The term “Communities Of Practice” has not been around for that long in comparison to the word “Community” for sure, and the notion of the latter has been prevalent long before the origins of the word itself. “Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly. Members of a community of practice are practitioners. They develop a shared repertoire of resources: experiences, stories, tools, and ways of addressing recurring problems – in short a shared practice”. Etienne Wenger.
Hasan Lorgat, Director & Principal Consultant
There has been plenty of work done by academics on this subject both from its merits in modern day organisations and plenty of critiques and counter critiques. There are also plenty of scholarly articles on how to establish a business analysis centre of practice.
The purpose of this blog is to share personal experiences and learnings in establishing a BA community for one of my clients, immaterial what a community of practice is formally known as, its history or theory.
At the time of engaging with this particular client, the business analysts were working on individual projects in silos, with little if no interactions, no regular meetings, placed within different business functional areas and IT teams and using a project methodology that had long passed its best before date.
Having engaged with the client at a point when it was acknowledged that there was a gap within the client’s business analysis capability and recognition that business analysis was a strategic enabler, provided an opportunity and catalyst for forming the BA community.
Securing sponsorship and backing from the senior management team was crucial to give the BA Community the legitimacy necessary and ensured business analysis had a voice at the top table.
Having a session to launch the initiative was important; to acknowledge that it was the first step on a long journey, to start the conversation and it provided an opportunity to start getting to know each other. Key questions were addressed during the launch session; why is a BA community needed, what is a BA community and how do we build a BA community. The launch session also agreed regularity and timings of BA community meetings, further discussion points and the need for terms of reference. The launch session was an honest and open discussion, a key to ensuring participation and engagement. The foundation had been laid for the BA community.
The priority soon after the launch session was to define the mission statement for the BA community. A workshop was arranged with all to assist; again ensuring full participation in defining the terms of reference for the BA community was key. The team was divided into groups to brainstorm a number of key fundamental questions; what does good look like, what has/has not worked well, what challenges do BAs face, what support do BAs want and who are our customers. Output from this session formed the basis of the BA charter, the vision, the mission statement and the terms of reference for the BA community.
Producing the BA charter for the BA community was an important milestone, which was shared with the senior management team. Although still in its embryonic stage, with the blessing of the senior management team the BA community was now able to develop, nurture, become stronger and gain momentum in establishing itself and to add value to the projects its members were delivering.
Fortnightly BA community meetings were held for the first six months. This frequency was deliberate; to keep the momentum and interest going and to disseminate information on the changes being introduced to the business analysis activities as a result of the entire IT function adopting a new project framework. The meetings proved invaluable in sharing the new artefacts that were being proposed and how they were to be produced.
Once the new project framework had been introduced the frequency of the BA community meetings changed to monthly, with a theme evolving. Each meeting started off with generic updates from the head of the BA function and then followed by discussion on the agenda items which varied from month to month. Each attendee then provided an update on their individual projects, this proving to be very useful, both as an insight to the portfolio of projects and as a BA community to think at an enterprise level. Each BA community ended with proposals for the agenda for the next meeting. Any actions, decisions etc. and minutes of the meetings from the BA community meetings were documented and tracked.
As the BA community meetings progressed, sub-groups were formed to tackle various actions, to address the various suggestions and work towards building the capabilities that were outlined in the BA charter. With more sub-groups forming a BA roadmap was produced, prioritising the capabilities based on the needs of the BA function. The BA roadmap was another key milestone that was shared with the senior management team, by way of an update as well as further endorsement and recognition.
Every few months the BA community meetings invited a guest speaker from one of the other areas within IT, for example from Enterprise Architecture, PMO or Testing. The purpose of this was for guest speakers to share what work was being done in their areas and what was expected from the BA community. Although not openly accepted, from what the guest speakers witnessed and experienced in terms of a functional and very effective BA community, triggered them to instigate their own communities of practice. A testament to the success of the BA community.
Once the BA community had been running for approximately a year and a number of the capabilities had been introduced or enhanced, a decision was taken to conduct a maturity assessment of the capabilities and the BA charter as a whole. A bespoke maturity model was produced based on industry maturity models. This exercise provided the evidence of the success of the BA community by highlighting the maturity of the capabilities that had been worked on.
The BA community has grown from strength to strength, the BAs have a sense of belonging to a group where they can be heard and are empowered to contribute, challenge and change the way they work. Active participation over eighteen months has fostered a culture of innovation and creativity. The skill set of the BA community has evolved from the traditional foundational skills to more strategic and enterprise level insights. As the confidence of the BA community has increased so has its involvement in pre and post project work and also activities that have not been within their remit traditionally.
In summary, establishing the BA community has helped lift the capabilities of the business analysis activities and influence how the business analysts are perceived. The senior management team’s awareness and trust in the BA community has certainly increased over time. The BA community is recognised equally both within IT and the business functions as adding value to change being delivered and generating better business outcomes.
The founder of The BA Practice, Hasan Lorgat is a successful business analyst from a consulting background. With over 20 years of hands-on experience. 12 of which have been spent operating as a freelance business analyst. He works on large strategic programmes for multiple clients, lately specialising in helping organisations improve their business analysis activities. Hasan is passionate about helping organisations build their business analysis capabilities, laying the foundations for delivering successful change. If your organisation understands the value in having a mature business analysis capability but is overwhelmed with delivering projects, Hasan would love to help.
Copyright, Hasan Lorgat, The BA Practice Ltd