Have you hired a BA or an SME?

Working for a business analysis consulting company I often come across clients who are looking for BAs with specific industry or solution knowledge. Whether it be Superannuation, Insurance, or software specific such as a certain type of CRM. Each time a filter is applied in the search for the ‘right’ BA, the search results decrease. This isn’t a bad thing, so long as the priority of those filters is applied effectively. If the first filter is the industry knowledge, followed by the business analysis skill set, are you really hiring a Business Analyst or a Subject Matter Expert?

 

The specific industry/solution knowledge may be simple to define. It might be as broad as finance knowledge, or as specific as banking experience focusing on term deposit management using a specific software type. This specificity may be well known by the business.  Business Analysis is a defined skill set, though not always well understood by business.  There are a number of standards, set by governing bodies, that define the knowledge and techniques required to be capable of delivering business analysis effectively.  For a BA to be effective they need to have the right breadth and depth of BA capability suited to your project. The IIBA defines 6 key knowledge areas and a multitude of techniques that are applicable to each of them.  Many, if not all of these knowledge areas are applied to each project. Secondly, underlying competencies, also IIBA defined: cultural fitment including teamwork, collaboration, transparency, integrity etc.

 

When businesses look to engage BAs, all too often they place priority of the industry/solution knowledge, over BA capability with the mind-set that it will take this “BA” less time to get up to speed with the business/solution and therefore be returning value sooner, with less disruption to the people around them. However, in reality unless you have hired someone with good BA capability you have just hired yourself another SME. And this person will apply only what they know to your business, rather than working with embedded SMEs to implement validated and verified solutions.

 

The Business Analyst and the Subject Matter Expert(s) have long had a collaborative and essential relationship.  The SME is of course an expert in a particular area. They hold deep knowledge of the how’s and why’s of the part of the enterprise they work in. They learn this from completing their role day in and day out.  The Business Analysts “enable an enterprise to articulate needs and the rationale for change, and design and describe solutions that can deliver value” (International Institute of Business Analysis 2015, Business Analysis Body of Knowledge v3). I have always believed the BA to be the least knowledgeable person in the room, but the one with the most capability of eliciting the required information from SMEs to deliver well thought out improvements aligned to all levels of the business (strategy to operations).

 

So, if an enterprise has placed industry knowledge ahead of BA capability, what’s the risk? Project success. If your “BA” does not have the capability to work across all levels of the business, collaborating with stakeholders to elicit the business needs, root causes of problems, alignment to business strategy, and be able to articulate this in a way that a developer can code a solution, then the purpose of your project is at risk. Project success is at risk.

 

So, the next time your enterprise is looking to recruit a BA, recruit a real Business Analyst, and let them use their skill set to work collaboratively with your SME(s).