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Knowledge Management In Business Analysis: Multiplying Human Potential

Blog: Business Analyst Learnings Blog

None of us is as smart as all of us – Eric Schmidt, University of Pennsylvania Commencement Address, 2009

Who’s the one person in your team you simply can’t afford to lose?

It’s okay – every business has one: some expert, savant, or otherwise indispensable worker who holds projects together like glue. 

People like these are called Subject Matter Experts. They are those from whom we elicit those requirements that are not always explicitly stated. These people are incredible assets—until they are no longer with the business…and then they become a liability.

Risk analysis has an unfortunate habit of emphasizing external risks, attempting to predict worst-case scenarios as though they loom in the offing of every project. Catastrophic failure is however, not limited in form to externalities, or even poor strategy development or project planning. 

The greatest resource any company or project has—its talent pool—can also be its greatest threat, without proper management.

No business, team, or project can hinge on a single person; the concentration of risk is simply too great to accept. Yet the acquisition of talent, whether short or long term, often creates this very scenario. 

The best hedge against losing the talent, skills, and knowledge of any individual is Knowledge Management.

At its most basic, Knowledge Management (KM) amounts to sharing: skills, processes, expertise, etc. Uniquely skilled or effective individuals are obviously valuable and desirable for any business, but assembling a team of such individuals can lapse into the creation of knowledge clusters: pockets of expertise that don’t necessarily spill over into the rest of the company. 

Whether due to a failure to commit to ongoing learning and up training, or the result of silo thinking (among management, workers, or both), these clusters increase risk by concentrating human resources excessively. The loss of any single team member or leader, rather than a natural and expected event over time, becomes a disruptive event. Just as critical files and records are automatically backed up digitally, human resources need their own fail-safe. 

How is KM Relevant to Business Analysts?

Successfully employed, KM merges into the continuing education plan of any business, mapping knowledge “assets” for reference, as well as prioritizing their strategic spread among teams. 

Business Analysts are right at the heart of Knowledge Management – they identify sources of knowledge, learn from these sources and influence how knowledge flows within the organization to deliver successful business outcomes. BAs with their knowledge of the business and quest for it, can form a key part of any Knowledge management initiative. In addition to managing domain knowledge and their access to it, BAs must also seek to apply the principles of knowledge management to the operations of the business analysis team across different contexts.

Business Analyst teams, for example, should endeavour to build on the knowledge possessed by other team members by constantly facilitating the transfer of knowledge and ensuring that everyone is brought up to speed on:

  1. How to access knowledge and whom to meet on specific issues
  2. What organizational process assets exist and can be reused (e.g. templates)
  3. How the business operates (business rules, business processes, systems, glossary etc)
  4. Lessons learned from previous projects, to mention a few.

As Information Science Professor Claire McInerney of Rutgers University points out in her study of the evolving field, KM is not actually a process of managing knowledge itself, but of the human resources who acquire and spread knowledge and skills. Identifying individual repositories of high-value knowledge ‘artifacts,’ and then organizing situations in which these artifacts can be recorded, standardized, or transmitted to others, is at the core of an operational KM system.

The principles of KM apply whether new knowledge assets are acquired through new hires, industry conferences, or even training and development events featuring outside experts. In each case, it is worthwhile to identify where the assets are stored (which people possess the desired knowledge or skills), then making them available to others (coordinating an internal up training event, sharing out a universal company directory, etc).

People are naturally curious, and will very often tend to want to share and receive knowledge from one another. Relying on this to occur organically however, has significant limits, and comes with no guarantees. KM is a deliberate approach to fostering collaboration, and ensuring everyone has access to the company’s collective knowledge assets.

Building KM into the management standards of an organization not only helps mitigate risk, but also promotes a culture of active learning, listening, and sharing. Outstanding skill and talent should be the exception in any organization—that is, individual value should quickly be integrated, rather than isolated. 

So, who is someone your team couldn’t function without? And what are you doing to preserve and expand their value?

Picture Attribution: “Businessman Standing On A Stack Of Books To Light Bulb” by ratch0013/Freedigitalphotos

Author Bio

Edgar Wilson is an Oregon native with a passion for cooking, trivia, and politics. He studied conflict resolution and international relations and has worked in industries ranging from international marketing to broadcast journalism. He is currently working as an independent analytical consultant. He can be reached via email here or on Twitter @EdgarTwilson.

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