These are all valid questions. And we, as business analysts, need to be prepared to advocate for ourselves. We know we bring value to projects, but if we can't articulate that value, then our clients won't (and shouldn't) pay to include our services on their projects.
In order to understand the benefits business analysts bring to a project, it's important to look at the general criteria for project success. Successful projects generally consist of four primary components: completion within the timeline, adherence to budget, impact on everyday business, and solution adoption/usefulness. In other words, a client wants to know “Will I get what I want, within the approved time frame, for the amount of money we agreed to and allow my staff to keep their day jobs?”
Value to the project
The primary function of a business analyst is to identify and clarify the needs of the business group on the project. Once the client identifies the overall project goal, it's the business analyst’s responsibility to develop a thorough understanding of that goal and ensure the functionality will yield the desired result.
What is often overlooked, however, is how a good business analyst maximizes the efficiency of the project team. While the development team works to define the technical direction and build the solution features, the business analyst works behind the scenes to provide timely information, clarify questions, remove roadblocks and ensure functional development is moving the project toward a successful conclusion.
Value to the client
From a client's point of view, a software project can be daunting. Every organization has competing priorities, limited budgets and multiple stakeholders with differing opinions. Once a project is approved, there's immense pressure to successfully achieve the business objective on time and within budget. Additionally, employees will be asked to take time away from their usual tasks and obligations to contribute to the project through defining requirements, providing feedback to developers and testing functionality as it's created. It is here where a business analyst can provide significant value in a number of ways.
- Defining scope — Whether the scope is defined before the project begins or during the discovery phase, a strong business analyst is adept at understanding the business objective(s) and the possible technical solutions. He or she provides valuable insight to ensure the critical features are defined correctly and that unnecessary features are omitted to save time and money. The business analyst is able to articulate how business needs can be met with the greatest impact to productivity while ensuring the least impact to cost.
- Facilitating requirements discussions — If multiple stakeholders are involved in the definition of a project, there will be some confusion or disagreement about the true priorities of the solution. The business analyst serves to clarify the needs of the project to ensure an overall prioritization is established, thus allowing all opinions to be heard, considered and reconciled. Additionally, the business analyst will facilitate and drive these discussions, ensuring that all of the stakeholders are represented equally.
- Serving as a representative of the business — During the project, it's inevitable the stakeholders will need to maintain focus and commitment to their primary jobs and have the flexibility to focus on core business initiatives, which may divert their attention from solution projects. In these times, the business analyst can serve as an advocate for the business stakeholder to limit the impact of their absence on the project. The business analyst should be able to successfully represent the business group even during their absence.
- Assisting with testing and documentation — The business analyst drives value through the testing and implementation phases to ensure the solution meets the client's requirements. His or her intimate knowledge of detailed business needs, strategic initiatives and technical functionality allows the business analyst to create test cases and execute test scripts that align with the client's business requirements. The businesss analyst will deliver knowledge transfer and documentation targeted to the stakeholders.
Value for software developers
- Allow developers to focus on development — Although the development team can work with clients to clarify requirement details, time spent refining requirements is time not spent developing. Business analysts understand the level of detail developers need in order to be successful so they can bridge the gap between the business requirements and the technical requirements. This time management allows developers to focus on what they do best: creating solutions.
- Managing the backlog — The optimal project will have the user stories and requirements defined at least two to four weeks in advance of when they'll be developed. When this occurs, the development team has time to become familiar with the requirements and properly plan their approach. When a business analyst is involved in a project, he or she can build this backlog in advance, allowing time for clarification of questions that may arise around development approach, risks or scope.
Value for project managers/scrum masters
- Change management — Business analysts help project managers manage project scope, budget and timeline by becoming experts on the requirements of the project. This expertise ensures the team is focused on the goals and allows the business analyst to be the first to communicate when priorities may need to shift or when he or she sees requests alter current scope. This results in a more effective project delivery approach that will ensure greater chances for success. If the business wants a feature outside of the original project objectives, the business analyst can help clarify and communicate the business value of the feature to help inform decision-makers.
- Confidence in the totality of the elicited requirements — The business analyst will ensure requirements are understood, communicated and thoroughly evaluated, which is critical to ensure the project stays on schedule and within budget. When requirements are not fully articulated with “success criteria,” there's a higher risk something will be omitted during development or that an incorrect development approach will be taken. By including a business analyst early in the project, project managers can trust that the work the business analyst thinks should be done is actually the work that will satisfy the needs of the client and project.
- Focused conversations — The business analyst helps the project manager keep the team moving in the right direction by focusing conversations on the identified business objectives. This not only helps the team stay on track by minimizing distractions, but it also helps prevent scope creep.
Business analysts effectively elicit and document requirements. However, their value to a project team far exceeds these tasks. They bring a sense of objectivity and perspective, ensuring that the business problem to be solved is so well understood that the solution is targeted, effective and efficiently designed to meet the business need.
Their value can be seen when business analysts add value to:
- The project by increasing the team’s efficiency
- The client by clarifying scope and advocating for business stakeholders
- Developers by managing the backlog and clarifying requirements, allowing developers to devote their time purely to development efforts
- Project managers by providing input for change management