So you want to be a better requirements analyst. Or maybe you’re completely new to business analysis and you just want to learn what requirements analysis involves, period.
Requirements are basic to business analysis, and so requirements education is basic to business analysts. “All team members who will function as analysts should receive basic training in requirements engineering,” notes Wiegers in his modern analysis classic Software Requirements. Honing your craft is both admirable and achievable, and you have numerous, helpful outlets at your disposal. The method that you choose is contingent on several things, including how much requirements experience you already have and whether your background is in software development, technical writing, or something else. (A former developer might want to learn more of the techniques through something such as BABOK , while a former technical writer might want more technical training through something such as a technical requirements workshop.) This article will highlight the some of the more popular methods of growing your requirements education, enabling you to better choose what’s most helpful at this point in your career.
Print and Online Media
If you just want to do some quiet, free research on your own, the web is a great place to start. Besides ModernAnalyst.com, which is content-rich with numerous requirements education articles including "An Overview of Business Requirements" and "BAs Will Falter Until They Learn to Discover REAL, Business Requirements", numerous Wiki articles are available. A few to start with that cover portions of the role of the analyst along with business requirements are http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Requirement and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Requirements_elicitation. Additionally, some sample requirements documents are accessible from here http://www.processimpact.com/goodies.shtml. An overview of these templates and business requirements web sites will be helpful in getting a high-level view of business requirements and what goes into their creation. Do an internet search of “business requirements” or “business requirements basics,” and you’ll find a plethora of resources to peruse.
When you’re ready to invest a bit monetarily, you may want to start your own requirements education library. If you choose classic tomes, you will refer to them repeatedly. Therefore, they are an investment in your education. (Many employers do offer the books24x7 service, which allows employees free access to online books on requirements education, management, elicitation and more. This will make creating a library for your career that much more affordable.) A few basic titles are The Software Requirements Memory Jogger by Ellen Gottesdiener, Business Rule Concepts by Ronald G. Ross, Getting it Right: Business Analysts Tools and Techniques by Kathleen B. Hass et al, and Software Requirements: Second Edition by Karl E. Weigers. All are available from major online bookstores. For other recommendations, ask your colleagues or requirements mentor.
Interviewing Experts/Finding a Mentor
If more experienced business analysts work within your organization, they are likely to be deep repositories of knowledge both within your industry and regarding business requirements techniques. You can always set up a one-time interview with any of these veterans.
Or, provided that it will not interfere with your mentor’s or your work, job shadowing (even one day a week) may be even more helpful than occasional one-on-one interviews or training. In Business Rule Concepts, Ronald G. Ross describes job shadowing or on-the-job training as “where pinpoint know-how can be put right in front of work in real time as the need arises—that is, right at the point of knowledge. . . . right as the worker bumps up against the business rules.” In other words, job shadowing helps you understand how to apply the work of business requirements in real life to real job situations. Wiegers concurs: “Requirements analysts need a breadth of knowledge, much of which is gained through experience.” The real-life, real-time training that mentoring provides is invaluable.
However, long-time analysts who have been with the same company for some time may have deep knowledge, but not necessarily the most recent techniques. Be aware that your education should not be limited to simply learning things the way that they have always been done. Be open to honing what you learn from your mentor through new methods and techniques through other forms of education.
Off-Site or Online Classes
Classes for business analysis abound and cover a wide price range, from less than a hundred dollars for the more simple variety, to several hundred dollars for more comprehensive online instruction, to several thousand dollars for an in-person classroom complete with exams. If you live in or near a larger city, some may be locally accessible for you to attend in person. Some institutes also offer online training or webinars. Here are links to just a few resources for classes: http://www.requirementssolutions.com/Business_Analysis_FAQ.html; http://www.piersonrequirementsgroup.com/; and http://www.watermarklearning.com/. Or to find classes, simply do a web search of “business requirements education” or “business requirements training” along with the name of the nearest large city.
Additionally, you may be fortunate enough to find some online webinars that have a corporate or organizational sponsor to cover the largest percentage of the costs. These are often free, last roughly an hour, and cover various, specific business analysis topics. For a sampling of those currently offered by Modern Analyst, for example, visit http://www.modernanalyst.com/Webinars/tabid/207/Default.aspx.
When discovering which courses may be most effective, look for IIBA (International Institute of Business Analysis) endorsed trainers and also ask for recommendations within your organization or from your mentor.
Workshops at Your Place of Employment
If several colleagues also want to learn more about requirements, you may be able to lobby management to bring someone to your place of business for a workshop in basic (or even advanced) requirements. Bringing one expert in is often more cost-efficient than sending several employees off-site, particularly when many people are interested in learning the material. If you have a human resources department that helps coordinate on-site training, ask them, along with your manager, about the feasibility of hosting such a workshop for yourself and your colleagues.
Additionally, many companies, particularly larger ones, have internally-led classes that human resources or other staff facilitate and lead. These are almost always free, and it is merely incumbent on the analyst to investigate what is available and work it into his or her schedule.
Once you have a basic handle on business requirements, an easy to way to stay in the loop on requirements issues that other analysts are facing and their education solutions is through social media, such as blogs and networking sites. There you can find comments, links, and discussions on everything from elicitation to lessons learned. Often you can add posts and ask questions to a potential host of other analysts who can help you. (Though due to the anonymity of the Internet, there are no guarantees as to their expertise.) Here are just a few that you might want to check out: Requirements Analysis Posts and Business Analyst (the group) on Facebook.
While business analysis is a growing, and to many companies, fairly new discipline, its establishment in the academic sector is growing. Some universities are now offering four-year or master’s degrees in business analysis and requirements engineering. Others are offering requirements or business analysis certificates via night programs or university extensions.
The Ultimate Credential: Certification
In the realm of requirements education, the holy grail is certification as a Certified Business Analyst Professional (CBAP). (Check out some brief overviews of the credential here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Certified_Business_Analysis_Professional; http://www.theiiba.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Certification.) The certification covers much more than requirements education, but the fundamentals of business requirements are certainly included. In order to achieve CBAP, you must meet certain requirements, such as two references from some combination of managers, clients, or established CBAPs, and at least 7,500 work hours. A test is also involved. A CBAP certification communicates to any industry, client, or potential employer that your education and experience in requirements (and other aspects of business analysis) are in the top tier of your field.
Learn Your Industry
Although it does not further your requirements education per se, it is incumbent on any analyst to learn his or her industry. In addition to everything that a requirements education can teach you—methodology, tools, techniques, skills—equally important is educating yourself in the field in which you will be practicing your requirements, whether it’s software, medicine, or banking. Requirements must be thorough, and it can be difficult to always rely on your subject matter experts to think of everything (though an iterative approach to development helps with this). A good, sound knowledge of your industry will make putting your requirements education into practice much easier. So, if you want to grow in your requirements education to benefit your career, and you already have a sound knowledge of your field, you already have an advantage.
 Wiegers, Karl E. Software Requirements, Second Edition. Microsoft Press: Redmond, Washington, 2003.
A Guide to the Business Analyst’s Body of Knowledge® (BABOK® Guide), Version 2.0, International Institute of Business Analysis, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, ©2005, 2006, 2008, 2009.
Ross, Ronald G. Business Rule Concepts: Getting to the Point of Knowledge, Third Edition. Business Rule Solutions, 2009.