How Business Analysts Thrive in An Agile Environment

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The role of the business analyst (BA) has evolved as more and more companies are choosing to go with the Agile methodology. This change in project management method has led many to question the importance of BA’s, especially when developers and designers can talk directly to product owners. But the growing number of BA positions indicate their importance in software development, despite the breakdown of hierarchies and specialist job roles. BAs still play a crucial role in software development because of their technical knowledge, communication and analytical skills.

A Business Analysts’ role in Waterfall Methodology

With the waterfall methodology, BA’s are responsible for talking to the product owner to gather information on the project and convert it into a plan. Crucially, they are responsible for assessing the business value of the solution. BA’s must take the business requirement and document it into functional and non-functional requirements (e.g. Project Vision document, Requirement Management Plan, User Stories, Use Cases, Functional Requirement Specification, System Requirement Specification, Test Cases). BA’s scope the project in order for the development and project management team to estimate the size and duration of the project which is essential to helping the Client decide if the project is feasible or not. Based on the scope breakdown the relevant product owner then decides the important features to be prioritised.

There is a wide array of tools used by BA’s, mainly for prototyping (e.g. Balsamiq, MS Visio) and for document management (e.g. a company SVN, confluence, google drive). If data needs to be transferred to a different support application, BAs are responsible for overseeing the transition. Key questions to consider are the volume of data to be converted, payment, personnel training, security, value addition, and support. The analyst is responsible for breaking down intangible ideas into a blueprint the development team can work on, which made their role in Waterfall development so crucial.

A Business Analyst’s role in Agile Methodology

The agile environment places greater focus on collaboration and communication. Such a work environment demands a move away from the hierarchy and strictly defined job roles of waterfall development.

BA’s must therefore talk to clients to understand their objectives in what is called the ‘Discovery Phase’. The BA is still responsible for taking ideas from a client and converting it into a feasible business project. They must assess the business value generated by the system. BAs have to break down the project into specific modules, components and systems for the team to work on. Despite the shift from waterfall to agile, business analysts still play the crucial role of assessing the business worth of software.

BA’s are a great asset to an agile team due to their knowledge and communication skills. Developers might have direct contact with the product owner but it does not lead to greater understanding about the product. BA’s possess the skills to ask the right questions, and gather the relevant information. BA’s also have knowledge in areas outside software development that are important for completing the project. They know about government regulation, industry standards, business processes and company policies, knowledge that is crucial for development. Knowledge combined with communication means BA’s are still an important asset in agile development.

However, the BA’s role evolved when companies shifted from Waterfall to Agile methodology. Agile development places more emphasis on face-to-face interaction over tools. Developers were also expected to juggle different roles at once, a stark contrast to the strictly defined job role under Waterfall.  In such an environment, the BA’s previous duty of conveying problems of stakeholders to developers, conducting an analysis and moving on were no longer sufficient. In the Agile environment, BA’s are more involved in the development process and act as negotiator, problem solver and technical analyst. Thus, leading to the transition from BA to the ‘T-shaped business analyst’.

What is a ‘T-Shaped’ Business Analyst?

T-shape is a concept that explains the broad skillset a BA is expected to have in an agile environment. A T-shaped business analyst combines deep technical knowledge with stress management and professional skills that make a more well-rounded individual. One side of the ‘T’ represents the ‘Whole Self’ referring to skills like stress management, health, and emotional intelligence. The other side of the ‘T’ represents professional skills consisting of conflict management, negotiation skills, and financial acumen. Finally, the middle of the ‘T’ represents the technical knowledge an analyst has. A T-shaped business analyst is more holistic and flexible than a traditional business analyst because they can juggle different roles as per needs of the project. The ability to adopt different roles makes the T-shaped business analyst a valuable asset in an agile environment.

BA’s will continue to play a vital role in software development, despite the differences between agile and waterfall, because of their knowledge and analytical skills. Organisations often make the mistake of focusing solely on the technical skills and rarely emphasis on the cross functional skills required to excel at this role. Therefore, the T-shaped business analyst is quickly becoming one of the most popular silhouettes for measuring the effectiveness of a BA.

 

The article has been written by the EFutures team (www.efuturesworld.com).
This information is our opinion, through our experience in the industry and other content sources.
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