The desire to improve business analysis prompted NYSOSC to
create an integrated, strategic educational program focused on the
transfer of best practices.
From the moment students start elementary school all the way
through college, they are taught concepts mainly through verbal
instruction that teachers expect will later be applied in the real
world. However, in school, teachers gauge levels of learning and
understanding by conducting tests. By the time students leave
school, learning is equated with listening to lectures that are
followed by tests. This approach, however, doesn't translate well
in the workplace. As observed by Malcolm Gladwell in his 2005 book,
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, "We learn
by example and by direct experience because there are real limits
to the adequacy of verbal instruction."
Unfortunately, today's workplace learning still tends to mirror
this one-way teaching approach in which education focuses on the
mechanics of a concept rather than how it should be applied on the
job. And employees typically are taught in a one-size-fits-all
manner, as if they all are at the same stage of comprehension and
The good news is that workplace learning is starting to fully
embrace a more layered, nuanced approach to how employees receive,
apply, and transfer information within the organization. Amidst
reorganization, downsizing, and employee turnover, organizations
need to create a system whereby learning is accessible and
imprinted on the entire organization, not just on single employees
or one project team.
Let's face it, you don't want valuable information and experience
to walk out the door only to start training all over again. By
leveraging an integrated learning framework, organizations can
develop a training and performance program that helps employees
apply learning immediately, teaches workers how to share and
transfer knowledge effectively, and aligns learning initiatives
with overall business objectives.
Create a Framework for Learning
In the 1950s, educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom created a
taxonomy, or classification, for learning. After much research, he
found that 95 percent of test questions require a student to think
at only the lowest possible level: classification. He continued to
build six levels of learning from the basic ability to recall
information to more complex, abstract learning, which now forms
the foundation of a framework for learning.
Today, we have a new integrated learning framework built on Bloom's
key principles of the socialization of learning. These key
- everyone is at a different state of learning, and training
should be tied to an employee's role and level of competency
- a customized set of tools and methodologies should be used to
instruct employees based on the level of application and the
outcome you expect
- the higher the level of learning obtained, the faster the
results will be realized, which includes return on investment.
ESI developed its Integrated Learning Framework, which outlines
five levels of learning for every employee that can then be matched
up with five levels of on-the-job application and outcomes. By
using this framework, an organization can assess where an employee
is in understanding a skill and then put them on track, with the
right set of tools and techniques to advance to the level of
learning required to meet organizational or project goals.
These stages are not to be viewed or applied in a vacuum. For each
skill or competency that must be learned, an individual must go
through each stage of progression. The stages in the framework are
iterative for each competency or skill. Each stage of learning is
but one step in a progression that builds on the others.
An organization achieves its objectives and results more quickly by
supporting and creating an environment or community that enables
job shadowing, coaching, and mentoring. Creating a culture or
community of leaders and coaches permits an organization to develop
those around them, thereby improving the capacity and capability
of individuals, teams, and the organization.
Level 1| Know Stage
The employee has some knowledge of a skill or competency. Training
for this level consists of reading or watching a video or podcast.
This stage allows an individual to become aware of what skills are
required to perform a task and begin to understand the execution of
Level 2| Comprehend Stage
The employee understands basic components of a skill and is capable
of conducting the skill in a controlled environment. He would be
able to reach this stage through some basic case study work or
in-class group discussion. This stage allows the individual to
leverage what was learned in Level 1 and begin to understand when
to use these skills.
Level 3| Apply Stage
The employee is able to apply acquired knowledge and understand how
to use the skill. To achieve this experienced level, instruction
must include role playing, simulation, and experiential exercises.
This stage allows an individual to understand when to contribute
what he has learned in the previous two stages. Although the formal
classroom learning has been completed, development is still needed
for the individual to bridge the gap from classroom to workplace.
Level 4| Synthesize Stage
The employee can combine the skill with other colleagues in
advanced applications. This expert level means an organization must
identify on-the-job learning partners, use advanced case studies,
and create communities of learning. In this stage of learning, the
individual has the ability to apply the concepts of what has been
learned thus far and achieved in Level 3. However, many variables
in the workplace can limit the rate at which the individual can
fully absorb and integrate what has been learned.
In this case, creating communities of practice and centers of
excellence and identifying coaches and mentors will help the
individual make the leap from recognition of when and how to use
the competencies to actually absorbing the competency and executing
based on the current work situation at hand. At this stage,
applying learning is as easy as the natural act of breathing. It is
done without conscious effort. One knows how to do it without
thinking about it.
Level 5| Transfer Stage
The employee has the ability to transfer skills, concepts, and
tools to others to foster learning and development within the
organization. In effect, the employee is now a valued coach and
mentor. He comes to this stage through learning and sharing best
practices and involving groups and individuals in educational
The one common thread that pulls all five stages together and
ensures training achieves true workplace learning is that the
earlier and more intensely that people apply knowledge after they
acquire it, the greater their level of expertise and the quicker
they will be able to apply their expertise. The earlier they apply
their expertise, the more quickly information will become imprinted
and have a greater impact on their own success, the success of
others, and the success of their organization.
Applying the Framework to Your Organization
The tendency is to undertake training programs based on a specific
objective. For example, an organization needs to produce projects
faster, so training is offered. Project managers (PMs) and business
analysts (BAs) receive training, and upper management expects them
to leave the session and "just do it." But, an educational program
must look at the bigger picture and start off more methodically.
Any workplace learning should first assess the competencies of
current staff. Where are they in their career trajectory? What
overall proficiencies or deficiencies do they have? If they are
proficient, hone their competency. If they are deficient, what core
competencies do they need in order to succeed in their role and
within the organization?
Next, the organization should discuss the goals of learning as seen
through the lens of overall organizational objectives and creating
a career path. Is the project portfolio committee ready for change
in project governance? Will the executive management team support
overall coaching and mentoring efforts to educate employees to
their level of desired learning based on career path objectives?
Transfer of Knowledge After Training
In the case of the New York State Office of the State Comptroller
(NYSOSC) in Albany, the desire to build a comprehensive program for
improving business analysis practices prompted the creation and
execution of an integrated, strategic educational program focused
on not just teaching principles, but also ensuring the transfer and
sharing of best practices. As the state's chief fiscal and
accounting officer, the comptroller is a separately elected
statewide official whose primary duties include managing and
investing the state's cash assets; auditing government operations;
paying all New York State employees; reviewing state contracts;
overseeing the fiscal affairs of local governments, including New
York City; and operating two of the state's retirement systems.
Business Analysis Center of Excellence
NYSOSC had built a reputation for continually advancing project
management best practices through a PM Center of Excellence (CoE).
They then wanted to build a similar program directed at training,
supporting and the advancement of BA teams by instituting a
Business Analysis Center of Excellence (BACoE). The goal was to
promote competencies, knowledge management, and enterprise analysis
practices, while achieving unifying objectives for BA and PM skills
areas so that there was maximum cross departmental/discipline
Tasked with creating a program for supporting business analysis as
an organizational resource were Kevin Belden, deputy comptroller
and CIO; Kirk Schanzenbach, director of the Program Management
Office (PgMO); and Barbara Ash, assistant director for BA in PgMO.
"When we started this endeavor, we wanted to ultimately create a
workplace environment where BAs and PMs could be brought together,
share best practices, and work toward common goals," says Ash.
To ensure any learning was fixed within the organization and
shared effectively, Ash points to their overall goals: "We wanted
to provide a clear vision for the future of business analysis that
aligns with other management initiatives, promotes a common
understanding of BA process and related terminology, defines and
implements a centralized BA unit to support distributed BA units
for a more supportive environment, and ensures the opportunity for
input by interested groups across the organization."
To support the program launch, NYSOSC kicked off the training with
a two-day project workshop centered on the learning framework and
targeted development of knowledge, skills, ability, and attitude.
On day one, the program was introduced to senior management with a
focus on developing best practices in alignment with BACoE
On the second day, frontline business analysts were brought
together to ensure a common understanding of BA concepts and
executive directives. After more direct instruction, BA teams
worked in subcommittees to discuss the BACoE project deliverables,
best practice advice, and exercised skills and competencies through
Special attention also was given to evaluating and treating such
problematic areas as standards and methodologies topics for the BA
group. "This intensive learning experience was very well received
as a serious enhancement to the traditional instructor-led effort,"
says Ash. "Participants also felt that it accelerated the program
launch significantly compared to previous programs."
Once the CoE program was in place and training was complete, NYSOSC
set up a series of workplace learning initiatives to ensure
ongoing sharing of best practices and that the transfer of
knowledge would continue well past the training. In line with the
International Institute of Business Analysis's mission to help BAs
develop their skills and further their careers, NYSOSC encourages
self-assessments through a set of tools available to employees.
BAs can take an online assessment to determine their skill levels,
knowledge, and competencies. There are many different types of
assessments; the results can help identify, categorize, and
prioritize current practices and behaviors, as well as to analyze
gaps and establish baselines for improvement. When appropriate, a
targeted learning program can be developed to close those gaps and
drive measurable results within the organization.
Virtual Workplace Learning Community
One exciting area of development is the creation of a virtual
workplace learning community within NYSOSC: an internal wiki to
support easy, effective, and fast sharing of BA tools, methods,
techniques, and language. "This internal wiki helps us gather
artifacts, such as case studies, presentations, techniques, for
example, that can be shared among our groups," explains Ash. "Any
project manager or business analyst now will be able to reach out
and find information and subject matter experts to help them solve
a problem or advance their capabilities."
For example, Ash points to data flow diagramming as one example.
"Someone might take a class on this technique, but now they need
help applying it. They can find a best practice case study on our
wiki, find out who the author is and invite them to coach or mentor
them on this technique, or even ask them to watch them present the
technique for critique."
NYSOSC offers quarterly community of practice sessions in a large
training room and a dedicated team room for posting announcements
and notifications of interest. Both rooms are open to any employee
with an interest in business analysis to learn about real-world
experiences and applications from others they do not necessarily
work with, such as an upcoming session on agile projects. "We also
offer employees special interest sessions that delve more deeply
into certain topics," adds Ash.
Synch Up Learning with Career Paths
The Hanover Insurance Group (The Hanover), a leading property and
casualty insurance provider based in Worcester, Massachusetts,
wanted to formalize an enterprisewide strategy for positioning the
BA role as a pipeline for analytical and operational roles. To set
up an integrated learning framework, The Hanover mapped a set of
core competencies for a Future Leaders Program, which was divided
into two broad career focus areas: business management and risk
management. Prior to training, assessment tools were used to
effectively benchmark and evaluate the progress of program
Once recruited into The Hanover's two-year program, candidates
were assigned to an IT or non-IT career track. At the end of the
two years, the goal was to find placement for candidates in a role
that allows them to continue to grow their career. To ensure
participants have the skills and knowledge they need to be leaders,
the Future Leaders Program guides participants through a range of
- traditional instructor-led classroom curricula
- reinforcement workshops delivered in person and via webinars
- a participant forum promoting formal group interaction,
including program coaches
- corporate-wide access to online reference materials
- practical, on-the-job application of new skills and knowledge
- continued mentoring after program completion.
Training at The Hanover was developed to ensure that learning and
reinforcement takes place before, during, and after classroom
training. Precourse webinars create a foundation that prepares
participants for specific learning events and reinforcement
workshops conducted after courses further reinforce key
competencies. And as university graduates progress through the
program, the company's current leaders also undergo targeted
learning based on position and role, which promotes consistent
knowledge across the organization
Earn Interest in Your Training Investment
Successful workplace learning comes down to three elements: a
framework, tools, and coaching. Having an integrated, progressive
learning framework that synchs up with overall organizational
objectives provides a compass that shows the executive team
whether employees are moving through all learning stages and how
they can quickly apply and transfer knowledge.
A range of tools are then overlaid on the learning framework, which
range from teacher-led, direct instruction, and simulations to
video, podcasts, and on-the-job learning. In the end, training is
about increasing the wealth of learning in your organization. With
integrated learning and coaching for transfer of knowledge, you can
save this wealth, earn interest on it, and pass it on to the next
generation of learners and employees. That's an investment that
Nancy Y. Nee is executive director of project
management and business analysis programs at ESI International,
which provides thought leadership in these fields while
incorporating the industry's best practices and professional
advances into ESI's portfolio of related courses and services. She
is certified as a Project Management Professional from PMI,
Certified Business Analysis Professional from the IIBA, and a
Certified Scrum Master from the Scrum Alliance. Contact her at