22 June 2008

Dear Bas - Coversations with the Project Shrink on Training and Accreditation

Bas and I are regular readers of each other’s sites and now we are having a conversation from site to site. Feel free to join in.

Context, purpose and capability. Nice framework Bas. I agree. This is where we think training and education should be focused today for PMs.

And what training is out there for business analysts? There are three flavours of training that I can see;

  1. “Tool based” eg - learn modelling in MS Visio in 2 hours
  2. “All about modelling” – knowing your DFDs from your ERDs and your Use Cases from your State Diagrams
  3. And more recently the more generalist approach of the IIBA – looking at the work in a context of requirements management as part of a system development process

(There are local variations of the IIBA accreditation, but IIBA seem to have the momentum that PMI had a few years ago and so my money is all on that horse.)

The first two scenarios address capability to some degree, and the third addresses the whole shebang, albeit in an uneven tenor. And like the PMBOK and PRINCE2 models the IIBA fails to seriously address the vitally interpersonal nature of the work.

There is another way people learn to be a good BA, and it’s just like the way people learn to be good project managers; they find a master practitioner-mentor and work with them.

In my work life there have been several excellent project managers (some of which were also BAs) who taught me a great deal about what is important and how to make sure you get to the important work (and I still struggle at it.)

Just like the PM role, the BA role seems to call for a master-apprentice model. But this can be rough if you don’t have access to an excellent ‘master.’ It seems people really need to be proactive about getting their hands on a high calibre mentor.

Other industries also use this model, and generally it seems to be popular with professions that sell knowledge. Interestingly studies from the 90’s in the legal industry show that unless you really do have one of the rare excellent mentors out there your baseline competency is likely to pretty much stay flat-lined throughout your whole career.

Maybe the difference between project professionals and the lawyers is that lawyers are basically given their mentor via whoever hires them for their first job, whereas we go from company to company and project to project and have plenty of opportunity to discover excellent practitioner mentors.

Although, as a project manager you tend not to observe many other project managers in action unless you report to them as part of a broader project or programme.

So, what else can we do?

You and I both have master’s degrees in project management. My master’s degree pretty much addressed the content of the PMBOK in the first subject (of twelve.) For the rest of the course work a wide variety of topics were covered including finance, people management and in depth investigation into things like risk management and project planning. It’s roots come from the MBA. I felt the degree really elevated my knowledge and was a worthwhile investment.

I’ve also been teaching project management recently as subject in a master’s degree in IT and one thing I particularly like about the course is it’s focus on the many human aspects to project management.

I really don’t think there is anything out there like this for BAs at the moment. I think it is all very focused on the technical capabilities. And that’s a shame because the best thing a BA can do on a project (in my opinion) is lead and motivate people towards a product vision. (In the Agile project approach I see the BA as the product owner.)

In fact I don’t think a BA has to have any modelling training to be effective in the role if they have some of the other people skills in place.

Maybe I need to put a training course together...

Hmmm. I appear to be ranting a bit too long. I also think I am being heretical about the BA role (Any BAs out there care to pitch in on this subject?)

So, some more questions for you, BAS
Is there more to the job than these three areas? In particular is there something special that BAs or PMs need that is unique compared to other jobs? What do you think about the master-apprentice model, particularly in this web 2.0 era?

And can a project shrink really help me?

(On that last question - My preference is for the role of a project strategist to emerge by the way. I think it’s a flavour of the BA role, but it could evolve out of the PM role also. Today the role is being delivered by people wearing both these badges, but they are battling the environment to deliver the results.)

Bas and Craig have a weekly conversation, back and forth on their respective blogs, Project Shrink and Better Projects. With blog titles like that, you don't have to guess what the topic will be.


  1. Anonymous2:47 am

    I have a comment. I looked at Bas' blog, but to be honest, that scrolling advertisement annoyed me sufficiently to break my concentration. Do you really need that? It cant be making you more than $20 a month..


    Accreditation, certification, don't amount to a hill of beans when it comes to being a PM/BA/GetThingsDoneManager. They might help you get a job in certain industries, but they are not too valuable, in my eyes.

    What is valuable is working. Experimenting. Taking an 'agilist' approach to Project Management and utilizing the tools that work, when they work, and only when they work. This means you will not have a cookie-cutter approach, ever. You will know what works under what circumstances and what is good for the client under what circumstances, what is good for the relationship under what circumstances and what will CYA under what circumstances.

    Software PM is dying. The Big Up Front approach doesn't work, and the pure Agile approach isn't conducive to getting business. For internal projects, sure, pick your toolset. But for contracted development, the PM is there to do whatever they need to do to Get The Job Done. They don't certify you in this.

    Then again, maybe I still start a body of accreditation and make some money off of folks' incessant need to have acronyms in their email signatures... hmmm?

    You need a nice resume of experience more than certs, and IMO, making a couple mistakes will yield much better knowledge than studying for the PMP.

    Cheers, Craig and Bas. This is good work. As much as it tells me you both know a hell of a lot about PM/BA/GetThingsDone, I don't see a single mention of the Triple Constraint of deliverables.

    - Josh

  2. Dear all,

    a comment relating to the previous comment: Don't confuse a mosaic piece with the entire mosaic. Certification is often criticized for not being a complete mosaic, but that's not what it was made for.

    In older times, it was normal that over many generations, people stayed in the same profession. The father was a taylor, so the son became one too, and the grandson and so on. Qualification was inheritet and learned.

    In the 19th and 20th century, it was normal to have a lifetime-professioon. You studied or at least learned a skill and had to prove your qualification formally.

    Today, it is getting more and more normal that a job is done for some years, and then people change their profession and do something different.

    Most project managers hadn't learned project management when they were young. Same applies to business analysts (Craig's second favorite) or proposal managers (my secondd favorite). So, we need some kind of proof of qualification for the temporary professionalism of the future.

    Taht's what certification is today. Don't expect more, but also do not expect less.

    Kind regards,

    Oliver Lehmann, PMP, AM.APMP

    PS: Beta testers wanted for free decision tree software (helpful to prepare for the CAPM and PMP exam). Please go to www.visionarytools.com.

  3. Anonymous8:09 am


    You want my contribution to this discussion? Here it is:

    Let me use a couple of analogies. Firstly, I can teach you how to use a drill and jigsaw but that's not going to make you a great carpenter (or even a good one!). The same can be said about learning about tools and techniques for BA work. You still need to learn how to use the tools but it won't make you a great BA!

    Now if I certified you as someone that can use a power drill does that changes anything? Do you suddenly become a great, good or even competent BA? of course not. It means you know how to use a power drill.

    So then the second thing is experience. I play golf (actually: I try to play golf! but really I'm a hacker). Everyone has that one great shot in them. BUT. The probability of producing that memorable shot depends on how much you practice, actually playing, self awareness to correct and improve your techniques. These are all similar to business skills so you see where I'm going with this. Every person has the creativity ability, but you can only develop and refine this skill through experience. Obviously if you have a mentor (or coach) it will fast track your learning.

    A short note about certification and it doesn't matter if it's a diploma, bachelor, masters degree or an accreditation, the same applies. Learning is not about that piece of paper nor is it about the abbreviations you can append to the end of your name on your business card or resume. It helps you land that job when you don't have sufficient experience to prove yourself. But as far as learning goes, you can pick up a book and learn!

    Hope this helped anyone.



    P.S. An IT Director once told me he was writing a project management book titled: "My Mother's a Project Manager". What does that tell you about the profession?

  4. Thanks guys for your great insights and comments.

  5. A couple of comments on the comments:

    1. Josh, the triple constraints are not sufficient measures of any project's value or success. If you're interested, there is at least one book I know of making the PMI rounds out there and I can find the name of it.

    2. Certification: I agree with Oliver about this one. It is a piece, not the whole the picture.

    3. Oliver, you'd be surprised how much project management a mother has to do in a single day to make sure the house runs smoothly. Resource management and planning are her life blood and cost for performance are second nature. Speaking as a mom myself, the things I have to do to keep my single-parent household running are very similar to the things I do for project management. And don't even get me started on risk management. :-)

    As for the original post, I think that Craig has hit on a good point. In order to improve as a BA, more needs to be done. A master-apprentice style relationship is very helpful but if you can't find a mentor, what are the other options? I have found that conferences do help significantly in that arena.

    Hm. This comment is getting a bit long. Maybe I will expand on this as a separate blog post later this week unless Craig has plans to get more into the topic of mentors.


  6. Janet - the floor is all yours.

  7. Anonymous2:17 pm

    I like to see certifications because it helps people see eye to eye. It sets a standard for people that belong to a particular skill or industry. I'm a PMP, but have only recently considered CBAP. Are there any test simulators or exam prep guides like the ones folks have for PMPs? Can't seem to find any.

  8. Anonymous2:20 pm

    I may have answered my own question...


    Anyone familiar with this group?