Many years ago (I won’t say just how many), I had a job as a programmer with a big consulting firm. On my first assignment, I was handed a very neatly formatted, impressive looking specification for a sales forecasting program. I sat down at my desk in front of my green screen and started coding. About two days later, I went to the analyst who had written the specification and said, “This won’t work.” The more I explained why, the more confused he got. Finally he pointed me towards the client salesperson and said “This is the guy who will use the software. Talk to him and make it right.” So I did, and I never saw another software specification again. Somehow, I had become a business analyst. For my entire tenure with that company, although I did primarily business analysis and project management, all of the training classes that I attended were entirely focused on programming.
While it is true that over the years, IT has become less ‘wild west’ and more structured, strike up a conversation with any business analyst, and you are likely to find that her career path is as unique or accidental as mine was. Although, over the intervening years, I have had considerable training and mentoring in project management, I continued to do a little or a lot of business analysis on the projects I worked on, without ever attending a single class or even working within a structured, standardized BA methodology.
When I started at Seilevel and attended the requirements and models training that all personnel take and eventually teach, none of the concepts were new to me, but the structure, the discipline, and the thoroughness of the approach were. Looking back, I can see how this rigorous approach to business analysis would have improved the projects and companies I worked with in the past. Yet, while the field of project management has embraced certification through the PMP program and organizational best practices through PMO’s and project management maturity models, the business analysis field seems to lag behind. Consider that while PMI has over 600 thousand members and over 434 thousand PMP’s, there are only 25 thousand IIBA members and 1,917 credentialed CBAPs. While one can amuse oneself endlessly on Linkedin reading the arguments about the value of the PMP credential, it does provide both a common vocabulary and a baseline for organizational project management standards.
But the truth is, one person who holds a credential doesn’t make much difference in an organization. A dozen credential holders all applying their own flavor and interpretation of the standards isn’t much better. A center of excellence within the organization, whether it’s a PMO or a BA COE, is where the real improvements begin to happen. For a COE to really work, it can’t just be another corporate initiative imposed on people. It has to be part of the daily life and work of the organization.
For example, the nameless consulting firm I mentioned in the first paragraph had a very thorough and scientific methodology for all aspects of software projects. No one knew who had developed it, and no one ever used it. It was as useless as you-know-what’s on a boar hog. But another business I worked for, a small software development company, had a very different approach. There was an established methodology, but we all used it, discussed it, contributed to it, and evolved it every day. We had regular project audits, but they were mostly coaching sessions, not a draconian pass/fail evaluation. While we didn’t completely align with the PMBOK guide (the BABOK hadn’t been written yet), we had common sense processes in place that worked well for our organization, and every employee received internal and external training to improve their performance and enhance their career. At my entire time at that company, I did not work on one project that failed or was significantly over-schedule or over-budget. I’ve stayed in touch with a few of those colleagues, and many remain with the same company, still using their experience and training to bring value to the organization. Rare indeed in these days of layoffs and mergers and job-hopping.
I believe the lesson here is, no matter how much we yearn to do things our own way, to be the technology lone ranger, most of us not only perform better but are happier in organizations that have a structure than enables us to excel at our work and to deliver consistent results. Centers of excellence provide the opportunity to improve our organizations and the likelihood of project success from within, and it just doesn’t get any better than that.