What Is Agile Business Analysis - the best business analyst techniques for Product Owners

My Start to Become a Business Analyst

Many, many years ago, while working on an application for a French insurance company, I read a business rule that stated:

“We charge a $2.00 fee for each new policy, extension, amendment, or cancellation unless the agent reduced the premium to match a competitor’s offer or at the discretion of a senior underwriter.”

I did not know how to interpret that business rule. So, I called a senior underwriter and asked for clarification. That turned my career choice on its head.

By contacting the subject matter expert (SME), I transitioned from a developer into a business analyst (BA). Together with my wife Angela (who was that SME), I have spent the following thirty plus years defining, teaching, and practicing business analysis. But that begs the question, “What exactly is business analysis?

Business Analysis Defines Future Capabilities

Business analysis under any name is a critical step that allows software developers to deliver functionality that the organization needs. In today’s world, effective business analysis contributes greatly to the success of a new digital solution.  Because of that, it has become a hot topic in the global marketplace.

Given the complexity of today’s digital solutions, this is a non-trivial undertaking. The skills needed to identify and define the best IT solutions are invaluable for every role in the organization. These skills include hard skills like process and data modelling, requirements elicitation, requirements management, etc. and soft skills like meeting facilitation, collaboration, empathy, etc.

These skills can propel you from the mailroom to the boardroom by making your organization more effective and more profitable.

The Field of Business Analysis Is Extremely Broad and Extensive

It deals with information technology, people, business processes, and data problems. Practitioners analyze those problems, derive business needs, and define the solutions for these needs in the form of requirements, user stories, feature lists, etc.

Common business analysis activities include

  • improving business processes
  • creating a business case
  • eliciting business needs
  • facilitating user story workshops
  • and analyzing requirements.

In some organizations, they also include end-user Acceptance Testing or validating the implemented solution. Business analysis is often performed at three levels: strategic, tactical, and operational (aka targeted) business analysis.

Online Course: Agile Business Analysis - Getting and Writing Lean Requirements

Learn Business Analysis Techniques for Discovering Requirements, User Stories, Features, and Gherkin (Given-When-Then) Tests

Strategic Business Analysis (SBA)

SBA defines projects or initiatives based on the organization’s goals and objectives. Having nothing to do with software development per se, this level of business analysis is generally methodology independent. The form in which the outcome is expressed does, however, depend on whether the organization follows a traditional or agile approach.

In a traditional methodology, SBA delivers strategies, goals, and objectives expressed in Project Scope and Business Requirement statements.

In an Agile or Lean environment, SBA defines the high-level of the initiative or product in terms of Theme, Features Lists, and Business Epics. Those are less formal because details are not delivered until developers need them.

In both cases, whoever does this level of business analysis needs an expansive toolkit to ensure that the resulting projects and initiatives actually support the organization’s business goals and objectives.

Tactical Business Analysis (TBA)

TBA is where the selected software development method has the greatest impact. The Software Development Methodology changes the timing of analysis and the level of detail of the outcome.

An Agile SDM like Scrum depends on Just-In-Time (JIT) analysis. A Product Owner coordinates with the business community to manage a Product Backlog. That includes prioritizing User Stories in preparation for an upcoming release. Developers, testers, and (sometimes) analysts form the Agile Team that clarifies and estimates User Stories selected for delivery in that release.

TBA in a traditional or waterfall methodology ferrets out User or Stakeholder Requirements based on the Business Requirements for the project.

Operational or Targeted Business Analysis (OBA)

OBA is critical for inexperienced development teams or when the work is outsourced. This level defines the business needs in nitty gritty details that reduce developer dependency on their knowledge of the business environment. It is sometimes called Systems Analysis and expresses business needs as Solution Requirements, work items, Functional Features or technical specifications.

Book: Getting and Writing IT Requirements in a Lean and Agile World

Business Analysis Techniques for Discovering User Stories, Features, and Gherkin (Given-When-Then) Scenarios

Critical Business Analyst Skills

IT developers need clear and verifiable IT Requirements to guide their programming efforts. Unfortunately, the technological needs of a company are seldom available in an understandable form. Many business or technical requirements are not documented anywhere. They exist in the minds of stakeholders and in feedback that you need to gather from end users.

Those who practice business analysis are responsible for eliciting, analyzing, communicating, and validating requirements. That implies a vast and varied skill set. Traditional skill sets a business analyst needs include:

  • Defining and analyzing problems and opportunities
  • Discovering (eliciting) business needs and stakeholder requirements in the form of User Stories, Epics, Features, etc.
  • Analyzing and communicate stakeholder- and solution requirements using plain text (i.e., User Cases, User Stories, Feature Lists, etc.) as well as models and diagrams that support visualization.
  • Develop Acceptance Tests in the form of Scenarios, Scenario Outlines, and Examples
  • Facilitate User Story Workshops or Requirements Meetings and Workshops

Business analysis is a people-centered profession. As a result, Business Analysts need great people skills, aka soft skills in addition to the traditional business analysis techniques. The critical soft skills include:

  • Communication skills (listening, nonverbal, presenting, motivating, etc.)
  • Facilitation skills
  • Conflict resolution
  • Critical thinking and creativity
  • Speedy learner
  • Leadership skills
  • Relationship forming
  • Negotiation skills

Who Does Business Analysis?

Due to the evolving and complex nature of knowledge that IT developers need and the growing demand for digital solutions, the responsibility for creating high-quality business and stakeholder requirements falls increasingly on members of the business community.

Creating software requirements for digital solutions is increasingly task of Product Owners, Product Managers, Project Managers, Business Analysts, Requirements Engineers, and business experts. Most of these folks have no formal training or relevant title but are often asked to do business analysis.

The key to making business analysis a positive force for change is ensuring that the people doing it have the appropriate skills and business analysis techniques to do it well. Whether or not those individuals have the Business Analyst job title is a question for the organizational structure.

The Real Reason for Business Analysis

The best argument for business analysis was expressed by a historic figure who predates the IT industry by centuries. The political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli stated,

“It must be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage than a new system.”

Those who define and design systems have a power that far exceeds their authority. As the ones defining the future digital solutions for organizations worldwide, anyone who practices business analysis has and wields an awesome responsibility. This career should not be taken lightly.

Expand Your Business Analysis Skill Set

If you are interested in a deep dive into business analysis or would like to become a business analyst, check out these online, self-paced courses:

What Is Agile / Lean Business Analysis?

Agile Business Analysis: Getting and Writing Lean Requirements

Lean / Agile Business Analysis: Writing BUSINESS Use Cases

If you prefer reading, check out our lean business analysis books:

LEAN Business Analysis for Agile Teams

Getting and Writing IT Requirements in a Lean and Agile World

(DEUTSCHE AUSGABE) Lean und Agile Business Analyse leicht gemacht: Einfache Methoden für Product Owner, Business Analysten und Business-Experten zur Ermittlung von Anforderungen, User Stories, Features, Funktionen und Szenarien

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