Episode 17- #AskAnAnalyst: Is Business Analysis A Discipline Or A Career?

Ask An Analyst Episode 17

Jaqueline: Hello. Welcome to another episode of Technology Expresso Radio. This is Jacqueline Sanders-Blackman coming to you from our studios of Technology Expresso with none another than Kupe. Hello Kupe!

Kupe: Hello, hello!

Jacqueline: How are you?

Kupe: I’m fired up today, Jacqueline!

 Jacqueline: I know, I know. We have some beef going on right now. Let me just put it out there for our audience. You’re used to Kupe and I agree…we don’t agree on today’s topic.

Kupe: That’s right. I was working out last night, doing some pushups for the show.

Are we fighting a losing battle?

 Jacqueline: Exactly. It is on. Let’s go back. The last time we talked to you, since then you’ve been to a conference that had different conversations and topics coming up. Let’s circle us back. Sometimes the more we talk about this, the more we find ourselves circling back to see of the basic questions, which is around the BA role. Is it in? Is it out? Are we even asking the wrong questions? Are we fighting a losing battle? That was how I put it in today’s title about that BA role. Why don’t you roll us back to some of the conversations that you recently had that brought you to start questioning this again.

Kupe: Yeah. There are a couple of things. A couple of weeks ago on the show we talked about the question that people are asking: is the BA needed on an agile project or what’s the role of a BA on an agile project. I talked about how I think it’s the wrong question to start with, that do you need a BA. Well, my view is not necessarily. You don’t need a BA, but you need those capabilities on the team. Someone has to be doing analysis-type work. That was one thing. The other, you invited me to a job fair last week. At first I was sitting at the job fair and not wanting to bother any of the people and the number of large companies that were there looking to hire IT professionals. There were a lot of people looking for a job, so I didn’t want to bother them because I was not looking for a job. I didn’t want to take up their time.

“Yes, of course. We’re hiring everything.”

There was a lull, though, in the job fair, which typically happens in these things going over 6 hours. There are highs and lows, peaks and valleys of people coming through. When there was a lull, I decided to go around and talk to the groups and see what they were looking for, what kind of roles they were looking for. It was eye-opening to me. I talked to 11 large organizations in total. I counted it up because I was taking notes after each one. 3 out of 11 said one of the roles they were hiring for was called the business analyst. 3 out of 11. Less than 30%. A fourth, though, did say that they were, but I really don’t think they knew. When I asked if they were looking for business analysts, they were like, “Oh, yeah, yeah. Of course. We’re hiring for everything.” They named off a whole bunch and never said business analyst, but they said, “Yes, of course. We’re hiring everything.”

There were about 7 that I had to dig a little deeper and go into that, but it really started getting me down because none of them said they were hiring business analysts. However, when I dug into it a little and started asking, “Well, who does this kind of work?” they started rattling off all different kind of titles. Not one of them was called the ‘Business Analyst.’ One called it ‘Business Technology Leaders,’ others got a foot across multiple rolls like PM, developer, and software engineers. They said those were the people that did that kind of stuff. It just got me down this line like, “What’s going on?” Is the need to push a BA profession, is it even worth the battle when you have these massive companies…I don’t want to say their names. I don’t think it’s appropriate, but these are large organizations in the healthcare field, in the financial field, there was a number of conglomerates that do a lot of everything, there were a number of big technology names that you would know, and even some of the agencies of the Federal Government.

Jacqueline: Absolutely. These would be household names. If you said them, people would readily recognize these. There’s another piece to that. We talked about it earlier today when you and I were talking. You have these recruiters, and do they really even know what a business analyst is? So, how are they able to help select, place, and identify good ones and help them with their careers? That in and of itself is complicated, because you say ‘Business Analyst’ and it means so many different things. I think I’ve jumped on myself on previous episodes where I’m just kind of over the name because it comes with baggage almost.

“Well, we have business analysts, but everyone is called business analyst.”

Kupe: Yeah. I was going to petition to change the name to ‘Business Advisor’ or something else, because the term ‘Business Analyst’ gets a bad name. One of the companies that I talked to at this job fair, when I brought up business analyst, first they said they weren’t hiring for business analysts. Then, when I brought that up, they’re like, “Well, we have business analysts, but everyone is called business analyst.”

I was with a client yesterday, and I didn’t bring the topic up. She brought it up, and she said part of the challenge could be an HR-related thing, that for nonexempt and exempt employees, if you have the title ‘Analyst,’ it’s the ones that can’t have overtime, that don’t get paid for overtime. It’s nonexempt. The salaried employee, if you have the title something ‘Analyst,’ then you’re a full-time employee and not eligible for overtime. A lot of business analysts just became a title that got swooped up and used for everything under the sun.

How did we start being called ‘Business Analysts?’

Jacqueline: Ah. That’s very interesting. I’ve questioned, even from the beginning, how did we start being called ‘Business Analysts?’ Interestingly enough, 30 years ago when I got in the field, most of the time we were referred to as ‘Systems Analyst.’ You were part programmer, part analyst. Over time, I remember when I first heard this group called IIBA and the BABOK concept, and it was interesting because before then, I myself aligned with the PMI and project management as far as some of my professional development, because I didn’t see anything else. As soon as the IIBA and the BABOK burst on the scene, I was very much intrigued by that, and I thought, “Ok, here we are. This role that we’ve been playing, we define it for ourselves.”

What I was originally concerned about was I don’t want a project manager telling me what I as a BA need to do and how I need to do it. I saw, early on, that project management, you have your discipline and tools. It’s just so interesting how, again, when you sit the PMBOK and the BABOK side by side, they’re equally thick. I’ve taken both of those verifications, and there is a lot of knowledge on both sides, but I find that PM is respected, embraced. I don’t know if it’s because of the budget and schedule is so tangible, but on our side, of course they identify us with requirements. We do documentation, and the next thing is order takers, scribes, or technical writers.

Where did we go so terribly wrong that PM’s are needed, respected from the project’s start to finish but the BA is always seen as optional?

I’m putting this question out in the wind and maybe our audience might have an opinion or an answer, but where did we go so terribly wrong that PM’s are needed, respected from the project’s start to finish but the BA is always seen as optional?

Kupe: Yeah. You and I were talking about this. I think there are a couple of things, and I’ve written about it before. I know you and I have talked about it at length even yesterday, just about how the bad BA’s give the whole discipline a bad name. What people see as business analysts are those ones that you were just talking about, the note-takers. There are multiple reasons why this is happening, so I’m not blaming any one person. There are things behind it, but I think there are people doing analysis.

Do you call yourself a business analyst?

For whatever reason, the perception of what business analysis is, is about documentation, writing the requirements, and not the ones that are doing the analysis. The example I gave you yesterday was if you’re a great analyst and people say, “I want Jacqueline on my team…I don’t need a BA,” but what they’re not getting is that you’re actually a great BA which is why they want Jacqueline on their team. The other people are not great BA’s. So, what’s your title, Jacqueline? Do you call yourself a business analyst?

Jacqueline: Interestingly enough, in the organizations I’ve been in, I’ve lobbied not to be called a business analyst. At one time, the industry started having that role of enterprise analyst, and a lot people didn’t understand what that was. Over time, I came to see myself as a strategist. I do a lot of the strategy, strategic-type pieces, and portfolio pieces. I started introducing ‘strategist’ into my title. I’ve played with different versions of the title, but I can remember the organization that I was with recently. I went to the vice president and said, “The next project I go on, I want a different title.” When I walk into the room and we have that first kickoff project where we go around the table and say what your role is, you just want to mumble “Business Analyst” because I see clearly how people react to that title. It’s like, “Ok, good. Someone’s going to be taking notes for the meeting.”

Kupe: Right.

Jacqueline: They put ‘senior’ and my under title was even “associative director.” Even with that, if I said, “Associative Director of the Business Analyst Group,” that would get a different reaction. It’s really bad.

Kupe: Yeah. It leads me to the question, and you posed it, too, and I really want us to explore this: is it a lost cause trying to push for recognition in a career? There are 3 organizations I’ll call out. If you look at the IIBA (International Institute of Business Analysis), PMI, because they’re having business analysis related certification, and then the British Computer Society. There are more, but these are the top 3.

When you look at the IIBA site, it says, “As the voice of the business analysis community IIBA supports the recognition of the profession and works to maintain standards for the practice and certification.” PMI says, “Becoming a certified business analysis expert can move your career in a fresh direction.” Still talking about career, profession. British Computer Society says, “From new entrance to the business analysis profession through the senior BA professionals, our certification scheme helps you develop the skills you need to advance.” It’s like there’s 3rd-party nonprofit organizations that are really trying to push the profession.

It’s not a profession; it’s a discipline.

I think, personally — this is where you and I disagree some — it’s not a profession; it’s a discipline. This brings me to the other piece. When people talk about these certifications from IIBA, PMI, and British Computer Society, they start to compare the BA profession to being a doctor or being a lawyer. I have a real problem with that because these certifications are to be a certified BA through the IIBA or PMI. It’s not like being a doctor or going through the rigor to become one. It’s not the same as a BA. We’re talking about some training and then 150 or 200 multiple choice exams, and you have to prove that you have some experience. The proving of the experience is not anybody watching you. It’s reference type stuff. It’s you listing out what your experience is. How many people get audited and really vetted? I don’t think that many.

“Well, what’s the definition of a profession vs. a discipline?”

Where a doctor, there’s 7 years of school, at least, if you’re talking undergrad then med school, and I don’t even know how long you have to be an intern. You’re on the job with a doctor watching you, giving you advice, giving you feedback, giving you guidance for years and years before you’re a doctor. That’s it. Then I went down the path, “Well, what’s the definition of a profession vs. a discipline?” This one thing I found was talking about the librarian profession. In the analysis of what makes a profession vs. a discipline, they came up with some key points. One was that the practice of a profession is a full-time commitment and involves a lifetime commitment. Practitioners have a right to deliver their particular service, and practitioners hold that only practitioners are confident to judge services delivered. If you use that last piece, then BA is not a profession —

Jacqueline: No…

Kupe: — Because anybody can do it. I’ll let you go then I want to talk about what it says about discipline. Let’s see what you have to say.

Jacqueline: Yeah. I was like, “I know he’s going to breathe at some point.” I wanted to speak to a couple of things. One, you did the comparison to the doctor, but what I want to do is keep it within the IT industry and talk about professions and career paths within the IT industry. For our industry, just like you see the PM as a profession, I do see that the BA is a profession or a career track. My thing is that the PM, in the same way, the certifications align.

Certifications don’t make you a professional.

When I went for the certification, I felt like feeling out the application was really what was my proof that I have been doing this for 7 years at least, and in that learning of 7 years in that particular profession, that I have learned along the way, I have gotten the feedback, I have had the advice and continue to develop myself. I think that’s what certifications do. Certifications don’t make you a professional. The certification was the in-point, the combination of level-setting some of the terminology for our industry and for our profession. To say “This is the BABOK and this is how we’re going to call these things” without having doing for 7 years in different knowledge areas within that book…I’ve taken the certification.

“This is the path I choose and this is what I want to do for my period in IT.”

It was very clear to me that the path I chose was business analysis. I can do project management, but that’s not what I prefer to do. I don’t enjoy it nor do I want to continue to progress down that path or what it has to offer me. I wanted to find a path where I could keep using the specific skills that are related to business analysis, which I feel in some cases, it’s a whole different personality type between what I had to do to be a project manager vs. what I had to do to be a business analysis. I do think that there are people like, “This is the path I choose and this is what I want to do for my period in IT.”

You mentioned about how doctors go to college and get their degree, but let’s jump back to another event you and I were at where that whole thing about a degree in IT is even going to be a measurement for coders. Coders can pick up a book and learn code and can get very lucrative jobs. IT isn’t going to be measured by what type of degree you have, because there isn’t a BA degree any more than there’s a PM degree or a QA degree, but if I said if I was a PM or QA, that would be respected. I don’t feel like BA is on the same level as QA and PM. I’m not trying to put BA on the same level as doctor and lawyer. I’m just trying to level-set between PM, QA, and developer. Does that make sense?

Kupe: Yeah. Well, it makes sense, but a lot of the things you talked about, and you’re not alone in this and maybe I’m the one that’s alone, but you talked about finding areas that you can use the skill-set of business analysis because that’s what you need for it. That, to me, doesn’t make it a profession. I’ll use you as an example. You do a lot of different things. You teach. You and your husband run Technology Expresso, which is a conglomerate of stuff with Social Media, you do stuff with conferences, you also do business analysis work on projects. I guarantee you in everything you do, you’re using analysis skills to do them. Even when you teach, you have to understand: what’s my class, who’s in my class, what are their challenges.” You’re constantly adjusting and adapting because you’re analyzing and you’re using analysis-type skills and that mindset.

Even with the certification — I wasn’t planning on talking about certification, but for you to know and have a good sense of common industry terms, I don’t feel like you have to get certified. I don’t think it’s a good enough marker to say, “This person is a better BA/PM.” I’ve worked with a ton of PM’s that aren’t PMP’s that were phenomenal. While I’ve worked with a lot of PMP’s that are phenomenal, I’ve also worked with a lot of PMP’s that are not so phenomenal. It’s just hard for me to look at those. I do want to hit on: what is a discipline? I think we might be violently agreeing here, because a discipline does have a recognized area of study. You could look at BABOK and the PMI is coming out with their own BOK around business analysis, and they have one for project management.

The business analysis community

It says there’s a substantial body of knowledge and theory. The stuff that’s being promoted is related to a discipline. It also says there are a number of people well-known within and outside the discipline revered as contributors to this knowledge, research, and practice. If you look at the business analysis community, that’s what we are. We’re a discipline. That doesn’t mean that people can’t do this discipline full-time, but where it causes confusion and where people are pushing up against a brick wall sometimes is “I want my title as business analysis” and they’re like, “Well, we don’t have a role for the business analyst on our project.” Now, the people that are skilled in the discipline are getting pushed out. Instead of companies looking that we need a good, strong BA discipline — there happens to be a large group of people that stands this discipline, are trained, and have experience in this; let’s get them on our team.

“Who Moved My Cheese?”

I feel like that perception that you and I were talking about at the beginning of the show really is causing, almost hurting the great people that are doing great work. If all we’re doing is trying to push a profession and a career path and our industry is going a different way, then it’s just a fighting battle, the old concept of “Who Moved My Cheese.” The cheese is gone from this area, so let’s stop trying to push for it. We need to be searching and looking elsewhere. Especially these large companies aren’t calling them BA’s. Why are we trying to push it down their throats?

Jacqueline: The thing that scares me about that is, in my opinion, they’re wrong. My thought process is, is it working for you. You know what I mean? I just did a follow-up call with some students, and they said — this is an age-old program — “Everybody’s saying we missed requirements.” That has been happening since the IIBA’s creation, but now it’s like, “Let’s cut the BA’s. Let’s not have people with that specialty/profession.” When I say ‘profession,’ for me, the concern is not whether it’s a profession or a discipline. I wanted a career. I wanted to have a track, a career path, credentials that backed up my career. That’s important to me as a professional. I look at, for example, David, who is a PM. His profession and when you look at project management, he has credentials. He belongs to his organization, and they have a body of knowledge.

Let’s reverse it and declare, “No, BA is not a profession. Matter of fact, we don’t even need BA’s. We don’t need the title. We don’t need the career path. PM’s and everybody else can just pick up what BA’s do in their spare time of whatever their discipline dictates. Just tack it on to everyone else’s job.” That’s where the conversation really starts to concern me, because it’s not just that people are saying whether BA is a profession or not. They’re saying we don’t need people full-time to do this and that it’s just something everybody will do. That, to me, is treating it very casual and matter of fact. That is underlining what I know that I’ve brought to so many projects. I’ve even said it.

“How would this project have succeeded without me?”

I remember one project we were trying to write up the contribution that the team had made, and I said, “Let’s just reverse it. How would this project have succeeded without me?” I listed all the things I did in order to make sure everything was organized, reconciled, and traceable. We were able to keep track of things and communicate things. All the different facilitations — I said, “Take all that away and how would this solution had been successful?” That’s all I had to say. Why do people think you don’t need someone that specializes and this is what they study and what the skills that they are constantly trying to improve upon, but everybody else can just pick it up in their spare time and we don’t need that person. That scares me.

“Slippery Slope”

Kupe: Yeah. As you were talking, I wrote the words ‘slippery slope,” “the concept of people thinking, “Anybody can do it,” “It’s a part-time thing,” or, “Everybody’s doing it.” You and I do talk about it being a team sport, but you need somebody to be leading that effort and ensuring that capability is being done. I think we agree on that. I think there’s just a slight difference in pushing for a profession or a career and focusing on that rather than focusing on — now, it might be a career. People might use it as a career, but I think the first thing to do — I don’t see it as all or nothing. I see it as the first thing that you should be doing, and this is what you did in that example, you didn’t just say, “Look, you had a professional business analysis on your team.” You said, “Here are the activities. Here’s the work that was done.” To me, that’s the discipline of business analysis.

Focus on getting the recognition in organizations that they need people with these skills.

Teams need to determine, and every team is different. Every BA is different. Just having a professional BA on your team doesn’t mean that all those capabilities are present. That, to me, is the key. That’s where the focus needs to switch to, looking at teams and saying, “Do you have the capability to do this analysis work? No one’s going to argue. You talk to everybody, especially in the IT industry. They’re always talking about getting a shared understanding of the problem. What are the outcomes? What does success look like? Who does that well is people that are ingrained in the BA community or people that understand this. If you switch the focus from career — now, individuals might take that route, but organizations need to look at it as, “Do we have that core discipline? Are teams fully stacked with that capability?” In organizations like the IIBA and PMI, they shouldn’t focus on certifying people. They should focus on getting the recognition in organizations that they need people with these skills.

However they decide, if a team is successful in splitting up the role in some way, then I don’t have a problem with that, but if they’re not adhering to the discipline, focusing on the discipline, or using the concepts that you and I know to make an impact on teams, then that’s a problem. That’s a challenge. They need to do that, but I think there are multiple ways to skin that cat.

Every project we have is like brain surgery.

I know you didn’t want to talk about the doctor analogy, but one other example is people say if you have an issue with the brain and you have to have brain surgery, who would you go to? To a brain surgeon. You wouldn’t go to your family doctor. I agree. They’re like, “Well, if you have a project, you need a BA. You wouldn’t just let anybody do that work.” That assumption is that every project we have is like brain surgery. There are some initiatives that had it. We went to the moon, Apollo 11, we got them back successfully, and I doubt any of those people were career BA’s, but they had that discipline. They had what we’ve grown up now to know it’s a discipline. People get into these situations, and they need the discipline. They don’t need necessarily always a professional. That’s my take. This is awesome, by the way, Jacqueline. I can talk about this stuff forever.

Jacqueline: I’m right there with you, but to that point, I think it’s hard to say what roles people had for the Apollo Space Station. I’m sure they do have specialists. My thing is that I still see where people from a business analyst point of view, one of the things you said was that other people on the team can take on these particular skill sets, but when you have someone that’s assigned a role, then you’re accountable for it. My thing is, when I have a BA on the team, you’re accountable. Whether you have all the information, your job is to facilitate, find, investigate, research, gets assistance whereas everyone else is doing it part-time.

“Why aren’t people connecting the cause and the effect?”

Again, at the end of the day, the project manager is going to be judged for the management of the project. The developers are going to be judged for their code, as they should be. If you just take the analysis and say, “Everybody just pick it up in their spare time,” again it trivializes, but at the end of the day, everything that’s wrong with the project is the requirements. I’m like, “Why aren’t people connecting the cause and the effect?” You’re not giving any weight to requirements until it’s after the fact, and then you want to blame them for everything. Well, who was the person that was the professional on the team that owned that and was accountable for that?

“I have to go into project management to make good money.”

When I decided to go into this field, again, I saw it as a profession, and so I was looking for career progression in business analysis. That was really important to me when I first heard the forming of the IIBA. It didn’t matter that it was IIBA; I would’ve worked with whatever organization I was with to help me with that piece. What I’ve seen, and I’m sure you’ve seen it too, Kupe, is that people see a business analyst as a junior project manager, and so the next step in your career is to become a project manager. I hear that over and over as if business analysts can’t go on to be enterprise analysts, become more strategic, go into the consultant role, become business architects, or even go into project management. We did a whole show that a BA should be able to have many different options other than becoming a project manager. I’ve heard other people look at BA as an entry level role, and they always say, “I have to go into project management to make good money.” That just blows my mind.

Part of my frustration, whether you call it a profession or not, is just that the BA role, maybe it’s not needed every project, but when you’re on a complex project. More projects than not that I’ve ever been on are complex because the world we live in today has all these different computer systems with all these different interfaces talking to each other; they’re all connected. We’re not back in the day when you do a one-off here and a one-off there. You might be doing maintenance, that’s one thing, but when you’re doing development, design, and R&D, again, that’s where I’m saying that you bring a professional to the table, to build that type of stuff. That’s my opinion.

They’re not going to be successful, or they’re at a higher risk for not being successful.

Kupe: Yeah. This is a fine line. I believe that you need people skills in this discipline. To me, a sign that an organization, if they’re still saying that a BA is an entry level position and you grow up to be a PM, then they’re not even at the point where they value the work that a BA can do. If they don’t fully understand analysis and the value it brings, then what happens? Then, it’s an entry level position and an entry level career. These people are more junior. They’re not going to be able to do as good a job as you are able to do, but they get soiled on initiative. They’re not going to be successful, or they’re at a higher risk for not being successful.

I’m not going to say they’re not successful, but because they don’t have the level of experience as someone like you, the knowledge and training, then it’s harder for them to be successful. If they’re not successful, then everybody’s like, “Well, we’re going agile now. They’re saying we don’t need BA’s. Our BA’s aren’t that great anyway. We don’t even understand the value they bring, so we don’t need them. It goes back, to me, to pushing harder for that discipline, and if a career falls out of it, then good. But, that’s not the first piece.

Trivializing business analysis.

Jacqueline: Yeah. Going back to people trivializing the business analysis role. If it’s just matter of listening to someone’s ideals and then jotting them down and sending them over to the developer, why do I need structured training? All of those things keep building on the fact that you’re trivializing business analysis.

When I was talking to the student earlier, they said the main people who say we’re missing requirements are more like developers and designers, and those same people, whatever requirements they do get, they won’t even review them. Then they’re like, “I’m not part of the problem.” Either people don’t want business analysts, or when they have them, they use them for target practice during the lessons learned portion of the project. It’s like, you can’t have it both ways. You don’t even need us but at the same time we’re to blame for everything. How does that work?

Kupe: Right. I’m with you. What happens, and it maybe that you’re helping to formalize my argument even more, is by focusing on the discipline of analysis and what it is, which is a collaborate effort and not a person, because if you try to push that it’s a profession, then people that can do this work have their PBA or whatever certification you could think of, then now you’re getting into, “Oh, you’re supposed to be the professional. Why didn’t you get it done?”

In essence, yes, somebody needs to lead the effort. There has to be someone that understands the discipline and that takes lead on the discipline. If things go missing, if there are missed requirements or impacts that fall in, that’s not a person’s fault on the team. It’s the team’s fault, unless the person leading the effort didn’t include anybody else.

Jacqueline: The business analyst that is the lead on the team, I go back to this, is a facilitator. They would know that. It isn’t the point that, “You missed it at that point in time.” If you didn’t collaborate and reach out and make sure who your stakeholders were and who needed to be a part of the conversation, then you’re not doing business analysis. Something I wanted to tie it back to, too, is agile. When agile came out, originally people’s interpretation was, “Well, if you put the product owner and the developer in a room together, the person who’s going to build it and the person who has the need, then you don’t need a business analysis. Just let them talk to each other.”

My question still is, “Unless you have a product owner that just so happens to have the typical skill set of a business analyst and have a perspective on how software even works behind the scene, then you’re putting two people together that are speaking different languages, and most people found that there was a deficiency in that. You bring in a BA or whatever that role is who’s a facilitator, someone that builds software and at the same time is part of pulling the communication so that both people are having a common understanding. When people ask me about the business analyst on the agile team, my thing is that they’re not owning the requirements, especially since this is a blended group of skill sets on the agile team. But, they are the coach to everyone to make sure that they’re remembering certain things as far as their piece of the analysis that they’re doing.

For instance, when I’m on an agile team as the business analyst, I tell people all the time, “I’m eavesdropping.” I hear conversations break out, and I might just spontaneously walk and make sure, “You know what? That’s a good conversation. Maybe we also need to include the QA person,” or whatever the case maybe, an end user. My mind goes into my discipline and training and says, “Ok, from the stakeholder analysis perspective, these are the type of people that need to be in the conversation when it’s about XYZ. I’m coaching the others and letting them even take on and own some of the analysis pieces, but at the same time, there are certain things that are things I’ve done at the senior level that I can coach the rest of the team to make sure that they’ve taken into consideration different perspectives. That’s my feeling about business analysts on agile teams, that you can’t just put those two people in a room and think that they speak the same language.

Kupe: Yeah. As I’m listening to you, I’m thinking, is this even the question to ask about profession/discipline, and is it how people are brought up? I think it still comes down to the profession, discipline, and certifications. People think that they’re a certified business analysis professional if they pass the CBAP, but that doesn’t ensure to me that they have the skills that you’re talking about. My whole thing comes back to how do we, as a community, get everybody else on board that what is causing some big challenges on projects is, and you said it in our notes for the show: is it bad BA’s that are causing this problem? I think it is. I think people that don’t do the stuff that you do that kind of just go through the motions, and this is not a blame thing.

Let’s not try to change their perception about that, but let’s try to change their perception about what teams need to be successful.

There are reasons why people do different things. There are organizations that put people in certain buckets, and it’s really hard to get out of that bucket, even if they want to and even if they know it’s not the best thing; they have to keep continuing because that’s what their leadership is asking them to do. This is not a blame thing, but on projects, there are people that don’t do the things you’re explaining. They have this BA title and this BA profession. All I can say is that the agile movement didn’t want BA’s because there was a bad perception of what business analysis was and what people with the career, with the title, did. My view is, let’s not try to change their perception about that, but let’s try to change their perception about what teams need to be successful. That is analysis work. Maybe we could come back to the profession down the road.

Jacqueline: I would like to pick up on a couple of different points you made. Maybe some of our positioning of getting down to the root cause, let’s talk about good BA’s and bad BA’s, but even to your point, what in our IT environment and culture is setting BA’s up so that they really don’t get to be effective and that there is this stereotype of them. Where do we go from there in the future? This show is very indicative of so many conversations about where is the BA discipline/profession, what’s the disconnect, and why are we still having some of these questions? Are we at least making some progress with some of the things that we’re doing as far as the solution?

This is Kupe and Jacqueline on Technology Expresso Radio, and we’re talking about the analyst role and about where it’s going. Do we need BA’s? Is it going away? Will it eventually go away? Is it a profession or is it something that can be disseminated among the different resources on the project team, whether it’s an agile team or a traditional team? Is it more important that we just focus on what that skill set is and the people on the team can pick those up?

Kupe, with that said, one of the things that you also mentioned that I wanted to touch upon is you talked about the certification, and any certification, even with doctors. Doctors get all their certifications, all their years of training, and lawyers are the same way. But you still can have good and bad doctors and lawyers. That’s not to blame necessarily on the certification or the certification process, and with that said, at the same time I think that when I look at the different certifications that you can get, whether it’s PMI, IIBA, or Six Sigma, it, for me, tells me that person takes their particular profession and skill seriously enough that they would get a certification and that they would invest in continued education.

The more important thing is it doesn’t just stop with that one test, like, “I took that test. Done. I’m certified. I know everything I need to know about business analysis.” No, anyone who has gone that far to get a certification is usually that same person that’s investing in their continuous educational development. I think that’s so important in IT and in all of the roles that we don’t have the type of skill that is static. It’s forever-changing. That’s my perspective on certifications. They don’t make you a good BA, but they somewhat may can be used as an indicator that you’re one that invests in your continuous development. That’s just my thoughts.

Kupe: In theory, that is the case of continued education, but we also all know that people join PMI to show up at a monthly meeting, not to change their behavior, but to keep their certification. I think in practice, there area lot of people that don’t take it the way you and I take it. We talked about hiring managers earlier, it’s like looking beyond, maybe the certification can indicate something, but it’s looking beyond that. This is why I keep going back to discipline and practice.

“What have you done?”

If I’m hiring somebody, I want to know that they’re a lifelong learner, they’re always going to push themselves, and they’re willing to change. I’m going to have to question, like, “What have you done?” You’ve been doing something for a long time and you made a switch in how you approach things, that you were able to learn something and make a behavior change. Asking those types of questions — if people are implementing that practice, not just getting a CDU or a PDU; that’s where I fall in that realm.

Jacqueline: Right. And it goes back to what we said earlier, like how you asked that question. That question can be applied to any role, but a lot of people, we talk about good BA’s and bad BA’s. There are a whole lot of people who do not know how to interview a BA, they don’t know a good BA when they see one, and let alone, they don’t know how to set up an environment for those good BA’s to thrive. I know that I respect other people a lot as far as their level of business analysis and have gone into different interviews and have taken different positions.

There’s the bad BA, then there’s also the good BA over bad circumstances.

I very quickly found out that this isn’t the environment for me, because they ask all these things in the job description. I come with this full-set, structured, I have a discipline, and I have different approaches, but then they’re still boxing me in to some very narrow perspective that they’ve defined as business analysis. Like you said, there are two pieces. There’s the bad BA, then there’s also the good BA over bad circumstances.

Kupe: Yeah. Absolutely. That’s why I’m pushing where the focus needs to be and pushing the understanding of what that looks like: how to help organizations strip out all of that stuff to figure out the core of the problem. Where can you focus? Where can you change your practice? Whether it’s hiring practice or skill development that’s needed, really peeling back what the missing capabilities are. It’s like, looking at a team should be no different than — and it’s funny in IT, because what do we do in IT? We’re looking at business processes, we’re trying to see where we can help organizations meet their goals, but we don’t seem to do the same thing within our IT organization, or not all organizations. They don’t sit back and take it as a project.

The group we met with this morning, that was one thing they were doing. I was actually impressed how he was like, “How we operate as an IT organization is a strategic project for their group.” I thought that was great, and that’s going to improve process changes, hiring practices, on-boarding of people, and the tool sets that they have to be effective. That’s how organizations have to look at it, how do we get better instead of just saying, “I want everybody to get a PMI,” or, “We need to get our people focused on a profession, getting a career path.” I think that’s a great piece of the pie that is a fallout of this, but I don’t think it should be the driver in the whole equation, trying to prioritize where organizations should focus.

Jacqueline: Right. And we talked about this one time, too, is that just like you were talking about in IT, one of our frustrations is when the business comes to us and tells us what the solution is instead of telling us what they need and why they need it. I sometimes find that, too, when project teams are in a situation where things aren’t working, everybody’s frustrated, and the outcome of their project is not good, they know that they need to change something, but they come to organizations like ours, a training organization, and they’re like, “Give us this one training and it’ll fix our problem.”

Sometimes you and I talk about, some of you need an intervention. You need a root cause analysis. Whether someone says, “We’re having a problem with our user story,” but how’s your scope? “Oh, our scope is fine. Our project mangers do that. Don’t worry about that. It’s just our story.” I’m thinking, “One is related to the other.” They don’t see that; they’ve already jumped to the conclusion that just fix our story and everything will be fine. Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees. Where’s this coming from, and why is it ending up like this at the latter part of the project? There are other components that got you to that point.

An intervention is to help you do a root cause analysis. Sometimes you’re trying to do a root cause analysis, like a self-diagnosis, on yourself, and maybe you’re not seeing the result that you’re expecting. I see, too, that they flip-flop a lot, whether it’s methodologies, training, coaching, or whatever the case may be, and then you get people that are in change overload because no one has really stopped and taken the time to even bring in a third party to help with that assessment of what is really the root cause.

Kupe: Right.

Jacqueline: That brings me to analysts. An analyst can come in and analyze.

Kupe: That’s why it’s a heck of a discipline, because somebody to help you figure that out, maybe they could be called ‘Business Analyst,’ but I think a big part of my role is sales. Sales, to me, is using analysis skills. There’s the book that I was turned on to by a new friend of mine called “To Sell is Human.” It’s the same concept that I’m talking about with business analysis. Everybody is a salesperson, and they’re trying to sell something. If you’re going on an interview, what are you doing? You’re trying to sell yourself and communicate why you’re the best person for that role. If you’re trying to go to dinner with your family, maybe you’re trying to sell them on your idea and see if you can convince or influence people that going to your favorite Chinese restaurant is the best place that you should go with vs. your son’s Italian restaurant.

I think business analysis is the same way. People are analyzing all the time. You can use business analysis skills all the time, and they could benefit, even if their title isn’t business analysis. They can benefit from doing business analysis type work and learning about it. You and I talk about that house analogy all the time and how it comes down to good analysis: what to build, how to build, the design, even the stakeholder engagement, how to do stakeholder analysis — using some of the techniques that we use to build your house. I feel like if we continue to push that the discipline is needed on the team, and then you know what? They would realize that there are people already in this profession, in this career. That will be the benefit for everybody, the organizations and the individuals that practice business analysis.

Jacqueline: Exactly. Interestingly enough, this is pulling from some of our other episodes and shows, so as people are listening, it’ll be interesting to go back to our archives. We started this conversation previously to see some of the evolution, but this is probably the one episode that we really went all in, especially on our different perspective.

Kupe: Yeah.

Jacqueline: When you were talking, it reminded me of a time, because you said that everybody sells in some portion of their lives in some form or fashion, but at the same time, it doesn’t mean they’re good at it. It doesn’t mean that they enjoy it or that it’s a natural fit for them. Interestingly enough, because as I’ve explored into having my own business, sales, like you said, is a part of that. You have to get accounts and clients. I realized that I’m not a closer. I have so much respect for that person who is because that is a skill and a talent. I can really appreciate that. I feel the same for analysis.

I think that yes, absolutely, people should be using critical thinking and different thinking approaches, creative thinking, all of that as part of their role at various levels on the project team, but does that mean that it’s their specialty? I’ve seen people who, when we start doing analysis, and you and I have taught enough classes. Sometimes I can watch people in class, and I used to say, “I can pick out the PM in the class.” Not that it’s their title, but that they’re more of a high-level thinker, and I can see when we start doing the deep dive, that is not their thing. I see other people that are the business analysts that deep dives and someone has to pull them back up. We used to call them the ‘lumpers’ and the ‘splitters.’ I have seen those that are used to high-level thinking, they just glaze over like this part just does not interest them. Can they do it? Probably, but that’s not their specialty.

Sometimes even in class I can see the fall out in different personality types, and I brought that up because I know we’ve talked about DISC. There are different personality types. There’s probably some combination of DISC that’s more prevalent in a business analyst than might be a tester, developer, or QA. I don’t know if you’ve ever done it like that. Agile and the whole cross-functional concept that came out, I think it is good for people to do and be flexible in what they can do and how they can help the team. Everybody’s going to have their wall of, “I can’t code, but I can help pick a project management scrum master.” Even the developers, “You want to run something by me? We can do that, but I’m going to have my limits.”

I think people have to also recognize, because I’ve seen people try to push people into roles that are not their area and just not their personality type. The big conversation too, is you’re also into pushing people in a way that, when they pick their career path, that wasn’t their area of interest or their comfort zone. You know what I mean? I just put that out there and wanted to throw in the whole DISC discussion, because with different personality types, you can’t always say that everybody on the team is an analyst. Yes, but not everybody is a natural analyst.

Kupe: No, I don’t think everybody’s a natural. To your point about the DISC, the last two times during the last month I’ve had the opportunity to do DISC stuff with groups of BA’s. It wasn’t completely BA’s; there were some managers in there and probably some PM’s. It was BA-related stuff, and we did some DISC stuff. What was interesting and what I’m finding, and this is not scientific, that the BA groups are kind of split almost evenly between all the different profiles. It’s kind of fascinating, because I did it with a group of executive admins, administrative professionals, and they kind of get lumped into one group. They’re all in the S, which is steadiness and a collaborative, supportive kind of role. They all lump in one area, but BA’s, I’m finding, are spread across the board. There’s a wide variety of type of work that BA’s do and what business analysis encompasses. That’s why it pulls me back to the discipline.

Again, you can have a professional BA on the team. To your point on sales, there are aspects of sales that everybody is not good at and you need, and I think it’s the same thing with analysis. For a long time I was a senior BA, but were there aspects of my analysis work, was I the best person to do that? No, I needed other people, whether it was my tech lead, another analysis, or a QA analyst to step in because I didn’t have the depth, or I wasn’t as good in certain areas. It’s just, I’m not the detail-oriented type person all the time. I’m more of the big picture thinker, I can see the impact, or I can look at something and understand, “If we do this, here’s what’s going to happen down the road.” When you get down to the nitty-gritty of writing, use cases, and workflow diagram, I need help; I need people to fill in blanks for me.

I forgot if we talked about this, but I wrote it down as something I thought would be appropriate, which is my wild, hairy idea around organizations putting their IT professionals into a draft. I think you need to have a bunch of general managers, and those are people either responsible for a certain agency, business line, or portfolio. You have people responsible for them, and they have to team. Organizations should put all their IT professionals, they all get drafted.

Then, teams are starting to be built and people are picking different players. They have to look at their team and say, “What skills do we have? Who’s the best person to fill that gap?” The team starts to get built. Maybe they even have contracts. You want to keep the team together for a little while, so you have year-long contracts. If one player on the team is not needed as much, then maybe there’s a skill gap somewhere else. You can either get training and trust built back into your team or you can work with other general managers and say, “Hey, I need this skill. Your guy has it. How about we swap Kupe for Jacqueline.” You trade.

I know there’s 101 holes that could be poked into that, but I think going directionally that way and thinking that way, long-term, could be better. In the end, I don’t think we’re a group of generalists. I really don’t. Maybe people thought that’s the route I’ve been taking this whole time, but I’m not in the camp that everybody is a generalist. If you would never do that with developers, because there are language changes, there are use of languages that developers have to stay on their game; they have to get better and commit themselves. I think it’ s the same thing with analysis practices and QA practices.

People need to, maybe they have other skills and 20% of their job is on other stuff, but the 80% is down to the specialty, perhaps. I’ve heard other people call it ‘general specialist.’ That’s the route we have to take. You’re not a jack-of-all-trades, but maybe you’re a jack of a couple and not just a jack of one trade or a one-trick pony.

Jaqueline: Exactly, and one organization that I was just recently talking to, they call them ’T-shaped employee’ or ‘E-shaped.’ The ’T’ is when you have ‘general’ across the top but there’s one area that you have done a deep dive on, or the ‘E’ where you have a deep dive on and there are others where you may have various levels of knowledge and understanding. No one has everything and no one can be everything to everybody. That makes sense to me. What you said earlier, too, and I believe it hangs off of one of our earlier articles or blogs. We talked about how it is important to do your skills gap analysis. Maybe every 6 or 12 months when you’re doing your retrospect, take time to do your skills gap analysis. What is needed on the team and who’s covering what?

We even had rankings, like is it something that person wants to do, is capable of doing, has an interest in learning, and creating your training backlog or your development backlog so that you are continuously honing the team skill sets so that all areas are eventually covered. Regardless of your title, it’s about what you can do, are capable of doing, and may have an interest in doing and creating a wholistic team that way. I think that will be a great environment and approach.

I want to say to our listeners: make someone out there has tried something like this. Maybe you have different ideals or you agree/disagree with what Kupe and I have said. I’m sure others are passionate and have a point of view on this as well, especially if you’ve been in IT and have seen all the various changes and all the different permutations that BA’s are going through. Are we going for less? Are organizations pulling back, once again, on BA’s, or do you think BA’s are here to stay? What are some of your opinions? We would definitely love for you to write-in, call in, email me at technologyexpresso@gmail.com.

We have 10 minutes, but for our next show we would love for people to write in, and I’ll be happy to read your comments on what you think the state of the union of business analysis is. Where is it going? Are we asking the right questions? What do you think about some of the suggestions that we’re throwing out there? Any other final thoughts, as we kind of hit this one hard tonight.

Kupe: I think the piece about the wholistic team can work in practice and in theory. No one can argue that that’s how it should be. In reality, there’s not complete trust on all teams. If you have a true, open, trusting team, then everybody can start to loosen up and be more transparent about where the gaps are, where the skill gaps are, and where they need to improve. Until you have people that have trusting relationships — what I mean by trust is if you make mistakes and ask for help, if you don’t know something, or if you have a crazy idea, you won’t be judged and looked different upon. I think people, whether it’s their own perception and issues or it’s reality that they do get judged about that kind of stuff. People are still nervous and holding back.

There was a volunteer organization I was part of, and we were that wholistic team. It was probably the best team I was ever on in my life. We had that attitude, because we were all selected for different reasons onto the team. They were looking for a wide range of skill sets, and we all came together. The first meeting, we started going over, “What’s out skill set? Where are we strong?” And then we talked about, “Well, what do we need to do to get from where we are today to the goal that we need to reach?” We laid those out, and people started picking stuff. At one point, we realized that there was this whole section of stuff that nobody was real comfortable with. We’re like, “Does anybody have that skill set? Does anyone want to go watch a webinar to try to get up to speed in that?”

We realized that the best thing to do was pull in another team member that had that experience. There were no egos or issues with it. Nobody’s feathers got ruffled. We knew we had to add. Part of it had to do with, there was no salaries involved. There was no hope for promotion. There was no —

Jacqueline: — fear of firing.

Kupe: Right. Fear of firing. Actually, at one point, some of us probably wanted to be fired. It was a volunteer thing, but it was a lot of work. Very rewarding, but at some point it was like, “Please, kick me off the team.” There was none of that going on, so we were all free to do and focus on what was necessary. I think that’s a big challenge for our HR community: how to reward people but also keep the team atmosphere in a certain way. There are a lot of people that talk about different management styles, but I haven’t seen a large organization master and get their teams in this manner.

I think smaller groups can do it, and there’s a lot more flexibility; it’s simpler and easier, but large organizations are still, and someone else coined this term, moving the titanic with a spoon. There is a lot of stuff going on and there are small changes here and there, so it’s going to take awhile to make a massive change. That’s the direction people need to go to, and they need to think in that manner of wholistic teams.

Jacqueline: Yeah. Maybe this is the content for another conversation, but you’re absolutely right. I had a student say that even going through agile and these cross-functional teams, it’s hard, especially if you were hired to do a certain thing and were used to, “This is in my job description, this is what I’m accountable for, this is what I’m going to be graded on.” I had one student say, “I’m used to being a standout tester or developer, but now you’re saying everything is team, team, team. How am I going to get my next promotion or move to the next level, because I’m trying to progress in my career, yet you want us all to outshine each other. It’s now frowned upon because it’s all about the team.”

I’m paraphrasing a little bit, but if you’re used to that in that organization — this is what managers, resource managers want to do. They want to say, “This is your job, your role. This is what you’re expected of, and this is how you’re going to be graded. Like you said, there’s a whole paradigm shift that has to occur all the way up to HR, and like I said, I put the call out to our audience to call in and share how your organization is. Maybe some of this is coming by way of the agile shift, because I did talk to one organization where they, ironically enough, changed everybody’s title to just ‘analyst.’ Generic analyst.

Kupe: That’s crazy.

Jacqueline: They used to be ‘systems analyst,’ ‘business analyst,’ and they just said, “Everybody’s an analyst.” I thought that was interesting. Even the testers are under ‘analyst.’ What they were trying to do is come up with this generic role that you could do multiple things in. The developers might’ve stood outside of that, but as far as business, technical, system and quality, they lumped them all together under ‘analyst,’ and their intention was to make them cross-functional. I’m open to hear. I’d love to hear what some organizations are doing because I think it’s forcing people to get creative. We’ve gone full circle, so what’s next for the world of business analysis? That’s about our time, Kupe.

Kupe: I say this a lot on our show, but wow, can we really talk about this for 90 minutes? Before you know it, it’s like, “Darn, I still have more to say.”

Jacqueline: I know! Absolutely. I’m going to be pushing this show out there and ask their stance on some of the points that both of us made and to see if we can get some people to get on the show, brave up and get on the show and say whether or not you agree on that perspective and what’s working in your environment. Definitely want to say how people fall in on this topic. It’s a big one for our industry. We have so much more to talk about on future shows. Again, Kupe, I had a blast. Enjoyed having you on the show, chatting with you, and now it’s out there in the universe for other people to give us feedback on it. Look forward to continuing our conversation. Anything coming up for you, Kupe? Any programs or events?

Kupe: No. The big thing for me, I’m heading to New Zealand next week to do some workshops. We have a business partner out there. Great bunch of people. They’re a consulting and training organization in the BA space. They invest in the Southern Hemisphere down there, so they’re kicking butts. I’m going to do some workshops with them around decision-making thoughts and ideas and how to do decision-making to get leaner and get to the answer of what is just enough analysis. I’m looking forward to that.

 Jacqueline: Absolutely. Safe travels, and we will talk to you soon. Thank you to our wonderful Technology Expresso audience, our BDPA family for a great conference last week, as well as our PinkTech family. We had an awesome women’s lunch. Stay tuned, and visit our new platform: techexpectations.com. Browse around. We’re doing a soft launch of that. It’s a collaboration community, so check that out. Thank you everyone! Talk to you next time!

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