Are You Certifiable?

Thanks to the excellent work of organisations such as the International Institute of Business Analysts, a number of Business Analyst Certifications have recently emerged.  Banter around the water cooler would suggest that there are a number of us out there who are considering certification, but are unsure how we’ll get return on our investment.

There are two organisations which provide programs for BAs in the Australian market which meet my criteria for an acceptable certification, i.e. that they:

  • are governed by an independent body;
  • assess candidates against entry level knowledge requirements;
  • mandate experience in a commercial environment; and,
  • enforce continuous improvement.

These are the International Institute of Business Analysts, which provides the Certificate of Competency in Business Analysis (CCBA) and the Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP), and the Australian Institute of Business Analysts.

I’ve taken a brief vox pop of fellow BAs and I’m going to try and tackle the three most common arguments against certification in this post.

Argument #1:  BAs don’t need to be certified

When you think about some of the older professions, the value of certification is obvious.  Would you trust a surgeon to operate on you if they didn’t at the very least have the right qualifications?  Would you appoint a Chief Financial Officer who wasn’t at the very least a Chartered Certified Accountant?  And yet, if I asked these questions 100 years ago, I would have received vastly different answers.

The Association of Chartered Certified Accounts (ACCA) was formed in 1904 as the “London Association of Accountants”.  It initially comprised of eight(!) accountants who had the admirable goal of allowing more open access to the profession.  The ACCA went through a number of mergers and title changes to become what it is today, an internationally recognised organisation with approximately 150,000 members.

 Comparatively, the IT profession is in its infancy to accountancy, which has been around for hundreds of years.  By derivation, our certification programs are also less mature.  In my opinion this does not diminish the value of certification – in fact, I think it makes it more important.  The presence of more widespread certification program will improve the adoption of standard practices and will help the industry to deliver better outcomes.

Argument #2:  Certification won’t make me better at my job

The CCBA and CBAP are excellent certification programs and the process of certification (whilst somewhat arduous) will certainly make you a better practitioner.  To achieve the CBAP qualification, you’ll need to:

  • Demonstrate that you have at least 5 years of experience (7500 hours “hands on” experience) in the Business Analysis Knowledge Areas;
  • Provide two references demonstrating your suitability for candidacy;
  • Prove that you have undertaken at least 21 hours of accredited professional development in the last three years; and,
  • Successfully pass an examination on the contents Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK).

The BABOK, provided with IIBA membership, provides a fantastic source of reference material, tools and techniques. A Certified Business Analysis Professional needs to abide by a Code of Ethics and needs to renewed every three years demonstrating ongoing professional development.  Not only will certification expand your toolkit with proven, standardised practices, it will also give you added motivation for continuous improvement.  More information can be found on the IIBA’s website.

Argument #3:  I’m going to wait until certification is more prevalent

The origins of medicine are a little cloudy, but history records that practitioners of medicine were first referred to as “Doctors” at the Medical School of Salerno in Southern Italy in ~900 AD.  To attend the five year course, students had to be 21 years of age and had to have studied three years in “in scientia logica” (logic studies).  The course itself included lectures in the teachings of the renowned early physicians Hippocrates and Galen.

Once the course was completed the student was required to practice for a year under the guidance of an experienced physician, providing free medical advice to the poor.  Certification at the Medical School of Salerno was by Roman decree declared a pre-requisite for medical practice in 1221.

Early practitioners of medicine used a variety of techniques that by modern standards seem laughable.  For a more modern example, research the origins of the phrase “don’t blow smoke up my a**”.  Certification has driven medical practitioners to standardise on techniques that were proven to be effective and nowadays you cannot, by law, practice medicine without being certified.

My advice?  Jump on board with BA certification now while it’s in its infancy.  There are already over 1600 certified BAs and you’ll probably find that certification will become a mandatory requirement for some roles in the future.  In the meantime, the strictness of the entry criteria and the costs of certification are only going to increase.

So now that I’ve spent all this time trying to justify certification, it’s probably high time for me to start practicing what I’m preaching.  I hope to see you at a CBAP study group in the near future!

5 comments

  • Andy Marks

    From my perspective (on certification movements in all aspects of the IT industry), I think people look to it for two main reasons:

    #1 The belief that it makes them more employable. I don’t doubt this is probably true in some cases, but employers often value certification highly because they have few other skills for detecting/filtering skilled applicants.

    #2 The belief that it makes them more capable. Whether it does or not is somewhat besides the point, because the question I would ask it…

    – Is certification the only path to improvement? Are there other ways? How does one measure the success of certification in terms of how much they’ve improved?

  • andrew.blain
    andrew.blain

    Hi Andy,

    Great point. I think the CCBA certainly meets the first of your criteria but I’m not sure that it really meets the second. It provides good grounding in business analysis theory but it doesn’t really help with execution (which requires study in practical techniques and coaching from a strong mentor).

    That said, I do get the feeling that the CCBA is going to become more difficult to obtain (and hence more of a path to improvement) once membership and certification numbers hit a critical mass. Plus, I like the fact that you have to prove continuous improvement in order to recertify.

    It’s nowhere near as valuable as an MD or a LLC yet, and unlikely ever will be, but hopefully we’re on the right course. I’d love it if in 30 years we could be building IT systems as efficiently as construction workers build skyscrapers 🙂

    A

  • Peter Leed

    I somewhat agree with this. As someone who does have BA certifications, and am certified to train others in some of these certifications, I would say that it’s an excellent platform for people who are new to a BA role in an organisation. Depending on the level of maturity in the organisation and if the new BA(s) are appropriately mentored of course.

    But, it’s not about getting the certification, it’s more about doing the course.

    The problem I have with certification exams is there are too many trick questions, or questions you need to pretty much guess correctly, so I end up training people how to pass the exam, and not focusing enough on do they understand the techniques that I am trying to teach them.

    The other problem I have with them is they are either a pass or a fail. As the BA certifications cover so many topics there’s no way to determine if a person actually has the skills or knowledge to effectively practice the techniques that they have been learning.

    Personally, I wouldn’t pay for an IT certification (again) out of my own pocket, but they can add value for a growing, or non mature team.

  • andrew.blain
    andrew.blain

    Thanks Peter, great perspective. It would be interesting to know how other bodies have tackled the issue that you raised of instructors training people to pass rather than training people to understand the material. I’d wager that it’s a fairly common problem but one that’s not easily solved.

  • Paul Velonis
    Paul Velonis

    Hi Andy,

    Largely agree with your points for certification in general, especially the Agile certifications that exist in the market today, but I think the CBAP certification are different and to a large extent offer both of the benefits you mention.

    1. Through the test, and the pre-requisite of experience (The CBAP requires 7,500 hours of BA work experience over the last 10 years. The CCBA requires 3,750 hours over the last seven years.) when you employ a CBAP or CCBA you should at the very least be getting a capable and experienced BA.

    2. There seem to be quite a few study groups around town being attended by experienced BAs to upskill their BABOK knowledge so they can sit the exam. This can only be a good think for their personal development and capability.

    I think its a good thing. There are loads of people in the industry masquerading as BAs, and I think something like the IIBA certifications can help employers that can’t tell the difference (and yes, these employers are in the majority).

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