When it comes to knowing about Agile, there isn’t much room for flexibility. Chances are that if you’ve spent any significant amount of time working in business or IT, you are at least aware of Agile as a software development approach, if not as a popular technique for project and program management.
Over the past few years, Agile has been consistently growing in popularity, with its reactivity and fluid management style suiting many IT and digital-oriented businesses to a tee. However, its presence is not always welcome, and there remain several potential points of tension between Agile practitioners and those in traditional business roles.
One of the biggest offenders in this regard is the role of the ‘Business Analyst (BA)’. With a BA’s job being to assess and scrutinize projects, programs, and other areas of value generation, they can prove highly valuable in ensuring work is optimized in terms of efficiency and strategic alignment. At the same time, however, the interference of BAs has the potential to limit the speed and flexibility of Agile, which emphasizes the importance of pursuing short-term goals and reducing management oversight.
However, this perspective is often based on a rather skewed idea of what business analysts actually do. Their advice is based on a comprehensive understanding of the makeup and long-term strategic direction of their organization, as well as environmental factors, relationships, technical knowledge, and so on. They encourage a level of awareness and responsiveness that, as Steve Blais of BA Times points out, could easily be considered ‘Agile’ in nature.
Steve writes: “In some cases the discussions have a certain desperation to them because the agile community itself has, in the past, eliminated the business analyst role from the agile software development process. The anti-business business analyst vitriol has been quite strong over the years. The claim has been that the developers can do their own business analysis and an extra person in the position of business analyst simply gets in the way.
“In these discussions there are those, myself included, who claim that a business analyst is, and really always has been, agile…The profession of analyzing the business requires flexibility, responsiveness, creativity, innovative thinking, acceptance of change, and a dependence on individuals and interactions. Such qualities are desired, if not required, regardless of whether the business analyst is involved with agile software development, traditional software development, or no software development at all.”
A business analyst’s higher-scope focus can also be highly beneficial to Agile teams when applied at ground level. A BA can give Agile teams a sense of priority and direction while also acting as a go-between for the team and the rest of the business, reassuring managers, executives, and stakeholders whenever necessary. At the same time, their awareness can empower adaptability not only within Agile projects but also in the wider business.
In short, there are reasons for Agile practitioners to like and dislike business analysts, but what about ‘Agile business analysts’? Why are they necessary? What makes them different? And what do they bring to the table?
Why are Agile business analysts necessary?
If you rely on Agile for creating value, business analysis should absolutely be playing a role in your organization. Agile practitioners will keep reassessing how best to provide clients with what they want. However, without something to anchor them to wider business priorities, it can be easy for them to lose sight of the bigger picture. Projects can spiral in terms of time and expenditure, severely limiting how much value they ultimately produce.
That is not to say that traditional business analysis is the best possible solution. In taking a waterfall-style approach, A BA may be too focused on the plans and goals defined at the start of a project. Sticking to these too rigidly without taking changing priorities and circumstances into account can easily detract from the overall value of a project, to say nothing of what it would do to sabotage the practices of Agile users.
An ‘Agile business analyst’ is not simply a BA who orders Agile teams around. Rather, they have a firm understanding of what makes Agile projects tick and will adapt their understanding to suit the exact structure, resources, and requirements of their own organization. In this regard, an Agile BA is very much a team member rather than an outsider.
Unlike a traditional BA, an AgileBA will focus on the problem rather than whatever solutions have been defined. They will work to solve the problem in a way that creates as much value as possible. At the same time, they will prioritize following Agile best practices. For example, they will still focus on fast turnaround times, but in a way that remains firmly focused on strategic requirements.
So, why are Agile business analysts necessary? Because they can ensure that Agile can be applied in a way that satisfies the wider business without sacrificing what makes the approach unique and effective. They make Agile less of a risk for more traditional organizations and ensure that Agile projects generate as much strategic value as possible.
The role of an Agile business analyst
As is the case with any role, an agile business analyst will find their precise responsibilities varying depending on the companies and projects they work with. However, there are several consistent elements:
- Adaptability – This has always been a defining feature of Agile: the ability to adapt to new circumstances and challenges without slowing down and creating results far more in line with changing client requirements. An Agile BA will enable this adaptability based not only on ground-level factors but also high-level strategic necessities. This ensures that any changes are driven by comprehensive awareness that can be used to justify them to managers and stakeholders
- Alignment – Agile BAs are well aware of how project goals fit into larger strategies. They will prioritize alignment when dealing with Agile projects, keeping them on track and ensuring that even iterative goals are ultimately driven by long-term requirements
From looking at these elements, it is clear that Agile business analysts play a role that is both microscopic and macroscopic. They are aware of individual project considerations as well as the bigger picture.
- Innovation – Agile BAs use critical thinking techniques to assess whether a project is pursuing value and satisfying business goals. They may suggest areas for improvement and can assess the potential impact of suggested changes in a way that makes it far easier to justify them to high-level decision-makers. At the same time, their comprehensive awareness can keep ‘innovations’ on track, reducing any associated risks and making sure they are focused on generating the right kind of value. In other words, the role of an Agile BA involves empowering and strengthening Agile innovation
- Understanding – An Agile business analyst is, in many ways, an intermediary. They must understand the concerns and capabilities of different team members, as well as different teams, and can communicate these across other areas of the business. They act as a useful representative for Agile users while still being part of the Agile team and will not simply dictate solutions to them from on-high
- Clarity – Within an Agile team, an agile business analyst can help ensure that roles and goals are clearly defined. This helps to remove the unflattering element of uncertainty that puts many businesses off Agile in the first place. They can also lend this same clarity to problem domains, strategic targets, client concerns, and more
What is ‘Agile Business Analyst (AgileBA)’?
While the role of an Agile business analyst has been under discussion for a fair amount of time, it is only relevantly recently that certification providers have truly taken notice. ‘Agile Business Analyst’, or ‘AgileBA’, is a framework created by APMG International. It is based on the Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM) and offers demonstrably effective insight and best practices for agile business analysts.
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