Learning Business Analysis is a Process — Not an Event

Requirements WorkshopsMany of you may not be aware of this, but BA-EXPERTS is not just a training company. Building business analysts is not just a matter of going in to do a couple of days of training and then sailing off into the sunset on their high horse (or however it is they are traveling these days given the high cost of airfare). Building business analysts is hard work, but that is their calling and they are willing to go the extra mile to get the job done right. It requires some form of training (classroom or self-paced) and follow-on eCoaching and eMentoring to make sure that the concepts taught in the classroom are transferred to the workplace. They also know that the only way for them to stay current in the evolving discipline called business analysis is to get out there and keep doing the job they love. Because seeing is believing, participating in a Requirements Gathering Workshop is one of the most successful skills–transfer models available.

Productivity and the Learning Curve

When you learn a new (read better) way of doing something, the first thing happens is that your productivity drops. This is what is known in the training world as the “learning curve”. The way it looks is illustrated on the graph below. Actually, when you think about it, it is logical. After all, while you are learning a new way of doing anything, you have to stop and think about it instead of “following your instincts” and doing things the way you did before. Thinking costs time, ergo your productivity drops.

Learning Curve

Business analysts who attend business analysis training session consistently comment on how much they learned during the session. When they attend a Requirements Workshop (run by an experienced Business Analysis Facilitator) after the training, they are amazed at how much they did not learn in the classroom. These are the kinds of things that can only be picked up by observing. Obviously, the main purpose of a Requirements Workshop is not to teach but to gather requirements from the subject matter experts and managers. A positive side effect of the Requirements Workshop is that your analysts get to watch expert facilitators apply the business analysis techniques they teach. Actually seeing the experts (business analysis facilitator and requirements analyst) in action shortens the learning curve significantly. (On the other hand, it can really scare the living bejesus out of a novice causing them to change their career choice in a hurry. Seriously, I have had that happen!)

Learning Business Analysis with a Training/Requirements Workshop Hybrid

The classic Requirements Workshop model is to get a group of subject matter experts (SMEs) together with a group of analysts for a series of days (preferably off-site). Add a Requirements Workshop Facilitator to lead the group and a Requirements Analyst to capture the outcome interactively and you have a super productive group. This group’s sole job for the designated length of time is to define the business needs in the form of business requirements. Anyone involved in this JRP session should be unavailable for their normal work during this time. That implies that they are out all day, every day, for as long as the session lasts. By the way, if you want to go Agile, a Requirements Workshop is an agile approach to getting user stories in a hurry to kick-start an agile development process.

Let’s face it. In the current world, scheduling a group of SMEs offsite for several days to gather requirements for an IT project has all the makings of a Mission Impossible. One possible solution might be to schedule your Requirements Workshop for half days, either mornings or afternoons. Of course, if you are bringing external experts (i.e., us) in to do the facilitation, you would face a serious underutilization issue if they only worked half the time. One solution is to offer a half day of training followed by a half day of facilitation. That way, students get to learn about a business analysis technique in the morning and then experience the application of that technique in the afternoon. This can be the best of both worlds. It combines the training element with the mentoring/coaching element and drastically shortens the learning curve.

Why Not Just Do It?

We have applied this approach for customers in the past and discovered that the concept is extremely powerful and popular. Why is it not used more often? The major stumbling block, believe it or not, is budgeting. Requirements Workshops are considered “consulting” in most companies. Consulting and training services are most often paid for from different budgets and getting the two groups responsible for these budgets to agree on how to fund a hybrid has proven to be our biggest obstacle. If you organization can solve that problem, we can do some magic. Remember, training is not a one-time event. It is a process that occurs over time, hence the learning curve. If you reduce the time it takes to get a time-saving technique into your workflow, you save bucks. That is the bottom line.