Agile Product Ownership and the Role of the Business Analyst

As part of the IIBA stream at the recent Australian Computer Society Conference #ACSCanCon16, I explored agile product ownership and the role of a business analyst when they move to an Agile project. I thought about how business analysts play an important role.

In traditional waterfall projects they usually act as the link between the business units and IT, helping to discover the user needs and the solution to address them. In Agile Teams however, there is no business analyst role.

As an enterprise agile coach, I was recently working with a BA who was faced with this situation when his organisation was undergoing and digital transformation. We explored what happens to the business analysts in Scrum teams to work out what was the best way he could develop his agile capability and contribute to the Team.

2016-10-04

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Like other specialist roles, the work of a business analyst changes in Scrum. I discussed with this BA some of the options for business analysts working in a Scrum team and how their knowledge and skills present an opportunity to play a vital role in product ownership. Business analysts tend to have an intimate knowledge of the product plus strong communication skills, and this lends itself to a shift into product ownership. So we explored two options:

BA as a Team member

Business analysts working as a Agile Team member become part of a cross-functional team and often take the lead to help their peers refine the product backlog and understand the functional specifications for the product. There is however a shift in emphasis from writing about requirements to talking about them. As a team member, the BA’s first priority to to helping the Team achieve the sprint goal and therefore the BA contributes by tracking down answers about features, cross pairing with developers to learn more about how the solution works, assisting in testing and/or writing test cases and scenarios as well as completing design and functional documentation about the solution.

BA as Product Owner

Another option is for the Analyst to act as a Product Owner for the  team, working with product management and business stakeholders to translate the vision into product backlogs for the teams. The Business Analyst as product owner is often a natural extension of a more senior business analyst’s role. But it usually implies change: A business analyst turned product owner should now own the product on behalf of the organisation, and be empowered to decide what the product should look like and do, and the ranked order in which functionality is to be developed. The Business Analyst  usually also has to learn new skills including understanding what users need, business value and how their needs can be best met, refining the product backlog and writing user stories.

Conclusions

BA’s place in agile teams:

  • Shift from making deliverables and producing upfront requirements
  • Shift from projects and temporary team membership
  • Focus on users and needs over system functionality
  • The “brains” in the agile team to contribute to solving complex user problems
  • Contributing to product development and product evolution
  • Team member, with collaborative, collective “product ownership”
  • Team empowered to deliver high value solutions to solve user problems

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