The changing role of the business analyst (BA) was the theme of the “50 Shades of the BA” panel on which I participated at the annual Project Summit/Business Analyst World conference held in Burlington, MA in late October 2015. As a panelist, I shared my perspective on how the BA role has changed at Boston Financial over the last 20 years.
The Evolving Role of the BA
Before the BA role was created, collaboration between the business and IT developers did not typically go smoothly. Primarily, this was because the business didn’t understand the technology capabilities or lingo, and the developer didn’t understand the business context for the project.
In the mid-1990s, when I started working as an analyst, my job responsibilities were to figure out what the business wanted, and translate it for the IT team. Back then, my work ranged from writing business requirements and performing user acceptance testing, to project management. Best practices and professional standards didn’t exist, and there were no formal training programs because business analysis wasn’t yet recognized as its own discipline.
This changed in 2004, when the International Institute of Business Analysis™ (IIBA®) was established. In short order, the group developed the Guide to Business Analysis Body of Knowledge® (BABOK® Guide) and the Certified Business Analysis Professional™ (CBAP®) designation. Just over a decade later, with more than 29,000 members, 260 corporate members, and 116 chapters, the IIBA is recognized as the professional association for BAs around the world.
In 2006, Boston Financial formalized their business analysis practice by adopting IIBA practices and investing time in training the team to further improve their core competencies. As members of the team accumulated the required 7,500 hours of work experience, they tested for their CBAP designation. Five members of the team have earned this professional mark of distinction, and several more are expected to be certified in 2016.
Future Trends in Business Analysis
As the role has matured, it has become apparent that a BA’s skills can be leveraged beyond traditional IT development projects. Today a BA might also be asked to work on data analysis, business process engineering, and enterprise analysis.
Agile development and business architecture are two emerging specialties for BAs that were discussed during October’s conference panel. Agile, an iterative approach to development, requires the BA to learn a new methodology, processes and to produce different artifacts than on traditional development projects.
In business architecture, the BA is responsible for aligning organizational strategy with tactical system capabilities and improvements. In this role, the analyst must consider organizational health, unrealized opportunities, and the competitive landscape.
At Boston Financial, BAs are assigned to a variety of initiatives. They work on strategic enterprise analysis, product development, process engineering, data analysis, and application development.
ROI of the BA
A well trained BA can impact both of these variables. They can reduce the overall costs of projects by minimizing rework, reducing requirements churn, and helping to identify cost-effective solution options. They can also drive benefits like discovering previously unidentified requirements, prioritizing high gain requirements, and providing a framework to get to a solution more quickly.
During “50 Shades of BA,” both panelists and audience members addressed the challenges of attracting and retaining these highly sought after professionals. Strategies discussed include:
- Developing a center of excellence around the discipline to provide support and training for BAs.
- Adopting best practices to make it easier for BAs on your team to understand what is expected of them and what success looks like. It also increases the likelihood of their projects being successful, which is the ultimate goal.
- Ensuring leaders understand the BA role, and can manage in alignment with professional standards and best practices, while also advocating for ongoing professional training and development.
As the environments that organizations operate in have become increasingly complex, resources that can help navigate the complexity are increasingly valued. BAs are organizational assets. Like most assets they require initial and ongoing investments, but the returns can be measured in reduced project cycles and improved quality outputs.