Deconstructing a BA job advert

I saw a job advert on Jobserve and it’s typical of adverts that fail to grasp what a senior business analyst should be able to do for a client.

Click here to read the advert before you proceed.

So what’s wrong with it? I’ll go down through it as it is written, rather than in order of importance.

Design Lead
The advert says that the successful candidate will be the “design lead… for all of [sic] their KYC solutions”. It’s not clear whether they mean business solutions (i.e., a To Be Business Architecture) or technical solutions. You might say that the former should be inferred, but as a BA I don’t infer anything, especially as I have previously been asked by clients to take responsibility for the design of the technical solution (which I refused to do).

Process/operating models
By using the forward slash, do they mean “and” or do they mean to imply that they consider process models and operating models to be the same thing? They are not the same. One aspect of an enterprise’s operations would be represented by process models. The lack of clarity here (and experience) suggests to me that the client has only a vague idea of what process modelling involves. Moreover, most BAs, in my experience, produce unclear and ambiguous process models (largely down to the fact that they use Visio’s default flowcharting shapes). Even those who use BPMN 2.0 really only pay lip-service to the palette; they don’t apply the semantics correctly nor use an appropriate method and style. Asking for the production of process models without stating to which standard shows a lack of awareness of such standards. Moreover, it’s pointless asking candidate BAs whether they are familiar with BPMN without having someone qualified set them a task to test their skill.

Functional specifications/user stories
This might be a controversial thing to say (although I hope it’s not) but I don’t see why one would produce a functional specification as well as a product backlog consisting of user stories (click here to see what Mike Cohn has to say about it). Requesting both suggests a failure to understand how well user stories can describe needed features, or (worse) a Frankensteinian methodology comprising aspects of both Waterfall and Scrum. What’s more, the fact that a candidate can write a sentence in the structure of a user story, or fill in a functional specification template, does not mean that person has the skill and techniques to be able to analyse and model a business architecture.

System rules/flows
I have a couple of issues with this: 1) Again the use of a forward slash gives the impression that the client equates two things that are not at all the same. Historically, business analysts have modeled decision logic procedurally as if it were process flow. However, the logic (i.e., business rules) internal to any one business decision should be modeled declaratively, whereas process flows should be modeled procedurally. Conflating the two bloats the process model, obscures the decision logic and makes both very hard to maintain. 2) Business rules, not system rules! Although systems implement the business architecture, they are not the business architecture. However, companies are so used to having the logic of how they make decisions held hostage within software code that they have an almost Stockholm Syndrome habit of thinking of their business decision logic as system logic. It is not. Decision modelling is key to exploring and describing the logic behind business decisions (e.g, “Determine Customer Money Laundering Risk Level”) in a technology-agnostic way that allows the enterprise to own, maintain and test its own business logic. Decision modelling is an incredibly valuable tool to any business but especially to a highly regulated area such as KYC and client-onboarding.

Act as the SME
How on earth can the BA act as the SME? Even if the BA knew a lot about KYC, that person would not at first be an expert in the client’s particular approach to KYC and what that client’s needs are. Understanding, and becoming an expert in, the business need would take most of the 6-month duration of the advertised contract.

SME in the KYC Domain
Why? Surely the client is riddled with KYC subject matter experts. What they need is a BA who is an SME in the techniques of business analysis, especially decision modeling! That skill in particular is what they should be advertising for. The successful candidate may be a KYC expert, but if that person cannot clearly and unambiguously model the KYC processes, data and in particular decision logic in a testable, technology-agnostic way, then the result will be repeated (and expensive) iterations of the software development cycle until the software developers and testers figure out what the BA really meant. What they should be looking for is someone who is an expert in modelling business architecture while working in collaboration with people who are SMEs in the business domain. Certainly experience in the finance sector, particularly banking, would be useful but for their experience of working with people who work in banking, rather than for any domain knowledge.

Knowledge of Pega PRPC
This is a highly overrated requirement. Pega has what I consider to be a flawed approach to analysis. What’s more, their business architect certification (which I have) requires and implies no real knowledge of business architecture. What my own understanding of Pega brings to the table (as a former developer, team leader, tester and analyst) is an understanding of how Pega wants you to do analysis and why you shouldn’t do it that way. If all a BA can bring to the table is Pega’s approach, then that is worse than no experience of Pega at all.

Key skills
The three key skills that should be listed here are process modelling using BPMN 2.0 (certified, because there are plenty of people who merely use the stencil and are doing it wrong), logical data modelling (e.g., using entity relationship diagrams), decision modelling using The Decision Model or some other technique compliant with the OMG’s Decision Model and Notation. I would also highly rate experience in an Agile methodology, by which I don’t mean a mere familiarity with the structure of a user story. However, none of these skills seem to be required.

£550 per day
The majority of freelance BAs I’ve met are people with good business domain knowledge (e.g., KYC) but who have precious little awareness of modelling techniques (not to mention skill). That’s to say, domain SMEs, not BAs at all. Such people, earning up to £550 per day, have been unable to tell me what the difference is between analysis and design (the first question I ask when interviewing a candidate BA) or how they would go about defining the scope of a process (the second question I ask). One even asked me what MoSCoW meant! None have been able to even attempt to describe how they would go about modelling decision logic and most have no familiarity at all with data modelling. For someone with all three key skills I mentioned above and Agile experience and an understanding of the flaws in Pega’s approach to analysis and methodology, £550 per day is simply not enough.

So what’s my point?
My point is that both businesses and recruiters continue to fail to understand what qualities to look for in a BA. I hope that people might read this post and at least give their job descriptions some deeper thought, even if they don’t agree with everything I have to say.

Judging by what this advert reveals to me, I’m willing to bet a fish dinner that this isn’t the first time this particular enterprise has tried to tackle its KYC issues.

Kind regards,

Declan Chellar

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