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Identifying, Tracking and Validating Assumptions

The primary role of a business analyst in a project is to elicit, analyze and document requirements related to the solution being developed. Business Analysts thus get immersed in requirements spending a bulk of their time in a project on requirements management related tasks.  Requirements as per the BABOK® are of 4 main types namely, Business Requirements, Stakeholder Requirements, Solution Requirements and Transition Requirements. The business analyst primarily focuses on getting the functional and non-functional requirements of the solution right as those types of requirements create the highest amount of value for the stakeholders. The effect from the context Businesses operate within a certain context. The context consists of the external and internal environment with different interacting entities each with different requirements, interests and impact levels. The context thus creates limitations in various forms and creates problems or opportunities to be addressed through solutions. The problems or opportunities are the actual needs of the business that needs to be satisfied.   The business context is complex with a lot of turmoil and undergoes constant change. This uncertainty results in difficulties with regards to eliciting, analyzing and documenting the exact need. Information required may not be accurate, complete and even not readily available resulting in the BA having to make appropriate ‘assumptions’. What are Assumptions? The BABOK® defines Assumptions as factors that are believed to be true but are not confirmed yet.  The business analyst is responsible for identifying and managing product-related assumptions whereas the project manager is responsible for the project-related assumptions. The Business Analyst must identify all assumptions that may have even a minuscule amount of impact on the product.  Working with the unknown Part of the business analyst’s role is to work with unknowns. It is an intriguing role and at the same time can be a nightmare. The BA must first list down these unknowns as assumptions, track them and manage them when these loose ends become clear. Assumptions when becoming clear might impact even the entire solution. It is the business analyst’s responsibility to manage this progress ensuring that business objectives are being met. Numerous case studies have established that Certified Business Analysis Professionals are capable of handling the end-to-end processes pertaining to managing assumptions and analysing their impacts.  With time when more requirements are elicited, analyzed, modeled and documented and when more stakeholders get involved in clarifying doubts these placeholders called assumptions may become an actual requirement in the solution. The solution evolves as and when assumptions become clearer.  How to better identify and manage assumptions? Identifying assumptions is a challenge. There are no proven methods for identifying assumptions and mostly it is to do with the intuition and experience of the business analyst. The BA must think out-of-the-box to identify all possible scenarios thus working towards identifying as many assumptions as possible. For example, a business analyst with domain expertise will be able to quickly identify assumptions pertaining to a solution being developed for the banking and finance domain. These assumptions even may be with regards to functionality, business or validation rules. Another great way to identify assumptions is through reverse engineering. The business analyst in collaboration with the development and QA teams can study the solution designs, code and test cases to identify great assumptions that may end up being important and cool features of the solution. For example, the latest technology trends of mobility, Robotics, IoT etc provide great opportunities for innovation. These may start off as high-level assumptions but end up becoming a groundbreaking feature in the future. The Business Analyst must document assumptions along with the associated attributes. These attributes include identified date, owner, impact, associated risk and any other information. Assumptions most often will accompany functional or non-functional requirements. It is thus important to clearly document the dependencies so that future impact can be properly managed. The business analyst must closely manage assumptions primarily with regards to the potential risk and the possible impact it poses. Assumptions carrying high risk with high impact must be closely monitored with moderate to low risk and impact items being managed less diligently. The BA must periodically assess each assumption and check whether it is still valid and whether it is still in line with the business context or the need. Assumptions over time may become invalid and thus be not in line with the business objectives. Such assumptions may be removed or deprioritized and be periodically monitored as required.  The BA is responsible for reporting on these assumptions and in keeping relevant stakeholders informed. The project manager and sponsor especially must always be kept informed, as assumptions when true may have a big impact on the triple constraints of the project. The timelines, budget, and scope of the project may get affected as a result of certain assumptions becoming true and these must be closely managed to ensure project success. Conclusion Assumptions are an important component of business analysis effort. If assumptions are identified and managed properly they can have a positive impact on the project. The business analysts role in identifying, documenting and managing assumptions is pivotal to the success of the project. Learn more about assumptions and associated risks by going through the YouTube video accessible from the link below.
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Identifying, Tracking and Validating Assumptions

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Identifying, Tracking and Validating Assumptions

The primary role of a business analyst in a project is to elicit, analyze and document requirements related to the solution being developed. Business Analysts thus get immersed in requirements spending a bulk of their time in a project on requirements management related tasks. 

Requirements as per the BABOK® are of 4 main types namely, Business Requirements, Stakeholder Requirements, Solution Requirements and Transition Requirements. The business analyst primarily focuses on getting the functional and non-functional requirements of the solution right as those types of requirements create the highest amount of value for the stakeholders.

The effect from the context

Businesses operate within a certain context. The context consists of the external and internal environment with different interacting entities each with different requirements, interests and impact levels. The context thus creates limitations in various forms and creates problems or opportunities to be addressed through solutions. The problems or opportunities are the actual needs of the business that needs to be satisfied.
 
The business context is complex with a lot of turmoil and undergoes constant change. This uncertainty results in difficulties with regards to eliciting, analyzing and documenting the exact need. Information required may not be accurate, complete and even not readily available resulting in the BA having to make appropriate ‘assumptions’.

What are Assumptions?

The BABOK® defines Assumptions as factors that are believed to be true but are not confirmed yet.  The business analyst is responsible for identifying and managing product-related assumptions whereas the project manager is responsible for the project-related assumptions. The Business Analyst must identify all assumptions that may have even a minuscule amount of impact on the product. 

Working with the unknown

Part of the business analyst’s role is to work with unknowns. It is an intriguing role and at the same time can be a nightmare. The BA must first list down these unknowns as assumptions, track them and manage them when these loose ends become clear. Assumptions when becoming clear might impact even the entire solution. It is the business analyst’s responsibility to manage this progress ensuring that business objectives are being met.

Numerous case studies have established that Certified Business Analysis Professionals are capable of handling the end-to-end processes pertaining to managing assumptions and analysing their impacts. 

With time when more requirements are elicited, analyzed, modeled and documented and when more stakeholders get involved in clarifying doubts these placeholders called assumptions may become an actual requirement in the solution. The solution evolves as and when assumptions become clearer. 

How to better identify and manage assumptions?

Identifying assumptions is a challenge. There are no proven methods for identifying assumptions and mostly it is to do with the intuition and experience of the business analyst. The BA must think out-of-the-box to identify all possible scenarios thus working towards identifying as many assumptions as possible. For example, a business analyst with domain expertise will be able to quickly identify assumptions pertaining to a solution being developed for the banking and finance domain. These assumptions even may be with regards to functionality, business or validation rules.

Another great way to identify assumptions is through reverse engineering. The business analyst in collaboration with the development and QA teams can study the solution designs, code and test cases to identify great assumptions that may end up being important and cool features of the solution. For example, the latest technology trends of mobility, Robotics, IoT etc provide great opportunities for innovation. These may start off as high-level assumptions but end up becoming a groundbreaking feature in the future.

The Business Analyst must document assumptions along with the associated attributes. These attributes include identified date, owner, impact, associated risk and any other information. Assumptions most often will accompany functional or non-functional requirements. It is thus important to clearly document the dependencies so that future impact can be properly managed.

The business analyst must closely manage assumptions primarily with regards to the potential risk and the possible impact it poses. Assumptions carrying high risk with high impact must be closely monitored with moderate to low risk and impact items being managed less diligently. The BA must periodically assess each assumption and check whether it is still valid and whether it is still in line with the business context or the need. Assumptions over time may become invalid and thus be not in line with the business objectives. Such assumptions may be removed or deprioritized and be periodically monitored as required. 

The BA is responsible for reporting on these assumptions and in keeping relevant stakeholders informed. The project manager and sponsor especially must always be kept informed, as assumptions when true may have a big impact on the triple constraints of the project. The timelines, budget, and scope of the project may get affected as a result of certain assumptions becoming true and these must be closely managed to ensure project success.

Conclusion

Assumptions are an important component of business analysis effort. If assumptions are identified and managed properly they can have a positive impact on the project. The business analysts role in identifying, documenting and managing assumptions is pivotal to the success of the project.

Learn more about assumptions and associated risks by going through the YouTube video accessible from the link below.

Rumesh

Rumesh Wijetunge

Chief Innovation Officer - Zaizi Limited, Chief Operating Officer - LearntIn (Pvt) Ltd., Director /

Rumesh is an IT business leader with over 12 years of industry experience as a business analyst and project manager. He is currently the CIO of Zaizi Limited, a UK based data management company heading the operations in Sri Lanka, the COO of LearntIn, a global training institute based in Sri Lanka and is also a lecturer / trainer at multiple private universities on management, IT, business analysis and project management subjects. He is the current president of the IIBA Sri Lanka chapter and is one of the most qualified and sought after trainers in Sri Lanka. Refer his LinkedIn profile for more details and to see more articles he has written on linkedin

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Underlying Competencies for Business Analysts

Business Analysts play a pivotal role in digital transformation projects carried out by organizations. BAs are thus expected to have knowledge about key concepts of business analysis and be skilled in using different tools and techniques for eliciting, analyzing and managing requirements. In order to facilitate the five core responsibilities of business analyst and communicating requirements and in evaluating solutions, the BA is expected to have a set of competencies.  BABOK® defines 6 key groups of competencies that a BA is expected to possess. Each competency group constitutes of multiple sub competencies which are as discussed below. 1) Analytical Thinking & Problem Solving The BA must be able to understand and decipher requirements elicited and be able to devise solutions to overcome problems faced by customers. These are fundamental thinking skills where the individual works on breaking down the large problem into smaller, more manageable parts. The BA must logically reason and make judgments based on evidence and assumptions. This competency group consists of the following competencies. Creative Thinking A BA is expected to look at needs of stakeholders thinking from different perspectives and suggest unorthodox solutions. Creative thinking may be facilitated through brainstorming, mind mapping and lateral thinking. It is important for the BA to be a creative thinker as he is expected to be a change agent who facilitates innovation in an organizational context. Decision Making Decision-making ability in the context of business analysis refers to the analyst’s ability to make selection of a course of action or to be able to facilitate such a thinking process. It is a cognitive process where the BA must guide key stakeholders in making decisions by providing adequate and accurate amount of information in a format suitable for making necessary comparison of options. The BA may need to make decisions on which tools or techniques to use, which stakeholders to consult, which solution options to take and so on. Learning The BA is not expected to be ‘A master of all trades’. The BA must instead be able to listen, observe, learn and understand whatever is required to facilitate the process of providing solutions for problems and opportunities. Problem Solving Often BAs are expected to face many a problem during the lifetime of a project. A BAs role is to understand customer problems and be able to recommend suitable solutions. Problems solving requires mental skills that must be analytical as well as creative.  Systems Thinking Systems do not refer only to software systems. In system thinking, the BA is expected to consider every element in the context within scope as an interacting system when determining solution options. Hence, the software system being developed or the process being studies, stakeholders interested or impacted, interfacing systems, elements in the environment all form the context. The BA is expected to look at this bigger picture when performing his or her tasks. 2) Behavioral Characteristics Ethics A BA becomes a powerful individual within a project context, as he or she gains access to processes and information that may even be highly sensitive to a particular organization or stakeholders. The BA is thus expected to hold highest regard to the security and safety of accessing or using such information thus working with the highest level of integrity. Personal Organization BAs are often deployed to work in high-pressure environments. They are expected to liaise with multiple stakeholders, facilitating high value workshops to elicit requirements and then produce documents listing down the findings. In order to produce the requisite deliverables on time and to the expected level of quality it is imperative that a BA is self-organized and meticulous in his or her way of work. Trustworthiness Organizations and stakeholders provide access to information, systems and other high value assets sometimes even placing their entire business at risk. The BA is thus expected to uphold the trust placed on him by the stakeholders and ensure that due diligence is given in defining and devising solutions to satisfy customer needs. 3) Business Knowledge  Business Principles & Practices Business principles and practices are characteristics that are common across all organizations with a similar purpose and structure. Functions and capabilities such as HR, Finance, IT, Marketing & Sales that are needed by any organization are examples of such practices. Although not mandatory, it is good for a BA to be familiar with such practices so that they can consult and advise customers with relevant requirements. Industry Knowledge Many a competitive force shapes industries. BAs are required to understand these forces such as competitors, suppliers, buyers, substitutes etc. so that they can identify commonalities and differences that may influence business requirements. Organizational Knowledge Organizational knowledge refers to an understanding of the business architecture of the organization being analyzed. This includes understanding the business model adapted by the organization, the structure and relationships in place, people, data, technology and other aspects of the organization in place. Enterprise analysis frameworks such as ZACHMAN and POLDAT help in this case. Solution Knowledge Business analysts must attempt to relate and apply learning from other projects or programs to solve current business problems at hand without re-inventing the wheel. Hence, an understanding and familiarity of existing solutions (custom made or commercially available) gives BAs an added advantage. 4) Communication Skills Oral Communication It is important for a BA to be able to verbally express ideas, information or other matters. In addition to be able to express thoughts in a clear manner, the BA must also be able to actively listen to ensure that ideas generated by stakeholders are clearly understood. Teaching Business analysts are expected to communicate requirements to team members and provide guidance on scope. Thus they must train to be good teachers who are capable of understanding different learning capabilities of individuals and be able to adapt and customize learning material and experience accordingly. The BA must be able to cater to auditory or visual learners with appropriate use of training material. Written Communication Proper command over language in terms of vocabulary, grammar and style and use of other terms is essential to ensure that written text is correctly and adequately understood. 5) Interaction Skills Facilitation & Negotiation A key element of a BA job role is to be able to moderate group discussions and be able to enable participants to effectively articulate their thoughts and ideas. The BA must be able to define a proper process based on the audience and be able to guide the participants along the process so that the session leads to attainment of expected outcomes. Leadership & Influencing The BA’s role in defining and communicating requirements places a key leadership role in any project or group. Hence, the BA is expected to work together with the team in guiding them in terms of project scope, motivating them to reach shared goals and objectives for the team as well as the client stakeholders. The BA would be in the best position to be able to discuss sensitive and pertinent matters with the sponsor, client stakeholders, users as well as the implementation team and be able to guide them in the decision making process. Teamwork Business analysts are most often than not part of a team. It may be a project team, a team of SMEs or sometimes even as part of a client stakeholder team. The BA is expected to be having good skills in developing personal relationships, avoid conflicts and be able to work towards a common end goal. 6) Software Applications General Purpose Applications A business analyst is expected to have knowledge in applications that help carry out day-to-day project tasks. This includes MS Office suite, requirements management tools such as JIRA, communication tools such as Skype, Email client etc. Specialized Applications The BA must also be capable in using specialized tools such as document management systems, content management systems, sales force automation systems etc. which are built specifically for different purposes. This may depend on project requirements. So, if you want to become a successful BA it is necessary that you attempt to be competent in some or all of the above areas. Here're the top 5 reasons to start your career as business analyst  
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Why CCBA Certification Is Must For Business Analysts

Professional business analysts, seeking formal certification of their business analysis skills, can pursue the Certification of Competency in Business Analysis (CCBA) course that is offered by the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA). Business analysts, who pursue the CCBA course, gain a certified recognition for their wide experience in the field of business analysis, and certify their ability to assume greater professional responsibility. About IIBA Founded in 2003, the IIBA serves the purpose of promoting the careers of business analysts around the world. This organization has over 100 chapters around the world and over 27,000 members. The IIBA created the Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK guide), which defines the global standards for the practise of business analysis. It reflects the collective knowledge of the community of business analysts, along with the accepted business practises. The BABOK guide defines 6 knowledge areas, specific to the field of business analysis, namely: 1. Business analysis planning and monitoring, which detail the tasks of a business analyst, used for organizing and coordination. 2. Elicitation and collaboration, which detail the tasks required for preparing and conducting elicitation activities. 3. Requirements Life Cycle management, which detail the tasks required to manage requirement and design information through the entire life cycle. 4. Strategy Analysis, which provides details of the tasks required to identify the business needs within an organization, and devise the change strategy for business. 5. Requirement Analysis and Design definition, which detail the tasks used for requirement organization, model design, information verification and validation, solution options, and estimating the final business potential. 6. Solution Evaluation, which detail the tasks used for assessing the performance of a solution, along with recommendations for improvements. About the CCBA course Business analysts, seeking the CCBA certification course, can only qualify for the examination if they meet the following prerequisites: • Possess a work experience of at least 3750 hours (as stipulated in the BABOK guide) over the past 7 years. • Possess knowledge of all the 6 knowledge areas, defined in the BABOK guide. Of these 6, the applicant must be highly proficient in at least 2 of the areas (with over 900 hours of experience), and 500 hours of work experience in the remaining 4 knowledge areas. • A minimum of 21 hours in professional development in the past 4 years. • Must possess at least high school education or any equivalent certificate. • Professional reference letters from work manager, client, or a recipient of the Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP) certification. • Must agree to the CCBA code of ethical conduct and professional standards, which includes abiding by the exam testing rules and policies, prohibited conduct on the use of examination notes during the testing period, and maintaining the confidentiality of the CCBA exam contents. Available in English and Japanese languages, the CCBA examination is a computer-based test and can be taken from any part of the world. Benefits of the CCBA certification CCBA certification benefits offers not only to the business analyst (BA) being certified, but also to the BA’s organization. Listed below are the benefits for the business analyst: • Achieve certified competence in the principles and practices of business analysis. • Formal recognition of the professional competence of the business analyst. • Advances the career potential for the individual, as a recognized BA practitioner. • Higher range of employee remuneration due to the formal recognition of the business analyst. Business analysts with CCBA certification earn an average salary of USD 82,000, which is around 10% higher than business analysts with no certification. • Increase in professional opportunities for the certified BA. • Ensures a path of continuous improvement and upgrading in business analysis skills, in order to maintain the certification. • Improvement in individual performance and motivation. Additionally, here are some benefits for the organization, as well: • Advancing the careers of its staff including the business analyst. • Demonstration of industry-standard business analysis practices for the company customers and investors. • Effective implementation of business analysis skills (as outlined in the BABOK guide) within the organization. • Higher quality and efficiency of results by BA professionals, certified by an industry-accepted standard. • Commitment to the field of business analysis, and recognizing its importance in any business field. • Organizations, interested in Capability maturity model (CMM) integration, can benefit from the process improvement guidelines, as specified in the BABOK guide. These guidelines can upgrade the quality of projects from ad-hoc to managed levels. Advanced certification In addition to the CCBA certification, IIBA also offers the Certified Business Analysis Professional -CBAP certification to recognize and certify business analysts with 10 or more years of experience in this field. Eligibility for this certification includes 7,500 hours of work experience and high proficiency level in 4 of the 6 knowledge areas, as prescribed in the BABOK guide.
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The Business Analysis Core Concept Model (BACCM)

The Business Analysis Core Concept Model™ (BACCM™) is a conceptual framework for business analysis outlined in the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge® Guide (BABOK® Guide). The Guide defines business analysis as “the practice of enabling change in an enterprise by defining needs and recommending solutions that deliver value to stakeholders”. Business analysis encompasses a wide range of skills, knowledge, and tasks that may vary in form, order, or importance for individual business analysts or for various initiatives within an organization. The purpose of BACCM™ is to provide a common conceptual framework to business analysts so that they can perform and discuss their work in a common terminology that is independent of perspective, industry, methodology, or their levels in the organization. Additionally, the BACCM helps business analysts perform better business analysis by holistically evaluating the relationships among these six concepts and also by evaluating the impact of these concepts and relationships at any point during a project in order to establish both a foundation and a path forward. The BACCM consists of six core concepts: Change, Need, Solution, Stakeholder, Value, and Context. All core concepts are equally important and necessary. There is no ranking among these - no single concept holds greater importance or significance over any other concept. Each core concept is defined by and dependent on the other five core concepts and cannot be fully understood until all the concepts are understood.  Let’s review the six core concepts in detail, along with their definitions as provided by the BABOK Guide: 1) Change: Change is an act of transformation within an organization in response to a need. The need can be internal or necessitated by an external event such as a disruption in the market. The aim of the change is to improve the performance of an enterprise through deliberate actions controlled through business analysis activities. 2) Need: Need is a problem or opportunity to be addressed by the business analyst. Needs can cause changes by motivating stakeholders to act. Changes can also cause needs by eroding or enhancing the value delivered by existing solutions or creating the need for new solutions. 3) Solution: A specific way of satisfying one or more needs in a context. A solution satisfies a need by resolving a problem faced by stakeholders or enabling stakeholders to take advantage of an opportunity. 4) Stakeholder: A group or individual with a relationship to the change, the need, or the solution. Stakeholders are grouped based on their relationship to the needs, changes, and solutions. 5) Value: The worth, importance, or usefulness of something to a stakeholder within a context. Value can be tangible or intangible. Examples of tangible values are potential or realized returns, gains, and improvements. Intangible value often has a significant motivational component, such as a company's reputation or employee morale. 6) Context: The circumstances that influence, are influenced by, and provide understanding of the change. A change always occurs within an environment. A context is a wide-ranging term that can include everything from an organization’s culture, mission, and demographics to government policies, competitors, products and sales. In order to successfully implement the change, the business analyst must carefully define and analyse the context within which the change is being implemented. Let’s consider an example to illustrate the BACCM in more detail. The wave of digitization is transforming many traditional industries. A traditional retail business that operated brick and mortar stores for years must now compete with e-commerce companies that provide the same goods to customers but with additional benefits such as convenience (shop from home), wide range of products and attractive discounts (due to the lower cost business models of e-commerce players). In order to respond to this change in market dynamics, a business analysis task can be performed at a traditional brick and mortar retail store using the BACCM. Here is how the six core concepts may be analysed in this example: 1) Change: Provide e-commerce solutions to customers who prefer shopping online. This will require completely new business processes and functions to fulfil online orders. 2) Need: Rising popularity and market share of e-commerce competitors who directly compete in the marketplace with the company, to attract a growing share of customers, transactions and volume of goods sold. 3) Solution: Depending upon the company’s organizational structure, capabilities and time-sensitive nature of the change, the probable (but not exhaustive) list of solutions could be to implement an IT project that enables the organization to set up its own e-commerce store, partner with existing e-commerce players to use their infrastructure for order fulfilment or acquire an existing e-commerce player and merge it with the company’s existing operations. 4) Stakeholder: The stakeholders, in this case, are almost from all functional areas – sales, marketing, IT, HR and Operations – within the organization. 5) Value: The tangible value, in this case, can be increase in sales and increase (or maintaining) the company’s market share. The intangible value can include transforming the organization to a digital future, introduction of new talent and ideas. 6) Context: The context for this proposed change can be the growing market share and popularity of e-commerce players, changing demographic profile of the customers, improvements in the digital infrastructure in the country, entry of foreign players in the market and easier government regulations towards setting up of e-commerce companies.  
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