Rethinking the Business Analyst for Agile ways of working | NTT DATA

Mon, 22 August 2022

Rethinking the Business Analyst for Agile ways of working

Modern markets move incredibly quickly. Competitors jockey for position, continually innovating their products and services, and Agility is a vital response to these challenges. It enables successful organisations to sustainably manage the cost and risk of product innovation.

However, across industries, firms face recurring issues in making Agile a reality. Product management is one of the most common problem areas, with the Product Owner (PO) and Business Analyst (BA) roles being key components.

Barriers to Agility

When it comes to Agile, a whole range of issues hinder progress, with the key challenges to Agility being leadership, cultural change, and mindset. While these are the first key elements that should always be tackled, product management should be the next focus. Product management is the initial gateway to Agile operations, and problems here can have far-reaching consequences.

One of the largest barriers lies in misunderstanding and underestimating the PO role and its complexity. Conflicting views pervade Agile teams and their wider organisation regarding the PO's responsibilities and how far their authority goes.

POs need to forge their own path. This can be difficult – especially in Agile transformation, where a Product Owner is often transitioning from a non-Agile role. This can lead to inconsistency and confusion across the organisation, missed key elements of Product Management, and a lack of sufficient empowerment of the PO by their organisation or leadership.

The PO’s limited bandwidth presents another issue: they may lack time to perform the key roles and responsibilities that come with product ownership. They maintain overall accountability, decision rights, and direction of the product – and are often SMEs in certain areas of an organisation. However, this can make it difficult for them to focus solely on their role as catalysts in the Agile team. Often, they have another day job they must focus on and return to when delivery is completed.

The third main stumbling block can come from a lack of PO skills and techniques. It is not just the Agile mindset that needs to be learnt; new tools and methods will need to be used.  Design thinking, Behaviour driven design (BDD), prioritisation techniques, SAFe, Scrum, and other tools used by a given company must be studied and practically applied. These are not skills that can be learnt instantly. This means that working out how to apply them in an organisation most successfully will take time and effort.

Finally, many teams that implement an Agile framework for software delivery find it useful to have a Business Analyst (BA) as part of the team. However, finding a good definition of what a BA does in the Agile context is challenging, especially because many frameworks such as Scrum do not define a BA role. With no defined role, this creates confusion surrounding product management responsibilities and can reduce a BA’s potential contribution – valuable though it may be.

Agile Business Analyst

NTT DATA developed its Agile Business Analyst Approach to help solve these problems. We’ve rethought the BA role, clearly defining its shared responsibilities with the Product Owner. By doing so, our goal is to reduce confusion and maximise the impact of these roles.

This Agile BA role ensures that the key responsibilities required for successful product management are covered, complementing the knowledge of the product and the strategic vision provided by the client SME.

By diving into issues and offering ways that the product might be evolved, the Agile BA can assist the PO in backing up their decisions. No longer limited to just assessing processes, drafting user stories, and determining requirements, they can provide deeper insights.

This approach aims to provide an initial, customisable structure for the PO and BA roles. It considers both organisational makeup and responsibilities to achieve maximum value. Rooted in practical experience, the whole design accelerates the process of forming mature product capabilities within Agile teams.

First-hand knowledge of the sector

This approach is rooted in NTT DATA’s practical experience of the subject across different industries, scales, and maturity levels. And its most exciting possibilities are relevant to a variety of sectors: as we’ve seen first-hand, working in telecommunications and the public sector.

The Agile BA approach brings a set of skills, knowledge, and experience to fill the gaps commonly found in an organisation’s PO role – as illustrated below. The role provides the focus needed on Agile delivery and is responsible for the day-to-day working within the Agile team. 

The following diagram covers the seven skillsets that we have found to be most vital for business analysts expected to perform in an Agile manner. With a mixture of technical proficiency, business acumen, design/product-oriented thinking, and Agile expertise, an Agile BA can improve productivity far more than they can in their traditional role.

The benefits of a BA should not be underestimated in understanding and practically applying items such as BDD and structured prioritisation techniques. With their help, companies can maximise value from the engineering teams, reduce re-work, and better align solutions to the needs of the business and the customers. 

Making the Agile BA real

Implementing the Agile BA role is not easy, nor does it suit a one-size-fits-all approach. Every client is on a different stage of their journey. To make the transition a success requires not just a generalised implementation of cut-and-paste methodologies but a tailored approach that is – most crucially – suited to each specific business.

NTT DATA’s Agile BA framework is designed to get strategic with a company. To curate an approach to Agile product management that works for that company, and sometimes that company only. Doing so has a disproportionate impact on your ability to do Agile well and tees you up for your wider enterprise agility journey.

NTT DATA provides coaching services to provide guidance and help you create mature product management capabilities in your organisation. Additionally, skilled Agile BAs are available to work directly with your organisation and Agile teams to make your product a success.

If you want to read more about how to smooth your company’s journey towards business Agility, click here.

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