Do we have a business analyst in agile?

2012-08-14 LakeWhen we talk about agile projects and the most popular agile approaches such as Scrum, XP, Lean or Kanban, there is never any mention of specific team member roles that correspond to waterfall projects. For example, where are the specialists, such as system architects, database designers, or business analysts? Are they no longer relevant in agile? Or are the tasks that would have been performed by people in these roles fulfilled in some other way?

Let’s focus on the role of the business analyst, a role that is vitally important in waterfall projects and as we shall see it is implicitly addressed in agile projects as well.

In general, the business analyst can help agile teams by representing the customer, especially when the business domain is complex and the team is not very familiar with it. He or she can elaborate the requirements and clarify their purpose in the business environment.

What the BABOK says about agile

For more information about the business analyst role in agile, I turned to the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA), a non-profit professional association with the purpose of supporting and promoting the discipline of business analysis. IIBA has created A Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge or BABOK in short, a collection of knowledge reflecting the current generally accepted practices in the business analysis profession.

The Agile Extension of the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge, developed in collaboration with the Agile Alliance, provides guidance to the effective practice of business analysis in an agile context. According to this Agile Extension, the business analyst has a role in the various agile methodologies as explained below.

The business analyst in Scrum

Scrum does not address business analysis activities in detail and many of these activities occur as implicit steps in the scrum framework.

In some environments business analysts are part of the scrum team. In others they work as product owners to provide the team with user stories. According to the IIBA, having a business analyst as the product owner is a dysfunction because business analysts typically don’t have ROI responsibilities for the product. This means they cannot really fulfill the product owner role, for example they do not have the authority to prioritize features.

The business analyst is primarily needed for creation and maintenance of the product backlog. During a sprint, business analysis activities focus on defining the requirements for the backlog items being worked on and the acceptance criteria for those items.

The business analyst in XP

XP does not explicitly address business analysis activities. The customer role in XP is filled by a small number of people who know what the most valuable features will be. A business analyst adds value in facilitating and negotiating with stakeholders to reach a common understanding of the most valuable deliverables.

According to the IIBA, allowing users to create and manage user stories can lead to unfiltered requirements without consideration for applicability to other customer groups. Business analysis skills can be used to ensure underlying problems are being addressed in a way that works for all stakeholders on the project, as well as to define detailed acceptance criteria for each user story.

The business analyst in Kanban

Business analysis, like all activities in the Kanban method, occurs in a constant and continuous flow through the life of the project.

In Kanban there are no roles, and you start with the process you have. So when working with Kanban, a business analyst will continue to do what he did before. The difference might be that he will work with smaller batches delivering smaller artifacts to the developers. The Work-In-Progress Limit that Kanban enforces will drive him to collaborate more with the team rather than focus just on his deliveries in isolation.

In a Kanban project, the business analyst only begins to define requirements for a new work item when the queue steps forward. At that point the development team begins to work on one of the completed requirements, while the business analysis begins collecting requirements for the next item in the queue.

So where is the business analyst?

In summary, none of the agile approaches address the business analyst role explicitly. However, they all require tasks that would be performed by a business analyst which is accomplished in a format that is applicable to the methodology.

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