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The BA as SME

Much of the training that we give business analysts relates to requirements elicitation from Subject Matter Experts. We help business analysts to make the appropriate preparations for interviews, and teach them how to ask the right questions to get to “the heart of the matter” without being experts themselves.

However, on large projects of long duration, an interesting phenomenon starts to take place. The BA’s become the Subject Matter Experts. It’s not necessarily an in depth expertise about particular areas of the system – that would frequently be just a duplication of knowledge from a particular SME. What we see quite frequently, however, is that the BA’s are the people who know the most about the system as a whole. True SME’s are frequently siloed into particular areas of a system. For example, we’ve worked on credit management systems where the people who knew contracts knew nothing about originations or accounts receivable, while the people who managed originations knew nothing about products that weren’t in their systems. As BA’s, we became the SME’s for system interactions. When “silo” SME’s wanted to know how portions of their business interacted with others, they’d go to the BA’s first.

This is both a good and dangerous place for BA’s to be. It’s good in that we have enough of a holistic view of the system that we should be able to write better requirements. It’s dangerous in that we need to be VERY careful that we don’t start making bad assumptions based on our system expertise. The mitigation for this is to stay VERY closely focused on the measurable business objectives for the project and the project success metrics.
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