future-of-business-analysisWith the start of the new year, there are three common things that people like to do.  Retrospect on the past year, predict what’s going to happen in the next year, and make resolutions which may or may not have any correlation to the other two.

I did my retrospection in my family Christmas card letter.

I have learned from past experience that making resolutions is generally futile (read this Douglas Adams column for more insight).

So based on that, I thought I would make some predictions about the future of business analysis in 2014.

Continued interaction of analysis and agile communities

I see a continued intersection of the business analysis community with the agile community in 2014, which may be as much aspirational as predictive.  In the past there’s been a hate/ignore relationship between the two communities, mostly due to fear and ignorance on behalf of both.  As more people start bridging those two communities in practical ways – i.e. people with business analysis backgrounds work in agile environments, the understanding between the communities is increasing.

Members of both communities are realizing that their true end product is satisfying the needs of their stakeholders (often referred to as “delivering value”), not just producing requirements documents or just building software.  With this clarity in purpose comes the understanding that there is room for business analysis in agile environments.  But it’s not business analysis defined as “gathering and documenting requirements” but true analysis of the business – figuring out what needs we are trying to satisfy, determining if the needs are worth satisfying, and if they are, describing the best way to satisfy those needs.  Techniques people in the business analysis community have been using for years, done to the right extent, at the right time are very helpful in figuring those things out.

Business analysts can no longer overspecialize

If you are a business analyst and you want to expand beyond just working on projects you can’t afford to have a very specific specialization.  It certainly helps to have some expertise, but you need to be willing to help others learn how to do those things that you are good at, and at the same time pick up other skills that will make you well rounded, and make you more attractive to organizations in the future.  The increased adoption of agile approaches helps drive this trend.  A team of extremely focused specialists will very rarely be as effective as a group of people that among them have all the skills necessary to satisfy the identified need, but also help each other out.  This has started to happen and will only continue.

Approaches to staffing projects will change

There are two, somewhat contradictory, things that will happen with respect to how projects are staffed, both of which impact business analysts.  One trend is creating long standing cross-functional teams and bringing work to those teams.  In cases where organizations are really serious about “going agile” at an enterprise level, this is an organizational pattern that is becoming more prevalent.  This trend is slow in adoption because it is unwinding years of organizational structure that grouped people into resource pools of similar skill sets rather than on teams based on a particular project or software asset.  The move to long standing cross-functional teams reinforces the need for people who have an expertise, but also develop a broader skill set to help the overall team become more successful.

The second trend is organizations are still putting together teams on a project-by-project basis, but those project teams resemble the crew for a movie.  People, often freelancers or contractors, work together for a short time to complete a project. While they are on that project, it’s the only thing they are working on.  Organizations go with this approach because they find that they have more flexibility and can quickly ramp up when they need to get more done, and of course ramp down when there is not as much to do (or budget to do it).

Considered together these trends represent a potential decline in the number of staff BA roles that sit in a resource pool but also spell opportunities for BA’s to broaden their skill set as part of a cross functional team, or get a wide variety of experience in a short amount of time joining different project teams as a free lancer.  This change is slow, but it is coming.

The above predictions may be a bit biased, as all predictions are.  Anyone who puts predictions out there wants to influence events. They hope people will see the predictions, assume them to be true, and take actions accordingly, thus making the predictions a self fulfilling prophecy.  You won’t see many prediction articles admitting that, but I figured I would so that you view all other predictions with a grain of salt.  I think the above things are coming; some may just be a bit slower than I like.

So to avoid the perception I’m only predicting things I want to happen, here’s one more prediction that I am ambivalent on, but am also fairly certain will happen.

A New Certification will appear (as if we needed another)

Within the next couple of years, there will be a requirements management certification from the Project Management Institute (PMI). This is probably one of the worst kept secrets (if it is even intended to be a secret) in the world of PM/BA certification.  Note that I called it a requirements management certification.  Based on what I heard at the recent PMI Global Congress, the PM community does not think of dealing with requirements as business analysis, rather they look at requirements as another thing to be managed.  Their view on the topic still appears to be at the gathering and documenting requirements stage, which is where thinking in the BA Community was five or so years ago.

So given that the BA community is taking a much more holistic, up-market view of business analysis, will this new certification represent a challenge to the IIBA’s certifications?  If you score that game based on the number of certifications that are handed out, yep.  In fact, I project that within a year of any requirements management certification coming out from PMI, that the number of those certificates will easily outstrip the number of CBAPs and CCBAs combined.

Perhaps the more important question is “does it matter?”  On the grand scheme of things, I’ll say probably not.  Sure, organizations that see a large part of their income tied to the CBAP and CCBA may be impacted briefly, but I suspect they will quickly provide the same type of resources for whatever the requirements management certification requires and will enjoy the broader market that opens up.  Organizations that get what business analysis really is and care more about satisfying needs than what certificates people have will probably ignore the new certificate.  The IIBA may feel the pinch more than any, but if they were wise they would focus on strengthening the business analysis community in ways that helps members practice and share ideas on how to practce actual business analysis, not requirements management.  Oops, I think I just put another aspirational prediction in there.

Happy New Year, and here’s looking forward to December 2014 when I can look back at this and see how right, or wrong, I was.

– Kent

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