It’s easy to identify the business analysts in a software project team, but not everyone knows what his or her responsibilities are. In order to shed some light on this matter, we sat down with our BA staff and asked them to help us understand what’s their role and why they can make the difference between success and failure.
Let’s start with the basics. What is a business analyst? How is it different from a functional analyst role?
Simply put, the business analyst has the big picture in mind, while the functional analyst focuses on details. The business analyst is capable of analysing the client’s business from all points of view (processes, financial, organizational) and she identifies problems and opportunities while suggesting solutions to address them. The business analyst thinks in terms of business processes, and the solution is not always a software application. He discusses the solution with the client and makes sure that it is aligned with the client’s vision. If the solution is a software application, then the next phase is to analyse the technical, or rather functional requirements, which are defined by the client together with the business analyst. This is where the functional analyst’s role starts. The client has the vision, the business analyst translates it into business needs/goals, while the functional analyst makes sure that the requirements are in line with the general purpose of the system (FA defines the requirements in a correct manner).
The business analyst can also play the role of a functional analyst after the solution is defined and agreed upon with the client. At Qubiz, we combine the two roles depending on every project’s specifics.
What are the roles/tasks of a BA?
The role of a business analyst is quite complex, entailing the following:
adding value to the client’s business by finding ways to improve the existing functionalities;
understanding new systems intuitively and deducing the rules that make a system work the way it does;
having an overview of the solution;
tracking the project specifications (is it a bug or a new or changed feature?) and documenting the specifications for easy validation;
sharing the business knowledge and helping the team (including the Product Owner) make the right decisions;
facilitating the communication between the team and the Product Owner; helping the team move from ambiguity regarding the project’s goals & scope to clarity;
in situations of conflict between the client/Product Owner and the team, he can remain neutral/balanced and see both sides of the argument.
It is said that a business analyst enjoys starting projects more than finishing them, because the big effort goes into initiating the project.
Could, and if yes, should, a business analyst play the role of the Product Owner?
Yes, the business analyst can be a Product Owner in a Scrum project. In fact, at Qubiz we had projects when the business analyst was in fact a proxy PO, who was on site and at the disposal of the developers 24/7. Is it the ideal setup? More often than not no, but it depends on the project.
Can a developer or a tester also play a business analyst role?
The ideal candidates for a business analyst role are developers and testers who want to take a step back, and see the big picture. As such, BA’s can also have other roles within a company. It depends on the specifics of the project whether a full-time employee has to be allocated as a business analyst or not. However, good business analysts need to have specific skills to be able to perform their jobs:
good communication skills: they have to talk to non-technical people - such as clients - in a “common” language, so they can understand what the software is supposed to do, the development process and other important details;
a good understanding of the way everything is integrated in the system (from a functional point of view);
being able to add value to the client by streamlining the client’s business processes;
being open to learn about the different clients’ industries. By combining that information with his professional expertise, the BA can align the clients’ requirements with what they actually need in order to succeed in their industries.
Does the business analyst need to have technical knowledge? Should he or she be an expert in the client’s industry?
Although business analysts don’t write a single line of code, their role requires a high degree of technical knowledge. They have to be able to discuss architectural approaches when they propose a software solution to the product owner and the client.
About the second question - the things are pretty clear: the more experience or knowledge business analysts have in the client’s industry, the better and more comprehensive solutions they will find. If they lack experience in a certain industry, a series of meetings with the stakeholders - business owner, client’s project managers, end users etc. - will help them start the project right.
How can business analysts act entrepreneurial in their relationship with the client?
Proactivity is more than welcome in a business analyst’s role! This trait helps him or her identify new needs - which often are not related to the project per se, or may imply adding new functionalities to the solution.
Why should software companies have business analysts on staff?
Companies should see the business analyst as a competitive advantage in three ways:
First, an agile team with a business analyst (and functional analyst) on board is capable of working faster and with a higher degree of independency. This translates into less “attention” needed from the Product Owner; the team is able to solve some issues internally without having to wait for the next meeting with the product owner. In these cases, the business analyst is practically a “proxy product owner”.
Second, with a business analyst on board, the product owner’s monolog transforms into a dialog with the team. The PO is not dictating the requirements, he is discussing them with the team. Together they are outlining the possible issues, and they can exercise entrepreneurship by proactively offering solutions.
Third, business analysts are the glue of their teams. At Qubiz, we assemble agile teams in which often the BA is also the Scrum Master. The BA understands the different levels of complexity of the whole system, making him the ideal team member to suggest the product owner in which direction should the project go and coordinate the team towards that direction.
Tell us about an interesting case where your role was crucial / or where you liked it the most?
R.S. The client let me decide where the system was going and what database structure to choose in order to accommodate the end customer needs.
S.B: When the client wanted to make a change to the system and he asked me if we should do it like he thought, or whether I had a better idea.
R.B: When the client acknowledges that you add value to the project. Once I proposed a feature the client hadn’t thought about, but he liked it instantly very much!