The Agile Business Analyst: A Product Owner’s Best Friend

Don't Quit Your Day Job - Written by Elizabeth Taberner-Mair

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There’s so much jargon and lingo in technology that for the everyday businessperson any technology conversation is a difficult and overwhelming experience. But everyday business people have technology needs too. You know everything about your business, but could you translate that into software?

A proficient Agile software development project team depends on a strong and engaged Product Owner to drive the priorities and the product backlog. An effective Product Owner is dedicated and available – do you have the time to be Product Owner for your project? To keep track of the product backlog, answer developer questions, and still fulfill your day job? An Agile Business Analyst can help bridge that gap.

Responsibilities. Let’s start by taking a look at the responsibilities of the Product Owner:

  • Backlog definition: meet with stakeholders to define the product, define product epics (features), define the product backlog, define acceptance criteria for each backlog item, prioritize the backlog;
  • Backlog grooming: identify dependencies between product backlog items, refine and size the product backlog;
  • Define requirements: wrangle details of each story from stakeholders and subject matter experts, support the development of software requirements to meet the acceptance criteria;
  • Support the development process: present the backlog at sprint planning meetings, support developers and testers questions throughout the sprint;
  • Get the product into the real world: accept and sign-off on an implemented story, manage stakeholder expectations…

Introducing the Agile Business Analyst. For those with little experience in software development, this list is long and frightening. The best types of Product Owners are those who understand the true business need of a project and can provide immediate insight to the value and priority of backlog items.
The role of an experienced Agile Business Analyst can support a Product Owner through the
software development process, providing the development team with a dedicated resource which improves velocity and eliminates blocking issues quickly, and leaves the Product Owner to be business focused. Think of them as a Product Owner Peer – or a Product Owner’s best friend.

Agile BA Skills. An Agile Business Analyst is skilled in software development and requirements
elicitation. They know how to ask the right questions of business stakeholders and SMEs and facilitate prioritization with often dissenting opinions. Agile Business Analysts can design software solutions to meet business requirements and that solve business issues, while simultaneously managing the scope of the solution to ensure that the most business value is delivered for the time spent. They can then translate these designs to developers through requirements including visual models.
To the Agile purist, the role of an Agile Business Analyst is an added layer of communication, which goes against the principles of agility. However, someone is always eliciting detailed requirements and communicating them across the team, be it the Product Owner, a developer, a tester… By enabling a skilled resource to complete these activities, developers and testers are freed up to implement the stories.

Technical Chops. The best Agile BA’s are somewhat technical. They understand the software
development process in detail and can contribute to the development of software architecture and design. They are effective at troubleshooting and understand data and how to access it. This technical merit works both ways – Agile BA’s can communicate business needs to the developers in a technical manner, and can communicate technical challenges and solutions to stakeholders in a not-so- technical manner. This relieves a lot of stress for a non-technical Product Owner (that’s what friends are for!). All Agile BAs at Axispoint have a background in software development and technology.

Enables Cost Reduction. The presence of an Agile Business Analyst at Axispoint enables the hybrid onshore/offshore development model (link?). Developers and other team members can be in remote locations, but software requirements are still elicited with direct customer interaction as Axispoint’s Agile BAs work out of Axispoint’s head office. This face time is essential in getting to the core business problems and for brainstorming solutions with stakeholders; the proximity to the customer enables better communication, but costs remain minimized by not requiring this same proximity for the whole development team.

Scrum Ceremonies. Scrum puts an onus on the Product Owner to be present at all ceremonies to facilitate decision-making and provide requirements direction and input. For a time-crunched Product Owner, the Scrum schedule can be a challenge; the Agile BA can be a proxy when necessary. This includes facilitating Sprint Planning (1.5-2 hours, every 2-3 weeks), participating in the Sprint Retrospective (15-30 minutes, every 2-3 weeks), and participating in the Daily Stand-Up (15 minutes, every day). But as the ultimate “Product Owner”, we always recommend that the Product Owner attend the Sprint Demo (1-1.5 hours, every 2-3 weeks) and Backlog Grooming (1-1.5 hours, every 2-3 weeks)!

Like any good best friend, the more investment you make, the better the outcome – so while the Agile BA can be a proxy, the Product Owner should be highly engaged for the best result.

Dividing Responsibilities. Let’s take another look at the responsibilities of the Product Owner, but now divide them between the Product Owner and the Product Owner Peer/Agile Business Analyst*.

Product Owner Product Owner Peer / Agile Business Analyst Together, guided by the POP
- meet with stakeholders to define the product
- manage stakeholder expectations
- wrangle details of each story from stakeholders and subject matter experts
- identify dependencies between product backlog items
- refine and size the product backlog
- present the backlog at sprint planning meetings
- support the development of software requirements to meet the acceptance criteria
- support developers and testers questions throughout the sprint
- define product epics(features)
- define the product backlog
- define acceptance criteria for each backlog item
- prioritize the backlog (final authority coming from Product Owner)
- accept and sign-off on an implemented story

Introducing an Agile Business Analyst to a software development project can make it possible for a customer to achieve the Product Owner responsibilities. By leaving the Product Owner to be business focused and working in a partnership, better quality software can be produced with better velocity, and the technical expertise of the Agile BA makes approaching the development team less intimidating.
Would you like to hear more? Contact us to find out how our Analysts can help your organization through a technology implementation.