Monday, 26 May 2014 14:27

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

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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.

Why?

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.

What?

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.”

Who?

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.

When?

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?

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.

How?

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.

References:

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

Steve Blais, PMP, has over 43 years’ experience in business analysis, project management, and software development.  He provides consulting services to companies developing business analysis processes. He is on the committee for the IIBA’s BABOK Guide 3.0. He is the author of Business Analysis: Best Practices for Success.

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