The PMI-PBA vs. IIBA CBAP or CCBA

In this article, you’ll learn about a few of the differences between the PMI and IIBA® certifications, why the PMI-PBA℠ is good for business analysis, and then I’ll offer up some criteria you might use to choose the right certification as part of your near-term professional development goals.

First, let’s take a look at what the PMI-PBA is.

The PMI-PBA is explicitly for business analysts who work on projects and programs, as well as project and program managers who perform business analysis as part of their role. According to PMI, the certification spotlights your ability to work effectively with stakeholders related to project or business requirements, and ensure projects drive successful business outcomes.

To obtain a PMI-PBA, first you complete an application that verifies you meet the following requirements:

  • Minimum of 3 years (4,500 hours) of business analysis experience within the past 8 consecutive years if you have a bachelor’s degree. (Or 5 years/7500 hours of experience if you do not.) (For comparison, the CBAP® requires 7,500 hours of experience and the CCBA® 3,750.)
  • 2,000 hours working on project teams within the past eight consecutive years.
  • 35 business analysis education (contact hours).

Then, you must pass the PMI-PBA exam covers the following material:

  • Needs Assessment (18%)
  • Planning (22%)
  • Analysis (35%)
  • Traceability and Monitoring (15%)
  • Evaluation (10%)

In contrast, IIBA® does not confine business analysis to projects or programs. In fact, IIBA® explicitly defines a collection of business analysis activities that transcend the project and are applicable to all types of organizational improvement. And, at its best, business analysts should be routinely involved to evaluate opportunities before projects are even approved – or before a project manager has even been assigned.

Of course, the PMI view of business analysis is what’s more commonly in place at today’s organizations. However, the IIBA® view gives us something to strive for as we seek out senior business analyst opportunities and grow our careers generally.

Let’s look at some specific differences between the two understandings of the role:

  • The Needs Assessment in the PMI-PBA outline is much more limited in scope than the Enterprise Analysis Knowledge area of A Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge® (BABOK® Guide), which includes many additional tasks to proactively determine the business needs, current capabilities, and define the business case, rather than to merely review and refine the existing business case or meet with stakeholders to understand their needs.
  • In the PMI-PBA outline, Elicitation is wrapped up inside the Analysis knowledge area, rather than being a discrete Knowledge Area that applies to a wide-variety of different business analysis activities.
  • The Planning task as defined by the PMI-PBA outline is confined to the Requirements Management space, rather than the broader view offered by theBABOK® Guide in the Business Analysis Planning & Monitoring Knowledge area. The IIBA® BABOK® Guide gives business analysts a role in identifying the best possible techniques, activities, and approach to the entire business analysis effort.

One area that the PMI definition is broader in scope is that the Evaluation tasks cover some elements of Quality Assurance, whereas the BABOK® Guide specifically limits the business analyst role in this matter.

(Of course, all of this insight is pending two very important publications, scheduled for delivery this year. The first being the PMI Business Analysis Practice Guide, which may offer more detail to counter some of the assumptions I’ve made here based on the high-level outline. The second publication is the third edition of the IIBA® BABOK® Guide, anticipated in April 2015, which has been said to further expand the business analysis role.)

Why two certification options is a good thing for business analysts.

Even with a more limited view of the business analyst role, PMI’s decision to enter this space is a sign of many positive things to come for business analysts.

With the strength of PMI behind the business analyst role, I think we will see wider adoption of business analysis, as a discrete role from project management, on more and more projects. Through the new practice guide and PMI-PBA certification, PMI will drive an awareness of the role globally that IIBA® has simply not had the resources to do. This is a good thing as it means more jobs, even higher business analyst salaries, and less time spent selling our value.

However, it doesn’t seem as if PMI will define and promote the next generation of business analysts – the type of opportunities that excite me about being a business analyst and that make it an attractive profession for senior-level professionals looking for leadership opportunities. We need the IIBA® for that. This work is much more challenging and the path to success will necessarily be slower. IIBA® will need our support, strength, and resources to lead the charge on our behalf and keep it going even as the number of PBA credential holders quickly surpasses the number of CBAP® and CCBA® Recipients.

Is the PMI-PBA or IIBA® CBAP® or CCBA® right for you?

As a professional with limited time and resources, you might be wondering whether you should choose the PMI-PBA instead of the IIBA® CBAP® or CCBA®. While it’s way too early to know for sure how each certification will impact your job prospects and career aspirations, here are some criteria you can use to decide what is in your best interest in the short term.

  • If you are in a project-focused business analyst role right now, and happy to stay there, and your organization is engaged with PMI, the PMI-PBA could be a really good option to gain more internal credibility.
  • If you are in a project-focused business analyst role, but discontent and want a bigger seat at the table (or a seat at all), look to the CBAP®. As a by-product of the certification process, you’ll expand your view of your own capabilities and discover ways to add even more value to your organization.
  • If your organization already supports the CBAP®/CCBA® route or your certification process is underway, stay the course. You can always pick up the PMI-PBA later should it prove beneficial.
  • If you are targeting project-focused business analyst roles, either the PMI-PBA or IIBA® CBAP® or CCBA® could help set you slightly ahead of the pack when it comes to your business analysis job search. It’s too soon to tell if the PMI-PBA is going to significantly outstrip the CBAP® or CCBA® from the perspective of employers hiring business analysts.
  • If you are happy where you are in your career or dislike certifications, then do what you would have done anyway and ignore them all!

Of course, many professionals have already chosen both by opting to add the PMI-PBA to their existing CBAP® or CCBA® credential. Since each certification means something different, that is certainly a valid path.

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