How to Develop Effective Business Analysts (Part 3)

Kristen   Seer
Kristen Seer Senior Consultant, Business Rule Solutions, LLC Read Author Bio || Read All Articles by Kristen Seer

In the first two parts of this series, we defined the role of Business Analyst (BA), identified the personality traits, targeted the required skills, and recruited the BAs. Now that the BAs are in place, you need to put together a training program to develop their existing skills and teach them new skills so that they will have the expertise to be effective Business Analysts. The first step is to assess their current skill levels.

Assessing Current Skill Levels

If you've recruited the BAs, from inside or outside the organization, you should have a good idea of their respective skill levels from having put them through rigorous testing as part of the recruiting process.

However, if your goal is to turn an existing department into a top-notch business analysis group, you will need to assess the current skill levels of the staff. A simple way to do this is through the use of a questionnaire. Although hardly an objective way to perform a skills assessment, it does give you a good idea of the staff's overall skill level.

Rating System

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In order to evaluate the results of a questionnaire and use those results as a benchmark for measuring future progress, it is useful to have a rating system. Within this system, it is important to define each rating clearly. Although a simple numerical rating could be used, I prefer one that assigns specific values (as Table 1 illustrates).

Table 1. A Skill Level Rating Scheme
Rating Skill Level Description
1 Newbie Has no experience and wouldn't know where to begin
2 Apprentice Has some experience but needs a lot more training
3 Journeyman Has sufficient competency to do the job but there's room for improvement
4 Adept Has acquired a mastery of the skill
5 Ace Has the ability to also train others in the skill

Questionnaire

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The questionnaire should, at a minimum, list all the targeted skills (described in Part 2) and allow the BAs to rate their level for each one. In addition, it is sometimes useful to have questions about:

  • The person's confidence level in performing the BA role. (To find out if there are more than just training issues to consider.)
  • What they think the most important skills are to be a successful BA. (To gauge their understanding of the role.)
  • What their highest training priorities are. (To identify where they need immediate help for their current assignments.)
  • How they like to receive training. (To know if they prefer computer-based, classroom, or one-on-one training.)
  • Any related courses they have taken, particularly outside the organization. (To determine whether they are proactive in their own development.)

Creating a Training Strategy

Once you have assessed the skill level of the group, you can start to create a training strategy. This is where you lay out your plan of action. Training strategies determine when and how you deliver training, what you deliver, and who receives it.

It can be useful to divide the strategy into three timeframes:

  • Quick Hits (e.g., 1-3 months)
  • Short-term (e.g., 3-8 months)
  • Long-term (Ongoing)

The Quick Hits timeframe focuses on the immediate needs of the BAs. The questionnaire should have highlighted the areas where the BAs are struggling on their current assignments. Often, the skills are in the categories of methodology and techniques.

The Short-term timeframe focuses on the remaining weak areas of the BAs. The rating levels from the questionnaire should have highlighted the skills where they are most in need of training. Generally, these skills tend to cross the four categories described in Part 2 (i.e., methodology, techniques, tools, and general skills).

The Long-term timeframe focuses on setting up a development process so that the BAs can progress from a junior to a senior position. It is useful to build a matrix showing the skill level required for each position in each of the targeted skills. This can be used to set goals and help determine when the BA is ready to be promoted. Also, a list of recommended training for each skill should be available. Training plans should be put together and reviewed with the BAs on a regular basis, to ensure that they continue to develop their skills.

For each of the three timeframes, you need to specify:

  • Objectives
  • Audience
  • Targeted Skills
  • Strategy
  • Performance Measures

Each of these is discussed below.

Objectives

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You need to state clearly what you are trying to accomplish in the timeframe. For example, in the Quick Hits timeframe, you may want to focus just on improving the understanding of the methodology or on ensuring that the BAs have the minimum set of skills to cope with upcoming project work.

Audience

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Are you targeting all the BAs, or just a subset? Will all the BAs receive the same training regardless of position, or will different positions receive different training?

Targeted Skills

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It is important to specify which skills are being targeted within the timeframe. It is generally impossible to target them all, so you might want to start with the methodology and technique skills, and focus on the tools and general skills as part of the Long-term strategy.

Strategy

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You need to describe what training will be offered and how it will be delivered. Some of the options are:

  1. Formal classroom training
  2. Informal workshops
  3. One-on-one mentoring
  4. Self-study courses

1. Formal classroom Training

Classroom training is a good way to get the BAs exposed to concepts. There are an increasing number of courses available in the business rules approach; courses are readily available for the more established disciplines such as project management.

If you have purchased a methodology, training is usually included as part of the package. If you have developed your own, or extensively customized an existing methodology, you may need to develop your own training.

2. Informal Workshops

Workshops allow the BAs to share, and seek help for, the real-life problems they are experiencing on their projects. This approach is most effective when the BAs are actively working on projects or, at a minimum, have a few projects under their belts. It is often useful to structure a workshop around a specific topic (e.g., workflow) with a short lecture and a few exercises.

3. One-on-one Mentoring

Mentoring is an extremely effective way to increase the BAs' skills. In addition to regularly-scheduled meetings to discuss specific issues, the mentor should review all of the deliverables produced by the BAs and provide feedback. This doesn't mean reviewing just the finished product, but being involved from the beginning to ensure that the BAs have factored in everything that needs to be considered.

If possible, the mentor should sit in on sessions facilitated by the BAs and critique their skills. The mentor should also be available full-time for ad-hoc questions; the BAs need to have someone they can turn to immediately if they run into problems.

Finding a mentor can sometimes be difficult. The person needs to have considerable experience in the business rules approach and be able to pass that knowledge on effectively to the BAs. Likely you will need to get outside help.

4. Self-study Courses

Self-study is very effective for the tools and general skills categories. There are numerous sources of computer-based training for productivity tools such as Microsoft Office, and there are libraries of videos available on most of the general skills.

Performance Measures

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It is extremely important to establish performance measures up front to ensure that the success of the training strategy can be determined. Although some of the measures are not quantifiable (e.g., feedback from Project Managers as to BA performance), performance measures need to be built into the training process.

If a questionnaire is done at the beginning of the training program, then it is possible to conduct surveys at specific points to determine the BAs' progress. Although the information from a questionnaire is not objective, it is still useful. Because it is not objective, it is necessary to ensure that other sources, such as Project Managers and team members, are consulted.

Implementing the Training Strategy

If you have been thorough in creating a training strategy, then implementing it is a comparatively simple process.

It is effective to treat the implementation as a project with identified tasks and deadlines. This ensures that the training actually gets done and is not sidelined by other priorities.

Bear in mind that the creation and implementation of the training strategy need to be done concurrently. For example, the Quick Hits strategy can be implemented while the Short-term strategy is being created. This allows you to deliver some immediate results while dealing with the larger issues of an overall training program.

Avoiding Common Pitfalls

There are a few additional items to consider when recruiting and training BAs:

  1. If you are converting an existing group to BAs, be prepared for the eventuality that not all of them will make it. Some people just aren't cut out to be BAs. Ensure that you can find alternate work for these individuals.

  2. One of the critical success factors in this type of endeavor is that the BAs are both learning and doing. Ideally, the training should be delivered "just in time" for their participation in a project so that they can immediately apply what they've learnt. Also, they need support throughout their project assignments to ensure that they are applying what they've learnt correctly.

  3. Training BAs is a long-term commitment; it will take time for them to acquire the skills. Ensure that you have strong management support that will last throughout the process.

  4. There needs to be a dedicated resource to manage the process, create the strategy, and implement it. This person can also act as the mentor, deliver the workshops, and possibly develop some of the training material. These are not activities that can be done "off the side of one's desk."

  5. Use internal resources such as training departments, Human Resources, etc. Many organizations have a full curriculum of courses available for most of the general skills.

  6. The BAs need to be involved in the process of creating the training strategy. This is especially true of the ongoing training plans. It is very important that they feel responsible for their own development.

  7. If you are using outside help as a mentor, ensure that the BAs do not get too dependent on this person. Generally, within any group, there are one or two "stars"; the BAs should ultimately be turning to these people for help, as the mentor will not always be there. This sometimes evolves naturally through the informal workshops where the BAs share their experiences.

At the end of the process, you should have a team of effective Business Analysts who are:

  • Confident in their skills
  • Comfortable in their role
  • Able to produce high-quality deliverables
  • Continuously developing their skills.

The time and effort spent to develop the BAs is well worth it to the organization!

Conclusion

So, here you are. You've defined the role of Business Analyst, identified the personality traits, and targeted the required skills. You've put together your BA group and assessed their current skill levels. You have a training strategy in place that addresses both short and long-term needs. The BAs have received sufficient training and mentoring to be effective Business Analysts. What is the next step?

Well, I guess that's up to you.

References

Lam, Gladys S.W. "Business Knowledge -- Packaged in a Policy Charter," DataToKnowledge Newsletter, Vol. 26, No. 3 (May/June 1998). URL: http://www.BRCommunity.com/a1998/a385.html.

Ross, Ronald G. "Who or What is a True Business Analyst?" DataToKnowledge Newsletter, Vol. 27, No. 2 (March/April 1999). URL: http://www.BRCommunity.com/a1999/a412.html.

Ross, Ronald G. Business Rule Concepts, the New Mechanics of Business Information Systems. Business Rule Solutions, Inc. 1998.

Ross, Ronald G. and Gladys S.W. Lam. The BRS Fact Modeling Practitioner's Guide: Developing The Business Basis For Data Models. Business Rule Solutions, Inc. 2000.

©2002, Kristen Seer

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Standard citation for this article:


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Kristen Seer , "How to Develop Effective Business Analysts (Part 3)" Business Rules Journal Vol. 3, No. 9, (Sep. 2002)
URL: http://www.brcommunity.com/a2002/b106c.html

About our Contributor:


Kristen   Seer
Kristen Seer Senior Consultant, Business Rule Solutions, LLC

Kristen Seer is a Senior Consultant with Business Rule Solutions, LLC. She has worked as a business analyst in industries such as retail, pharmaceuticals, insurance, finance, energy and government.

Her practice focuses on helping clients introduce the business rules approach, including setting up centers of excellence, conducting training in the IPSpeakā„¢ Business Rules Methodology, mentoring business analysts, facilitating sessions to capture business rules, harvesting rules from source documents, redesigning business processes, and analyzing decisions.

Her thirty-year career has encompassed roles as business analyst, rule analyst, data analyst, and project manager. Kristen is a regular speaker at the annual Building Business Capability conference (www.buildingbusinesscapability.com) and has written several articles published in the Business Rule Journal (www.brcommunity.com).

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