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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.