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What the Heck is a Business Analyst?

  • By: Sarah Eisan on 24 Sep 2014

You’re meeting someone new for the first time and they ask “What do you do for work”?  You reply “I’m a Business Analyst”, most people will instantly have their look of curiosity replaced with a blank stare and you can already anticipate the next question…”What the heck is a Business Analyst”?

Over the years I’ve tried many explanations from text book definitions of business analysis to analogies to examples and one thing remains the same – it’s never a simple answer and it changes depending on where I’m working as a Business Analyst and what the scope of my work is at that time.

The IIBA categorizes business analysis work into 7 knowledge areas; Business Analysis Planning and Monitoring, Requirements Management and Communication, Elicitation, Requirements Analysis, Solution Assessment and Validation, Enterprise Analysis and Underlying Competencies.

Regardless of what work a Business Analyst is doing, they will typically act as a liaison between the business units in an organization and the technology specialists and/or technology functions; because of this, the Business Analyst role is often aligned with either the business unit (e.g. Customer Service, Manufacturing, Logistics), IT where they focus on both business and system aspects of a project or in a business analysis center of excellence where Business Analysts are grouped together with their peers to maintain consistency and continuous improvement.

Ultimately the goal of business analysis is to:

  • Create solutions
  • Give enough tools for robust project management
  • Improve efficiency and reduce waste
  • Provide essential documentation, like requirements document, project initiation documents and others

There are a variety of tools and techniques a Business Analyst will employ to achieve these goals but that’s a discussion for another day…

How do you answer the question of what is a Business Analyst?

Certifications for Business Anlaysts

  • By: Sarah Eisan on 10 Sep 2014

September is the month in many organizations when training opportunities are readily available with summer vacations concluding and the need to use up remaining training dollars before year end. I thought this week I would share an overview of common certifications held by tenured business analysts, that I usually share with business analysts who are new to the profession.

Questions regarding certifications are common from new business analysts, such as do I need to be certified or should I be? Which one is best for me? Which one provides the most value in terms of career growth?

There is no cookie cutter answer to any of these questions, the answers can vary significantly depending on the individuals career goals, how much time they are willing to invest and what the focus of their work primarily is or what they would rather it be. This is when it’s often helpful to learn about the various certifications available.

Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP)

The CBAP designation is a professional certification from the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) for individuals with extensive business analysis experience. Given the number of topics covered by the CBAP exam, it is only open to experienced business analysts, who have verifiable 7500 hours of business analysis hands-on experience recorded against individual projects and specific BA activities. More in depth details can be viewed at: http://www.iiba.org/Certification-Recognition/CBAP-Designation.aspx

Certification of Competency on Business Analysis (CCBA)

The CCBA designation is a professional certification from the IIBA for individuals who have developed the essential business analysis skills with at least 3750 hours of verifiable business analyst experience. The CCBA exam is based on the same material as the CBAP exam but with different questions that are more appropriate to the candidate’s level of experience. More in depth details can be viewed at http://www.iiba.org/Certification-Recognition/CCBA-Certification.aspx

Project Management Institute – Project Business Analyst

This is a newer designation recently launched by the Project Management Institute (PMI), the same organization that provides the PMP designation. The PMI has recognized the role that business analysts play in projects and that it is a growing profession. The PMI-PBA highlights the candidate’s expertise in business analysis by highlighting their ability to work effectively with stakeholders to define their business requirements, shape the output of projects and drive successful business outcomes. More in depth details can be viewed at http://www.pmi.org/Certification/PMI-Professional-in-Business-Analysis-PMI-PBA.aspx

The Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL)

 ITIL is a set of practices for IT service management (ITSM) that focuses on aligning IT services with the needs of business. ITIL describes processes, procedures, tasks, and checklists which are not organization-specific, but can be applied by an organization for establishing integration with the organization’s strategy, delivering value, and maintaining a minimum level of competency. It allows the organization to establish a baseline from which it can plan, implement, and measure. It is used to demonstrate compliance and to measure improvement.

The ITIL Qualifications scheme provides a modular approach to the ITIL framework, and is comprised of a series of qualifications focused on different aspects of ITIL Best Practice, to various degrees of depth and detail. These are the levels of qualifications within the scheme:

  • ITIL Foundation
  • ITIL Intermediate Level
  • ITIL Managing Across the Lifecycle
  • ITIL Expert Level
  • ITIL Master Qualification

More indepth details can be viewed at http://www.itil-officialsite.com/AboutITIL/WhatisITIL.aspx

Checklists, Project Management, and Back to School

  • By: Sarah Eisan on 03 Sep 2014

This week children everywhere are heading back to school; this is a time many parents face with both anticipation and apprehension.  The malls and big box stores are flooded with parents frantically trying to find the last of the items needed for the first day of school, items often so specific they become near impossible to find at the last minute…

I was once that parent and then I thought, why wouldn’t I approach back to school preparation with the same planning that I would for a project?

Once I stopped and thought about it, I broke down back to school preparation in the same way I would a small project in the workplace and here is what I came up with:

Step 1 – Identify what items I need to purchase; that one is easy, the school provides a very detailed list of everything needed (often in great specificity) and the quantities required.  This becomes the checklist that will be used to identify what is needed and allows me to determine when everything has been purchased.

Step 2 – Identify a vendor/retailer to purchase the items from? This requires a bit more thought; such as are you the parent who prefers to bargain hunt for the best deals as competition is often fierce among retailers this time of year, or the time conscious parent who wants to be able to buy everything is one place or a combination of the two? The answer to this question will determine when and where you will purchase the items. For me, I prefer to be able to purchase all the items in one place, for a reasonable price.

Step 3 – Now that I’ve determined my requirements and priority of each, I need to start researching vendors/retailers to determine who can provide all the items needed for what I deem to be a reasonable price. A second checklist can come in handy here to compare various retailers and their pricing and availability for items (I’ll admit, I created a spreadsheet for this).

Step 4 – Next is the sourcing of the items; normally I prefer to do this solo and not on a weekend but this year I had my little helpers in tow. While this can be more stressful, it can be made easier by using delegation skills to delegate tasks to each of your little helpers.

Step 5 – Once all items have been purchased, the project isn’t over… there is still the close out activities such as labeling, organizing and packing the items for the first day of school.

While this is a very simplistic example, it highlights the importance of careful planning and preparation before embarking on any project, both in our professional and personal lives. We often overlook how we can utilize our skills outside of the workplace however upfront planning and preparation can make tasks in our personal lives as efficient and effective (and less stressful) as in our work lives.

Article Review – “Manager: Superhero or Pilot?”

  • By: Sarah Eisan on 27 Aug 2014

I recently received an article to review that resonated with me, it was called “Manager: Superhero or Pilot?”. This article was written by Stephen Carver and is available to read on the page for Cranfield Universities School of Management

What do you think of when you hear the terms “Superhero” or “Pilot” in regards to management? I think of the Superhero as being the person who swoops in and saves the day when crisis hits but does not play a part in planning to prevent the crisis nor do they do anything to prevent it from happening again. When I think of the Pilot, I think of someone who is a careful, contentious planner whose objective is to make sure their task at hand is successful without experiencing a crisis.

I think most of us would rather fly on a plane chartered by the Pilot rather than the Superhero but think about your own organization… do the managers act more like Superheros or Pilots? Now think about your role in the organization… are you a Superhero or a Pilot?

A crisis attracts attention, its inevitable so when the Superhero saves the day there is usually a lot of attention paid, particularly by leadership; who doesn’t want to be seen as a hero, especially by their peers and leaders? In contrast when things are going smoothly and uneventful, the same attention is not given but rather its just business as usual and people doing what is expected of them. In my opinion, these Pilot managers are the true heroes because they are doing their job so well that a Superhero is not needed.

The final reflections of the author question if we should extend pilot thinking globally. It is arguable that if we had had better planning and people were thinking about how we were flying and where we were heading, we would not be experiencing the global predicaments that we currently are. Of course, this suggested change in approach represents a significant and widespread culture shift; the author believes that the time is right, people are ready to manage in a more considered way and I would have to agree…

Do you agree? Have you or your organization already began to manage in a more considered way?  If not, why?

Top 5 Tips for PMP and CBAP Recertification

  • By: Sarah Eisan on 20 Aug 2014

As someone who is currently preparing to write the CBAP exam and then the PMP exam next year, I was curious what the re-certification requirements would be once I obtained each certification.

First, here are some basic facts about re-certification

  • Your CBAP and PMP status must be renewed every three years from the anniversary date of earning your initial certification
  • 60 Professional Development Units (PDUs) are required every three years to re-certify your PMP.
  • 60 Continuing Development Units (CDUs) are required every three years to re-certify your CBAP.
  • PDUs and CDUs refer to the same thing, continued professional development; each organization uses different terminology
  • Each organization has multiple categories of development units and limitations around each, so it is important to ensure you have breadth in your professional development; for more details see the following:

Top 5 Tips

  1. As soon as you become certified, review the requirements to become re-certified at the end of your 3 year certification cycle.  Becoming familiar with the requirements early on will help you to choose which professional development activities to take part in to ensure you meet the requirements and are not scrambling at the last minute to get the development units you need.
  2. Now that you are familiar with the requirements, start a spreadsheet (or some means of documenting) to record your development activities, contacts and hours/units.  Update your spreadsheet every time you complete a development activity or monthly to ensure you capture all your activities, big and small.
  3. Be aware of the number of development units you can earn for the various activities; for example, by attending a training course such as those offered by Procept, you can accumulate a large number of development units quickly.  It’s always a good idea to obtain more than the minimum number of development units required in case your re-certification application is selected for a random audit.
  4. Another great way to earn development units is by volunteering.  By volunteering for the IIBA or PMI or another non-profit organization, not only will you obtain development units but it’s also a great way to network and give back at the same time.
  5. The last tip is often the easiest to obtain yet commonly overlooked… You can use hours spent working as a Project Manager or Business Analyst towards your development units.  Ensure you do this every year (and keep supporting documentation) and this will reduce the number additional development units you need to complete.

Do you have any tips that work for you? If so please share!

Is Project Management an Engineering or Humanities Discipline?

  • By: duma on 30 Jul 2014

Being an engineer, my answer is skewed to the engineering side. Engineering teaches us discipline and process, without which project management cannot be successful. I see humanities project managers who downplay the value of discipline and process and wonder why they struggle with their projects (or use process to make up for a lack of discipline). But engineers need to recognize the value of humanities to be truly successful project management professionals. Humanities are needed to add perspective. Some universities are starting to offer degrees that cross disciplines. A subject like history teaches us the value of lessons learned (or perhaps the mistake of not learning our lessons) and good governance, languages for communication, the arts for creativity, critical evaluation, identifying details, philosophy or theology for deeper understanding of cultures, empathy, value systems. The beauty of project management is that the environment pushes us to be constantly learning. It is not formulaic, especially in our global international marketplace. Our profession and standards like PMBOK, PRINCE2, ISO 21500, DIN, etc. provide us with the building blocks, the humanities provide us with the perspective to build the 3 dimensional pyramid.

Covering Your Bases with a Requirements Traceability Matrix

  • By: Sarah Eisan on 23 Jul 2014

In my early days of business analysis, I was often given the task of writing and executing test cases under the guidance of the more senior business analysts. I quickly learned that in order to gain their trust I needed to confidently and concisely show how my test cases verified the solution features meeting the requirements… That was the beginning of my passion for requirements traceability because really, what better way is there to ensure your final deliverables tie directly back to the original business need, avoid scope creep, minimize costs, increase quality and minimize the impact analysis effort and risk?

For those of you who haven’t already jumped on the requirements traceability bandwagon, you’re probably wondering what this is all about and how you can start using this now.

The BABOK defines Requirements Traceability as “The ability to identify and document the lineage of each requirement, including its derivation (backward traceability), its allocation (forward traceability), and its relationship to other requirements.”  

The benefits of using a requirements traceability matrix are:

Improved scope management
Allows for more effective management of change and helps prevent scope creep
Provides better test coverage, minimizes costs and increases quality
Test cases can be traced back to the requirements which can then traced back to the     business needs allowing for ease of validation that sufficient testing has occurred and the solution meets defined quality standards. This prevents inefficient or inadequate testing which decreases project costs as well as preventing an inferior quality product from being released
Minimize impact analysis effort and risk
If a requirement cannot be fulfilled, derivation will easily identify which business needs and stakeholders are impacted
Conversely if business needs change, allocation will identify which requirements and solution components are impacted
This allows for easier assessment of risks of potential changes

Every BA I’ve had a hand in training over the years has heard me preach the importance of requirements traceability and why it is necessary. Those who haven’t employed requirements traceability have at one time or another ran into a situation that became more complicated than it otherwise would have been… from spending hours trying to figure out the impact of a scope change and still not being confident in their recommendation, to realizing that a certain feature was not tested and did not meet quality standards after the solution had already been deployed.

If you don’t use requirements traceability matrices today, I challenge you to use this with your next project and see the benefits for yourself.

The Importance of Soft Skills in Project Management

  • By: Sarah Eisan on 16 Jul 2014

I think we have all encountered people who lack soft skills whether it is in our personal or professional lives; maybe the brilliant doctor with no bedside manner or the interview candidate who has a fabulous resume but demonstrates a complete lack of social skills in the interview…

Soft skills are often associated with a person’s emotional intelligence or ‘people skills’ where as hard skills are associated with a person’s IQ, and technical knowledge. Hard skills are typically learned in school or from books but soft skills are harder to learn and are often developed on the job; for some people soft skills seem to come naturally but others need to learn on the job, often learning the hard way, having their lack of soft skills pointed out or brought up in a performance review. Hard skills are those where the rules stay the same when applied to different situations and in contrast the rules of soft skills change depending on whom you are working with, what you’re communicating or what the topic is.

Some of the more important soft skills are:

  • Conflict Resolution
  • Communication
  • Influence
  • Leadership
  • Problem Solving
  • Empathy

Keeping these soft skills in mind, think about the following situations…

A project manager is leading a team who has been tasked with building and implementing a new software program that will provide complex reporting functionality; in this situation it would be helpful for the project manager to have strong hard skills in addition to soft skills and a soft skill deficit could be overlooked if the hard skills are very strong.

A project manager is leading a team who has been tasked with moving the data entry work currently done within the organization to an outsourcer with the goal of reducing headcount within the organization; in this situation, the project managers technical skills are not as important as their soft skills. A project manager lacking the soft skills mentioned above could prove disastrous on a project of such a sensitive nature.

Now think about the project managers within your own organizations and how they demonstrate or fail to demonstrate soft skills and also think about how you fare with these as well… Not only are soft skills important for project managers but studies also show that individuals with high emotional intelligence often have more successful and fulfilling personal and professional lives; it’s not just about IQ anymore…

What Makes the Difference Between a Great Training Coures and an Okay One?

  • By: Sarah Eisan on 09 Jul 2014

Over the years I’ve taken several training courses from a variety of training providers and have found that you really need to do your research before handing over your valuable time and training dollars. I’ve taken courses that have inspired me on both a personal and professional level, giving me the push I needed to challenge myself and then there have been the courses that have made time stand still and taught me to sleep with my eyes open – not really, but it felt like it at the time!

Personally I enjoy an instructor who can tie in the subject matter to real world examples to reinforce understanding and who can inspire me to take my newfound knowledge back to work and make a difference.

I recently came across this letter from a student who recently completed their Certificate in Business Analysis with Procept at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia and wanted to share feedback on their experience:

For several years my manager and I have been trying to find relevant and local Business Analysis training. We found your program online while attempting to find BA courses at some of the local universities. Although much of the course material was new to me (as I am not a typical BA) I believe obtaining the certification has definitely given me credibility and general BA knowledge that should benefit my career.

It seems as if most of the students enrolled the courses were looking for an introductory high level overview of ‘what is a BA’ and in general, the course delivered. I found the curriculum was quite intense, packed full of terms and tools relevant to the role of a BA. After meeting and chatting with many of the course participants over the past several months, I learned that many BA’s (myself included) perform bits and pieces of BA work along with many, many other things, so to receive the full spectrum training was very enlightening. I like that the course provides training based on the IIBA and that the BABOK reference handbook was provided to each student. The course is well suited to adult learners and the structure allowed for me to complete the curriculum quickly without too much disruption to my day job (and home life). I was very fortunate to have the support of my manager in this manner.

Throughout the course, I was continually trying to fit the BIG picture together and to build on the courses and materials that came before but must admit it was a bit challenging to piece it all together depending on the order the courses are taken and the manner in which the material is presented.

I am happy to have completed the course, your staff and facility are top-notch. I would recommend the course to others looking for similar training.

What do you think makes the difference between a great training course and an okay one?

Please share your experiences with us and post what has made the courses you have attended great or just okay, and why.

The CBAP Application Process and the Fear of Rejection

  • By: pcadmin on 02 Jul 2014

Last year, after starting a position with a new company, my new boss asked me the inevitable question… Have you ever thought about pursuing your CBAP designation?

Yes of course I had thought of it, many times actually, and then I would look at the application process and think nope, not ready for that yet; however, after 6 years of working as a Business Analyst and taking several professional development courses, it was getting harder and harder to justify that I wasn’t ready and my boss knew that.

After that initial conversation, I was feeling excited about the opportunity to obtain my designation and to have the support of my company behind me so I started my application… 7500 hours is a lot of time to allocate and although I had tracked my project hours over the years (thank goodness!) I still had to align the time to the specific knowledge areas; this was going to take some time.

Over the next few weeks I worked away at completing my application, reaching out to old Project Managers and Team Leads and when I finally had the application completed and ready to submit, I felt a wave of relief, for about 5 seconds, and then the thought crept in… what if they reject my application? Why hadn’t I thought of this sooner, I would be so embarrased if they rejected my application, so I waited and a few months went by and my boss asked me about my application again and I begrudgingly admitted that I had not submitted it yet and explained why. We talked and with a lot of encouragement, reasoning and maybe a little ego stroking, I went back to my desk and finally submitted my application.

Within a few minutes I received my confirmation email from the IIBA stating they would review my application and provide their answer within 21 business days. 21 days, business days no less, feels like an eternity when you are waiting to hear the fate of your career, okay maybe that’s a tad dramatic but that’s how it felt. Luckily it only took 5 days and I had my answer… Approved!!

Next up, preparing to write the CBAP Exam…

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