On Friday, May 29, 2020 I did a Fireside Chat with the Hyderabad Chapter of International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA).
Here are the questions that came up during the session along with my answers.
I answered some of these questions during the session so these answers reflect what I would say having time to reflect and ponder.
Other questions I didn’t get a chance to answer during the session, so here’s my first pass at answering those.
Business Analysis in the Coronaverse
How do you think business analysis work will evolve given the current situation?
Since I’m putting this answer in writing to (hopefully) live beyond the next month or so, some context is probably in order.
The Fireside Chat occurred on May 29 when India was still in the throes of dealing with the COVID-19 Pandemic, and the United States was fitfully trying to emerge from pandemic induced lock downs.
I recorded the webinar from my home office, and I suspect most of the people watching were also at home. I’ll touch more on the impact of working remotely in my answer to the next question.
There are other impacts of the pandemic than just on where we work. The biggest one being what we work on. Lockdowns have increased the desire of organizations to figure out how to interact with their customers without having to be face to face. You’re probably going to see a bigger focus on digital transformations that move more of an organization’s business processes to electronic customer self serve.
This move to digital transformations may also coincide with organizations viewing IT as strategic assets rather than cost centers. If you’re in the position to help guide your organizations move in this direction you’re in good shape. If you’re in a position where you act more like an order taker, your future may not be as secure.
You’ll also probably see even more work done to sell goods online rather than rely on in person stores. This may even hasten the demise of a lot of traditional retail. This is both good and bad as business analysts may find opportunities to work on those new digital efforts, but they may also see jobs disappear as organizations fail and no longer need help maintaining internal systems.
In the short term, some organizations will reduce their IT spending as they try to weather the recession that’s coming up. Business analysts that are directly involved in making their organizations more effective and efficient will probably find lots of opportunities for increased influence.
Business analysts who are working in positions that are viewed as overhead (ie not directly related to core business operations) may not be so lucky.
So what do you do to put yourself in the best position? Try to find opportunities where you’re working specifically on systems or processes that are core to the organization’s main business and strategic focus. Avoid those parts of the organization that could be viewed as “nice to have”, because they will be the first ones to be cut. If you see yourself in a position where you are always having to justify your existence, that’s probably not a good place to be in right now.
What are the skills we need to demonstrate to do well given remote working and the added pressures of deadlines?
Many of you may have some experience working remotely already. Your organization may have people, or even whole teams, located in multiple places across India, across Asia, or even across the world. I assume some of you work with people in the United States so you’re already used to working in a situation where you’re split by time.
The pandemic introduces the additional condition where you are now separated physically from your teammates in India. The key skills you’ll need to sharpen are collaboration and writing skills. You’re going to have to become better at building a shared understanding via writing, and you’ll also need to make sure you take steps to make working apart as little different as when you were working together.
When the pandemic first hit, I put together A product person’s guide to remote product teams. I think it captures most of the advice I’d suggest for this question.
Roles and Responsibilities
In your experience, can you define the BA role in an agile setup? What do you think is the expectation or ask from an agile business analyst?
As it just so happens, I “wrote the book” on how to be an agile business analyst. I shared an excerpt from that book on my site a few months ago that speaks specifically to the expectations of an agile business analyst.
To sum up, an agile business analyst:
- Considers context
- Focuses everyone on maximum outcome with minimum output
- Builds and maintains shared understanding
- Makes sure decisions get made
- Operates in short feedback cycles to learn.
Kent can you share your experiences on how Business Analysis has shifted from its more traditional role to an agile one?
The best way to answer this question is to provide a little more insight into the five activities I mentioned above.
Traditional business analysts follow a prescribed software development lifecycle (SDLC) to complete their analysis activities. Agile business analysts adjust their approach according to the context they’re working in. That context can be influenced by your organization’s strategy, your organization’s structure, your product, and your users, customers, and stakeholders.
Traditional business analysts define outputs. Agile business analysts focus on what the team needs to do to reach a specific outcome.
Traditional business analysts elicit and document requirements and often view the requirements as their “product”. Agile business analysts view eliciting and documenting requirements as a way to build a shared understanding.
Traditional business analysts expect decisions to be provided to them. Agile business analysts drive to make sure decisions get made, and where appropriate actually makes those decisions.
Traditional business analysts do all their work at the beginning of a project and work under the assumption that they can define all the requirements up front. Agile business analysts understand that they can’t possibly know everything at the beginning without some building, testing and feedback. They start by establishing a very wide, but shallow, understanding of the overall solution and follow up with deep dives on very specific aspects of the solution. They work with the rest of the product team to discover things just in time, and then use feedback to learn about what they should focus their further analysis on.
Is product owner a substitute for business analyst in agile?
The short answer: no.
The longer answer is the are three basic roles that product people find themselves in:
- The product management role focuses on understanding an organization’s customers, understanding their needs, and determining whether it’s worth it for their organization to satisfy those needs. This function primarily deals with an organization’s customers and users.
- The product ownership role focuses on supporting the team delivering the solution and making sure that team has the information necessary to deliver the right solution effectively. This function primarily deals with the delivery team.
- The business analysis role focuses on understanding the business processes and business rules necessary to satisfy your customers’ needs. This role primarily deals with subject matter experts—and to some extent users.
Business analysts can find themselves playing one or all of these roles, including being a product owner.
For a more in depth discussion of this topic, see The roles product people play.
How do you see the BA role evolving in the next 10 years or so?
Hopefully, more business analysts start acting like the agile business analyst I described above, even if their organizations do not explicitly say they are “agile”.
If they do those things they will be able to have more influence in their organizations, help their teams be more effective, and have more rewarding careers.
What should we discuss in our first meeting with business when we start off on an agile project?
There are a set of topics I like to discuss when starting a project off. Basically, those topics are:
- What problem are we trying to solve?
- Is that problem worth solving?
- How will we know when we’ve solved that problem?
- What constraints do we have on a solution?
For a much more in depth discussion of how to structure those conversations, see this post about Discovery Sessions.
What are some of the evergreen techniques you would list that helps enhance business analysis, irrespective of the methodology used?
I’ve compiled a list of techniques that I found most helpful and have created descriptions for each one. Take a look at this list of technique briefs for the techniques that I use the most often.
As you might expect, different techniques are best suited for different situations.
How does a BA ensure that the big picture is not lost during the different sprints when working on agile projects?
I find the following activities helpful for keeping track of the big picture:
- Establish a clear understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve with the problem statement.
- Explore whether the problem is worth solving and the nature of the solution with the Opportunity Assessment.
- Establish decision filters that help guide your team’s decisions and keep you on track toward delivering the desired outcome.
- Use a Context Diagram to identify key interfaces and external systems, people, and organizations that will interact with your solution.
- Use process models to understand the business processes that your solution will support.
- A story map can also be helpful to show your backlog in the context of the overall solution.
Are there any free tools you would recommend for requirements management in an agile program/project?
There are some general pieces of advice I have for tools:
- First figure out what you’re trying to accomplish, then see if you can build a process that accomplishes that with the tools that you already have
- If you can’t accomplish your desired outcome with the available tools, look around to see if there is something better that you can use, off the shelf. Be willing to make slight adjustments to your process to account for the specifics of the tool. Do not make changes to your approach that will prevent you from accomplishing what you want because of the tool.
- Do not, under any circumstances, try to customize a requirements management tool that you just bought, (See the Purpose Based Alignment model for an explanation why).
With those thoughts in mind, if “free” is a primary concern, then your best bet is to look at the tools you already have available to you and see if one of those will work.
I tend to work with a lot of teams at a lot of different organizations and they usually have some sort of requirements management tool. The team I’m working with now uses Azure DevOps. Teams I worked with before that used Jira.
Those tools are not free, but they are tools that the organizations already were using. I supplemented those with Google Docs or Microsoft office. As long as we put appropriate processes around how we were going to use those to build and maintain a shared understanding, it seemed to work fine.
If you’re having difficulty managing your requirements, I highly doubt that a specific tool is going to solve all your problems. I can almost guarantee a “free” one won’t. After all, you get what you pay for.
How does the BA decompose the various requirements into user stories? What’s a typical life cycle look like?
I wrote up the process I usually follow to refine features that I think provides a good answer to these questions.
Which certifications do you think are valuable for getting a business analyst role?
None of them.
Seriously, the value of certifications in the business analysis space are overblown. All the certificate does is tell you the person with the certificate met the qualifications for getting the certification. Usually that’s passing a test. I don’t know that I even believe the experience requirements because I’ve seen plenty of people who have not been practicing business analysis for several years suddenly get a new certification.
That said, there are some organizations that do use certifications as a filter for the candidates they consider. If there’s a particular job that you’re really interested in that requires a particular certification, then it may be worth getting that certification.
However, you have to consider what that says about that organization.
At the end of the day, if you want a certification, understand why you’re getting it.