Quantify Your Competence
Better Data for Better Decisions

By Julian Sammy, Enterprise Business Analyst  
Managers use their understanding of a BA’s competency as the basis for many management decisions, including predicting performance, resource allocation, team building, and training options. The quality of these decisions depends on how accurately the manager understands the competencies of the BA — and most managers are not in a position to watch their BAs work, or to develop an understanding of the work those BAs do. 
A reliable approach to measuring BA competency gives managers many advantages over personal judgements. Managers know this, and they look for ways to get better information about BA competency. One simple option is to use competency assessment tools to measure the strengths and weaknesses of the BAs in the organization.
In this article, we consider a team of BAs in an IT development shop, their manager, and two projects:
  • Abby: BA with 6 years IT project experience.
  • Barb: BA with 8 years experience, 5 of them in new product development.
  • Marco: Manager of the BA team including Abby and Barb.
  • Project Abalone: A new, big, high profile product development project.
  • Project Barnacle: A new product development project that is churning.
We will consider why Marco has asked all his BAs to take a standardized Competency Assessment as part of their professional development plans.
Managing Individual BAs
When Abby self-assesses her competency, the results show:
  • Strength in Elicitation, Requirements Analysis, and Requirements Management and Communication.
  • Weakness in Enterprise Analysis.
This isn't a surprise. Abby's group doesn't do a lot of EA work, and Barb is usually the BA on those projects. Abby has had little opportunity to hone her skills in this area.
Marco knows Abby wants to earn her Certified Business Analysis Professional™ (CBAP®) designation, and needs to broaden her experience. He also knows she is a good BA. The clients love her, and her projects don't have a lot of churn. Reviews and approvals are fast, and change requests are rare. He has been looking for opportunities to get her involved in bigger, higher profile projects, and thinks he's found just the thing: a new product is being developed (codenamed 'Project Abalone'). The client needs someone good to help them define the objectives and business case, and get the prototypes built and running. While Barb normally does this kind of new product development work, she is still working on 'Project Barnacle'.
Marco thought Project Abalone would help advance Abby's career, but her competency assessment indicates that he could be setting her up to fail. He wants to give her opportunities to develop her skills, but doesn't want to put her in a situation where she is likely to damage her reputation, or risk the project.
Marco's Motivation to Quantify Individual Competence
Quantified competency measures give managers a powerful tool to find ways to help individual employees develop professionally, and leading indicators of BA performance. Competency assessments provide many insights:
  1. Clarity: See strengths and weaknesses with good objectivity.
  2. Benchmarks: Compare individual competency to the competencies the organization needs.
  3. Progress Reports: Measure how individual competency changes over time.
  4. Leading Indicator of Performance: Competency cannot guarantee performance — there are too many other factors that can scuttle a project — but competency is usually strongly correlated to performance.
Managing Teams of BAs
Marco has a problem: if he assigns Abby to Project Abalone, she's likely to flounder, but Barb is still working on Project Barnacle — a project that has been dragging on. Marco knows the requirements review cycle has been somewhat painful: there have been a lot of 'clarifications' and rewrites, though not many outright change requests. Barb is frustrated, and having difficulty getting the right level of detail for this client.
This makes Marco consider Barb's competency self-assessment, which shows high competency in Enterprise Analysis, and some weakness in Requirements Management. She spends a lot of time helping the client understand what needs the product is supposed to fulfill, guiding the development of prototypes, and ensuring clarity of objectives. Project Barnacle has more objectives and high level requirements than most, and it takes Barb a long time to make each revision to the requirements.
After some consideration of the competencies of his team, Marco calls Abby and Barb in for a meeting. He describes the situation, and then asks Abby and Barb to team up on both projects, rather than being full-time on one project each. Barb will focus on making sure the objectives are clear, and that the purpose and value of the new product are well understood. Abby will focus on making the documentation clear, and shrinking the review cycle.
Marco's Motivation to Quantify Team Competence
Having a competency map describing his team gives Marco the opportunity to match people to work in beneficial ways. In our scenario Marco has used his insight into the team competency to:
  • Set up Abby and Barb as role models for each other.
  • Manage the risks associated with the gaps in each person's competency.
  • Create a situation where a project that is struggling should start to build more momentum.
  • Increase overall team effectiveness.
  • Give Abby an opportunity to make progress against her career development plan.
From a manager's point of view, insight into team competency has made this a good day.
Managing Myself
Six months later, Marco asks Abby and Barb to do another competency assessment. If his management action was effective, he should see an increase to Abby's Enterprise Analysis competency and to Barb's Requirements Management competency. When they do their self-assessments, both Project Abalone and Project Barnacle are done — Abalone was a big success, but Barnacle was cancelled (it became clear that the churn and delays were caused by the client being unable to articulate a clear purpose for the new product).
When they sit down to look at the results of the self-assessments, everyone is pleased. Abby's Enterprise Analysis competency is significantly increased, and Barb's Requirements Management and Communication competency is stronger than it was. When they consider the five objectives Marco had for making them partners, they realize all five were met — even the one about momentum: before Abby joined Project Barnacle, the team wasn't able to move enough to recognize that they were wasting time. 
Marco's Motivation to Quantify Manager Competency
There were a lot of 'shoulds' in Marco's decision to partner Abby and Barb. Based on project performance, Marco's decision was somewhat effective — but nobody likes cancelled projects. Marco wants to increase his own competency as a manager, and knows that quantitative measures are the way to go. In this case, he can measure his own competency through the effects his decision have on the competency of his team.
When Marco has his performance review with his manager, he can bring up actual evidence that his decision was a good one, and that it delivered real value to the organization and to the clients.
Your manager cares about your competency for many reasons. For example, most managers are decent human beings who want to see their staff perform well. Even if your manager doesn't care about you, when your competency increases it reflects well on your manager's reputation. In the end, being able to quantitatively assess what the team is capable of is of great value to your boss.
©iStockPhoto/ José Luis Gutiérrez