To Certify or Not to Certify?

    Heather Mylan-Mains

    I am a Certified Business Analyst Professional; a CBAP®. Yay for me! More alphabet letters to add to my signature! Isn’t that what it’s about? The person with the most letters in their signature block is the professional winner? Perhaps for some this alphabet soup collection game is what it is about. I believe that certification is a personal choice. There are many things a certification represents and many things a certification does not.

    Why did I pursue certification? It was a personal and professional choice. My journey to certification involved personal goals and a desire to be recognized as a top tier professional in business analysis. Does this mean I am a better professional because I am certified? I don’t think a certification alone indicates I am ‘better’. The marriage between experience with the proven ability to apply the knowledge and a certification can represent a powerful professional! My comments are focused on the IIBA® CBAP certification, although these ideas could apply to any certification.

    What CBAP certification is not

    1. Guarantee that a person can deliver quality work product

    Standardize tests involve a level of memorization of a body of knowledge that alone doesn’t represent skill. Passing an exam for a body of knowledge indicates a level of understanding of the material. If a person has a certification and no experience the value isn’t proven. When I was in graduate school studying for my MBA, I worked with many project teams. The teams were full of smart people with a lot of book knowledge. The students then had come straight from bachelors programs with no work experience struggled with the application of the knowledge to produce results for the project. The work experience coupled with the knowledge that a certification represents is valuable.

    2. Commodity

    Certification should not be easy to achieve, like an office supply item you buy at the store. In order for a designation to have meaning, it should represent an achievement. A participant ribbon given to everyone has little value; however, the first place trophy represents an accomplishment. Certification is an investment in time and effort that when a passing mark is achieved, it is a first place trophy. Eligibility to take the CBAP exam requires actual experience in the role. A professional must have the requisite experience to apply to sit for the exam. Some see this as a barrier; however, I see this as a step to indicate a person with this designation isn’t someone new to the role that is a good test taker, but someone who has invested time in becoming a professional.

    3. Rite of passage

    Some promotions or designations may be rewarded based on tenure or time on the job. Certification is not granted based on years invested in the business analysis role. Experience is an entry point, but experience alone does not earn the designation. In addition to the time invested in the job, a person must seek out additional training to indicate they are on a knowledge journey to continue to become better and hone their analysis skills. Seeking continued learning and improvement is an indication of a professional.

    4. Requirement for success

    Does a top-tier business analyst professional have to be certified to be great? Absolutely not! It is a personal choice. Just like everyone that graduates from college isn’t capable of doing every job. Similar to a college education investment, certification represents an investment in time, study, and learning about the profession you are working in. I know some successful people that never attended college. I know some successful BAs that are not certified. As professions gain awareness and understanding, certifications may become a prerequisite for hiring. College degrees didn’t used to be a pre-requisite for hiring and that has changed since I graduated from college.

    What CBAP certification is

    1. An Accomplishment

    Business Analysis is a new profession. The formation of IIBA started in 2004, with the first body of knowledge, BABOK® and CBAP designation was available in 2005. That’s only 11 years ago! Having IIBA deliver this was an accomplishment as well as everyone earning the designation. Earning the designation through work experience, continued professional study and dedication to understanding and applying the concepts in the body of knowledge is an accomplishment! It is not easy to qualify for, to study for, or to apply that knowledge through the certification exam. Reaching this level of achievement is an accomplishment and should be recognized as such, regardless of your viewpoint on the value of certification!

    2. A Differentiation

    Since certification is not a commodity and not every BA has it, it is a differentiator for you as a professional. It represents that you have invested in yourself and your profession as represented by IIBA. Supporting IIBA through earning certification creates legitimacy to an otherwise undefined profession. Through the certification investment in yourself, you indicate support of what the business analysis profession represents. This profession is a thinking profession. To study and pass the exam requires thinking as well as application of understanding the best answer to a scenario. Not every BA will earn it and desire to invest the time into taking the exam.

    3. A Representation

    Designations are a representation of understanding. Earning the CBAP represents that you can demonstrate understanding of the concepts, techniques, tools applicable to knowledge areas in the BABOK. As stated, it is not a guarantee that you will be great in the role. It represents a level of education. This has value as a foundational step that, when coupled with demonstration of this knowledge with hands on experience, creates a powerful professional. Have you seen the thickness of the BABOK? This profession far extends past the perception of note taking and requirement writing! With the update in BABOK to version 3 in 2015 the breadth of the profession exploded to illustrate how the career is changing.

    4. An Investment

    Choosing to seek certification is an investment in preparation and planning. That investment starts with where and what you do for work. Choosing to seek employment in the business analysis space is the foundation to qualify for certification. The next investment is your time to continue to work in that space. Add with that investment in training to continue to seek refinement in your skills and techniques and apply those in your work. Add with this an investment with your money to apply for the exam. Some would indicate that that IIBA is only seeking funds through these fees. I have two responses to that. First, people do not value what is free. Remember, this isn’t a commodity or a rite of passage. Second, the creation of the profession, body of knowledge or certification isn’t free. It requires capital to legitimize a profession. So, a fee is reasonable and expected for this investment. You’re worth it, right?
    That prepares you to get the application accepted. Next you invest in planning. Plan study time, perhaps join a local IIBA chapter study group to augment your personal study, and plan to practice the exam to familiarize yourself with the kinds of questions the exam will contain. Learn, apply, and understand what is represented in the body of knowledge. Invest in further your understanding to help your business have better business outcomes.

    So why pursue the CBAP designation?

    I was a very qualified and recognized professional for many years without certification. I didn’t need certification to be successful. I chose to invest in myself as business analyst professional. I had delayed certification because well, life got in the way! One day, I decided I was just diving in and doing it. I set myself up for success by publically announcing the goal with a date to my accountability partners. I had a job interview earlier in the year asking if I was certified. I promised I would be certified by the end of the year, another promise to solidify my goal. Then I invested in the process and applied, scheduled a date at a testing center and studied and studied and studied. As I studied and read the BABOK with the context of passing an exam, I marveled at how it wrapped everything together through integrated concepts and ideas. These were things I knew and applied but didn’t describe in the context of an entire body of knowledge.
    I encourage you, as a business analyst profession to consider what you want to invest in. This career keeps changing. I am grateful the CBAP is not a commodity, a rite of passage, an indication you are better in your role, or a requirement for success. However, as this career becomes better defined and recognized the differentiation representing your investment and accomplishment will represent the accomplishment of a top-tier professional.

    Heather, A BA Without Borders

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