Vicki James, PMP, CBAP, PMI-PBA, CSM

formerly of Professional Project Services, LCC

Stop the Madness…Too Many Business Analysis Tools!!

I have noticed trend developing recently that I find troubling. It started when I participated in the public review of the draft A Guide to the Business Analysis Body Knowledge (BABOK® Guide) version 3 this past May. My biggest concern with this draft was the addition of tools and techniques. The number of tools and techniques went from 34 to 46, but even more troubling was that I did not recognize some of the added tools and techniques including Business Model Canvas or Business Capability Analysis. Not only that, I did not see where they were common and useful enough to add to a collection of generally accepted best practices separate from the 34 that were already there.  Aspiring CBAP’s® and CCBA’s® will need to thoroughly understand each of these in order to prepare for the certification exams.

Then in May 2014, the Project Management Institute (PMI®) introduced the PMI Professional in Business Analysis (PMI-PBA℠) credential.  The PMI-PBA Examination Content Outlines specifically calls out 76 techniques in 22 different categories.  Add their newly released Business Analysis for Practitioners – A Practice Guide with an additional 10 techniques and business analysts who are availing themselves to certification need to learn a whopping 86 business analysis tools and techniques in order to prepare for any question the PMI-PBA℠ examination may throw at them. WOW!!!

Many of these new techniques, while great in concept, are not actually in the collective consciousness of the business analysis community as a generally accepted best practice tool or technique. With things such as Kano model, Ecosystem Map, and Interrelationship Diagram it all gets very confusing very fast. Even for a seasoned pro like me.

I think part of the problem is that the terms tool and technique is not being used as I would expect. A technique is a method (procedure, formula, or routine) to accomplish a task. A tool is a device that will aid in completion of the task. Business analysts will often have the tools and techniques to accomplish a task without adding to the toolkit or the vocabulary. Fore example, business capability analysis is a task that skilled, seasoned business analysts can accomplish without adding to the toolkit.

Is a carpenter with 86 tools in his tool belt any better than a carpenter with 34 tools?  Perhaps, but not because of the number of tools he holds.

Instead, I would apply the Pareto Principle (aka 80/20 Rule) and say that 80% of the value comes from 20% of the tools.  This 20%, or approximately 17 tools, are the core basics that any business analyst should have in his or her tool belt. The business analyst should not just have theses tools, but make sure that these tools are of the highest quality and grade. A business analyst should further be armed with the competency to research and find, or develop his or her own tools that will make the job easier and provide greater value to the project if, and only if, the existing tools are not quite fitting the need.

You are probably now wondering what 17 tools and techniques I would consider the core basic. Well let me take a stab at this.

  1. Benchmarking
  2. Cost-Benefit Analysis
  3. Data Dictionary
  4. Document Analysis
  5. Facilitated Workshop
  6. Five-Why’s
  7. Interviewing
  8. Issue / Problem Tracking
  9. Observation
  10. Process Map
  11. Product Backlog
  12. Prototyping
  13. Survey / Questionnaire
  14. Use Case Diagram
  15. Use Cases
  16. User Stories
  17. Weighted Criteria Matrix

So there you go. Vicki’s 17 Core Business Analysis Tools and Techniques.  Couple these with great organizational skills, an inquiring mind, along with the ability to adapt, and you have a top-notch business analyst who will help your project and your organization achieve great things. Let’s spend the time we would otherwise use in learning about the other 59 tools to refining and perfecting these 17 and adapt from there as needed.

What tools and techniques do you feel are most essential for a business analyst?

5 responses to “Stop the Madness…Too Many Business Analysis Tools!!

  1. KentMcDonald December 16, 2014 at 6:56 am

    Hi Vicki,
    Interesting perspective. I suppose if you are mainly looking at the number of techniques available through the lens of things you need to know for certification, or the tools that are appropriate for most, if not all, situations the number of techniques can be daunting. And if you are viewing things from this perspective then I can see how the arrival on the scene of PMI with PMI-PBA suggesting additional techniques can be irritating. (Especially considering that most of the folks that came up with the PMI-PBA practice guide are the same folks that had their hands in creating the BABOK.)

    I’d like to suggest a different perspective, and that is that these techniques are handy to know about because they work well in different situations. People will tend to know more about the techniques that are more appropriate to the context in which they are currently working.

    Expanding the awareness of the business analysis community about new techniques things such as business model canvas and business capability analysis (both coming from looking at the organization as a whole) or Kano analysis (from product management circles) is a good thing. It helps take the blinders off about and exposes folks to broader perspectives.

    I don’t think anyone should rightly folks to be expert in all these techniques, rather it’s helpful to know about their existence and have a good idea when each is best suited for use. As long as someone knows enough to know when a particular technique may be appropriate and where to go find more information about it (it’s fairly easy to find helpful information about all of these techniques after a quick internet search by the way) they will be much better off than not knowing about them at all.

    That perspective assumes a bigger focus on doing what practically makes sense in a given context in order to make sure we’re solving the right problems instead of trying to pass a certification exam.

    So, to specifically answer your ending question “What tools and techniques do you feel are most essential for a business analyst?” it depends on the context.

    • vickipps December 16, 2014 at 8:41 am

      Hi Kent, Thank you so much for the thoughtful comment. My concern is specifically in terms of certification. Will having too many tools be a deterrent to getting certified? For those that do aspire, will they be fall short because they had difficulty discerning the finite differences between two tools in the possible answers?

      I completely agree with you in that knowing the number of tools that are available and how to find them is very important. But I’d much rather see BA’s learning a tool to use for practical purposes than memorizing a definition to pass a test. I still find new tools and techniques on a regular basis and welcome the opportunity to expand my catalog of tools available.

  2. Bernadette B. February 11, 2015 at 3:02 am

    The post is very informative. It is a pleasure reading it.
    Business Analysis Tools

  3. Pingback: Stop the Madness…Too Many Business Analysis Tools!! | #PMChat

  4. Pingback: Stop the Madness…Too Many Business Analysis Tools!! | Professional Project Services, LLC – #PMChat

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