Niall Ridge is a Senior Business Analyst with IMA. Niall also volunteers with the IIBA Melbourne Branch but assures us that, unfortunately, no money was exchanged in the writing of this post.

Niall Ridge is a Senior Business Analyst with IMA. Niall also volunteers with the IIBA Melbourne Branch but assures us that, unfortunately, no money was exchanged in the writing of this post.

Are you a Business Analyst looking to further your career? In this post, Niall Ridge talks about being inducted into the world of business analysis, and the journey to the CBAP certification.

The IIBA and the BABOK

If you’ve been working on projects for any length of time, it’s likely that you’ve come across many different varieties of ‘Business Analyst’ (BA). In some organisations, the term means process mapping and re-engineering, for others it describes someone who gathers and documents requirements for a technical solution, while others use it to refer to the guy (or girl) who does all the things that don’t fall into any other bucket.

This was similar to the dilemma that faced me when I received an internal promotion to my first official ‘Business Analyst’ role – although I’d been assured that I’d be good at it, I didn’t really know what on earth a business analyst was meant to do.

Searching the internet was initially unhelpful – apart from some consensus that a responsibility for eliciting and managing requirements was at the core of the role, opinions seemed to differ wildly on where the boundaries of business analysis lay. It was some relief then, to discover the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) and their attempt to collate a Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK) of business analysis best practices.

The BABOK draws some firm lines around where business analysis activities start and end, grouping them into seven Knowledge Areas. For example, the Enterprise Analysis knowledge area describes tasks to identify new opportunities and take these through to a business case. At the other end of the development cycle, the Solution Assessment and Validation area describes how to ensure a solution meets the objectives defined in that business case.

The CBAP certification

Fast forward to 2010. I had just finished a contract and reached a position where I wanted to consolidate and certify my experience. Looking at training options, I came across the Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP) certification.

Introduced in 2006, the CBAP is the highest certification offered by the IIBA. It is to business analysis what the PMP or PRINCE2 certification is to project management.  However, BA is an emerging field and, as of May 2013, there were just over 2,500 CBAP’s worldwide, compared to 400,000 PMP’s.

Barriers to entry for CBAP certification are also quite high, requiring 7,500 hours of solid BA experience.
From that time in 2010 until achieving certification in early 2013, I pursued a number of paths towards certification, with varying effectiveness as you’ll see below.
Study Resources

Self-paced Online CBAP Course

I initially signed up for an online course through a well known Australian training provider (at no small expense – think $000s). Disappointingly, it just seemed to go through a series of slides covering key BABOK content with an optional voice over to read the slides for you. This gave me a fairly solid overview but I found it a difficult way to learn. Without a group or skilled instructor to place it in context, the BABOK material is very dry.

Also, without the accountability of a group or deadline, it took me a long time to cover the material. When I took on a challenging contract shortly afterwards, I put it on the back burner indefinitely. However, during the interview for the role, the CBAP studies were noted by my new employer – an encouraging sign for those wondering about the value of the certification on their CV.

Facilitated Study Groups

I encountered a more effective approach some time later, when I joined a study group run by the IIBA Melbourne Branch. Each week, over eight weeks, a group would be responsible for presenting on one of the 7 BABOK knowledge areas, followed by discussion and practice exam questions.

The accountability of the group ensured that attendees read the material between sessions, and the short exams gave continuous feedback. This was often a reality check, and the first indication that the exam would require a real in-depth understanding of all parts of the BABOK, even the glossary! I found the experiences of my peers brought the otherwise dry BABOK to life, and I’d certainly recommend the study group approach. Prior to sitting my exam, I facilitated one of these at IMA and found that it probably helped me as much as it did those attending!

 One resource that proved particularly helpful through these sessions was the Watermark study guide. It provides a great summary of the key concepts, and some people report passing the exam through reading this alone.

Partnered Study and the Watermark Practice Exam

The IIBA don’t publish the exact pass mark for the CBAP exam, though Watermark suggest to aim for at least 70% or higher, and it was clear from practice exams that I was some way off. So, following the study group, one of the other attendees and I agreed to continue as study partners. We signed up for the Watermark Practice Exams ($99 for 30 days, $129 for 60 days as at May 2013) and would work through these, and review any we got wrong. This is a great way to focus on the areas where you’re currently weakest. It’s helpful not just for learning the material, but also for becoming familiar with the style of the exam and the sometimes tricky wording. By the end of these sessions, I was regularly scoring on the high end of 80-90% and feeling well prepared for the exam.

In part 2 I’ll talk more about the experience of applying for, and sitting, the exam, and final thoughts on the process.
Are you thinking about sitting the CBAP exam? I’d love to hear what has and hasn’t worked for you. I’d also be very interested to hear your opinion if you think the CBAP is a waste of time, and why!