The Importance Of Business Analysis In An Agile Environment

Bessie LiuFuture of Work

Business Analysts discussing latest requirements. Image courtesy of GaudiLab, Shutterstock

Lisa Bradburn is a guest author, from The Org’s Panel of Expert Contributors. She is a Toronto, Canada-based Agile Coach and Gestalt Psychotherapist-In-Training. Lisa writes about organizational design, systems thinking, and the agile manifesto's value of people over process.

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Where does the traditional role of a Business Analysts fit into an agile organization, and what type of training is available to navigate the new world?

Over the past few years, I’ve spoken with countless Business Analysts who express confusion over where they fit into their agile work environment. Agile Transformations focus primarily on adopting and cultivating specific roles and corresponding responsibilities pending on the chosen framework.

For example, in Scrum, importance is placed on the Product Owner and Scrum Master, and in Kanban, two relevant positions are the Service Delivery Manager and Service Release Manager. No agile framework nor renowned governing bodies such as Scrum.org or ScrumAlliance.org addresses a Business Analyst's role. No wonder BAs are in the dark!

The second challenge Business Analysts face is the lack of direct agile training geared towards adopting an agile mindset and integrating into the new world.

While a plethora of certifications exists for Product Owners, including Scrum.org or ScrumAlliance.org; BA’s often inquire:

What’s the difference between a Product Owner and a Business Analyst?

Let’s tackle the fundamental questions one by one and make sense of the confusion.

The role of a business analyst in agile environments

While there is not a “one size fits all” scenario, the answer depends upon the organization’s response to the purpose and function of Business Analysts during the agile transformation.

I have personally experienced three transformations in large Canadian enterprises and, throughout each, bore witness to the following common factors:

  1. Business Analysts play an essential role in an agile environment. The position does not disappear with the adoption of a new mindset and the implementation of agile frameworks.
  2. Business Analysts generally are client-facing, and most have direct relationships with the clients they serve. The organization may change; however, the BA and client engagement do not.
  3. Understanding customer requirements and possessing a thorough knowledge of user workflows, complex, tactical understanding of systems, applications, and data needs are vital to the success of a BA.

From my observation, Business Analysts possess a keen ability to dive deep into the weeds, a necessary and sought-after skill set to support initiatives.

All this to say, Business Analysts play a vital role regardless of an agile transformation or framework!

When we consider how Business Analysts possess deep client insights, how is the role different from Product Ownership?

The difference between a business analyst and product owner

The difference between a BA and a PO is documented extensively. Here, we will leverage industry expertise coupled with personal experience.

In a Scrum.org discussion thread, member Garrie Irons articulates:

Business analysis enables change in an organizational context by defining needs and recommending solutions that deliver value to stakeholders. BAs are the bridge between technical and business teams.

While BA’s are extremely detailed oriented and possess a wealth of knowledge at the tactical level, the main differences with Product Owners are:

  • Product Owners (PO’s) are visionaries.
  • PO’s possess rich knowledge of their product, understand market competition, and hold decision-making power regarding the direction their product will take.
  • Product Owners articulate feature iteration through product roadmaps backed behind competitive research and return on investment (ROI).
  • PO’s use their extensive and holistic vision to engage with clients to make informed decisions on the product evolution.

For simplicity's sake, if we were to boil down the two roles, a Product Owner operates at the higher “vision” level. In contrast, the Business Analyst lives and breaths the details.

Within this context, it is easy to see the importance of fostering a purpose-driven relationship between a PO and BA to make informed choices over the fate of a product. And we can visualize how many Business Analysts evolve into Product Ownership positions.

Agile training for business analysts

Disclaimer— I have not personally taken, nor do I receive financial incentives regarding the following Business Analyst courses. If you chose to enroll, I’d love to hear your feedback on the quality of content provided.

Only a tiny handful of courses exist for Business Analysts who are interested in enriching their agile skills. Here is a recap of programs I’m aware of. Reader, if you know of others, please reach out, and I will gladly expand the list.

1. International Institute Of Business Analysis — Agile Analysis Certification

According to the IIBA, the AAC certification strengthens skills and expertise by applying an agile perspective within a business analysis framework. BAs will learn how agile intersects and interacts with business analysis. This certification is for:

  • BA professionals who work in agile environments.
  • Augments business analysis skillset and expertise.
  • Stay up-to-date on best practices and industry trends.
  • In the digital economy, success is defined by sensing and responding rapidly to market demands.

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In this informative, short video, the IIBA asks Business Analysts if they have an Agile Mindset?

Coupled with the IIBA’s Agile Analysis Certification is The Agile Extension to the BABOK® Guide (Agile Extension) version 2, the leading guide for describing the benefits, activities, tasks, skills, and practices required for practical business analysis with an agile mindset that has a constant focus on delivering business value.

The guide is in collaboration with the Agile Alliance. It describes both the mindset and practices to help BAs use continuous feedback and quick learning to prioritize delivery, minimize waste, create better business outcomes and increase the value delivered.

Regardless if a Business Analyst embarks on the IIBA agile certification or not, from my experience, the guide is a valuable introductory resource for a Business Analyst to begin their agile journey.

2. Why Change Consulting — Business Analysis for Professionals Changing Careers

According to the website, the course is geared for people new to Business Analysis and supports:

Learning how to redirect your career to business analysis. Start with the fundamentals, discover what you already know about business analysis. Create your professional development plan, portfolio, and resume, and prepare for hiring assessments.

In speaking with the Founder on LinkedIn, Yulia Kosarenko, the course focuses on fundamentals and career prep while covering some agile basics.

3. PMI Professional in Business Analysis (PMI-PBA)

Disclaimer — based on the course curriculum advertised on the PMI website, details are unclear whether agile is covered. My best recommendation is to contact PMI and confirm if the PMI-PBA designation supports agile.

The Project Management Institute (PMI) provides the following outline regarding their Professional Business Analysis (PBA) certification:

Inaccurate requirements gathering consistently ranks in the top three causes of project failure yet only half of the organizations have the resources in place to perform this function properly, according to our Pulse of the Profession® research.

It’s time to become the certified expert your organization needs. If you work with stakeholders in defining requirements, shaping project outputs, and driving intended business outcomes, the PMI Professional in Business Analysis (PMI-PBA)® will spotlight your valuable skills.

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If the PMI-PBA certification doesn’t touch upon agile practices, I recommend Business Analysts consider taking the Product Owner training through Scrum.org or ScrumAlliance.org to reap the benefits of direct agile training.

To conclude, while the role of a Business Analyst is not formally recognized as an essential agile position as by Scrum.org, ScrumAlliance, or any other governing organization, BA’s do hold great importance within an agile organization.

Where Product Owners are the visionaries and decision-makers of the products they serve, Business Analysts are the tactical holders of detailed knowledge. Who else will know what specific piece of data requires a particular field within a financial system? A Business Analyst will. Who else will bridge the gap between client, technical, and business — yes again, a Business Analyst!

To date, limited training appears to be available for Business Analysts who are seeking to expand their agile mindset and knowledge. Some courses and certifications are available; however, agile is one small component. In my humble opinion, the IIBA AAC certification appears to be the best. However, BAs must do their homework and reach out to training organizations to learn more about the course curriculum; otherwise, engage with direct Product Owner training through the leading agile organizations.

Business Analysis is a valuable agile career path and I hope more training companies will create direct agile modules for their audience.

If you’re a Business Analyst who has taken a recent agile course or has excellent resources to share with other like-minded individuals, reach out to me at lisabradburnmedium@gmail.com. I will continue to update the story. Ultimately we are here to support one another in cultivating our agile mindsets amidst the ever-evolving organizational landscapes.

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