The BA, the Blind Surgeon, and the Case of the Abandoned Gurney

By Robin Grace, Business Analysis Principal Consultant at IndigoCube

“It should be fine. I mean, all I have to do is follow the steps in this manual,” you hear the surgeon say as he enters the operating theatre at the same time the anaesthetic wrestles your consciousness into submission. The last thing you realise is that the scream you hear from along the long, dark corridor is your own voice.

There’s more to being a surgeon than following the steps in the operating manual, just as there’s more to being a business analyst (BA). So why do we allow BAs to use templates and mindlessly fill in the blanks regardless of what’s actually needed and what will actually work?

Quite frankly, it’s an insult to the professionalism and expertise of good BAs everywhere and makes the recent steps taken by International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) that much more poignant. You see, in Competency Model Version 3.0, IIBA® introduces the Dreyfus Model of Skills Acquisition, which points out that a novice is someone who rigidly adheres to taught rules or plans and exercises no discretionary judgement, which may or may not be Martha Stewart.

And that’s precisely what BAs who blindly follow templates do. They’re novices. And if you force BAs to fill out templates, regardless, you’re forcing them to be novices. You’re forcing them to become dreaded Template Zombies.

At the opposite end of the Dreyfus Model is an expert who transcends reliance on rules, has an intuitive grasp of situations based on a deep and tacit understanding, has vision of what is possible, and uses analytical approaches in new situations or in case of problems.

That’s not to say all expert BAs should become Dr. Ellis Michael DeBakey overnight, but that they should be able to see what will work for the current situation and use the appropriate skills and methods. 
The problem with plans

But it isn’t all gene mapping and plain splicing from there. Creating experts out of all BAs is simply not possible for most organisations because every BA doing their own thing flies in the face of standards and that doesn’t sit well with good governance, for one.

The answer is a framework framing the requisite results from each stage of the elicitation process. In that way the framework clearly defines the results that are required from scoping, business requirements, functional and non-functional requirements. Expert BAs are then given discretionary judgement room to best achieve those results.

But of course there remains the question of the novices. You can’t just push them quietly out the back door and hope they’ll shuffle quietly into that good night. Rarely are animated cadavers so accommodating. No, the answer is to train them. Pair them up with a mentor and they’ll quickly learn what works and what doesn’t, where various methods are appropriate and where not.

The Competency Model Version 3.0 accommodates that scenario with two new roles. The project lead BA and the programme lead BA leave no room for the Template Zombie. Better to brain them by sticking them with a project or programme lead.

The term Template Zombies come from a wonderful book called “Adrenaline Junkies and Template Zombies: Understanding Patterns of Project Behavior”, by Tom Demarco, Peter Hruschka, Tim Lister, Suzanne Robertson, James Robertson, and Steve McMenamin. 

No surgeons were harmed during experimentation for this story. The same cannot be said of the unfortunate Template Zombies. 
Robin Grace, IndigoCube, (011) 759-5950,
Jeanné Golding, Predictive Communications, (011) 452-2923,