Most agile approaches don’t include the role of the business analyst (BA) or even discuss any analysis work. Analysis is the process of understanding needs, finding the root cause of problems, and brainstorming about the best solutions. This is a critical-thinking process that considers impacts and ramifications before acting. And this is the expertise of a business analyst.
What is the Role of a Business Analyst?
Some people think that analysts are not needed because formal requirements documents are not necessary in agile. After all, a significant part of business analysis does focus on requirements. But the most important work of an analyst is to analyze! Sometimes analysis will slow the quick development of a product—slow it down to consider the ramifications and impacts. In agile, an analyst can facilitate conversations to help the team think critically and consider impacts before building a feature or function. This facilitation doesn’t always leave a paper trail (requirements documents), but the fact that you can’t “see” the analysis does not make it any less important or unnecessary.
Analyzing the Business Value
Without analysis, a product owner’s request may be built into the product without considering whether the request is really a good idea.
Here’s a simple example:
When you include a business analyst in the conversation, it slows down the process:
Now a discussion ensues about what the product owner thinks are the advantages of cookies, and the developer explains the technical behaviors and results of using cookies. Maybe the product owner heard someone else talking about the value of cookies but really doesn’t understand the benefits or costs. What is the product owner trying to accomplish? The three members of the team then decide if cookies accomplish the goal or if there is a better way of solving the problem. Many people see this process as a barrier or block to development because it adds more time. But rather than being a block, analysis and critical thinking result in better-quality product features. They prevent mistakes from being built into the product, saving time and cost that would later be spent on rework.
I’m not criticizing agile developers. An experienced developer who is also analytical might ask these same questions, but an inexperienced or contract developer might not. It is critical we have a team member whose focus is to think about the requests and discuss the alternatives; it doesn’t matter whether that person’s title is BA or not.
Does this process take longer? YES, and that is a good thing. Analysis is the process of understanding needs, finding the root cause of problems, and brainstorming about the best solutions. Yes, analysis takes time, but it is time well spent.