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How my CBAP led to a personal 'CIP' (Continuous Improvement Program)!

By Tim Hannan, BA, MCBA, CBAP 
 
imageA year or so ago, my Senior Executive announced the creation of a Continuous Improvement Program (CIP) for our large IT Shared Services group (that supports one of the world's largest Capital Markets / Investment Banks.)  The CIP initiative saw the creation of role-centric teams that would focus on improving their respective practices of Project Management, Quality Assurance, Technical Analysis, and of course Business / Business Systems Analysis.  Before the meeting was over, I noted the name of the fellow who was going to head up the 'Business Analysis Community' and sent him a note saying I'd like to volunteer...
 
Now why on earth would I bother volunteering for such a thing - didn't I have enough on the go?  Well, of course there's the fact that this CIP initiative promises to make everyone's life easier if project best practices are implemented across the board; and by getting involved, I can ensure my input to the BA stream is considered.  Certainly doesn't hurt to respond to a direct appeal from such a Senior Executive...  OK! - Truth be told: My third International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA®) Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP®) renewal was coming up in a year and I was a little light on the Continuing Development Unit (CDU) Category # 5 - 'Volunteer Service'! 
 
So my stepping up to volunteer wasn't born of my innate selfless character, it got a little push from my commitment to being a CBAP.  That didn't stop me from reaping the many benefits.  For the couple of hours per month I invested, I finally met colleagues from teams across my organization; impressed my own manager and increased my visibility within the firm. I was able to steer the group to adopt practices that I had already tested with great success on the retail side of the bank, etc.  There really is something to the idea that "it is in giving that we receive".
 
Would I have bothered to volunteer if I had not committed to the CBAP professional standards?  I'm not sure.  Do you regularly volunteer or engage in activities to enhance your professionalism just because it’s the right thing to do?  If you're reading this, perhaps the answer is "Yes, you do!" If however, like me, you need a little push to do the right thing to help your career, let me share a few ways that my pursuit of the IIBA CBAP® accreditation (and renewals) has helped me engage in my own Continuous Improvement Program.
 
Journey to CBAP® - How did I get there?
 
Like many people that perform Business Analysis tasks on projects, I sort of stumbled into the role out of a junior operations management function. Because I was a subject matter expert on the business process that some application supports, I would logically be able to write requirements specifications for improvements to the software.  (Sound familiar?)  
 
In my case, having been a 20-something retail branch Manager of Customer Service, I would naturally be able to whip up documents in support of Customer Marketing & Sales Support reports. Ya, right!  Mind, with a liberal arts BA, I suppose I could at least write right - er, well - but the business partners certainly didn't want their marketing report specs to read like a History essay.  So what should our documentation look like? How much is enough? How much is too much?  This is 1996, by the way, which is eight years before IIBA came into existence.  There was no small educational industry offering all manner of training in all things Business Analysis. 
 
So while we all fumbled along, I always had a notion that whatever it was we were doing – we could do it better. So I started to volunteer on Requirements-related activities outside of my job.  As my company was an early adopter of the ‘Software Engineering Institute’s Capability Maturity Model’ (SEI CMM), there were plenty of internal initiatives to help improve our efforts in the software project domain.  I first helped develop a ‘BSA Curriculum’ with our Technology & Operations Training department in the ‘90s.  Over the following  decade, I worked my way through all of the internal training courses my company offered until in 2007, I had the very good fortune of being sponsored to take a then relatively new ‘IIBA-endorsed’ Masters Certificate in Business Analysis (MCBA) at York University’s Schulich Executive Education Centre.  
 
It was on this MCBA course that I found out about the international organization of people struggling just like me to both define and excel at these ‘Business Analysis’ roles we held! (I’m not going to say “misery loves company” – just that it was a relief to know that thousands of people around the planet were also convinced that there must be better, more structured and logical ways to effectively and efficiently document requirements for project success!)
It was during the course of obtaining my Masters Certificate in Business Analysis at Schulich, that I realized I ought to work towards the CBAP designation.  I was fortunate that I could demonstrate the approximate five years of work in the knowledge areas of the IIBA Guide to Business Analysis Body of Knowledge® (BABOK® Guide v1.6 at the time).  So the primary task was to simply prepare for the exam. (*In 2007, there was no Certificate of Competency in Business Analysis (CCBA®) on offer that requires about three years cumulative experience). 
 
How preparing for the CBAP® exam led to an on-going habit of Professional Development
My first bit of advice is that if you can, do enroll in some formal classroom-based Business Analysis training. The typical student is someone that is actively involved in projects, so the classroom dynamic is charged with eager, challenging interactions based on real-life experiences.  The investment of time leads to discussions with fellow requirements practitioners that provide context and practical examples of how the sometimes dry content of the BABOK® Guide is /can be used in actual project situations. (Full disclosure: I teach the introductory modules of a Business Analysis Certificate program in my local community college.)
 
Once you’ve got some formal training under your belt, see if your company has a cadre of people that would be willing to start a CBAP® Exam-prep study group. If your firm doesn’t have such a set-up, then you will most likely find (or you can start) a group at your local IIBA Chapter. 
The peer commitment of the study group that ‘forces you’ to study, or prepare a chapter review, will hopefully be a precursor of the good self-improvement practices you’ll adopt as a CBAP®.  I found that the nine or ten weeks duration of the study group where my need to complete tasks was both ‘Important and Urgent’, allowed me to develop a habit of continuous learning that stayed ‘Important’ but without the commitment to the study group was ‘Not Urgent’.  This is the domain of ‘Extraordinary Productivity’ in the classic time management tool pictured here:
 
 
figure 1
 
Into the future with CBAP®
So seven years on from the initial CBAP® exam, I can happily report that my application for my third CBAP® accreditation was accepted (no need to re-take the exam!).  I’ve already got my ‘CDUs for Renewal 2017’ folder open for updates. The good habits that were inculcated during the CBAP® Study Group period carried over so that I recognize the value of investing in continuous development activities.  And when good habits alone aren’t enough to inspire me to get off my duff and take a course, read an article, listen in on a webinar or attend an 'IIBA Toronto Chapter Speaker Series' event… the need to complete CDUs for my next CBAP® recertification provides the needed push.
 
Why if I’m not mistaken this short article might qualify under CDU ‘Category 3A - Author or co-author of a business analysis article published in a refereed journal.’

©iStockPhoto/Kuklev

About the Author: Tim Hannan, BA, MCBA, CBAP. Tim has worked for over 18 years as a Requirements Analyst on software projects for a large Financial Institution.  He also instructs part-time on a Masters Certificate in Business Analysis program in his home-town community college.