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

formerly of Professional Project Services, LCC

Tag Archives: Business Analyst

Just Released – Leveraging Business Analysis for Project Success

Book Cover Image

Announcing the release of Leveraging Business Analysis for Project Success, a new book by Vicki James, PMP, CBAP, PMI-PBA.

Only 39% of project today are successful.  Nearly half of the projects that fail, fail because of “poor requirements management” (PMI 2014). Leveraging Business Analysis for Project Success explores the role of the business analyst in setting a project up for success. It informs and educates project managers, sponsors, and organization leaders on what is necessary for project success. It goes beyond requirements management in exploring the how the business analyst can contribute to increased profitability through project selection, scope definition, and post-implementation evaluation.  The reader will learn about the history of business analysis, professional organizations and resources to support the profession, and what to expect from the business analyst at each phase of the project lifecycle as presented in a case study throughout the text. Project leaders will better be able to support the business analysis needs of the project by understanding the skills, expertise, tasks, resources, and time needed to do business analysis right and maximize the return on investment for each project.

Leveraging Business Analysis for Project Success is available on electronic or print format on Amazon or directly from the publisher, Business Expert Press.  Educators may request an evaluation copy through the publisher website.

Please contact Vicki at if you would like more information regarding this publication.

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?

So You Want to be a Business Analyst…Or Perhaps You Already Are (Part 2 of 3)

BA_part2Last week I posted Part 1 with discussion on what a business analyst is.  You may be more confused than before on what it is you are. I will quickly clarify a few points by addressing a couple of common questions.

Question 1: I am a project manager that is responsible for business analysis on my project. Is this wrong?

Answer:  It depends on the project and the situation. If it is a small project with a small team and you are familiar with the business then it may make sense. The test is if you are effectively and efficiently juggling managing the project (planning, tracking, risks, stakeholder management, etc.) with the business analysis tasks (eliciting requirements, creating models and documentation, working with stakeholder to prioritize, translating for the technical team, etc.). However, if you are not able to manage both roles effectively within a normal workweek it means you are working two full-times jobs, rather than two half-time jobs. Getting a BA on your project will allow you to focus on one job and lead the project, project team, and influence stakeholders much more easily.

Question 2: I have worn many hats on my projects.  How do I know if I am a business analyst?

Answer: The answer lies in where you natural aptitude and desire are. Answer the three following three questions to help you find the answer. (Disclaimer: this is not a scientific aptitude/skills test)

1)   When it comes to solving a problem, I tend to want…

  1. To lead a team discussion to find potential solutions
  2. Research what other companies have done and see if any of those solutions would work in our situation
  3. Put a likely solution into action

2)   When I waiting for service in a long, slow line I tend to…

  1. Think, “Where is the manager?” These people need to be motivated to work faster.
  2. Watch the processes to see if I can identify a change in process or a tool that would speed up the service.
  3. Look for the manager so that I can tell him to bring more people on to serve

3)   When told to do something that I do not quite understand I respond by…

  1. Clarify what is needed and begin a plan of action
  2. Question who, what, why, where until I understand the value or negotiate for a task that does make sense to me
  3. Do what I am told. I can make anything work and it’s not my job to question the reason

Here are the results to this three-question assessment. If you scored mostly

  1. You have an aptitude for project management. You prefer to lead others through proactive planning and motivation to allow a team to accomplish great things.
  2. You have an aptitude as a business analyst. You like to solve puzzles by taking the time to get a thorough understanding the core of the puzzle and analyze many solutions to know your recommendation is indeed the best.
  3. You are a doer. “Get ‘er done” is your motto.  Time spent planning and analyzing is time that you could have been actively doing something to make the situation better. You recognize there may be a different or even better way, but getting something is place is the contribution that makes you feel valuable. You would be a great technical lead.

You may truly have a mix of aptitude and preference of these roles. That is okay. However, you need to define your role for each project and stick to it. This allows you to focus on your responsibility and give the autonomy to others on the team that they have earned and deserve.

Continue to Part 3 for steps on making the shift from someone who does business analysis tasks to a business analysis professional.

Image courtesy of chanpipat /

So You Want to be a Business Analyst…Or Perhaps You Already Are (Part 1 of 3)

career crossroads graphic

As the Seattle Chapter President of the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA®), I often get questions about how someone can learn more about becoming a business analyst. Often times those asking have been doing business analysis work realizing it for some time; only they have not yet realized it. This three-part series is to help you understand what business analysis is (part 1), how to know if you are a business analyst at heart (part 2),  and offer the first steps to advancing your career as a business analysis professional (part 3).

I will start with the definition of Business Analysis. The IIBA® defines this as

Business analysis is the set of tasks and techniques used to work as a liaison among stakeholders in order to understand the structure, policies, and operations of an organization, and to recommend solutions that enable to the organization to achieve its goals (Business Analysis Body of Knowledge [BABOK®] Guide, Version 2.0 Page 3)

The following two lists offer some more context to “tasks and techniques” by listing tools used and items developed and delivered by the business analyst as documented in the BABOK®.


  1. Brainstorming
  2. Document analysis
  3. Focus groups
  4. Interface analysis
  5. Requirements analysis
  6. Organization modeling
  7. Process modeling
  8. Prototyping
  9. Survey
  10. Prioritize

Work Produced

  1. Business case/ statement of work
  2. Business analysis plan
  3. Communication to stakeholders
  4. Data dictionary or glossary
  5. Data Flow diagrams
  6. Metrics & Key Performance Indicators
  7. Scenarios/Use cases
  8. Sequence diagrams
  9. User stories
  10. Requirements package

These lists show that many roles do business analysis activities and deliver business analyst results. Some common project roles include data analyst, project manager, technical writer, and developer. Many people do “business analysis.” So what is a business analysis professional?

The project manager, developer, and data analyst may use some tools and deliver some of the same results as the BA as it relates to their specific role. A business analysis professional works with all the business analysis tools and techniques to deliver work that supports defining, managing, and evaluation the solution or resulting product (“to recommend solutions that enable to the organization to achieve its goals”.) The project manager, data analyst, technical writer, or developer rely on the work of the business analysis to provide clarity on the solution and allow project work to focus on steps needed to most efficiently deliver the desired result. The business analyst is responsible for defining is what will bring value to the business, ensuring the requirements are fully vetted and understood, and that the solution meets these expectations. This allows the project manager for focus on the project process, progress, team, risks, and all those other aspects that make project management a full-time job. Read more on this in The Project Manager vs. the Business Analyst. Further, the business analyst frees the technical people up to design and build the solution to meet the need the first time.

You likely play a combination of roles if you are reading this article. Next week we will discuss how to know what you are when you wear multiple hats.

Find out if you are a BA at heart in Part 2.

Image courtesy of chanpipat /

2012 – Year of the Business Analyst…Almost

Chinese astrology says 2012 is the year of the dragon. In technology, it is the year of the Business Analyst. Unlike the dragon, growth of the business analyst will be subtle and take some time. Organizations will first begin to understand the role and value of the business analyst.

Current economic struggles require organizations today need to do more with less. 2012 predictions for technology brings a shift in project success defined as simply on schedule, on budget, and within scope to projects that give the business value. This is a clear opening for growth in the business analysis profession. It is up to business analysts to prove their value on projects and to the organization.

Business analysts will offer the greatest value when they collaborate with project managers and executives responsible for the initiatives. We have the key in providing the information that supports decisions that bring greatest value to projects. This includes providing information that supports making the best decisions on project scope. We must also provide project managers the detail, support, and customer interaction that supports developing that scope to bring value to the business and the users. This means breaking past documenting user “wants” and conducting analysis that help us understand the “needs” that will bring business value, and convincing decision makers of the best course of action.

There is good news as we face this challenge in that there are many resources to guide us as we move in this new direction. The International Institute of Business Analysis ® has been around since 2003 providing guidance and best practices in business analysis. This goes far beyond project requirements and includes study in knowledge areas of Business Analysis Planning and Monitoring, Elicitation, Requirements Management and Communication, Enterprise Analysis, Requirements Analysis, and Solution Assessment and Validation. Visit for more information. The Guide to Business Analysis Body of Knowledge® (BABOK®) is just one benefit of membership. Membership also gains you access to thousands of books and articles online to help the business analyst navigate through this exciting profession.

Learn more about the role of the business analyst, project sponsor, and project manager in bringing business value with projects at the IPMA Forum on May 23, 2012 at 2:30 pm at Worthington Center, Lacey, Washington.

Poll Results: Who is responsible for ensuring project value?

I recently cross-posted a poll in a couple of different locations. The majority of responses came from this LinkedIn poll. The biggest value of the poll is in the comments. They are worth a good read. I will be writing an article based on the information collected and my thoughts. Here are the raw results in the meantime.

A few notes:

  • Many commented that they did not like having to select a single role, that it is the team’s responsibility to ensure project value.
  • The wording of the poll was questioned. I agree! A better question would have been “Who is responsible for ensuring the project delivers business value?”
  • In a different context, the use of “business owner” was questioned. In the article I will be referring to this role as the Customer/SME.

Here is a preview of what is to come in the article.

Thank you for your participation and comments. Keep them coming!

Secrets of the PMP Exam

This was my submission for the The PMCAMPUS 60 PDU Online Giveway contest. The tips here apply to the CBAP examination as well. I hope you will find some valuable tips that work for you as your pursue your chosen credential.

Congratulations on your decision to pursue your PMP. What an exhilarating adventure. Stressful, yet exhilarating. I will offer you some practical tips to help you pass this strenuous exam. Following the advice here will reduce your stress for the exam itself. I’m not going to focus in PMBOK’isms, models, or formulas, but rather stress the importance of the questions themselves.

You are likely to hear about the difficulty in understanding and answering the questions. I cannot stress enough how true this is. Using the strategies I describe here you will be in a better position to understand the questions and possible answers, and select the “right” answer.

Practice Tests

Take many, many practice tests. The goal here is not to memorize potential questions and answers. Questions you find on a practice exam are not going to appear on the real test. Actual test questions are carefully guarded. Instead, you are going to focus in getting familiar with the question format and gain practice in analyzing the question and possible answers.

There is also benefit in getting a baseline on where you stand using the practice exams. Don’t put too much stake in the results you get. Many practice tests are actually harder than the real exam, and some are easier. What they will point out is in what areas you are weak. Use this information to prioritize your study.

Analyze the Question

Read each question multiple times. I recommend not looking at the possible answers yet. They may sway your understanding. Read the question as if they are trying to trick you (maybe they are) – don’t let them get away with it. Can the question be rearranged for a different interpretation? What information is extraneous to the core question? Consider these questions and use your best judgment to reframe the question in a way that makes sense to you. Review the question after you have reframed it to check that you haven’t read too much into it, or let wishful thinking lead you somewhere else.

Scrutinize the Possible Answers

You will find that three of the questions seem correct 50% of the time and two of the answers appear correct 75% of the time (my guess). You need a strategy to help weed out the wrong answers and find the right answer.

Questions will commonly be stated as “what is the next best step?” Here is the trick. Put the possible answers in activity sequence. Go back to read the question, and then check the sequence. What is the next best step? Now you are ready to answer the question. Use a similar strategy to organize possible answers by Knowledge Area and Process Group where needed.

Use Your Tools

There will be time when a scenario that ties into the next several questions. You won’t know this is the case until you move on. Often times in these cases the questions relate to a PMBOK tool. For example, one scenario may call for the need to draw a network diagram. The first question related to the scenario might be straightforward. You might be tempted to shortcut and just answer it. I recommend you do the full exercise and draw the network diagram. It may help point to a less obvious answer that is correct. It may also help you answer the next few questions. It will help you confirm the answer, much like checking an algebra equation.

Take many, many practice tests. It is worth stating again.

Additional Quick Tips

  • Understand and believe in PMBOK processes and how they will improve your projects
  • Do not go hungry
  • Review all your notes and formulas in the car prior to going into the exam
  • Use the scratch paper provided in the test cubicle to brain dump all those notes and formulas in your head
  • Flag and skip questions you are not sure about to go back after your first run through

Please save this article to review the day of the exam. I hope you will email to let me know how the exam goes and more tips you would like to pass on to future test takers once the ordeal is over.


Related Articles

PMP “Marathon” Completed by David J. Kearney, PMP – describes time and costs pursuing certification.

Check out these Professional Project Services recommended PMP Prep books

Image: Keerati /

How I passed the CBAP

I recently took and passed the Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP®) certification test offered by the International Institute of Business Analysts (IIBA®). Since my employer, CodeSmart, paid I was doubly anxious to pass on the first attempt. Yay! I did.

A couple of things helped give me an advantage. The first was a lot of experience in business analysis. Not just the title of Business Analyst, but the activities I did within this role were in alignment with the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK®). While the specific terms or context of knowledge areas and processes were new, they concepts themselves were very familiar. The second advantage was previously achieving certification as a Project Management Professional (PMP). Many of the tools and terms crossovers the professions including estimation, work breakdown structure, and the underlying competencies required.

CodeSmart also paid for me to take online training through ESI. I received a 20% discount for having visited their booth at the PMI North American Global Congress in October. The eTraining was available for 42 days from registration. It provided some introduction to the course, to the BABOK, and pre-assessment test and then units by knowledge area. It concluded with test tips, drills, two more practice exams, and a course evaluation. I felt the course gave good exposure to what to expect on the test and some guidance on study but was rather high level. It was by no means a waste of time, but I couldn’t solely rely on the course and be sure of passing.

As test day got closer I began to read the BABOK® through. I didn’t do anything too special at this time. I had previous experience with a large number of the tools and techniques covered. But the more technical diagrams I felt I could use some review on. I spent one evening reading the BABOK and searching online for examples to study until I was sure I understood each better. I am glad I did this. It helped me get at least a few questions correct on the test.

I knew I wanted to commit the map of knowledge areas and processes to memory. I am a visual and kinetic learning, so simply reading the BABOK or practicing the drills of the course were not going to be much help. In the end (the day prior to the exam) I used a big pedestalled white board in my living room. The idea was to map the knowledge areas with processes plus underlying competencies. I took one pass without additional study or reference and got 53% percent of the mapping correct. I then drilled myself by drawing the mappings and practiced, waiting a couple of hours and tried the mapping again. This time I got 98%. I slept with the white board in my bedroom that night knowing that if I woke up panicked about the material, it would come in handy. In the morning I wiped the slate clean and tried the mapping again and again got 98%, getting a different section wrong then previously. I felt that I had retained enough to be comfortable taking the test. In the end, having this down pat didn’t provide that many additional correct answers.

CBAP KA - Task Study

That sums up my study:
• Online course
• Read the BABOK
• Ensure understanding of tools and techniques
• Commit to memory knowledge areas and processes including underlying competencies.

The test itself was an online computerized test proctored at a local community college. The test is 150 questions and they allow three and a half hours. You have the ability to flag questions either answered or unanswered. The test navigation allows you to move from previous or next question or previous or next flagged questions. In taking the test I went through each question and answered if I was relatively sure of the answer, flagging those that I skipped, or wasn’t sure enough. Once I got to the end I took a break and then went back to review the flagged questions. I did feel more confident the second time looking at the flagged questions. I struggled with the decision to review the questions a final time or to submit the test. I had plenty of time either way. In the end I submitted the test reasoning that the number of questions I would change on a review would not make an impact on my overall score unless I was one or two away from passing and any changes I made were in my favor rather than against it. I hit submit, was presented with a survey regarding the test experience, and the second I submitted the survey received a “congratulations on passing” message. I don’t yet know my actual score, but I know the important thing.

I would recommend doing some research or asking around before picking a study service. Price, hours to complete, and depth of material will vary. You want to make sure any service you buy, if any, meets your style of study. Some people may be comfortable without purchasing a study service at all. I would have been disappointed if I had paid the full amount for the ESI program myself. The 20% discount helped. Good luck in your own search for certification. I hope this blog has helped, and please let me know if you have any questions.

Also see this PRESENTATION I gave to CBAP/CCBA Study Group members from the Seattle IIBA Chapter in January 2012.

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