So grow your own…

screenshot_4In my experience, one of the top innovation bottlenecks is a shortage of business analysts (BAs) to queue up projects. BAs handle the time consuming tasks of gathering, documenting, and forging consensus around all the complex requirements of a new product or feature. I’ve yet to see a good BA who isn’t swamped. They are always in demand.

Many companies try to solve this problem by hiring experienced BAs, expecting them to hit the ground running. Unfortunately for everyone involved, this often backfires. The newly hired BA may look good on paper, but he/she is not familiar with what Six Sigma refers to as “tribal knowledge.” That is, the new BA needs time to learn not just the organization’s methods and systems, but also its unwritten rules – the how-to’s of completing tasks, including the political and social aspects. When getting started, the new BA confronts unforeseen roadblocks that cause delays, rework and disappointment by the hiring manager who expected immediate benefit from the new hire. As a result, growing BAs internally rather than hiring them “fully baked” from the outside is a strategy that should be considered to address this shortage.

D-I-Y BA training

In order to grow BAs one needs to establish a method of training them. Many organizations today, however, don’t invest in developing their own talent pipelines, preferring instead to hire what they think are job-ready candidates. But there are cultural elements that cannot be learned on the outside. Thus a do-it-yourself approach to growing BAs could be your answer. The three main steps to doing this are:

  1. Documenting BA activity/workflow
  2. Establishing a clear career path
  3. Obtaining stakeholder buy-in

Through this high-level framework, a company can build a BA talent pipeline that will one day provide integral parts to its innovation engine. In the process, junior resources can help scale the work of senior BAs to get more done.

Step 1: Documenting activities. Many of our customers have found the best way to start a BA pipeline is to break down all the activities done by their senior BA resources, (or developers/engineers, if they are also conducting BA work) and then rank these activities as easy, mid-level or difficult tasks. They then interview senior members of the team to understand what easy activities could be given to junior resources. From there, they can chart a simple workflow that shows juniors their tasks and how these flow back to senior resources for input and approval.

Step 2: Establishing a career path. This step gives the program structure. For example, after a junior BA has completed x number of easy activities well, she/he can move up to performing mid-level activities. The quality and number (or time period) of completing activities should be objective and as explicit as possible. During this process, each junior resource should be assigned to a mentor who can spend 30-60 minutes per week coaching the junior resource. Mentors, in turn, should be people with management aspirations. Junior BAs should be given explicit, public promotions as they move up the ladder of difficulty. Similarly, successful mentors should be publicly rewarded and recognized as well.

Step 3: Obtaining buy-in from stakeholders. The key to making the whole initiative work is getting buy-in from other departments. Think carefully about who has a stake in what you are doing. Then ask, how can those stakeholders contribute training and/or funds to assist in a junior resource development program? For example, someone from Marketing might give a one-hour training session every month on your company’s product roadmap. Or perhaps Human Resources could contribute funds for advanced training seminars. You might be surprised how many of your other stakeholders are willing to provide time or money to help spur innovation and new product development.

Investing in a junior BA program can pay big dividends by giving senior resources more time to concentrate on difficult activities while providing innovation teams with a steady pipeline of good BAs who understand the cultural norms of your “tribe.”  Over the course of a few years, you will find yourself relying less on a few over-extended senior resources while increasing your innovation and new product development.