07 Jul

Business Analysts and Project Success

Ibusiness_analysis_rolen a number of our posts and videos, we have spoken about inappropriate skills being one of the top reasons that projects fail. We also, posted a piece on the value a local city (specifically Raleigh, NC) can add to your competitive advantage, by providing a rich talent pool. Our main point is that PPM tools and various methodologies are all garbage in, garbage out. It all comes down to the skill driving the tools. Knowledge vs Wisdom. In this post, we stick with the theme of talent and the correct resource for project success as we speak with Vicki James, Director of Business Analysis for Watermark Learning. We have seen it a thousand times…everyone one wants a Certified PMP when all they need is a project coordinator. Even worse, most clients don’t consider the role a business analyst plays in the success of their project initiatives. KPS: A lot of things can go wrong on a project. What role does having the correct skillset on the team play in the success or failure of a project? James: Review any article discussing the causes of project challenges or failures and you will find two common themes; deficiencies in requirements and deficiencies in executive stakeholder involvement. Often, the deficiencies in requirements can be attributed to pressure, or constraints, put on the project by the project stakeholders. The first step to setting a project up for success is to have someone within the project leadership that can speak to the benefits of business analysis, risks of not providing enough time or the correct skill level, and instill the needed sense of urgency and importance in the project sponsor and project culture. Actually, that is the second step. The real first step begins with project selection to ensure that the projects selected for investment will bring value to the organization. This begins with a skillfully developed business case that addresses the real problem or opportunity to be addressed and includes analysis of options before making a solution recommendation. KPS: When you consider skills on the team, one of the roles often left out or misused is the Business Analysts.  Can you explain the role of a BA on the project vs that of a PM? James: The Business Analyst is responsible for ensuring that the solution selected, planned, designed, and implemented meets the intent of the project and will bring value to the business. This starts prior to Project Initiation in the business analysis area of Enterprise Analysis and extends past project Closing to Solution Assessment and Validation, where we go back to the original business case and confirm the solution meets the expected outcomes of the project. Business analysis is about doing analysis to validate that every decision made about the solution adds value as outlined in the business case. Project Management is responsible for making sure that the project planning, activities, and results support development of the solution. It is about managing the processes that will bring the solution to life and the coordination of all the stakeholders, activities, risks, and deliverables of the project support implementation of the solution described by the business analyst. Using the “building a house” analogy:

  • Sponsor – Home owner
  • BA – Architect/designer
  • PM – General Contractor

KPS: What would you say is the optimal relationship (roles & responsibilities) of the BA and PM on the project? James: Both the PM and the BA should be on the project leadership team. This includes regular meetings with the project sponsor together, as a team. When you have a strong BA focusing on a solution that adds value to the organization and a strong PM focusing on the project processes, schedule, budget, and other constraints, you get the best overall recommendations for the project. With both sides of the equation the project sponsor has a full view of the project and resulting product in which to base decisions. The BA should report to the PM as far as planning, estimates, progress, and issues as part of the overall project planning and management. KPS: For managers/organizations new to the BA role, how should they go about implementing this in their org? Who do they report up to? What are their key functions day-to-day? What tools do they need to succeed? James: Every organization is different in how the BA is used. We see almost equal structures where the BA reports through the business or through the IT department and in many cases this is split. In our world of matrix organization, this doesn’t really matter. What matters is the relationship of the BA within each project. They should be near equal to the PM with the same access to the project sponsor and key stakeholders to ensure the analysis has the full context. On any given day, you will find a business analyst interviewing stakeholders, planning and preparing for BA activities, reviewing documentation, documenting findings, creating visual models of findings, and reporting out to groups the findings of the analysis. Organizations in general do not adequately invest in tools to make projects run more efficiently.  Too often we see requirements being managed with Word and Excel. I could write a very long article on all of the problems with this starting with a hindrance to requirements traceability and lack of a smooth way to customize the output for the various audiences (business vs. technical). There are a large number of Requirements Management System tools available from relatively cheap to very expensive and robust. These tools allow the BA to enter a requirement or reference once and be done with it.  The time to collect, document, and report out requirements will be cut drastically with the investment in the right tool leaving more time for quality investigation and analysis.  Two very different examples include CaseComplete and BluePrint Systems. KPS: What should a hiring manager look for in a potential BA hire? Schooling? Certifications? Experience? James: A hiring manager should be looking to determine a candidate’s proficiency in the BA competencies. There is a full report and self-assessment available on the IIBA® Website at http://www.iiba.org/Careers/Business-Analysis-Competency-Model.aspx.  The competencies are grouped into the following:

  • Analytical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Behavior Characteristics
  • Business Knowledge
  • Communication Skills
  • Interaction Skills
  • Software Applications

  A BA that has education, certification, and experience in BA will likely score high in all of these competencies. While The Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge © (BABOK Guide) outlines the knowledge areas and tasks for business analysis, the BA’s competency level in the above areas will bring the most value to the role, project, and organization. A BA that is skilled in these competencies and is proficient in the activities of the BABOK® Guide will bring the most value to the organization.  The certification process for the Certified Business Analysis Professional ® is intense even compared to the Project Management Institute’s Project Management Professional certification. The requirements are more stringent than that of the PMP and the application itself much more detailed and critical. I point this out only to demonstrate that having a CBAP verification not only demonstrates the person can pass a test, but that they meet the stringent application requirements for experience in business analysis. Application Requirements by Certification



7,500 hours in the last 10 years
  • 900 hours spread across six knowledge areas
21 hours professional development Two references from a CBAP®, manager, or client Signed Code of Conduct
Experience Hours Required leading or directing project activities*
  • 4-Year Degree – 4,500
  • High school or equivalent – 7,500
35 hours professional development Signed code of conduct

  *Note: While the PMP Handbook does not specifically address when the hours of experience must be earned, the online application begins to dilute hours recorded more than 8 years ago.


Guest Author:

Vicki James is a 16-year veteran of successful project management and business analysis in both public and private industries, which include a 11-year term in governmental operations. She is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP), a certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP) and a certified PMI Professional in Business Analysis (PMI-PBA). Vicki has taken her skills to public and private organizations to support both Agile and traditional Waterfall type projects. For Vicki, organizational value is achieved through successful project management and business analysis. Vicki is a personable, knowledge and thorough leader who unlocks the potential for teams to achieve their goals.