What is a business analyst? A key role for business-IT efficiency
Business analyst help guide businesses in improving processes, products, services and software through data analysis. These agile workers straddle the line between IT and the business to help bridge the gap and improve efficiency.
Business analysts (BAs) are responsible for bridging the gap between IT and the business using data analytics to assess processes, determine requirements and deliver data-driven recommendations and reports to executives and stakeholders.
BAs engage with business leaders and users to understand how data-driven changes to process, products, services, software and hardware can improve efficiencies and add value. They must articulate those ideas but also balance them against what’s technologically feasible and financially and functionally reasonable. Depending on the role, you might work with data sets to improve products, hardware, tools, software, services or process.
The International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA), a nonprofit professional association, considers the business analyst “an agent of change,” writing that business analysis “is a disciplined approach for introducing and managing change to organizations, whether they are for-profit businesses, governments, or non-profits.”
Business analyst job description
BAs are responsible for creating new models that support business decisions by working closely with financial reporting and IT teams to establish initiatives and strategies to improve importing and to optimize costs. You’ll need a “strong understanding of regulatory and reporting requirements as well as plenty of experience in forecasting, budgeting and financial analysis combined with understanding of key performance indicators,” according to Robert Half Technology.
Identifying and then prioritizing technical and functional requirements tops the business analyst’s list of responsibilities, says Bob Gregory, a professor and academic program director for the business analysis and management degree program at Bellevue University.
“Elicitation of requirements and using those requirements to get IT onboard and understand what the client really wants, that’s one of the biggest responsibilities for BAs. They have to work as a product owner, even though the business is the product owner,” Gregory says.
“[They need to ask:] What do the systems need to do, how do they do it, who do we need to get input from, and how do we get everyone to agree on what we need to do before we go and do it? The BA’s life revolves around defining requirements and prioritizing requirements and getting feedback and approval on requirements,” says Jeffrey Hammond, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research.
The role of a business analyst is constantly evolving and changing — especially as companies rely more on data to advise business operations. Every company has different issues that a business analyst can address, whether it’s dealing with outdated legacy systems, changing technologies, broken processes, poor client or customer satisfaction or siloed large organizations.
History of Agile Movement
How did Agile came into picture? By 1970s, software experts were convinced that waterfall way of software development was not suitable for most of the bespoke software development projects, because of various reasons e.g. changing requirements, lack of consistent customer collaboration.
Many methodologies popped up thereafter – right from Prototyping, Spiral, XP, pair programming, DSDM etc. Agile can be thought of as a culmination of many such attempts. It took concrete shape when 17 such experts came together and agreed on a common Agile framework in 2001. The key principles behind Agile manifesto has been:
Both these principles indicate that the Agile approach is adaptive rather predictive, whether it is planning or design or development. People don’t follow a plan, made by project managers, but continuously adapt based on the customer feedbacks and changing scenarios.
Role of Agile Business Analyst
SCRUM is probably the most used and followed Agile methodology and does not have a defined role as a Business Analyst. SCRUM did not define the role of a BA, probably because the role of a business analyst was not very prominent then. Scrum has a role of a product owner. A product owner is responsible for eliciting, analyzing, modeling, and managing the requirements.
Business Analyst Role In Software Development Cycle
The role of a business analyst in the software development process/cycle may differ for the different phases. Here is everything you need to know about the role of a business analyst in different phases of a software development process.
Requirement Gathering Phase
Requirement Confirmation & Change Request
Progress Update & Delivery Cycle
Business Analyst Role as a Product Owner
Business Analyst Role as a Scrum Team Member
In SCRUM, the product backlog captures the requirements for the entire product/project. A set of requirements taken up to be completed in a particular SPRINT are listed in the sprint backlog. The product owner is responsible for managing the product & sprint backlog.
At the start of the project, product owners work with the customer and the stakeholders to come up with the broad level requirements (EPICs, Themes, and user stories). Based on the prioritization of requirements, user stories are detailed out to create detailed user story cards.The team estimates and discusses the user stories (prioritized for this sprint) in the presence of the product owner. The product owner answers the queries relating to the requirements.
During the development, the Scrum team collaborates with the product owner to validate the solution (read individual screens or functionalities).The product owner also manages the backlogs and keeps them up-to-date. This includes – adding new user stories, deleting or modifying user stories based on the interactions with the customer.
To conclude, the product owner’s role aligns with the business analyst role in any other project, however, the nuisances of Agile methodologies make it challenging. Agile methodologies are not easy to implement in the true spirit as it requires not only a team’s alignment, it requires changes across the group or even organization.
Few Roles of a BA as a Scrum Team Member
The Business Analyst role
The role of a BA is often questioned within Agile methodologies, not on the quality of the work, but the “perceived” value delivered for the team. So, let’s start by truly understanding what it means to be a Business Analyst.
In more practical terms, the BA will talk to the business stakeholders, bring alignment between management and end-users, break down complex problems into workable bits of a solution, get answers quickly, represent stakeholders, identify impacts and dependencies, test and validate, be at the center of the communications between every involved party to help the development team, and keep up with all the changes and priorities.
Moreover, on one hand, business stakeholders are busy people, with tight agendas, often accumulating different responsibilities that make it hard for them to make themselves available. On the other hand, development teams typically have questions that business users struggle to understand, and they require multiple interactions throughout the delivery time-frame, which means, they require business answers promptly to make the most out of their time. This is where the BA comes in and plays a critical, fundamental role.
To say the least, a BA has a collaborative profile and works closely with the team and the customer throughout the project ensuring alignment between the business needs and the development team.
In a timebox driven, delivery focused agile process, the general guideline is to not plan more than one or two iterations ahead. As Jim Highsmith advises,” The agile approach assumes that the project plan is fundamentally irresolvable past a very simple approximation. There is no amount of information that will provide the resolution to the project issues beyond that point”. And that point is generally two – four weeks and within the somewhat narrow focus of the project itself: the system and the features or functions being developed. The AGILE BA is completely familiar with the problem domain, the business area in which the problem exists and is able to anticipate positive and negative impacts to other areas of the organization. However, the solution should be the best for the whole organization, and not just a particular business area. Therefore the AGILE BA has to retain enough independence to evaluate potential solutions based on the overall impact to the organization rather than the influence of the particular business area and its managers. Solving a business problem solely for the business unit might have immediate benefits; solving a business problem from the perspective of the whole organization brings much more lasting value.
So there you have it, a clever acronym to distinguish what an agile BA is. And, as mentioned earlier, to many business analysts following the tenets stated above, the words “AGILE BA” could be replaced by “business analyst” because the tenets define the job of analyzing the business, or being a business analyst, whether agile or not.
Pullan, Penny and Archer, James, “Business Analysis and Leadership: Influencing Change”, Kogan-Page Limited, 2013
Highsmith, James, “Agile Software Development Ecosystems”, Addison-Wesley Publishers, 2002