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Business Analysis is a Thing of the Past

A Thing of the PastI have been enjoying Steve Blais’sIt’s the End of the Business Analysis World as we Know it?” articles on Business Analyst Times and I think it will make a fun read when he publishes the full book later this year. In the parts he has published to date, my take-away is that although business analysis is a crucial activity, it may not be necessary for an organization to have “business analyst” as a job title.

Business Analysis is the Future

A Thing of the Future?An interesting counterpoint to Mr. Blais’s argument is the article in Computer World from July of 2012 “Tech hotshots: the rise of the IT business analyst” which points out that “IT business analyst” ranked as one of the country’s top 12 jobs to pursue in 2012. Apparently, the world has changed a lot in the past year; or has it?

Which Position is Correct?

I actually agree fundamentally with both of these seemingly opposing positions. I know that organizations badly need business analysis skills to survive in the global marketplace of the 21st century. Any successful organization that downplays, ignores, or eliminates the job position “Business Analyst” simply has people with different job titles performing these crucial activities — or its success will not be for long.

Business Analysts in an Agile World

A major threat to business analysis brought up in Steve’s book is the idea that “Agile” teams do not need business analysis. I disagree! Agile teams may or may not need business analysts, but if neither the product owner nor any developers perform business analysis, there is a high risk that their solution will not work. Acknowledged, the software might work exactly as the customer wants it to and the “Agile” approach is certainly a valid approach for delivering working software to the customer rapidly.  Unfortunately, software is only one component of a working business solution – and that is why business analysis is essential.

Not All Business Analysis Tasks Are Created Equal

At BA-EXPERTS, we distinguish between three levels of business analysis activities:

  • Strategic Business Analysis identifies and analyzes business problems to suggest potential solutions. It also discovers and flushes out new opportunities and establishes business goals and objectives. The outcome of this level is a set of defined changes, some of which may include software while others may not. If the organization does not have a Business Analysis Center of Excellence (BACoE), Senior Business Analysts, or Business Architects, various levels of senior management are performing these tasks.
  • Tactical Business Analysis starts with a defined scope and objective. Its primary purpose is to flush out the details of the proposed change. The details can be expressed in User Story form for Agile initiatives or in Requirement Format for non-IT and conventional IT projects. In my experience, the majority of people with the job title “Business Analyst” are performing these activities. Lacking this job title, the Product Owner on the Agile team or the Subject Matter Expert on conventional projects are expected to take this on.
  • Operational Business Analysis deals with the nitty-gritty components of keeping existing business solutions working (as in defining change requests for software amongst other duties) and implementing new business solutions (including those involving software) as they become available. This level of analysis is closely related to systems analysis and is most commonly performed by someone with a lot of IT knowledge. It consists of decomposing User Stories (during a Sprint in the Agile world) or Stakeholder Requirements (for waterfall or iterative approaches) to identify Solution and Transition Requirements.

The Levels are Debatable

Whether you agree with our three artificial levels or not, I assume you acknowledge that someone in the organization has to take the multi-functional aspect of modern organizations into account before embarking on a software development initiative for any part of the organization. The real question is how qualified the individuals doing it are and what is the impact on the organization if it is not done properly.

The Bottom Line

Whether a business analyst, the CEO, a Product Owner, a SME, a developer, or anyone else executes the business analysis function, the less skilled that individual is, the higher the risk of failure, short- or long-term. So I agree that IT Business Analyst is one of the best career choices in the current job market and I agree with Steve that the Business Analyst "job title" is not essential. However, the results of doing business analysis are. If you get really, really good at delivering great business analysis results, you have a very bright future indeed — perhaps you could even become the CEO. Maybe Mr. Blais should consider retitling his book “The End of the Business Analyst Position as We Know It”.