Establishing a Business Analysis Community of Practice, Part 4


Creativity and Vision

Part 1 of this series describes the components a BA CoP should optimally include.
Part 2 outlines the initial four steps that need to be taken to get your BA CoP up and running.
Part 3 examines the ten most common reasons why BA CoPs fail.
Part 4 envisions a new way of looking at a BA CoP.

Babies and BAs go through four stages, as they open their eyes and see
In Stage 1 with eyes closed, BAs are blind to their organization's mess: "A corporation's mess is the future implied by its and its environment's current behavior. Every system contains the seeds of its own deterioration and destruction." 1

In Stage 2, as their eyes begin to open, BAs see in black and white: a single process step, template or isolated requirement. They notice people and projects blurring around them. They don't yet have the ability to view their company as a system, or perceive the customer or the product being sold.

In Stage 3, the mobile movement of the outside world attracts and delights them: industries, methodologies, collaborations and emerging trends. They can perceive the face of the customer in color, beyond the rattling use case or Excel cell.

They realize, in amazement, that the customer is not a babysitter, business area or CIO, but a real person buying a real product. They see they are in a community within a System:

"Systems theory and systems thinking suggest that the system as a whole will have properties, behaviors and characteristics that emerge from the interaction of the components of the system, and which are not predictable from an understanding of the components alone. In the context of systems theory, the term "system" is much broader than an IT system-it also includes the people involved, the interactions between them, the external forces affecting their behavior, and all other relevant elements and factors." 2

In Stage 4, they strengthen their muscles: the analytical and creative skills used to facilitate organizational futures and protect their parent enterprise in this new economic climate. "The primary goal of an enterprise is to survive. This means that its strategy must be robust. It is only after this has been secured that one can move on to consider new business opportunities." 3

BAs clearly see a community and System that they can shape, change and transform. They look and are able to see, the new frontier of the BA CoP.

Organizational Blindness and its Cure
BAs operate in an organizational paradox, which can be described as the "bi-polar Enterprise."

Companies have conflicts between what they genuinely need to do to attain their long term goals, and what they actually do in the emotional exigencies of the short-term moment:

  • Wanting to focus on knowledge management, while senior employees with the most knowledge in their domain are laid off.

  • Attempting to reduce costs, while losing critical in-house knowledge through outsourcing. (Which results in increased costs, less in-house capabilities, and a competitive disadvantage, as the laid off knowledge base goes to work for a competitor.)

  • Expecting successful projects, while being unable to make the right decisions and intervene, when it's obvious that multi-million dollar projects are failing. "Of the IT projects that are initiated, from 5 to 15 percent will be abandoned before or shortly after delivery as hopelessly inadequate. Many others will arrive late and over budget or require massive reworking. Few IT projects, in other words, truly succeed." 4

Poor short-term decision-making sabotages long-term strategic goals.

This paradox and bi-polar nature of organizations is caused by senior-level decision makers who are disconnected from their employees, their customers and their societal environments. The world is now experiencing the results of a Dictatorship of poor decisions.

To adequately address the problems facing us, we have to tackle decision-making at its root. The solution is a decentralized, holistic, democratic Systems view: "Either all those who are directly affected by a decision, the decision's stakeholders, or representatives they select, should be involved in making that decision." 5

Organizations have to be courageous enough to look at themselves honestly, and be open to decision-making at every level: "Agility - Every employee is able to readily contribute to the early detection of internal and external trends and respond with speed" 6

In other words, a Community of Practice should be a feedback mechanism that detects and responds to internal and external trends, and participates in decision-making through the:

  • Ability to foresee technological developments

  • Ability to take advantage of emerging market opportunities

  • Capacity to develop new strategic options

  • Ability to execute a strategic plan 7

This produces genuine long-term value, rather than the appearance of value through a manipulated balance sheet. "Communities that are aligned with a strategic purpose can make a significant contribution to creating an organization's competitive advantage." 8

The Light at the End of the Tunnel
IT methodology is new. Mature scientific disciplines like chemistry, biology and medicine have centuries of theory, research and practice behind them. Because IT methodology is only a few decades old, and our eyes are still half-closed, we continue to have the billion-dollar project failures that have made IT notorious.

A top-down approach which works well in a military or government setting, does not work when flexible thinking and creativity are required. A CoP must go beyond reacting to methodologies, to identifying problems and generating solutions. In Cultivating Communities of Practice, Wenger writes, "Knowledge has become the key to success." 9 In addition to knowledge, vision and creativity are thekeys to corporate success in this new Recovering world.

Vision helps us see beyond the Dictatorship of poor decisions, the tyranny of methodology and the anarchy and lawlessness of cowboy coding.

Creativity explores the unknown. "Creativity involves producing decisions that are not expected." 10 (Poor decisions are always expected.)Creativity is an essential part of the learning and participation that are core activities of Communities of Practice - generating ideas; passing knowledge from person to person; engaging teams and fostering collaboration.

A recent example of a creative method which addresses and solves real business needs is Agile/Scrum. A traditional waterfall requirements process can cause dangerously long project delays, and the delivered application is often far removed from the original business intention. The Agile solution is collaborative, iterative direct work with the business customer/owner, who provides design input throughout the development process.

There's no reason that a CoP can't identify and creatively solve similar problems. "The real value of the community is realized through its ability to innovate - to move the practice forward." 11 In this sense, the CoP functions as an organizational brain, strategically thinking about needs inside and outside of the enterprise, absorbing and assimilating information as it passes through the permeable membranes of a company's walls.

In a world of new information, how do we harvest it, bring it back inside the system, and apply it in new ways? By being fluid, flexible and aware (essential in this economy). What if a CoP didn't merely take tools, techniques, strategies and methods from others, but invented new tools and new ways of documenting, analyzing and modeling? As the Agile Manifesto suggests, "At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly." 12

Since "process" can have a negative connotation, let's call this a "Framework for Getting Things Done":

  • Locally solving problems, rather than waiting for problems to be solved by others.

  • Reshaping an organization from the bottom up, rather than from the top down.

  • Optimizing CoP structure for the specific organization in which it lives and breathes.

  • Inventing a methodology tailored to specific business needs.

  • Sharing creativity, vision and decision-making in a Community of Practice.


  1. Russell L. Ackoff, Creating the Corporate Future, John Wiley & Sons, 1981

  2. International Institute of Business Analysis, A Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge® (BABOK® Guide) Version 2.0,

  3. Ulf Pillkahn, Using Trends and Scenarios as Tools for Strategy Development, Publicis Corporate Publishing, 2008

  4. Robert N. Charette, Why Software Fails,

  5. Russell L. Ackoff, The Democratic Corporation, Oxford University Press, 1994

  6. Hubert Saint-Onge and Debra Wallace, Leveraging Communities of Practice for Strategic Advantage, Butterworth-Heinemann, 2003

  7. Etienne Wenger, Richard McDermott, William Snyder, Cultivating Communities of Practice, Harvard Business School Press, 2002

  8. Hubert Saint-Onge and Debra Wallace, Leveraging Communities of Practice for Strategic Advantage

  9. Etienne Wenger, Richard McDermott, William Snyder, Cultivating Communities of Practice, Harvard Business School Press, 2002

  10. Russell L. Ackoff, The Democratic Corporation, Oxford University Press, 1994

  11. Hubert Saint-Onge and Debra Wallace, Leveraging Communities of Practice for Strategic Advantage, Butterworth-Heinemann, 2003

  12. Agile Manifesto,

Author: Sam Cherubin is a business analyst, consultant and author. He can be reached on LinkedIn:

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Inger posted on Thursday, January 7, 2010 5:09 PM
Very interesting food for thought – thank you for your article.

As an analyst working in a (State) government setting that oftentimes suffers from the “top-down” approach that you describe here, I can say with utmost certainty that “vision and creativity” are as key to successful government projects as for corporate ones.

In this particular State environment, IT projects must demonstrate an acceptable ROI before they are approved for work to begin. “Flexible thinking and creativity” are utter requirements in this environment where constituent’s (and indeed technical talent’s) needs and expectations are maturing, yet IT budgets are dwindling. A system or project that is mandated by a disconnected senior management (or Board) will never achieve an ROI simply because expected users will simply refuse to use it or will find ways to circumvent it. Similarly, business rules that are set by a business disconnected from the strategy or governmental mandate of an Agency will fail for similar reasons, in addition to possibly failing due to statute (which can lead to expensive lawsuits).

We in government IT departments may not suffer extinction at the hands of competitive advantage if our products are not used, but at the hands of groups that monitor wasteful public fund expenditure.

It is with these constraints that I believe an Agile approach has the opportunity to really shine. Abbreviated and iterative scope helps demonstrate progress and foster customer (in or case, mostly internal user) adoption and championing much more effectively than the “water-itive” approach we currently seem to be muddling through, helping us realize the ROI we claim at the beginning of a project.

Thank you again for your article series!
RH posted on Monday, March 1, 2010 3:23 AM
Part 4 so nicely describes the organisation I work in - a National Health Service public sector healthcare commissioning organisation - even though some of the terminology does not quite map. Particularly apposite are the bits about disconnection between senior policy and decision makers and people who do the work, the tendency to centralise and control everything if things are not quite as they should be. Above all, decision makers believe that what they do is evidence based (as indeed it should be) but, in practice they go with gut feeling - whatever that is - and do not work well with reality. Example: my organisation gave £1 million to the local council to buy grit to put on the roads and pavements during recent severe weather so as to reduce the number of hospital attendances and admissions of older people due to falling on the ice. No evidence for this: in fact, most injuries of this kind occur between people's front door and the waste bin long before they get to the public highway so extra grit would make no difference (attendance and admission data confirm this). Further, in icy weather, fewer people venture out and, when they do, they venture out less often. Evidence available - no connection by decision makers. This approach covers all sorts of stuff and I could go on (and on) but I won't!

Thank you for the article - very enlightening
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