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15 March 2007

Blooms Taxonomy and the Business Analyst

The IIBA is working on developing the Business Analysts Body of Knowledge (or BABOK.) Part of what they will do in this role is define what a business analyst is. It's a tough job and they have started with looking at defining the role by what is unique about it. For example, even though many BA roles share many competencies with, say a systems analyst or a project manager, those competencies are not included in the definition of what the BA is.

Defining the role of the business analyst will also require defining levels of competency in the key skills and knowledge areas. Bloom's taxonomy may provide a useful framework to leverage.

Bloom's taxonomy is a 60 year old categorization of levels of understanding in learning environments. It breaks down understanding into six classes. These were originally:
  • Knowledge,
  • Comprehension,
  • Application,
  • Analysis,
  • Synthesis and
  • Evaluation.

The classes have since been challenged and modified a little but remain essentially the same. Each of these classes represent a progressively deeper understanding of and ability to use the knowledge gained in the relevant subject area.

It seems to me that this framework could be applied to a business analyst's understanding of requirements. Eliciting, defining and managing requirements means learning about the business operations, the need for change, the vision of the future state and so forth.

The business analyst, depending on their level of understanding is then able to apply critical thinking and problem solving skills to determine what the business requirements are. These ideas contrast with a common experience project managers and stakeholders often have of business analysts. Many BA’s capture requirements statements from subject matter experts, adding little or no interpretation or extra analysis to the requirements elicitation process.

In Bloom's taxonomy, knowledge, for example, means that a student (or business analyst) knows that something exists and is probably able to describe its physical attributes. For example an operations business manager may state a requirement and the business analysts will capture it and repeat verbatim in a requirements statement.

Further up the learning hierarchy Synthesis may mean the business analyst understands what the operations manager is saying they want and is able to interpret this basic requirement statement into what is critically important and what is just a repetition of the status quo and thus state a requirement in the context of the business's future state, stripping it of superfluous attributes.

This level of requirements analysis often enables greater steps forward by the project as artificial constraints created by poor requirements statement are managed away.

Here are a few references where you can read more about Bloom's taxonomy and its place in the education industry.