True or false, with agile development methods beginning to permeate many organizations, the role of the business analyst, who gathers requirements in traditional waterfall development approaches, is no longer relevant.
Not necessarily, according to Forrester researcher Alissa Anderson, who took on the question in her recent research, “The Role of the Business Analyst in the Age of Agile Development.”
While agile development continues to take a foothold in many companies, there are few that will transition to a pure agile approach, Anderson says. They are instead practicing a sort of hybrid agile methodology, picking and choosing what fits them best (with Kanban techniques being a favorite).
That said, the ability to meld the best of both worlds, and learn to adapt to agile’s tenets, cannot only secure, but enhance a career as a business analyst.
“Having those soft skills has allowed them to excel in agile,” Anderson says of business analysts who have adjusted to the changes. “But people without soft skills, who really like the detail, who aren’t as flexible, who are not good with organized chaos, they might not do as well in an agile project.”
With agile development, the wall between the business users and the developers fades, because with each iteration of software development both sides are in contact on what’s working and what isn’t. However, the business analyst can play an important role here in establishing and maintaining realistic expectations and requirements, keeping developers in scope, and the demands of the business within reason, and ultimately making sure everything links back to the business objective.
Soft skills are a key to being able to deliver here. BAs need to be great facilitators (Anderson writes that: “BAs [need to] stay neutral during discussions, listen actively and encourage the synthesis of ideas”). BAs need superb written and communication skills, and need to be able to communicate concisely. They need to be very customer-first oriented, but have the negotiation skills to push back when necessary. Above all, they need to be opened-minded and able to cater to and assemble the skills on a team.
What are the benefits of agile development for BAs who adapt? Not only job security, but the promises of a better working environment, Anderson says. Agile encourages the unique qualities and talents each individual can bring to a team, and promotes bonding with co-workers by making sure teams connect either in physical locations or virtually through videoconferencing. In all, it removes the “us vs. them” mentality that can take over in organizations – and changes the mentality from one in which people are filled with a sense of urgency to produce, and more willing to offer their talents to identify and fix issues, Anderson writes in her report.
To enhance the soft skills of the business analysts on their team, many companies have put into place something called a “community of practice.” It’s a small group of business analysts – meeting in person and through online forums – sharing best practices, concerns and ideas about how to perform their jobs better. These range from internal groups, to chapters and organizations such as the International Institute of Business Analysis.
“You can tell how passionate BAs are about their jobs. I think the idea that in the agile world the BA is nonexistent is not true,” Anderson says. “No matter what, the BA function is going to be essential in any company.”