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How to Sharpen Your Business Analysis Tools  

By Heather Mylan-Mains, CBAP, Deputy Vice President Chapters, IIBA and Past President, IIBA Central Iowa Chapter  
Over time, tools become dull. With some sharpening, the tools can work as well as they did when they were brand new. This concept applies to our business analysis tools as well. 
The great thing about business analysis is that it applies to everything! We work with a wide variety of business models, systems, methodologies and complex problems in our personal and professional lives. To meet the challenges these opportunities present, there are many tools and techniques available. We don’t consistently access all of them or even know what they are. Some of our tools are rusty and need sharpening.
How do we know when we need to sharpen our tools? We can take a test! This is not limited to a formal Certification of Competency in Business Analysis(CCBA®) or Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP®) study guide test. There are other ways that we can test our business analysis knowledge.
Chapter Study Groups
Collaboration with other BAs by participating in an IIBA® Chapter Study Group for A Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge® (BABOK® Guide) is a great knowledge testing opportunity. Discussing the knowledge areas and related tasks, techniques and underlying competencies with other professionals is an effective pulse check to confirm those you are familiar with and where you need to gain more experience.
Unlike working on project teams limited to one company and a single project, there is a depth of experience when we collaborate with peers from other companies. Business involves processes with a beginning, data that is changed, and an ending. This is repeated universally. The first time I read the BABOK® Guide there were concepts I had never heard of before. I had a knowledge gap! In some cases, I was not alone. In other areas, I was alone and was able to learn from other peoples experiences. Identifying what we don’t know is the first step in determining what we need to study and practice to add a new tool to our BA toolkit. Discussions lead to differences of opinion and test our knowledge. 
For example, consider this discussion about a context diagram from one study group:
Statement: A context diagram is my favorite diagram and essential to my requirements analysis.  
Responses: How is a context diagram used in requirements? Isn’t that just for project scope? What is a context diagram? How does this help with business requirements? What level of detail do I create this for?
The discussion that followed included a facilitated exercise to demonstrate what a context diagram is and how to create one. Through this knowledge test, participants identified a knowledge gap, added a new tool or sharpened an existing tool. Although the discussion didn’t focus on which areas to study in the BABOK® Guide for certification, the format allows for knowledge checks. Discussions create the opportunity to share practical business knowledge which is an essential supplement to a textbook application. 
Chapter Board Learning Opportunities
Business analysis knowledge can also be tested through chapter board opportunities. IIBA Chapter Board leadership tests business analysis knowledge in all areas. Many of us do not have direct access to the presidents and executive leaders at our companies when we are working on projects. The opportunity to run a chapter requires all of our analysis skills and tests our abilities as the president and executives! Chapters are a non-profit business and board members play many stakeholder roles. We act as sponsors, SMEs (Subject Matter Experts), business analysts, developers, project managers, and QA testers when we design, implement and execute chapter business and programs.
When we test our knowledge and continue to learn in roles outside of our “day jobs” we become better business analysts. Embrace opportunities to stretch your comfort zone. Confidence comes from taking risks, including testing your business analysis knowledge!