The BABOK®: From Theory to Practice

By M. Duvernet

The importance of the Business Analyst role is growing in organizations all over the world. The Business Analysis Body of Knowledge® is considered to be “The standard” guide book that contains all the collected knowledge for doing business analysis. Organizations all around the world are cultivating entire teams of business analysts to improve business value by better utilizing the practice of business analysis. Like all practices Business Analysis is based on theory, and understanding the underlying theory behind the practice is both empowering and illuminating.

We can all thank the Ancient Greek philosophers for the word “Theory.”  The word itself stems from the Latin word theoria which has a definition of “a looking at, viewing, in contemplation or speculation.” There is no “doing” associated with the act of theorizing, when devising a theory the act is more about the thought processes that occur before any activity takes place; it’s all about thinking before doing. To devise a theory there is a mental scheme created which is based on observation and reasoning toward making sense of the principles or methods being applied.

While the Greeks began to apply the idea of theory to many different knowledge areas, today we still utilize these knowledge areas to support all the common best practices associated with a type of business.  Yet, every business has their own cultural makeup when it comes to the knowledge areas mentioned in the BABOK® Guide book. Where the BABOK does not elaborate on the various business types, it is because the best practices that have been captured on the BABOK pages are common enough to apply to all businesses.

So as a new analyst, coming into an organization for the first time, how does one know what will work best unless one knows something about the organization’s culture of doing business? If a business has any history their artifacts will reflect the business culture. So to gain some perspective, it is usually a good idea to ask for some examples of artifacts from the immediate past.

For even more clarity regarding theories, it may be helpful to highlight those knowledge areas that evolved from the basic theories of Ancient Greece:

–          Philosophy

–          Science

–          Medicine

–          Mathematics

–          Physics

–          The Arts; Music, Drama, Painting, Literature, Poetry

–          Politics

–          Law & Justice

For example, the basic theories of physics still pertain to business organizations which rely on physics as a byproduct to do business today. The foundational theories established in ancient Greece are continually leveraged and expanded upon; such as the discovery and proof of the “Theory of Relativity” and the “Theory of Quantum Physics,” the list of theories goes on and on. But, along with all of these different theories, and knowledge areas, there are very specific terminologies. Understanding the business terminology means not getting tripped up in the cultural nomenclature; having the ability to talk the talk. If the business culture is selling medical devices it is a good idea to become familiar with the language that the medical device company uses.

Same would be true for methodologies. Reviewing an organization’s historical artifacts reveals key aspects that are core to the organization’s methods and the way in which they are familiar with executing analysis.

To understand where the word “methodology” stems from in relation to theories and best practices we can also thank the Greeks for the Latin word methodus; meaning “a way of teaching or proceeding.” The word first appeared formally in 1586 in a medical text referencing ‘the sense of any special way of doing things.” Methodologies like Waterfall and Agile provide the structure that bridges the murky waters between theory and best practices.

However, quite often organizations struggle with their methodologies. Several events can lead to this sort of situation. For instance, the previous management has retired and the new management wants to try some new methods. Or, management has been trying for years to make progress on a project, in a culture where the Waterfall methodology is the only thing the employees know, can management instill their own flavor of Agile to ensure progress? Is it possible to change the methodology without making any changes to the project team?

To take charge of these types of situations the management leadership may choose to empower all the individuals who are working on the project. The sponsor and the stakeholders all want to know that the goals and objectives of the project are understood by everyone striving to create the needed deliverables to hit the desired deadlines. By understanding the methods and the best practices any analyst could become empowered. But, to further ensure project success the Business Analyst would collaborate with management to define the best method of approach. To think about the activity, and plan the approach, before doing it.

As analysts we have to be experts when it comes to understanding the knowledge areas and devising the best approach toward demonstrating the practice of business analysis. Like seasoned detectives, each analyst has to find the evidence to prove the method and set expectations for the results. Being able to easily adapt to that methodology and provide useful artifacts toward end-results is essential to overall success, which makes the entire experience emotionally illuminating.

The BABOK® Guide has been revised three times in the last five years. It has been reviewed by practitioners from around the world who practice business analysis. Today over 200,000 copies have been sold worldwide, the theory suggests that not everything in the guide be used on a single project, what it provides are a variety of common practices to choose from to best meet the business needs. How each analyst goes about using the BABOK® Guide is what ultimately will make the difference.


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