paton

Key learning points:

To take a deeper dive on the current state of data analytics and share how the new IIBA products will help BA professionals capture the opportunities provided by business data analytics.

Listen here:



Laura Paton
Business analysis thought leader with over 30 years of in-depth project management and business analysis experience across numerous industries. Passionate about helping organizations and individuals mature and improve their BA skills and practices. Founder of BA Academy, Inc. an online training academy for business analysis. In addition to decades of hands-on practitioner experience – Laura has been an instrumental contributor to the professional community as follows: For the Project Management Institute (PMI): * Chair/author for The PMI Guide to Business Analysis * Chair/author for Business Analysis for Practitioners: A Practice Guide * Harmonization Team Member for The Standard for Portfolio Management 4th Edition * Subject Matter Expert Reviewer for Agile Practice Guide * Reviewer for A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) 6th edition For the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA): * Chair/core team author for A Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK® Guide) v3 * Project manager, BABOK® Guide v2 * Chair/writer for The Introduction to Business Data Analytics: A Practitioners View * Chair/writer for The Introduction to Business Data Analytics: Organizational View * Head of New Product Development 2011-2014, Product Manager Consultant 2018-2019 * Past chapter VP of Education and Professional Development (Raleigh, NC)

PODCAST – An Inside Look at PMI’s Guide and Standard to Business Analysis’


Laura Paton chair and co-author for The PMI Guide to Business Analysis (Includes The Standard for Business Analysis) shares the value proposition behind PMIs newest business analysis standard. Hear what makes this product unique and obtain insight into its structure and strength in supporting  organizations and teams with business analysis regardless of whether delivery is based on waterfall, agile, or hybrid approaches.

Listen here:


5 Myths About PMI’s Business Analysis Certification

In this article I aim to debunk some of the misinformation I often hear surrounding PMI’s Professional in Business Analysis (PMI-PBA) certification in hopes of providing better clarity to support improved decision making.

Background: The PMI-PBA certification hit the market in late 2014. It’s not quite three years since its launch, but it is doing well; having now attained credential holders in 82 countries. The idea that PMI was developing products in the business analysis space was shocking to some, but PMI has been recognizing the importance that requirements play in achieving program and project objectives for years. For those who are familiar with “A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – Sixth Edition” (PMI, 2017), it’s no surprise to hear that successful projects require the effective use of business analysis. It makes complete sense why PMI would be investing heavily to raise awareness about the relationship between mature business analysis practices and organizational performance. In “Business Analysis Leading Organizations to Better Outcomes” (2017), PMI reported that organizations with high business analysis maturity, demonstrate above average performance across all key organizational success metrics—including:

  • Financial performance (69% versus 45%),
  • Strategy implementation (66% versus 21%),
  • Organizational agility (40% versus 14%), and
  • Management of individual projects (62% versus 29%).

So there should be no question on why PMI cares about business analysis and has set out to develop a top-notch professional credential to help organizations improve their capabilities to deliver on their strategic objectives.

Despite approaching its 3-year anniversary, there is still confusion about what the PMI-PBA is all about. As with many new products, there are early adopters and there are those that take a wait and see approach; certification is no different. For those who adopt later – there may be weeks or months spent researching, discussing, or listening to others share their experience and knowledge. This is the time where there should be sufficient and accurate information to base discussions and decisions on; and there is – on! Unfortunately, (as I have found firsthand) there are some postings, presentations, and conversations on social media that are perpetuating a misunderstanding about the scope, structure, and value of the PMI-PBA. I don’t believe it is being done on purpose or maliciously—I think it is a byproduct of the community misunderstanding PMI’s objectives and the product characteristics. I hopefully clarified PMIs objectives above—so let’s set the record straight on the PMI-PBA product.

5 PMI-PBA Myths

I have assembled a short-list of the top five misguided statements I have heard about the PMI-PBA. Hopefully this article provides you better information and helps to dispel the misinformation. If you are considering a PMI-PBA, hopefully this information helps you further your discussions with your manager and professional contacts. At the end of the day, the decision to pursue a PMI-PBA or not, is owned by those who must make the investment. Be wary of taking the advice of consultants and peer business analysts who convince you that a certification is right or wrong for you. Everyone needs to perform their own analysis, because each person’s situation is different. This article isn’t about convincing you one way or the other, it’s simply intended to provide you factual information to assist you in your decision making process.

Here we go…the top five myths about the PMI-PBA:


Myth #1: The PMI-PBA is an entry level credential.

This is absolutely false! You can debunk this misinformation by taking a look at the eligibility requirements in the PMI-PBA Handbook downloadable from PMI’s website. To be eligible to take the exam, you must demonstrate either 7,500 or 4,500 hours of business analysis work experience and 2000 hours of business analysis experience working on projects. The 7,500 or 4,500-hour requirement is determined based upon your educational background. Further details are listed in the PMI-PBA Handbook. These hours were not randomly selected. An extensive role delineation study was performed by an external third party and the results indicated that these were the hours required in order to demonstrate competency in business analysis. The PBA exam is also structured to include scenario-based questions which rely heavily on experience not book knowledge to answer. From my personal experience taking the exam, I can attest to the fact that the PMI-PBA is clearly developed for experienced professionals.

Myth #2: The certification confines business analysis to projects and programs.

Completely false! PMI research has shown that 83% of business analysis is performed on programs and projects in highly mature organizations, but this does not mean that PMI defined business analysis only to this context. You can debunk this misinformation by taking a look at PMI’s definition of the term portfolio which states it consists of “projects, programs, subsidiary portfolios, and operations managed as a group to achieve strategic objectives.” “The Standard for Portfolio Management Fourth Edition” (PMI, 2017) is more than managing projects; hence PMI’s business analysis standards do the same because business analysis is discussed in the context of how it is performed in support of portfolio, program, project management and operations. The “Business Analysis for Practitioners: A Practice Guide” (PMI, 2015) provides an entire chapter, Needs Assessment, that discusses pre-project business analysis activities. Later this year you can take hold of “The PMI Guide to Business Analysis” (PMI, 2017) which goes further than the practice guide in explaining how business analysis supports portfolio, programs, projects and operations. Keep in mind that how business analysis is defined is based on extensive research, not any one person’s idea of how it should be defined. 

Myth #3: The PMI-PBA was developed by a group of project managers.

No, sorry this is false too! I can see where some people might think this is the case, but PMI definitely used a team of experienced business analysis professionals from around the world and across industries to develop the PBA exam questions. PMI continues to do so too, because the test bank is refreshed on an ongoing basis. New exam writing initiatives ensure that the PMI-PBA exam questions remain relevant and reflect the latest thinking as presented in PMI’s standards and confirmed across the profession. Those assisting in writing new exam questions are just as experienced as the original development team. I think I should also mention that all PMI-PBA exam questions once written, are also reviewed by experienced business analysis professionals. Additionally, each exam question is required to be backed by at least two independent business analysis references. I don’t want to forget to mention that exam writing teams also have access to extensive PMI research. This credential is absolutely developed by business analysis professionals for business analysis professionals.

Myth #4: The certification is for project managers or PM/BA hybrids.

I can’t say this statement is completely false, because there are some PM/BA hybrids or project managers who qualify to sit for the PMI-PBA exam BUT not all project managers and not all PM/BA hybrids are eligible. In fact, not all business analysts are eligible! In my response to myth #1, I indicated the work experience requirements. It is these requirements that dictate eligibility, not your job title. Product owners, business analysts, project, program, portfolio managers, requirement managers, IT analysts and numerous other titles may be included because it’s not the job title that matters. What does matter is the number hours of ‘business analysis’ experience you possess. You demonstrate your experience on the PMI-PBA application. Therefore, if you are doing any of the work discussed in PMI’s business analysis standards, you are performing business analysis and may qualify to sit for the exam. It’s worth checking out the eligibility requirements to see if you qualify – regardless of your job title!

Myth #5: PMI has defined business analysis as a subservient role to project management.

Oh gosh no! I think it’s time we debunk this PM/BA subservient concept, it’s been around a long time and it’s not how we operate at all if we want to be successful. PMI research shows that highly mature organizations encourage high levels of collaboration between their portfolio, program, project management, and business analysis professionals (“Business Analysis: Leading Organizations to Better Outcomes” [PMI, 2017]). We are all part of the same team and we will jeopardize our success if we fail to collaborate. PMI has not defined business analysis as a subservient role. In fact, the “PMI Guide to Business Analysis” and “The Standard for Business Analysis” publishing this year will sit among some of PMI’s most prestigious standards” – the “PMBOK® Guide,” “The Standard for Portfolio Management” and “The Standard for Program Management.” Business analysis is no less important, but equally important for organizations and individuals to understand and embrace.

I hope my responses to the top 5 myths about the PMI-PBA helps to dispel some rumors, reduce confusion, and allows for improved decision making when it comes to researching a professional certification in business analysis. Remember, PMI may be the Project Management Institute, but this doesn’t mean PMI only serves project managers. It’s not practical to think this way. Those who have experience working on ‘successful’ change initiatives within their organizations can attest to the fact that it’s a collaborative effort. We can’t succeed by separating our business analysis professionals from our project management professionals! This is one of the reasons I am encouraged by the contributions PMI is making to the business analysis profession and even more encouraged to see that recently ranked the PMI-PBA as the highest paying business analysis certification on their list.

Is a Multi-tiered BA Certification Program the Way to Go?

For anyone waiting for the unveiling of the new certification program from International Institute of Business Analysis™ (IIBA®), I have been wondering whether such changes will be helpful for organizations and the practitioner community as a whole.

The one thing I have learned over the years from the community was that the certification process, including how one applies and qualifies for these exams needs to be more straightforward and avoid complexity at all levels. Having been proposed for some time now, we still don’t know enough about the changes being made to the program to form an opinion – or do we?

Here are a few factors I have been thinking about with regards to these changes. I would love to hear what you have been pondering. In this post, I am simply putting the questions out to the community for consideration. I form no opinion, but as a current Certified Business Analysis ProfessionalTM (CBAP®) I am really interested in knowing what other certification holders are thinking.

Related Article: Top 5 Reasons Organizations Should Support Certifications

1. Level 1 – Today knowledge based certificates in business analysis are plentiful as a large number of training providers already offer BA certificates. Will this new Tier 1 certification be a differentiator in the industry? Several years ago IIBA spoke with EEPs about providing a jointly branded BA certificate, and for many really good reasons Endorsed Education Providers (EEPs) did not want IIBA crossing the line into the training space. Has enough changed here? Do employers and practitioners believe Level 1 recognition from IIBA which assesses general BA knowledge (no experience) is more significant than a certificate from an EEP whose sole focus is on training?

2. Level 2 – The market for the Certification of Competency in Business AnalysisTM (CCBA®) has never really taken off, as of today after 5 years, there are only 850 CCBA holders. Are the proposed changes to scenario-based exam questions significant enough here to help IIBA grow this certification or are there other issues with this certification that if addressed would help the viability of the CCBA®?

3. Level 3 – The CBAP® used to be the gold standard, and those of us who acquired the CBAP® felt like we were demonstrating our senior level experience to employers. After all, the CBAP® has always been an experienced based exam. In the early years, many of us struggled to find employers who found the certification as a differentiator or who deemed it mandatory for employment. Over the years some awareness has taken place; although still not as widespread as the PMP.

CBAP® recipients felt the certification demonstrated their commitment to the profession and identified themselves as senior practitioners. With the proposed changes, CBAPs will no longer be the top tier. Are CBAPs ok with this? Do CBAPs feel an urge to run out and spend more time and money to get back on the top tier of the ladder? Anyone feeling like their credential is less attractive or valuable to you, to your employers or to the BA community? On the other hand, are the CBAPs excited about pursuing this next higher level certification?

4. Level 4 – Lastly, the new level geared to thought leaders. It has always been the case that thought leaders are recognized in the community by their contributions. Their credibility is achieved through the engagements they are completing within organizations, with the research they are performing, the articles, books, and other products and services they provide the community at large. If you look today, many very influential, experienced, top-notch thought leaders do not have a credential nor do they need it because they are already well-known in the industry for the work they are doing for all us. I am very curious to hear from the community whether our thought leaders require a certification to be recognized or acknowledged as a thought leader? If organizations are looking for thought leaders to be validated through such a process, is such a model scalable since level 4 will require an assessment?

Lastly, I want to ask about the idea of moving to a competency-based framework for certification. Back in the day when Angela Wick and her team developed the Competency Model, it was and still is an amazing product. The team spent countless hours building a framework to help articulate what skills and competencies define a novice business analyst from an expert business analyst, but it was a tool that must be applied along with a lot of other factors to be able to tell an accurate story of competency.

For example, if you are a business analyst in an organization and are not working on large, complex, transformational projects you may never leverage a lot of the skills in the upper categories of the competency framework. For your organization, for the role you have been hired into, does that make you less competent? What about the business analysts in financial institutions responsible for bringing their clients online with a standardized financial service, where each client is a new project, but the projects have little variation to them? These business analysts become very proficient working in their organization as a business analyst/implementation analyst without needing to leverage many of the top tier skills in the framework. Does this mean they are less valuable or less competent to their organization because their projects are consistent in type and size?

In my opinion, the role of the business analyst is defined by the organization based on a multitude of factors that really can’t be standardized across industries because there are an infinite number of factors that apply. To make an assessment of competency, consultants have to work with the organization to conduct interviews, look at templates, watch processes and practices first hand, and understand the project environment to assess competency within context. Knowing this ‘as-is’ state is very critical before conducting a gap-analysis to assess what competencies are missing. I have performed competency assessments for years in this fashion. My question here for the community is could a 3rd party working outside the walls of your organization assess competency without having this ‘as-is’ picture? Is this approach old school and is this 4 tier approach answering some newer needs organizations have today about the competency of their BA resources?

Lastly, I myself am interested in understanding the research completed to support a 4 tier certification. Typically I have seen a role delineation study conducted to provide the insight to align and structure a product like certification. I am not proposing it has not been done, but simply asking whether anyone knows. Since I don’t know, I am really interested in raising some dialogue in the community to hear your likes/dislikes to the pending 4 tier structure.

Please share your thoughts and provide different perspectives.