The Experts’ Take on Business Analysis and Agile

If you ask Business Analysts what they think about ‘Agile’, you’re likely to get a mixed bag of answers. Some are curious about what Agile is, while others are interested or excited in the benefits of Agile methodologies. Some may have been on Agile projects and have seen dubious benefits, or have had great experiences.

In the past 2-3 years the term Agile has become increasingly prevalent in organizations of all shapes and sizes. While the Agile movement as a set of software development principles has been around for nearly 10 years, more and more Business Analysts are involved in ‘Agile teams’, ‘Agile projects’, ‘Agile organizations’, and are even becoming ‘Agile Business Analysts’.

With so many different ideas on what Agile is and how Agile impacts the Business Analysis profession, we decided to talk with leading experts in the Agile field and get their opinions on the subject. These people have been involved in Agile for several years (some prior to its formal inception) and have seen how individuals with traditional titles like Business Analyst or Project Manager fit into Agile teams. We received a great response from people who want to help Business Analysts understand how they can add value in an Agile environment. Our experts include:

What Does Agile Really Mean?

To get an understanding of what our experts meant when they talked about Agile, we asked them what the term Agile means to them. We received a variety of responses, which indicates how nebulous the term has become. Cockburn, Pichler and Gottesdiener all referred to the Agile Manifesto definition of the term, which is, as Cockburn notes, “is a priority- and values-declaration, not a methodology or process or tool.”

Others had a more general or varying viewpoint. Nee indicates that she believes that the term means “the adaptability to change. The tenets of Agile are about iterative, incremental delivery of the product within the project.” Ambler referred us to IBM Rational’s definition of the term .Pichler took a practical view and noted that in the software development environment Agile has become essentially a Scrum-driven activity. Kohl best summed it up: “Agile tends to mean whatever the speaker wants it to mean.  To deal with this, I ask a lot of questions about specific processes and tools to determine if they are using the word in the way I would.”

With no single specific definition it can be difficult for Business Analysts to understand what Agile means or how it affects their work. When a Business Analyst is being introduced to an ‘Agile’ environment or idea, it is best to follow Kohl’s suggestion and find out exactly what Agile means in the specific situation.

How the Business Analyst Role Changes in Agile

With the above variety of definitions of Agile in mind, we asked our experts how they saw the role of a Business Analyst within an Agile environment. The experts all agreed that from an actual job duty perspective the role of someone with the traditional title of a Business Analyst may not change that greatly. However, the format, techniques and even physical environment in which those tasks are performed can be drastically altered.

These shifts can occur because the needs and dynamics of an Agile team are different from a more traditional business or software development environment. Agile teams emphasize collaboration and ongoing engagement, whereas more traditional projects are focused on ‘phases’ and ‘hand-offs’ that can lead to the team segregating itself along job description or project phase lines.

One of the biggest changes a Business Analyst may experience is the timing of producing work products. For instance, Nee indicates that “the traditional BA will still be gathering requirements [but] in iterations, or increments, rather than all upfront.” Kohl believes that Business Analysts “no longer have a phase in which you do most of your analysis work, you do parts of it throughout the project.”

Another impact that Business Analysts may not be prepared for is the change in physical team dynamics. As Kohl indicates, “you also tend to work co-located with the rest of the team (goodbye office, hello open space) which can facilitate collaboration, but can also be noisy and distracting.” Business Analysts who haven’t been in ‘war-room’ type scenarios before may find this environment difficult to adjust to.

posted @ Friday, March 5, 2010 6:42 AM by adrian