Advancing your career: applying BA skills to BPM field

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Introduction
'What is next?' - That is an absolutely natural question for any thinking being. We tend to plan our lives, set goals and expectations, think of possible ways of achieving them. Same thing goes in the career field. Some people prefer to concentrate on their well-known sphere utilizing their current knowledge in the best possible way. They end up as senior specialists, experts, consultants etc. Others tend to change their field for future development, gaining new experience, new impressions, and widening horizons. Such a way may be more challenging and difficult, yet interesting. This partition is true for any professional area, true is it for Business Analysis as well. The aim of this article is to show a possible path which combines benefits of both attitudes. While requiring to apply most of BA's skill set, it offers a new yet familiar field to explore.

We’re speaking about switching to the field of Business Process Management. Possible benefits of this move may be discussed separately. Still, a brief overview of salary information available in the Internet showed that BPM practitioners in general get not less than BAs (a huge dispersion of salaries and variability in BPM practitioners’ positions calls for individual analysis). Additionally, working in BPM provides with deeper understanding of business domains and is a good background for future development into departmental head or even Operations Executive roles (such as VP Operations, Operations Director, COO etc.) or a role in Consulting. Plus, and this is absolutely subjective, it is just interesting.

To further discuss this topic we'll look at the roles of BA and BPM, compare and contrast them and highlight how a BA can enter the field of Process Management.

BA and BPM
As stated in Business Analysis Body of Knowledge™ (BABOK®), a Business Analyst is "any person who performs business analysis activities, no matter what their job title or organizational role may be"[1]. I.e. a Business Analyst is any person in the organization working to study the organization itself and the stakeholders' needs and requirements in order to find out most recommended solutions to current and future problems. Although it is not a rule, usually a BA is a member of a project team working on development projects aiming at creation of informational systems. Thus, the "solutions" mentioned above are generally expected to be pieces of software delivering certain value; whilst BAs are often expected to be people doing systems analysis and requirements engineering and management in software related projects (often called business systems analysts).

At the same time, Business Process Management Common Body of Knowledge™ (BPM CBOK®) defines BPM as "a disciplined approach to identify, design, execute, document, measure, monitor, and control both automated and non-automated business processes to achieve consistent, targeted results aligned with an organization’s strategic goals"[2]. Although many organizational roles are related to BPM (such as process owner, process analyst, process designer etc.) we will use a generic term business process management practitioner to define a professional in the BPM sphere.

A study conducted by leaders of the industry [3] showed overlaps and gaps within these two fields. They discovered that "whilst there exists a high degree of correlation between the professions, there are also points of uniqueness". At the same time, Harmon from BP Trend says "Business Analysts are well-placed to become the Business process practitioners for the future” [4]

Really, many BAs (especially the most experienced ones) should be familiar with processes. Within the systems development life cycle, a BA typically performs a liaison function between the information technology department or external service providers and the business side of an enterprise. The latter means existing and future business processes as well. However, the BA's role in such projects only partly covers the BPM field. Let us try to reveal, how BA skills are applicable to BPM and which steps a BA should take to transfer their knowledge to a state sufficient to fully enter the BPM sphere.

Applicability of BA's skills to BPM
A BA's skill set is thoroughly covered in BABOK® Guide being divided in six knowledge areas (Business Analysis Planning and Monitoring, Elicitation, Requirements Management and Communication, Enterprise Analysis, Requirements Analysis, Solution Assessment and Validation) plus a set of supporting techniques.

Ultimately every knowledge area (KA) may be utilized in the sphere of BPM (being divided into the following eight areas: Business Process Management, Process Modeling, Process Analysis, Process Design, Process Performance Measurement, Process Transformation, Process Organization, Enterprise Process Management).

Business Analysis Planning and Monitoring is the KA that "covers how business analysts determine which activities are necessary in order to complete a business analysis effort"[1]. Being a subpart of a more general area of planning and monitoring it gives a valuable understanding of how activities to define needed work products and deliver them on time are planned. This may be widely used while planning work on BPM initiatives (i.e. plan modeling, analysis, design, performance measurement and transformation of processes), monitoring its status, negotiating resources needed. On the other hand, the ability to measure participants’ performance against predefined plans is vital for Process Performance Management.

Elicitation describes "how business analysts work with stakeholders to identify and understand their needs and concerns, and understand the environment in which they work"[1]. Ability to elicit well is vital for proper Process Design; as a matter of fact process specification (a result of process design) is not more than a coherent and holistic set of requirements to how the work should be done (goals achieved and value delivered). Another application of elicitation lays in Process Analysis. Process Analysis is about "creating an understanding of the activities of the process"[2]. Being accomplished through various techniques it often includes a study of the business environment and factors that contribute to or interact with the environment. Thus, it may be significantly supported by the ability to reveal a real picture of what is going on and the true needs of business.

Requirements Management and Communication describes "how business analysts manage conflicts, issues and changes in order to ensure that stakeholders and the project team remain in agreement on the solution scope, how requirements are communicated to stakeholders, and how knowledge gained by the business analyst is maintained for future use"[1]. If we believe that a process specification may be treated as a requirements package (describing requirements to black box of higher level than informational system – to organizational system), than each and every step of this KA is fully applicable to it.

Enterprise Analysis "describes how business analysts identify a business need, refine and clarify the definition of that need, and define a solution scope that can feasibly be implemented by the business"[1]. This KA covers problem definition and analysis, business case development, feasibility studies, and the definition of solution scope which is beneficial for every process transformation initiative meaning the planned evolution of a business process. Such evolution may be conducted in forms of improvement of existing process or complete redesign of it. Both attitudes will benefit from clear definition of needs, capability gaps, solution scope and vindicated feasibility of an initiative. Clear understanding of desired outcomes and needs may be of indirect value to any other aspect of BPM.

Requirements Analysis describes "how business analysts prioritize and progressively elaborate stakeholder and solution requirements in order to enable the project team to implement a solution that will meet the needs of the sponsoring organization and stakeholders"[1]. BA professionals are capable of analyzing elicited needs in order to define solutions that most fully address them, i.e. they are best to fulfill the tasks of Process Modeling, Design and Transformation.

Solution Assessment and Validation describes how proposed solutions may be assessed to determine which solution best fits the business need. It includes identifying gaps and shortcomings in solutions, and determining necessary workarounds or changes to the solution. All these skills are of high importance for measuring process performance and process analysis, as the latter means not only "creating an understanding of the activities of the process” as stated above, but also “measuring the success of those activities in meeting the goals"[2] . Ability to develop transition requirements may be additionally beneficial to tasks of Business Process Transformation KA.

Furthermore, BABOK® gives a pervasive overview of a BA's soft skills in chapter called Underlying Competencies. These are key competencies needed to:

  1. See the forest for the trees and reveal best possible solutions to real problems

  2. Establish and maintain positive working environment and the atmosphere of trust between stakeholders

  3. Encourage people to do their best in achieving common goals

  4. Manage communication and expectations

  5. Understand business domain of an organization

Although BPM CBOK® does not cover underlying competencies of BPM practitioners, obviously no BPM professional may succeed without these skills.

As for KA Business Process Management of BPM CBOK®, it reveals basic concepts and definitions of BPM and thus may be familiar to most BAs. However, it is highly recommended to study it once again in order to structure existing knowledge in the field and familiarize with specific definitions.

Table 1 summarizes all of these thoughts, showing which BA knowledge area may contribute to which of BPM knowledge area.

Table 1. Contribution of BA KAs to BPM KAs

Table 1. Contribution of BA KAs to BPM KAs

Main steps to take
The main thing to do for a BA to try oneself in process management is to start thinking broader and taking into account the whole company and its functioning, not only the informational systems perspective. If we look at the Enterprise architecture framework (figure 1), most BAs work in level 3 (and partly - 2 and 4) of it, while all of them should be considered by a successful BPM practitioner (since BPM aims to merge both organization and technology concepts). BAs in their work study more or less all of the aspects of Enterprise architecture, but their solutions are usually limited to level 3.

Figure 1. Levels of enterprise architecture.

Figure 1. Levels of enterprise architecture. Adapted from [5]

This broadening of mind may be an easy or hard endeavor to do; still it is the first and main step in entering BPM field.

We would distinguish the following steps of transferring from BA to BPM.

First, as it was stated before, one should start thinking wider than their projects' or organizational role's limits are. At these step it is critical to understand, whether all those processes are interesting and intriguing enough to go there, if not - just keep doing what you do (if you like it) or look for other opportunities.

But if questions of composition and operation of business as a whole (or department as a whole) and cross-organizational and cross-departmental interactions appeal to you, it is a good starting point for investigating into the BPM field. It may be helpful to try some introductory level books to get the general overview of the profession and corresponding tasks. There are plenty of fundamental level writings on this field, simple searching through amazon.com may help.

After some general understanding is gained it is high time to try something in practice. For a BA it is usually comparatively easy. For example one may try to start their own investigation by examining as-is processes (even if it is not part of the project management methodology used in their company or if it is out of scope of the business analysts' job there). Then stick to to-be processes as a source of requirements. Practice in modeling those processes in different notations to highlight different aspects, such as: value added, roles and responsibilities, underlying systems. Try to use process diagrams in your requirements documentation and while communicating with your stakeholders (if you do not use them yet, of course).

After that, try to master your understanding of BPM by reading more advanced books. Study BPM CBOK® as a source of global BPM overview. Identify gaps in your BPM knowledge and concentrate on eliminating them. It is most possible, that most gaps will be found in the fields of Enterprise Process Management and Process Organization, as their gist lies further away from general BA’s role. Additionally, for the BA role defined by BABOK® such things as enterprise architecture and business process assets are considered as pre-created inputs; so studying the way they are created may bring additional knowledge. Free webinars or paid trainings may be of much help here. Additionally, it is preferable to study process modeling notations in details (usually a BA has at least general knowledge of process and organizational modeling, but it is vital to be absolutely confident in at least one of them).

It could be great to try one or several BPM related projects as a BA or combining roles of a BA and a BPM practitioner. For example, you can volunteer to create a description of your department's operations in order to increase transparency of work and understand stakeholders' needs better. That will both benefit your work as a BA and train your BPM related skills.

Finally, when you feel you are ready, go to your boss and state your willingness to change the field. If the company values you and sees that you are suitable for such a position (by your preliminary work), you'll have a chance. Otherwise - there are lots of HRs willing to get bonuses. Just try to show your gained knowledge in the field and stress your process oriented activities in your previous BA job both in your resume and during the interview (it should be easy, if you followed all these steps). In any case, I recommend being fair with your current employer and informing them about your decision to change field in advance.

Conclusion
Concluding, a BA’s skill set and experience is a great starting point for a BPM career. Ultimately every knowledge area of a Business Analyst may be utilized in the BPM sphere. What needs to be done is:

  1. Decide if this is really what you want

  2. Start thinking broader than you are expected to

  3. Start reading specialized literature

  4. Utilize new knowledge in current work - for a BA it must be easy

  5. Go for a BPM vacancy


Author: Igor Arkhipov, CBAP.

Igor holds M.Sc. degree in Business Informatics specializing in Business Processes Modeling and Optimization. Igor gained broad experience as Business Analyst in the e-commerce field while working in different spheres, such as internet advertising, internet auctions, deal-of-the-day service. Currently he works as a Business Process Manager at Kaspersky Lab. 

Igor can be found on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/igarkhipov


References:

  1. International Institute of Business Analysis, “A Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge® (BABOK® Guide)”, Version 2.0 (2009) ISBN-13: 978-0-9811292-1-1

  2. Association of Business Process Management Professionals, “Guide to the Business Process Management Common Body of Knowledge (ABPMP BPM CBOK®)”, Version 2.0 (2009) ISBN-13: 978-1442105669

  3. Paul Mathiesen, Wasana Bandara, Houra Delavari, Paul Harmon, and Kevin Brennan. “A comparative analysis of business analysis BA and business process management BPM capabilities”, ECIS, (2011)

  4. Paul Harmon, “BPM and Business Analysts” Web-resource http://www.bptrends.com/publicationfiles/advisor20100629.pdf (2010) (date of reference 2013-01-13)

  5. Andrey Slyusarenko, Aleksandr Danilin, “Architecture and strategy. "Yin" and "Yang" of information technology companies / Arkhitektura i strategiya "In" i "Yan" informatsionnykh tekhnologiy predpriyatiya - ("Arkhitektor informatsionnykh sistem")”, INTUIT (2005) ISBN-13: 978-5955600451 (Russian)





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