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Building a Business Analysis Centre of Excellence

By Karen McKay, Vice President, Doreen Evans Associates

Almost all of today’s business processes are intertwined and dependent on information technology. This connection has led to the recognition and growth of the business analysis profession and sparked a demand for increased business analyst involvement throughout the system development life cycle. However, individual business analysts often struggle to make lasting improvements without a support structure to help them grow skills and to recommend a best practice approach for their organization. As a result, there has been a movement toward building Business Analysis Centers of Excellence.

The Journey to Business Analysis Excellence

A Center of Excellence can advance BA skills, increase the quality of requirements and, ultimately, improve the quality of delivered solutions. A Business Analysis Center of Excellence (BACoE) implementation should be based upon standards, but also be tailored to meet specific business needs, and typically includes:
  • An assessment of the current state: What processes are followed? How many BAs are there and what roles do they play? Are there tools, templates or best practices that are being used?
  • Development of new or the enhancement of existing requirement/software development processes and standard practices in order to leverage best practices.
  • Selection of requirements tool(s) that can be used for requirements elicitation and management across all products and organizational areas.
  • A gap analysis of existing resource skills set against the new, improved process.
  • A custom-tailored training program focused on closing gaps in existing business analysis skill sets.
  • A mentoring program for business analysts as they begin to implement the new process and tools.
  • A plan for the development of an organizational unit that will maintain and continuously improve the approach, as well as provide training and professional development.
Once established, the BACoE becomes the avenue for continuous improvement and helps ensure that an organization can adapt to changing demands.

How Do You Get There?

Building a Business Analysis Center of Excellence can’t be done overnight. It requires commitment and planning. Here are the top five lessons we’ve learned as we’ve helped clients establish their BACoE organizations:
  1. Starting up a best practice organization requires a champion at the executive level to market and drive it. Without a champion at a high level, BACoE efforts can quickly fall to the bottom of the list of priorities.
  2. Developing a BACoE should be treated as a project in and of itself, with a mission, a set of goals, a timeline, dedicated resources and a business case. Building the business case will help ensure the organization understands there is real value to having a BACoE—value that can be seen in reduced training costs on the one hand and improved quality (and therefore fewer problem logs) on the other.
  3. Do an assessment of your “as-is” state. You won’t be able to build your vision or know what you need to do or how long it will take without understanding your current situation. The assessment lays the groundwork for your implementation plan and your expectations for change.
  4. Plan on a two- to three-year effort, with building blocks along the way. It takes time to gather the expertise and learn how to function as a key part of the larger organization. Figure 1 below illustrates one pathway from a less formal community of practice to a fully-functioning Center of Excellence. We’ve found that for smaller organizations, a less formal practice can be adequate; larger organizations need more structure.
  5. Incorporate outside help. At the very least, an outside organization can help you see where you are now and help you lay out a plan for how to get where you want to go. An outside organization can provide other benefits as well. They can bring BAs experienced in best practices to staff your near-term, critical projects making sure those projects succeed, while at the same time serving as role models and mentors for your internal BAs. They can also, while working on projects, get insights that will make their recommendations particularly relevant. Perhaps most important—they’ve done it before. It pays dividends in time, effort and enthusiasm to avoid mistakes and learn from practitioners with real-world experience.

 

Figure 1:  Pathway to BACoE



Karen McKay is Vice President at Doreen Evans Associates, a Boston-based consulting firm that specializes in business process analysis and business requirements. kmckay@doreenevans.com www.doreenevans.com