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IIBA and all that

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I’ve wrestled with myself as to whether I’d ever actually write this blog.

From time to time colleagues ask me, “When are you going to pull your finger out and get certified as a business analyst?” Bruce Melrose CBAP.  Well, as it stands, I’m not inclined to.

It’s not that I have anything against accreditation. I’m actually very supportive of accreditation and being a certified professional. It acknowledges analysis as a professional skill, and that has to be good.

The issue I have is a personal one. For me, while the ideal is good, the execution of the IIBA CBAP accreditation is really lousy. It just doesn’t work for me.

Everyone is different and like it or not, everyone comes from a different place and travels their own unique journey. It’s important to understand that. The good folks up in San Francisco (or wherever the IIBA is based) don’t. It’s the achilles heel of their framework. But it is – ironically – entirely practical.

For me, when I got into the IT industry and specifically analysis, I also undertook a BBS endorsed in Information Technology from Massey University. The course was a very practical and hands on one. I still remember (fondly, I think) the 2.01 analysis paper that was also known as the divorce paper. My lecturers indicated that to do the paper justice, you’d need to put in 100-hours over the semester. 500-hours more like! At the time I worked at a big Bank in the IT shop. I had a 2-year old daughter. After we put her to bed at 7pm, it was analysis study through to 3am and then up at 6am for a 7.30am start doing more of the same through to 5pm.

Over that semester the 2.01 paper, and others, had me create a dentists appointment system from requirements capture, analysis and modelling of those requirements, through to coding and implementation of the application.  That was defining. It was intended to assess the application of what we learned from the books. What the IIBA subsequently ask of me is not of the same standard. In fact, it does not reach a benchmark to really determine whether someone ought to be certified or not, to be frank. Rote learning of definitions, mnemonics and prompts simply doesn’t cut it. Not by a long shot.

Don’t get me wrong, I agree with setting a body of knowledge. I refer to it, and even use the BABOK terms. There’s no question that it’s a relevant reference, but nothing within it will make me a better BA because I see no practice element within it.

When I look at what I did in my university years by comparison and the next 16 years working extensively around New Zealand, Australia and the UK (on big and small, difficult and complex pieces of analysis), it was all about the practice and the execution; of the trialling by error, the soft skills, of understanding people, their motives, agendas, fears and the politics that shaped them.  Therefore, my engagement with them as an effective analyst is all about the things that you won’t get from the BABOK and can’t be tested within the current framework.  Yet, they are the very attributes that conclusively define the professionalism expected of a certified BA.

So here’s the thing for me. Anyone submitting an application with 2000 hours of continuous BA work, who work as a contractor or consultant will meet all those practical and professional attributes mentioned earlier.

In asking for the hours and experience, along with 2 referees to vouch for you, the IIBA know this too. So why not simply accredit those candidates when they read their application? Experience and constant engagement equals, if not surpasses, a successful certification exam from where I sit. Let’s face it, if you were no good as a contracting or consulting BA, you won’t be hired, you won’t be able to rack up 2000 hours and you won’t be able to meet the qualification criterion.

That said, it is also interesting to me that all those practical and professional experiences that shape the tailored approach and execution of a good analyst are also the most likely, if applied, to result in a wrong answer against the IIBA exam.

The thing to understand is that business analysis is so often not really about the substantive content or techniques employed within analysis for modelling ideas or concepts. Suggested approaches outlined within the BABOK can be easily taught. It’s the other stuff; personal attributes, empathy, listening, understanding problems; 80% of that stuff is the stuff that actually defines a good BA from an average one.

You can argue it’s all covered in the CBAP/BABOK framework, but seriously, how do you truly assess it in real terms when the framework is a multiple choice answer on a computer screen?

I guess for me, and because I am genuinely supportive of the idea of accredited professionals, I wonder if consideration of achievement and demonstration would be a more worthwhile assessment of an analyst’s true ability against an industry benchmark rather than an ability to rote learn and recite answers to questions designed more to trip you up on fine granular text book details of definitions and concepts.

Sorry I just fail to connect with that.

I acknowledge it would be tricky to assess practical application of specific areas of analysis given the sensitive nature of the work often undertaken. Nevertheless, where there is a will there will be a way and it’ll be a better assessment in determining if you are a master BA versed with practical achievement or someone who can remember rhymes.

But even if you don’t buy my argument, then the other thing that really rattles me is that even if I did pull my finger out and got certified, it’s only for a few years. I have to keep paying to be re-certified. Just because I accept a role for 3-years as a Business Change Manager, aren’t I still not be a certified BA? Have I suddenly lost all recollection of my past experiences, practical aptitude and achievements? Hardly.

* * * *

In case you are wondering, I have taken a IIBA study course to prep for the CBAP exam. Initial indications were that I’d possibly scrape a pass if I were lucky on the day. My problem, as mentioned, is that my extensive experiences indicate that the right answer for me and how I successfully do things, isn’t the answer on the IIBA score card on too many occasions. I’ve never completed the application nor ever sat the exam.

Instead I remain happily Bruce Melrose PBA (Practical Business Analyst). I’ll stick with that, I think, for now, or until something significantly changes to make me re-evaluate my thinking.

Just my personal view. If you are studying for IIBA exams, good luck, IWUW (I Want Unlimited Wine) sorry I meant I wish you well.


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