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Author: Steve Blais

How to Ask the Right Questions: Part 2: Know What to Ask

The right question is the one that gets you the right answer.
Therefore you need to know what answer you are after before you start questioning.

The more we know the more clearly we realize what we don’t know.
– Dietrich Dorner

What You Don’t Know Can’t Hurt You

I have heard that particular phrase for nearly all my life. Generally it seemed to be a way of avoiding the acquisition of new information for some reason, or a way of minimizing the impact of failure to obtain the information being sought. One thing I learned about that supposed truism: what you don’t know can hurt you.

Perhaps this lack of knowledge will not hurt you now, but in the end it is what you don’t know now that ends up causing the problems. And thus the Mystique of the Right Question arises: we need that Right Question to identify the information we don’t know before it causes problems.

First, let’s look at the big picture of interrogation. Assuming that the reason for asking questions is to get information, usually information we don’t know, we can start by dividing the universe of information into the information we know and the information that we don’t know. The apparent goal of asking questions then is to increase the amount of information we know. A successful question, the Right Question, is one which moves the information from the realm of what we know we don’t know into the domain of what we do know. This matrix helps illustrate the process.

  Know Don’t Know
Know Facts Questions
Don’t Know Expereince Assumptions

In other words:

What you know you know are the facts: the information you have already received and verified. We don’t generally ask questions about the information we know except to gain confirmation. A confirmation question in general might be considered a Right Question. When information is confirmed, the answer is valuable and when the answer does not confirm what you already know (or think you know) the information is equally as valuable if not more so. (The issue in asking for confirmation is in avoiding the Confirmation Bias. We’ll talk about that in the next segment.)

What you know you don’t know are the questions: questions that will give you the information to turn what you don’t know into what you know. To a degree, any question you ask here that produces an understandable answer can be considered a Right Question.

What you don’t know that you know is experience: the knowledge that you have that is inherent based on what you learned previously and is now embedded in your memory or subconscious. We don’t generally ask questions in this category because we simply are not aware of the questions to ask, and the responders don’t answer the questions with this level of detail because their experience is second nature and automatic. However, some questions you ask result in an answer that triggers your previous experience and that experience will help you evaluate the applicability and veracity of the answer. In this case we might consider such a question as a Right Question.

What you don’t know that you don’t know are assumptions. You might think you know, but the knowledge is not actually based on facts. In some cases you think something is a fact because someone gave you the information, but the information they gave you was based on their assumption and you are not aware of it. Questions are not asked in this situation because we are assuming that the information we don’t know we don’t know is in fact information that we do know and therefore, facts. We believe that we are in the first quadrant, when we are not. Questions that clarify and disabuse us of our erroneous assumptions are definitely Right Questions.

This last category is where many business analysts feel they didn’t ask the right questions because that information which turned out to be wrong or misleading was incorporated into the product and ended up causing problems in the end.

Getting More Information

One of the obstacles to asking the Right Question is a lack of planning. Most business analysts do prepare some form of question to ask the person they are interviewing or to throw on the table during an information gathering session. However, the questions usually are rote, and determined by the responder rather than the business analyst. In other words, we decide WHO we are going to talk to and then decide WHAT we are going to ask them. This is backwards if we are indeed interested in asking the Right Question.

When you focus on getting the right answers rather than trying to figure out what the right question is to ask, the questions occur by themselves, almost magically. But first you have to define what will be the right answers. You may even find that you can get the right answers without even asking a question.

You might throw a wide net and just ask any somewhat relevant question and hope that the answers will steer you in the right direction, or you can determine in advance what information you need to know to solve the problem and ask specific questions designed to get you that information.

The typical approach for the business analyst in the information gathering, or elicitation, phase might be as follows:

You get the assignment to solve a problem. You meet with the problem owner, sponsor, customer or whoever wants the problem solved or is paying for it. That person gives you a briefing about the issues and suggests you talk to several people and directs you to them. You dutifully call and make appointments with the several people, or you have a meeting with them. You may prepare some questions ahead of time, perhaps mentally. You go into the meeting expecting them to tell you all about what they want, what the problems are and what they want you to do about it, so preparing a list of questions seems a waste of time and effort, because after all you were directed to these people because they presumably have the answers.. The right questions in this case might fall into the category of “what do you need?” Or “what do you want?” [1]

If, in fact, this is an appropriate way to identify or solve problems, then there is no concern about asking the “right” question. Any question will do that gets the designated responder to talk. And the business analyst need just record the answers accurately. However, as many of you realize, the person you have been told to talk to may not actually know the situation, much less the answers, probably has not spent any time formally defining the situation or the solution, maybe distracted during the conversation, and at best will give you their one solution. Most importantly, from the business analyst’s perspective, there is no analysis of response if we assume that the responder has all the answers regardless of our questions.

To ask the right questions business analyst has to take control of the entire elicitation or investigation process, and seek the information that the business analyst needs and not settle for the information defined by someone else.

Plan to ask the Right Questions

You can increase the probability that you will ask the right questions (that is, get the right answers) by defining an information gathering plan

Reporters, investigators, journalists, authors of nonfiction books, and even those professional interviewers who bring celebrities to tears with their pointed questions, all start with a plan to gather the information to achieve their respective objectives: a news story, the guilty perpetrator, background for their book, or that specific question or set of questions that will generate a response that will increase ratings.

It makes sense that if you want to be sure to ask the right question to plan to ask the right question.

The information gathering plan, and informal document maintained by the business analyst for the business analyst (or team of business analysts) consists of four parts, which can be created in a matter of minutes at the beginning of elicitation phase. The four parts are

  1. What information do you need to understand the problem or the problem domain?
  2. Where are you going to get that information? Where is it most likely located and/or who might have it?
  3. How are you going to acquire the information, by what means?
  4. In what order are you going to collect the information?

The information gathering plan starts by listing what we need to know to achieve our objective: a list of questions and categories of information that, when taken together, will provide the right answers and pretty much guarantee that you ask the Right Questions.

Note that it is not a matter of defining the specific questions were going to ask, and agonizing over which ones are right. It is more a matter of creating a frame within which you can conduct your elicitation. You want to make it easier to ask the Right Question.

This brings us back to the original premise that it is not question that is “right”, but information produced by the question that is “right”.

Below is an example of part of an information gathering plan for an accounts payable system. Since the project involves streamlining the data flow for Accounts Payable to speed up the overall process, the initial focus is on the data. So the first people we want to speak to are the Accounts Payable manager, and the purchasing manager. We decide to have an interview with at least one of these two stakeholders. This will give us a general overview of the process from a strategic perspective, as well as defining any constraints associated with the data flow. Then we want to get more specific and look at the content of the current tables used by the Accounts Payable system. We can review the data dictionary for the Accounts Payable database and likely talk to the database administrator to clear up any questions we might have. This plan helps us organize our information gathering process and increase the chances that you will ask the right questions. [1]

What Information Source Method Sequence
The layout of the current vendor tables

Data Dictionary

Database Administrator



What does the overall A/P voucher process look like

Accounts Payable Policies and procedures manual

Charley and/or member of voucher entry team


Observation &
Interview or meeting

What is the process to do vendor entry Vendor entry clerk Observation & Interview 3
What is the data that goes into computing the payment terms for vendors Accounts Payable manager
Purchasing manager
Interview 1

The Information gathering session

How do you know that your interview or information gathering session was successful?

Do you feel it was successful because there was a lot of interaction? Was it successful because you ended on time? Was it successful because you got answers to all your questions? Is it because you asked the Right Question? How do you gauge success in elicitation?

I submit that the measure of success in any information gathering session is whether you achieved your objective in that session. You have to know what you wish to accomplish in each and every information gathering session. Setting clear objectives for gathering information increases the chances that the session will generate the information you are seeking to define the problem or solution, and to ask better questions.

Identifying the objective for each information gathering session is fairly simple if you have an information gathering plan. The topic or question on the plan is the objective for the individual information gathering session. For example, referring back to the information gathering plan table, we can set as our objective for the first interview. We have with the Accounts Payable manager to determine what data goes into computing payment terms for vendors. We will plan our interview with questions that will generate answers that will achieve our objective. When we walk out of the interview with an understanding of the data necessary to compute vendor payment terms, we can deem our interview a success. And we will know we asked the Right Questions.

There is more to asking the Right Question, though. We can know what we want to ask but then fumble the question during the information gathering session. In many cases the question “How do I ask the Right Question?” is not about choosing the Right Question to ask, but in How to ask it to ensure getting the Right Answer. That is the topic of the next installment.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

[1] Blais, Business Analysis: Best Practices for Success, John Wiley, 2011

How to Ask the Right Questions Part 1: The Paradox of the Right Question and how to ask it

In my travels one of the more common questions from new and experienced business analysts is “how do I ask the Right Questions?” There seems to be a belief that expert business analysts have a knack for choosing just the Right Question that will produce the answers that will solve the problem. So I thought I’d write a short piece about asking the Right Question, primarily to remove the anxiety and concern business analysts seem to have about asking the right question. I discussed the concept with a couple of business analysts and during the conversation I realized that the problem was not in knowing what to ask, but rather in how to ask it. My short piece blossomed into a four-part article, first discussing the paradox of trying to determine the Right Question to ask, and tips on asking the right question. The second part addresses what questions to ask to make sure you ask the Right Question. The third part focuses on how to ask the Right Question to get the right answer. And the fourth part deals with avoiding asking the wrong questions, or more specifically asking the Right Questions in the wrong way.

The Right Question. It conjures up a image of the business analyst spends time preparing a list of questions, and agonizing over each one to determine whether this one question is the Right Question for this particular stakeholder at this time in this specific situation.

With that kind of pressure on the business analyst to be sure to ask the Right Question, no wonder one of the business analyst’s more frequent questions is “how do I ask the Right Questions?” The issue is never “how do I ask questions?” but always about the “Right Question“. So let us talk about the Right Question and how to track it down and ask it.

Why is it so important to ask the Right Question?

First of all we need to understand that questions are the mainstay of the business analysts’ process. The business analyst lives on information. The more information the better. The business analyst needs information in order to analyze. The analysis of the information is what produces the problem, the solution, the requirements, and the results. And information is acquired by asking questions: first, of yourself, and then of others.

So what is a right question? As with many things in life. One of the better ways of determining how to excel in a particular area of expertise is to see how those we consider to be experts do it. I have mentioned Sherlock Holmes in the past as a model for business analysts in terms of critical thinking and analysis, but Sherlock Holmes was also a consummate interviewer. He not only gathered information with his magnifying glass, microscope, and keen eye, he also questioned witnesses and his clients, not to mention the perpetrators. A classic plot pattern that apparently started with Conan Doyle has Sherlock Holmes apprehending the culprit and then asking the wrongdoer to explain the details of the crime. This begins an description occupying a good portion of the book or story explaining all the details of Mormon revenge (A Study in Scarlet), stolen treasure (The Sign of Four) and so forth.

Perhaps a more current and non-fictional model for asking questions might be better for us to understand what the Right Question is. David Frost and Barbara Walters are examples of people paid lots of money to ask the Right Question. There are also print journalists of note who break stories by apparently knowing the Right Questions to ask.

So why is there such a focus on asking the Right Question? Perhaps because the literature seems to indicate that there are Right Questions out there floating around and the business analyst simply has to grab one and ask it. For example, the lead sentence in an article written in 2011 by Wilco Charité titled “Asking the Right Questions: Process Discovery” says, “If you are an internal Business Analyst or consultant asking the right questions in a Discovery project is a critical skill.” [1]

And there are further exhortations from various people of note: Actress, activist, and author Vanessa Redgrave says, “Ask the right questions if you’re going to find the right answers.” Entrepreneur Robert Half says, “Asking the right questions takes as much skill as giving the right answers.” And anthropologist, Claude Levi-Strauss suggests: “The wise man doesn’t give the right answers, he poses the right questions.”

Perhaps the belief that there is a Right Question comes from the many lawyer shows in which Perry Mason or Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston in Law & Order) always seem to ask the question which causes the person on the witness stand to break down and confess the murder or say some incriminating statement that turns the case around. Or the detectives like Miss Marple, or Hercule Poirot, or Columbo, who seemed to be able to ask the Right Questions that produces an rendering of the crime and catches the perpetrator.

And how does the concept of the Right Question affect the business analyst?

Even when a business analyst feels as though they have done a particularly effective job of elicitation, and have all the information that defines the problem and / or solution, there are “surprises” that crop up after the elicitation phase is theoretically done. And that is when the business analyst commiserates with other business analysts saying, “They didn’t tell me about that! If only I had asked the Right Question!” Business analysts need to get information and it seems that sometimes only the Right Question will get that information.

What is the Right Question?

So with all this concern about asking the Right Question, perhaps we should determine what a Right Question is.

Trying to figure out the Right Question to ask is a paradox. You cannot know if you’ve asked the right question until you have received an answer. If the answer to a question gives you the information that you are looking for then you have asked the Right Question. But you only know that it was the Right Question after the information gathering session is over and you have analyzed the results. And if you ask many questions to get the information you are seeking, how do you know which one is the Right Question?

So, what is a Right Question? The Right Question is the question that gives us the Right Answer. We may never really know what the Right Question is. Only the Right Answer is important.

For example, in perhaps the greatest interview of the 20th century, David Frost got former president, Richard Nixon to say, “I let down my friends. I let down the country. I look down our system of government and the dreams of all those young people that want to get into government, but now think it too corrupt. I let the American people down and I have to carry that burden with me the rest of my life.” This answer has been quoted and referred to many times and is the climax of the stage play and movie “Frost / Nixon”. But does anyone remember the question that preceded. Does anyone remember the right question? What remember is the right answer. And, in fact, that answer was the result of dozens of questions over several sessions, all asking for the same answer, which was finally given in response to just one question.

The bottom line: we can never really know we have asked the Right Question until after we have all the answers and analyze them to see if we now know what we need to know; we have the Right Answer. But, then, of course, you have to know what the Right Answer is before you ask the Right Question. And that might be the problem.

How do you ask the Right Question? Ask more questions

“Asking more questions reduces the need to have all the answers.”
Donald Peterson, former CEO of Ford Motor Company

The real answer to asking the right questions is simple: keep asking. When you ask enough questions, in and among all the questions you ask are the right ones. As long as you listen well and keep the focus on the problem or the solution, it does not matter which questions are Right. In the end, the Right Questions are those that get you relevant information. [2]

The only true way of asking the Right Question is to keep asking questions and asking more questions. The more questions you ask the greater the chances that you will get the answers that you are looking for: especially the Right Answer.

In addition to eventually asking the Right Question, asking more questions has the advantage of increasing the amount of information we as business analysts have to analyze, increasing our chances that we have found the Right Answer.

Consider our models, David Frost and Barbara Walters who always seem to ask the Right Question . What we see is not the full interview, but an edited version. The editors put the show together for entertainment, cutting out the questions that were not so Right, and adroitly placing the commercials right after a particular Right Question so that it will have the most memorable effect. To get the one hour dramatic interview with Prime Minister Tony Blair, President Richard Nixon, Michael Jackson or Jane Fonda, Frost and Walters had to prepare thousands of questions and probably ask hundreds. Many questions were pedestrian and many probably got answers that are not pertinent, or at least not entertaining or informative.

And those Pulitzer Prize winning journalists have reams of notes from hundreds of interviews consisting of hundreds of questions to produce a single news or magazine or article. A major part of a journalist’s work is the editing of the information gained from interviews and other information gathering into a cohesive whole

Business analysts do have a form of editing: it’s called analysis. The analysis is done after the information is collected, not before. We don’t analyze what we are going to ask so that we produce the Right Question; we just ask as many questions as we can and get as much information as we can so that we can determine the Right Answer afterwards. While there are techniques to getting more information, determining the Right Answer relies almost solely on the ability to analyze. More on this later.

How do I ask more questions? Redevelop Intellectual Curiosity

One personal characteristic that will help you ask the Right Questions is intellectual curiosity. When you can inculcate a desire to know everything about everything, questions, especially Right Questions, come more easily.

Business analysts possessing intellectual curiosity have voracious appetites for learning. They do not shy away from new or unfamiliar concepts but rather try to incorporate those concepts into their understanding. They tend to be very good listeners who absorb information like sponges.

Life coach, Dr. John D. Skare, Ed. D, defines intellectual curiosity as “a term used to describe one’s desire to invest time and energy into learning more about a person, place, thing or concept””

Are you really interested in the person or persons you are questioning and the information they possess or are you more interested in completing the requirements document? This intellectual curiosity is what drives us to ask more questions. Just as a child is curious about the whole world and his or her part in it, we can be curious about the whole business and our initiative’s part in it.

Developing intellectual curiosity is not difficult. We all are born with intellectual curiosity As children we truly want to know what the world is about, and what our place in the world is. We ask questions and more questions. Children, especially two-year olds, do not have to learn the “5 Whys”. They ask Why automatically without thinking. Over the years as we grow up we are taught not to ask questions. Research shows that young children have hundreds of questions every day, but by the eighth grade those same children ask only two questions a day on the average. Why?

“In school, we’re rewarded for having the answer, not for asking a good question.”
Richard Saul Wurman, original creator of the TED Conferences

Maybe it’s because the adults we are asking don’t know the answers and tell us to stop asking, or maybe we just get frustrated and stop asking. Perhaps it’s because we are conditioned by that age through school to have more answers and to ask less questions. [3]

As adults, especially in business, there is also another reason: we cannot afford to appear stupid by asking questions. People believe that they got their position or place at work because of what they know, their experience, and asking questions will belie that assumed knowledge. The belief is; if you are a “knowledge worker” and therefore paid for your knowledge, asking questions shows a lack of that knowledge and places your job, and perhaps career in jeopardy. And this includes business analysts. Despite the exhortation, “there are no stupid questions.”, Most people appear to believe more ardently that there are Stupid Questions, then that there are Right Questions.. After all, I don’t hear anyone asking how to ask stupid questions, and I doubt anyone that article titled “how to ask stupid questions.”

So what to do to recapture the attitude of intellectual curiosity? Think like a child? Well, yes. Listen naively as though you have never heard the information before, even if it is the eighth straight interview or information gathering session on the same subject. Assess the information you are receiving critically and think about what question you might ask. For example,

  • Are there any words that might be ambiguous?
  • Am I making any assumptions?
  • Is the responder making assumptions?
  • Can I get more details about what they are describing?
  • Can what they are describing be construed generally?
  • Is the information relevant to the question (if not why not? And how do I get relevant information)?
  • Why is the responder answering the question in this particular way? (e.g. giving closed ended answers to open ended questions)
  • What else don’t I understand about this answer or this situation?
  • Why are they not able to answer a particular question? Who can answer it?
  • Are they answering because they assume I expect an answer and not because they really know?
  • Do they want to answer my questions now, or at all?
  • And so forth

Is that all there is to asking the Right Questions?

To ask the Right Questions, you have to know what to ask, who has the information to answer the question, when the question is indeed answered, how to ask the question so that you get the information needed, how to analyze the information to produce the needed answer, where to place the answer among all the other information you have received, and when to go back to ask the question again.

Distilling it down: there are three basic skills to asking the Right Questions.

  • Know what to ask the Right Question
  • Know how to ask the Question the Right way
  • Know how to analysis to determine the Right Answer

Since I’ve run about out of word space for this part of the article, I will end here. The next parts will address

  • How to ask the Right Question by knowing what to ask
  • How to ask the Right Question by knowing how to ask it
  • How to avoid asking the wrong questions

Look for them in upcoming Business analyst Times issues.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

[1], March 14, 2011
[2] Blais, Business Analysis: Best Practices for Success, John Wiley, 2011
[3] Coleman, Ken, One Question, Howard Books, 2013. Not only does this book describe the reason why we don’t ask questions and the importance of asking them (in the introduction) but it also contains examples of interview where Right Questions are asked. Remember however, the book and interviews are edited.

The PMI’s Professional Business Analyst Certification: Competition or Collaboration?

There is a new certification in town.* The Project Management Institute (PMI) has announced a certification for business analysts called the PMI Professional in Business Analysis (PMI-PBA)®. The reigning business analyst certification, at least in North America, is the Certified Business Analyst Professional (CBAP) from the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA). Does this set up a showdown at High Noon between the two organizations or perhaps the two certifications? Or is there some kind of collaboration between the two organizations? Can the business analysis world support two certifications? Or will the certifications battle it out to the finish because, as they would say in the old Westerns, “this town ain’t big enough for the both of us”?

As might be expected, there is consternation in the ranks of business analysts about this announcement, especially those who already have the CBAP certification. Questions abound:

  • Will the PMI-PBA devalue my CBAP?
  • Will I now have to make a career-defining decision on which certification to get?
  • Will employers who are now requesting or requiring a CBAP also request or require a PMI-PBA, or will they request a PMI-PBA instead of a CBAP?
  • Why does the business analysis arena need two certifications?

In a never-ending effort to seek out “truth, justice and the American way”** I engaged in conversations with people from PMI involved with the certification and people at the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) to get their reactions. Not being a professional journalist, (or for that matter, a professional Superman) I can’t really say that I discovered either truth or justice, or the American way. However, I did discover some of the differences between the certifications, which I’m sure many of us have a vital interest in.

I will attempt to employ the journalist’s (and business analyst’s) six questions (though not in the order Rudyard Kipling introduced them), to discern the differences between the two certifications.


The most common question, of course, is why is PMI doing this? Why is PMI seemingly venturing into new areas that are considered to be outside the venue of project management?

First, this is not a new area for PMI. Defining requirements is a longstanding area of focus at PMI and one of the first organizations to embed requirements within its practice standards and professional certification exams.

Brian Weiss, PMI’s Vice President, Practitioner Markets, answered the question of “why?” this way: “It all has to do with organizational success and positive business outcomes. The PBA is just one of many things PMI is working on in this area – others include things such as a Knowledge Center of Excellence on Requirements Management or critical documents like a Requirements Management Practice Standard and a Business Analysis Practice Guide. The main reason behind developing these products stems from our research – PMI’s Pulse of the Profession illustrated for us that when projects fail, inaccurate requirements gathering is often the primary reason (32% of the time). Poor requirements management practices are the second leading cause of project failure. There is a clearly a problem here and no one is doing enough to solve it, so PMI has made a commitment to do so.”

Weiss added that “None of this is really new – Requirements have always been a component of project management. I think as the focus and importance of requirements management grew over the years that [focus] was accordingly reflected in PMI’s PMBOK® Guide and the creation of the Requirements Management Community of Practice which has over 18,000 registered users. I would characterize it more as an evolutionary process that has grown and will only continue to grow.” Weiss finished with, “PMI’s focus is on making sure organizations complete more of their critical initiatives, more often. This takes many different roles and people being successful, the business analyst included. Unfortunately, we have seen a growing divide or tension between project managers and business analysts, which is detrimental to organizational success. PMI’s efforts here are intended to help bridge that divide through greater understanding, support and integrated community.”

So the PMI-PBA is not a bright idea that occurred to a PMI official last year, but a progressive elaboration based on market research which has occurred over a number of years.
In short: the business analysis arena is so large in scope that multiple certifications may certainly be called for. After all, once getting their “certification” to practice medicine, many doctors then go on to get additional certifications for various specialties, all of which are hung proudly from their office or waiting room walls. But then I also believe that all CEOs should spend a couple of years as a business analyst to learn the fundamentals of business analysis; after all, the CEO is simply an experienced strategic business analyst with authority.


First of all, let’s talk about the benefits of certification. While there are many who decry certifications, let’s focus on the positive aspects.

  • Certifications demonstrate (not prove) a prescribed level of knowledge and/or skill in a particular field of practice. Certifications are used by many industries and professions to separate the ‘amateurs,’ those that perform the role solely for the paycheck or are only temporarily playing the role, from the ‘professionals,’ those who take the role seriously as a career, whether the role is considered a ‘profession’ or not.
  • Certifications, like college degrees, demonstrate certain amounts of perspicacity and dedication. The recipient has taken the time and put forth the effort to study and practice the role, learning and experiencing the techniques and tools to be successful in that role. When considering a certification or actually pursuing it, the applicant has a greater focus on all aspects of the role being played and, therefore, based on the principle of mindfulness, learns and absorbs more about the intricacies and subtleties of the role.
  • Certifications are goals — targets to achieve — and as such provide motivation to many to burn the midnight oil and learning how to play the role better.

So what is the PMI-PBA? The PMI-PBA certifies competency and knowledge levels in the area of business analysis. PMI’s Global Product Manager for the PBA, Ms. Simona Fallavollita states, “the PMI-PBA recognizes and validates the critical role that business analysis plays in programs and projects.”


PMI suggests that candidates for the PMI-PBA certification include “anyone focused on evaluating and analyzing business problems and anyone managing requirements with a project or program.”

Anyone is eligible to take the pilot exam for the certification. PMI has not stated how many will be selected to take the exam, and is leaning toward a larger pool of exam takers— “the more who test, the better,” said Ms. Fallavollita. The pilot will be run in the same manner as other certification exams for PMI credentials. There will be an application to fill out detailing experience, specific hours and education

Of course the pilot is not free. The submitted application will be reviewed by PMI and those who are approved will pay for the exam. The PMI website quotes US$405 as the cost for a PMI member to take the computer-based test, and US$250 to take the paper-based test; however PMI is offering a 20% rebate for anyone who takes the exam during the pilot period. For non-PMI members the cost is higher. Once payment is received, the candidates are authorized to schedule their test appointment at their local test center and take the test. PMI states that the main difference between the pilot and regular exams is that the exam takers will not see their pass/fail results immediately after the exam, as is the case with other certification exams. “One of the key purposes of the pilot is to collect data on the exam and see how items perform,” stated Ms. Fallavollita. “Items” refers to the questions on the exam. That information will be used to establish the scoring for the exam, or what the pass/fail line will be. PMI expects to notify all of the candidates a few weeks after the pilot closes.


The exam period began on 12 May 2014 when the applications for qualification became available and ends on 4 August 2014. During that time, those who are qualified and pass the exam will receive the PMI-PBA certification.

Coincidentally, the IIBA is also released Version 3 of the BABOK for public review on 12 May to all IIBA members for comment. The review period extends through 12 July 2014. The BABOK is the basis for the CBAP certification. The IIBA previews version 3 with: “The BABOK® Guide v3 reflects the evolution and expansion of the business analyst role, and outlines the skills and knowledge business analysts need to create better business outcomes and drive business success.” The CBAP certification exam will reflect Version 3 of the BABOK approximately six months after the release of Version 3.


Where does the PMI-PBA fit in with the current landscape of the business analysis community led by the Toronto-based IIBA?

The statements made by PMI above and elsewhere suggest there is a significant hole in successful project execution and that hole is called “requirements.” Before you jump to the conclusion that PMI is throwing bricks at the IIBA for not filling that hole, the IIBA appears to be moving away from project oriented business analysis and more toward a strategic role. Kevin Brennan, Chief Business Analyst (CBA) and Executive Vice President of the IIBA responds: “Is business analysis equal to requirements management and change control (or better, governance, since “change control” implies a specific approach to organizational change, one rejected by the agile community among others)? No. Those are things that a business analyst has to do but aren’t the center of our profession, although they appear to be very heavily emphasized by the content of the PMI-PBA. The core purpose of business analysis is to identify and define changes to an enterprise that deliver value to its stakeholders. Business analysts should be focused on business success, not project success. Project success is the consequence of effective business analysis, not its purpose.” (Emphasis mine)

This statement stakes out an area of business analysis that some business analysts might be uncomfortable with. Those who are focused on solution requirements, as opposed to the overall solution itself, might find that emphasizing business success over project success is daunting. Many might be uneasy with the movement of the business analysis profession toward a more strategic role than the tactical role business analysts have been filling for years.

David Barrett, a founding member of the IIBA looks at the issue of a space opening up a bit differently in his blog on the PMI-PBA: “For 10 years the IIBA has struggled for recognition within the main stream of our organizations around the world – public and private sector, small and large. The recognition they (we) strived for did not happen as predicted. The certification program has struggled and unbelievably, we still have very few project managers working with BAs.” (1) Mr. Barrett’s suggestion, in tune with many others, is that PMI has stepped in to fill the space still unfilled by the IIBA. He further suggests, however, as do many others, that there is plenty of room in the business analysis space for both organizations and both certifications.

One might conclude that one difference between the two approaches to business analysis and the representative certifications might be the difference between strategic business analysis and tactical or project business analysis.

What’s in it for Me?

(This is not one of the journalist’s questions, but this question is certainly on our minds)

The big question, at least for business analysts, is: What is the difference between the two certifications?

The primary difference appears to be in the focus of each. The PMI-PBA and its associated materials focus on the practices and principles of business analysis and requirements management in a project or program orientation, whereas the CBAP and the BABOK have a broader focus on business analysis in general. This focus will be made more apparent with the upcoming version 3 of the BABOK, which somewhat reduces the emphasis on the business analyst being a requirements manager or involved in projects at all!

And the primary difference between the forthcoming version 3 of the BABOK from the IIBA and the new practice standard for business analysis from PMI is again the focus. The BABOK describes what someone performing business analysis should do for acceptable practices. PMI’s Business Analysis practice guide, on the other hand, will address the “how” business analysis is practically applied in projects and programs. This “what” and “how” discriminator fits well with the general sense of the project space where business analysis defines what is to be done and the project manager and team define how it will be done. ( PMI states that the forthcoming PMI Requirements practice standard also describes what someone responsible for business analysis and requirements should do within the project or program environment and addresses the what in the context of multiple industry disciplines).

From this perspective, it would seem that all these documents may be necessary to fully realize the wide range of business analysis activities and practices. One can imagine using the BABOK and/or PMI’s Requirements Management practice standard to guide what must be done and the PMI BA practice guide to provide guidelines on how to do it. However, since none of the documents are ready for prime time, the final determination will have to wait until they are available to the public.


The question is not how will it happen, but how will it play out over time? Or as a Manager of Business Systems Development asked, “I am studying for the CBAP from IIBA. Should I continue or wait for PMI? Which will be more valuable?”

While it may be too early to tell, certainly many in the business analysis community are logging their objections and expressing their indignation, or providing their support, and all seem to be making predictions. Some suggest a positive outcome of the PMI-PBA, which will provide wider exposure of the role of business analysis in organizations that don’t currently employ business analysts. This is good news for all business analysts seeking a larger opportunity pool. Kathleen Barret, founding president and former CEO of the IIBA, says “I believe competition is good. It is hard, but it will force IIBA to focus on its fundamentals. Why does it exist? What makes it special?” (2)

A cynic’s view of the future of the two certifications might see divisiveness in the ranks of business analysts between those carrying one certification and those carrying the other. This would generate millions of words of rhetoric on blogs and LinkedIn espousing the virtues and vices of the selected certifications. Confusion would reign among new business analysts and employers who are looking for business analysts until, eventually, those hiring business analysts ignore all certifications, and those business analysts considering certification to help with employment will abandon their aspirations.

On the other hand, we might see the clear distinction grow even clearer over time. The two organizations and their respective standards and practice guides might bring much needed clarity to the definition of business analysis and, in doing so, finally begin to define the professional business analyst. PMI certifies and focuses on business analysis working in projects and programs and the IIBA certifying and providing guidance to business analysts working at the strategic, non-project level. Both levels of business analyst can be recognized as part of the profession ***. Other business analysis related certifications and guidance may then be forthcoming (again, similar to the medical and legal specialties), such as user interface and human factors and business architects to round out the profession, and perhaps a business analysis-certified CEO.

Eventually we may end up following Principal Business Analyst Tina Underhill’s comment: “I am planning to do both! Why not?”

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

* In 1950s television Westerns, such as Gunsmoke and Lawman, a common phrase to set up the plot was, “there is a new gunslinger in town” sometimes new “gunslinger.” This would be an adversary leading to a shootout on the dusty main street at the end of the episode, and sometimes the “gunslinger” would be a friend or end up being a compatriot of the lead character.
** “truth, justice and the American way” was the tagline from the old Superman television series from the 1950s, starring George Reeves. Superman and his alter ego, Clark Kent, a mild mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, were seekers of “truth, justice and the American way.”
*** My last two columns addressed the issue of whether business analysis is a profession or not. Responders made many great points to consider.


  1. David Barrett, “PMI Announces Business Analysis Certification”, March 26, 2014 
  2. Kathleen Barret, “PMI Expands Offerings in Requirements Management”, March 26, 2014 

Don’t Try This at Home Part 2

Summoning up the other side of the debate, here are some thoughts about why business analysis might not be a profession in itself. I am also bringing in some comments and opinions by a group of people each of whom I consider to be examples of “professional” business analysts. Ironically, they all seem to have adopted the position that business analysis is not a profession, at least for now.

As much as Mr. Blais has some good points about the profession of business analysis in the last article (Don’t Try This at Home part 1), I am presenting the opposing point of view. Business analysis is not a profession for the following reasons.

A Business Analyst for Life

When you think of the “professionals” – the doctors, lawyers, engineers, etc. – you think of people who are in that profession for their entire career and then some. A retired doctor is still thought of as a doctor. In the field of business analysis, there is a constant clamoring for the answer to ‘what next?” In articles, and around the blogosphere and discussion worlds, the question is consistently asked: “is there life after a business analyst?” In a recent series of articles Cathy Brunsting posited that business analyst was not a life long profession and suggested that business analyst “manager” or “leader: are the next steps, but offered several alternatives as ‘next steps”: product owner (for organizations engaged in Agile software development), Product Manager (for retail, manufacturing or distribution organizations). enterprise architect, business architect, account manager, and senior management. The latter has been my somewhat tongue-in-cheek response to the question of upward mobility: the business analyst is the future CEO.

All this is well and good, but it seems to argue against business analysis being a profession. The constant concern with “what do I do after I serve my time as a business analyst?” suggests strongly that business analysis is but a stepping stone or training ground for other occupations or professions. As such, business analysis cannot be a profession in itself. Doctors, lawyers, and engineers do not enter their chosen profession as a means to some other job or some other profession (with the possible exception of lawyers who sometimes practice law as a stepping stone to politics. (Although we don’t usually refer to politics as a ‘profession’ except in a purely derogatory fashion).

Who Am I?

A common thread among business analysts is to ask “what am I doing?” Questions are posted on the boards such as “what is your business analyst elevator pitch?” “What do you tell Aunt Susan when she asks what you do for work?” “What do you say to people at the cocktail party after you say ‘I am a business analyst?’ We don’t hear members of the medical or legal professions having to explain to someone what their profession is all about. A simple “I am a doctor” usually suffices. This is the earmark of a profession. While Mr. Blais suggests that the umbrella concept of business analysis having many subsets within it is a proof of profession, I see it the opposite. Until business analysis has a clearly understood and well known meaning and a clearly defined discipline to support that meaning, such fragmentation is precisely the reason it is not a profession.

The Accidental Business analyst

In one of my early articles, and my first LinkedIn post I suggested that most people practicing business analysis were like me: they got into business analysis accidentally. It was not their dream or intended career. I asked “how did you get to be a business analyst?” Most came from technical occupations while some slid over from business jobs. Some gravitated to business analysis when the organization added the occupational specialty to its job descriptions, and some were told, “you are now a business analyst, go analyze!”

The point is that unlike doctors, lawyers and engineers, none of us grew up wanting to be business analysts. We did not join the Future Business Analysts of America clubs, (In the US secondary school system, there are a number of school-sponsored organizations such as Future Farmers of America, Future Doctors of America, Future Lawyers of America, as well as clubs for budding engineers, astronomers, and other professions, including the arts.) We did not plan our education around a business analysis curriculum and get our degrees in business analysis. Such degrees are still few and far in between at the baccalaureate level and nearly non-existent in advanced degree levels.

A Degree of Business Analysis

In a conversation about professionalism in business analysis about five years ago, Kevin Brennan (Chief Business Analyst and Executive Vice President of the IIBA) suggested this definition in a tweet: “it can be taught in advance of practice, out of context”. Professions therefore are teachable whereas a practice can only be learned through doing. What is it that a business analyst can learn in “advance of practice”?

How can business analysis claim to be a profession when there are no educational criteria other than joining study groups to cram for a business analyst certification? Universities seem to be inclined to awarding certificates in business analysis rather than degrees in the subject. It was a major leap forward when some universities awarded an MBA with a specialization in business analysis. In other words, there is no professional path through the educational system to become a business analyst as there is in a recognized profession, such as law, medicine or engineering. Thus, business analysis is not a profession. 

Back in 2009 Laura Brandau ( made some suggestions about what might comprise a business analysis curriculum leading to a profession. Last year Keith Majoos asked the same question. The answers were interesting and involved courses that many colleges don’t offer. Can you have a profession without concomitant education?

Amateur Business Analysts

If business analysis is a profession, then it should be reserved for business analysts just as the medical profession is limited to those who are legitimate doctors, and the legal profession to those who are qualified lawyers. However, we have instances of people in many other job descriptions playing the role of business analyst or simply performing business analysis. Adriana Beal ( has this opinion about professional business analysts: “I’m not sure ‘business analyst’ should be treated a profession, [but] rather a role that many of us play in various moments of our careers:” She also mentions that her husband, who is an engineer turned computer science researcher, is called upon to perform business analysis on projects on which he is working. I wonder if that would be allowed if business analysis were truly a profession.

David Wright suggests that “To me, it is not what you do, it is what you deliver. I deliver requirements, so if asked I call myself a ‘Requirements Consultant’. Some may see it as a restrictive ‘title’, but there is enough demand for the deliverable that I expect to keep doing it for as long as I want.” In other words, business analysis is not a profession, but one of many labels for those who deliver requirements

While Mr. Blais might point to that factor as meeting a condition of a profession, consider an architect who talks to the client to determine the requirements for the new home he is designing for them. Or the engineer defining the requirements for the bridge he is building. Or consider a moving contractor analyzing the contents of all the rooms and closets of your house to define the requirements for boxes, truck space, and men to get your belongings transported to another dwelling.

Are any of these business analysts? Mr. Blais might point out that while they are defining the requirements or doing business analysis activities, they are actually playing the role of the business analyst. He might also stress that the fact that other job titles are aware that they are performing business analysis activities is enough to substantiate business analysis as a profession. Mr. Blais might jokingly refer to those who play the business analyst role while performing another job description as ‘amateurs’ to distinguish them from those who perform the same tasks on a full time basis and in that way prove that business analysis is a profession. I argue that a ‘profession’ requires specific and specialized knowledge and expertise such that only those who part of the profession can actually practice it. No “amateurs”. We certainly don’t think of people playing the role of lawyer or architect at various times during their lives as the need develops, except, of course, in the movies.

Not only That…

I can hear Mr. Blais protesting that if business analysis is not a profession, what is it? Is it part of another profession? Certainly there is no profession of “business” although there are those who seem to believe that an MBA is a profession, although I am not sure what a “professional MBA” is.

Currently business analysis seems to be a part of many other professions. As Adriana and others have pointed out, project managers, software engineers, quality assurance specialists, stock brokers, etc., use the techniques laid out in the BABOK and other business analysis guides. So, I would submit that business analysis is a practice or collection of practices rather than a profession. Or, as Mr. Blais has said, the business analyst is a role to be played by anyone, perhaps without knowing they are playing it. And maybe that is where it should stay.

Duane Banks takes it one step further: “I’m beginning to see business analysis as something you do, akin to critical thinking. So, business analysis is a skill or a competency.” Not a profession, not even a practice, but a competency!

There is one more aspect that Mr. Blais does not mention, business analysis does not yet has an enforceable set of professional ethics and guidelines that as there is in other professions. A lawyer can be disbarred, a doctor lose her license to practice, There are boards and adjudicators and sometimes even laws to help police the profession, weed out the miscreants, and maintain the overall reputation of the professionals. As of now there is nothing of that sort for business analysts or those practicing business analysis. All business analysis has at this time is certifications, and a certification linked to experience does not a professional make.

And Yet…

While I join with the others who posted comments to Mr. Blais’ article last month in suggesting that business analysis is not a profession I am not saying that business analysis should not or cannot be a profession.. I am saying that it is not now, or perhaps it is not yet.

So, what is necessary for business analysis to be considered a profession alongside doctors, lawyers and engineers?

The fledgling business analysis profession must coalesce on its definitions and identify its own scope. The IIBA has released its new core purpose and that purpose seems to suggest a movement toward consolidating and codifying the central purpose for business analysis to create a set of principles similar to the Hippocratic Oath or other professional creeds. This will provide a unifying connectedness among all those who choose business analysis as a profession. In addition, the Project Management institute is preparing a Practice Guide to Business Analysis which defines aspects of business analysis as it applies to making projects successful. These two efforts, among others, may help create a single consolidated understandable definition of business analysis so when I say at a cocktail party “I am a business analyst,” people will immediately understand what I do. That will go a long way to gaining a seat at the table of professionals.

The education systems need to create the necessary professional preparatory training. Perhaps there might be a tie between the MBA and the business analyst. In other words, there must be some curricula for undergrads and graduate students to take that leads to a degree in business analysis. The preponderance of the course work would be in business and not in technology, focusing on communication skills and analytical techniques rather than defining requirements.

As business analysts we would need to somehow establish a set of guidelines for behavior and ethics that is enforced. This might bring up the concept of licensing and that might bring up the specter of government involvement, but that seems to be a part of the definition of “profession”, at least at the doctor-lawyer-architect-engineer level.

But most of all those who are business analysts and who are practicing business analysis have to believe that they are in a profession, that business analysis is a destination and not a step along the way to some other position. We need to stop being apologetic for being business analysts. We need to understand the valuable and indispensable service we provide to the organization we work for. We need to establish high standards for performance and behavior among business analysts and adhere to those standards ourselves.

I do, however, agree with Mr. Blais about one thing: there is an opening and to a degree, a need, for a profession for the business domain to match that of the medical and legal and engineering domains. And it could be, and perhaps should be, business analysis. While we are not a profession yet, we can be if we want it to be.

As I said in an answer to the question: “Is the business analyst a stepping stone to other positions?” after a long series of positive responses that listed what those ‘other positions’ might be: “Gee. I like to think that all the career changes lead a person to the ultimate position, that of business analyst. There is nowhere to go from there but down.”

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Don’t Try This at Home Part 1

FEATUREMarch11bth“We Are All Professionals Here”
Is business analysis a profession?
Part 1: Yes, of course business analysis is a profession

Over the past several months there has been an upsurge in the continuing discussion of “who are we?” among business analysts on the boards and blogs of the Internet. Intertwined in those discussions and debates is the recurring discussion around the professional status of business analysis. My immediate response, as you might have guessed from my previous writings here and elsewhere, is affirmative: “of course business analysis is a profession, why is there even a doubt?”. After discussions with many others in the field I realize that there may be some validity in the debate from both sides. So I have summoned my inner schizophrenic to engage in a debate. Part 1 below presents the argument for the position that business analysis is a profession to be equated with doctors and lawyers. Part 2, which follows, presents the opposing viewpoint. In the meantime, I have been giving myself black eyes and calling my own lineage into question among other epithets as the debate with myself grows heated. Read on and see what you think about the professionalization of the business analyst.

Is the business analyst the Rodney Dangerfield* of the business and IT worlds? When you listen to business analysts talk about their jobs and careers you would think so. A common complaint among business analysts is “we don’t get any respect”. No one seems to know what business analysts do, not even most business analysts. Are we requirements writers? Are we members of the project team? Are we an important cog in the organization that identifies business process problems and recommends solutions to those problems? Are we disguised Six Sigma practitioners? Maybe we are business architects (solution architects, enterprise architects) in training? 

Suppose we step back away from the fray and consider business analysis as a profession like the medical profession or legal profession? Perhaps our perceived lack of respect comes from a feeling of professional inferiority. If we belong to a ‘profession’ like doctors and lawyers, perhaps we would garner the respect that we feel we deserve.


Are we professional business analysts? According to one definition, a “professional” is someone following an occupation as a means of livelihood or for gain”, in other words, he gets paid. Thus we have professional ball players as opposed to amateur ball players. Among the road travelers and frequent business flyers, those who commute by plane to their jobs, the term ‘amateur’ is assigned to the vacation flyers and those visiting relatives once a year. The term “amateur” can be somewhat derisive in nature, referring with scorn to the type of flyer who asks the flight attendant to open the window on the plane to let some air in (true story).

From the perspective that those with the title ‘business analyst’ get paid for what they are doing, whatever it is, a business analyst is a ‘professional’.

However, there are other meanings for ‘professional’ than just one who earns money doing something (are kids who run lemonade stands “professional retailers”?). ‘Professional” also means “of, pertaining to, or connected with a profession”. For example, we don’t consider Football a profession; we consider it a sport, even though the people who play it for money (lots of money) are considered professionals.

When someone mentions the term ‘profession’ we generally think of the medical profession, the legal profession, science, engineering and the like. There is a certain cache associated with being a professional connected to a profession. In the minds of the average person there is something special and distinguished about being part of a profession, not to mention something lucrative.

What is a profession?

As a good business analyst should, we go to the source for our information, The source in this case is the ultimate source, the dictionary: “a vocation requiring knowledge of some department of learning or science”. With the possible exception of Ted Williams, baseball players don’t apply scientific exactitude to the playing of the game. Football players don’t need advanced scientific degrees in their specialties to gain positions on the team.

Perhaps it is this science thing that distinguishes the ‘profession’ from the ‘job’. There is a similar debate over among the technocrats about whether there is a programming or software development profession. The discussion points out that there is a lot of science behind the creation of software, and those who study it and practice it are ‘software engineers’, part of the engineering profession and following the engineering disciplines. Those who have degrees in history, English literature, or other non-related major and who have learned and practice programming are software developers and not part of the ‘profession’. (Note that this is no reflection on the quality or quantity of work produced, or the ‘professionalism’ of their work ethic, only a comment on the existence of a ‘profession’ as defined above).

Is business analysis a vocation requiring knowledge of learning or science? In some aspects it is. In a previous article I discussed a number of traits that a business analyst would need to be successful, such as critical thinking, system thinking, analytical thinking, and strategic thinking. Each of these has bases in science and learning. Sherlock Holmes, who we all revere as a shining example of a business analyst, certainly was well ensconced in the sciences.

And those soft skills – mediation, influence, communication, negotiation, elicitation and investigation, and so forth – are all learned capabilities and are improved through constant attention and learning.

To the extent that we study and adopt the research in these areas into our practice, business analysis might be considered a profession. And as such the problem we have with multiple titles apparently meaning the same thing, and fragmentation of responsibilities might disappear. If business analysis were a profession we might not have the domain or technical knowledge , as in “Oracle business analyst”, “Health care business analyst”.

A Profession is an Umbrella

When someone says they are a doctor (not a PhD) we know that person practices medicine and the healing of humans. When someone has the designation of lawyer, we know that they practice law and are qualified to do legal stuff. We also know that each of those professions has specialties and specialties within specialties. The doctor is not just a neurologist, but a pediatric neurologist. The lawyer is not just a corporate lawyer, but a corporate tax lawyer. And so forth. So we have the business analyst who practices business analysis. Within that broad profession are those who are business systems analysts specializing in financial systems and those who call themselves business process analysts who work only on the business side. And so forth.

The catch is that regardless of the specialization, a doctor is always a doctor and a lawyer is always a lawyer. Just as a member of the US Marine Corps is always a Rifleman regardless of what actual job he or she is performing, all doctors and lawyers are trained in the basics of their profession. Even the most specialized of the specialists – a pediatric heart neurosurgeon for let handed children – would still be able to treat you when you asked for medical assistance and tell you to take two aspirin and call her in the morning. In other words, the professions have a basic body of knowledge learned by all members of the profession before they specialize. One goes to engineering school and learns basic mathematics and physics whether one is a mechanical, chemical or nuclear engineer.

Applying the umbrella concept of the profession to business analysis, we can see that there is a basic business analysis body of knowledge (with the Guide to that Business Analysis Body of Knowledge maintained by the IIBA) and that every professional business analyst should be grounded in those precepts and principles regardless of the specialty. And since the basic essence of business analysis is working with the business to identify and solve business problems then a wider range of job categories such as business architect, user experience analyst, human factors analyst, information architect, process improvement specialist, and so on, might be considered within the business analysis profession.

Then we can conclude that, just as all doctors treat patients, all business analysts analyze the business to solve business problems. And this keeps us in line with the other professions.

Professional Problem Solvers

While most jobs are task oriented – the worker has a task to do and accomplishes it. The taxi driver gets you to your destination, the bar tender pours your drink, and so forth – one aspect of a profession such as medicine or law or engineering is that it is problem oriented. Doctors deal with health problems; lawyers assess and resolve legal problems; engineers solve problems standing in the way of getting things built. As many of us have pointed out, including Kathleen Barrett, one of the founders of the IIBA who said that “the business analyst is the organization’s problem solver”, the business analyst is totally problem oriented in the same way that doctors and lawyers are. We solve business problems, things standing in the way of successful business operations and meeting organizational goals.

From the perspective that the members of a profession apply their learning and science to solving problems, we can count business analysis among the professions of the world.

A Profession not a Job

When we characterize business analysis as ‘gathering requirements’ for software developers or other specifically IT related team, it is easy to see why most business analysts think that all business analysts have only one job and therefore have difficulty correlating some of the business analyst activities unrelated to defining requirements.

Saying that a business analyst’s job is defining (writing, gathering, recording, maintaining, managing) requirements is like saying a doctor’s job is writing prescriptions or a lawyer’s job is writing contracts.

Certainly if a doctor determines the cause of the illness through testing, diagnosis, and analysis and does not write the prescription or writes it incorrectly or writes it in a way that the filler of the prescription cannot interpret it, then the patient will not be cured. Similarly if a lawyer gathers the information, investigates, interviews, analyzes and comes to a conclusion, but the contract is not written, there is no final agreement (under law) nor settlement of the issue. Thus, a business analyst who, after investigation, research, gathering information, and analysis does not define the requirements to produce the solution, any solution produced will likely not solve the problem.

However, the writing or documenting is just the end game of the activities in which the professional solves the problem. The doctor has determined the diagnosis and treatment before the prescription is written, the lawyer has figured out the solution to the legal puzzle before the contract is written and the business analyst has determined the solution to the business problem before the requirements are written.

Once we understand the scope of the profession of business analysis we can accept and acknowledge the wide range of specialties and ‘occupations’ that exist within it.


There is another aspect of a profession, and the professionals associated with it, that is a defining characteristic: education and certification. If we are considering a career as a medical or legal or engineering professional we expect that four years of college will not be enough. We know we will be going on for additional education, first in the general aspects of the profession (medical school, law school, business school, etc.) and then further study in our chosen specialty, should we have one. This corresponds to the definition that a profession requires “knowledge of some department of learning”.

But in these professions, that is not enough. There is generally a period of “apprenticeship”. Doctors are interned for a period of time, lawyers also spend a few years doing nothing but research for the partners of law firms.

And then there are the exams that certify one is eligible and then qualified to practice in the profession: the MCAT and LSAT to get into the advanced education facility in the first place and the Boards and Bars that must be passed in order to practice professionally (that is, for money).

Unfortunately at this point, there are no such advanced education and study requirements for business analysts, and there are no government required exams or other hurdles to jump to become a professional business analyst. There are some certifications, notably the CBAP (Certified Business Analyst Professional) from the IIBA in the US (and other BA certifications in Europe and Australia). However, there are currently two issues with such certification. First the CBAP and other certifications have not kept up with the demand for business analysts in the industries so that most organizations are hiring non-certified business analysts who are doing quite well. If the certification is not necessary to determine a business analyst is qualified, and a certification is not necessary to obtain employment as a business analyst then the certification will have minimal meaning and importance in the profession. Secondly, there is an entire certification industry now offering certifications in just about everything: Certified Software Development Professional (CSDP), Certified Microsoft Anything, Certified Casual Google User Professional (CCGUP), Certified Requirements Analysis Professional (CRAP). There are lists of the 15 top paying certifications this year, or perhaps this month. And there are certifications awarded just for attending a two day class without test or experience or other proof that the person is qualified for that certification. With the plethora of certifications, all certifications become suspect and lose value.

From this perspective, we might not have a business analysis profession. However, as late as the early part of the twentieth century (I remember it well) there were no boards or bars for doctors or lawyers. Many who professed that profession merely hung out a shingle, called themselves “doctor” and started practicing. It took years for the industries to form into professions. When I started working with a company to form a business analyst department back ten years ago or so, I was asked to identify colleges with degrees in business analysis. There were none, not advanced or undergraduate degrees. Today we have a growing number of very good undergraduate business analyst degrees and advanced degrees and even doctorates in the field.

Thinking as a Profession

We in business analysis may not have all the trappings of a profession similar to doctors and lawyers…yet. But if we consider that we are a profession and act accordingly, continually improving our skills through education, joining professional organizations devoted to the advancement of the profession, and all the other accruements that accompany any occupation regarded as a profession, we will considered a profession soon enough, because we really are.

Perhaps those who are asking ‘who am i?” are thinking in terms of a task-orientation are not accepting the broader picture of the business analyst and the heavy responsibility that goes with the profession, just like the responsibility of doctors and lawyers, engineers and architects.

So that is one point of view in the discussion of the business analysis profession. What do you think? The opposing perspective of this personal Point-Counterpoint will appear in the next article.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.