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

formerly of Professional Project Services, LCC

Tag Archives: cbap

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?

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.

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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 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Chef or the Cook? Choosing the Right Candidate

How do you balance hiring decisions when given a choice between someone with education and certification, and someone with experience only? I often hear, and agree, that certification does not guarantee a qualified person for any position. As a certified Project Management Professional and Certified Business Analysis Profession, I could not agree more. I will use the scenario of the Chef and the Cook to discuss the differences and explore how this could apply to other professions such as a project manager, business analyst, or accountant.

I always look forward to checking out the Chef’s special when I go into a restaurant. Often the Chef’s special is something a little different that highlights their talent as a chef. The dish is something that the Chef has created using his extensive knowledge of ingredients, flavors, and a talent to combine food, herbs, and spices in a way that tantalizes the taste buds. The Chef must also manage the kitchen crew and keep up with the demands of the restaurant to ensure a great restaurant experience for the patron.

Have you noticed that chain restaurants do not have Chef’s specials? They may have day of the week specials, but these are set every week. That is because the menu and the recipes are established by a corporate office and have proven to be true winners for the brand. The difference here is that the chains employ cooks. Those who can competently follow a recipe while keeping pace with the hustle and bustle of a restaurant.

The Chef will likely have a passion for food, experience in the kitchen, and advanced training from a culinary school, whereas the cook often found a job that they did reasonably well and has gained experience over time. (More on the difference between a Chef and Cook).  Advance training often involves gaining a broader foundation of techniques and proven best practices of those great chefs that have gone before. These foundations make it easier for the Chef to create, innovate, and successfully adapt recipes. Does certification or graduation from the culinary school guarantee a competent chef? Does lack of a culinary program infer that someone would not be a competent chef? Absolutely not. The school may provide additional knowledge and tools to become a better chef, but some may inherently get this. On the same note, having the education may not be enough if the talent for food and kitchen management is not there. “A fool with a tool is still a fool”. My conclusion is that the combination of experience and education, mixed with natural talent, increases the likelihood of hiring the right candidate. Experience and education is what can be most effectively measured when recruiting.

Consider what candidates bring to the table in both experience and education when recruiting for your next position. Certification is an indicator of retaining and being able to apply learning at the conclusion of the educational experience, but not an end all to be all. The below chart should help you gauge how an individual’s education and experience qualifies them for that job you are looking to fill. But recruiting is always subjective, so don’t forget to use your instincts. Be sure you are getting the person you need. Often times a cook will better suit the need.

Matrix of Education and Experience for Qualification

Qaulification Matrix

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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