Skip to main content

5 Trends in Business Analysis, Project Management, and Agile for 2017

Since 2009 we have enjoyed reflecting on what’s happened the previous year on projects and making predictions for the upcoming year. To summarize the `trends” we saw in 2016:

  • Emergence of the Business Relationship Manager (BRM) to maximize value
  • Agile successes, challenges, and use beyond software
  • Trends in business analysis and project management certifications
  • Implications of a changing workforce

Here are five industry trends we see happening for 2017. We’ve added two brief bonus trends at the end of the article.

1. Business analysis as a focal point for scaling Agile

Many organizations are delighted with the results produced on Agile projects, but are struggling with its application on large, complex projects, as well as its adoption enterprise-wide. Many of the discussions focus on which Agile framework works best for scaling Agile. Some of the common frameworks often discussed are scrum of scrums, Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), Large Scale Scrum (LeSS), and Nexus.

  • Large, complex projects. While there is a great deal of contention about which framework is “best,” there seems to be an agreement that there is a need for coordination, integration, and communication among Agile teams related to the solution being developed. Regardless of the title of the person doing this work, it is business analysis work. And it’s work that has always been needed on large, integrated projects—the coordination of dependencies, security, business and technical impacts, and version control.
  • Enterprise-wide Agile. Many large organizations have adopted Agile in a hodgepodge of ways, and these different areas have become quite fond of doing Agile “their” way. Adopting Agile across the enterprise will require skills of people not only familiar with Agile, but also with understanding the Agile current state and working with stakeholders to reach consensus on a unified future Agile state. This will involve being able to influence, resolve conflict, and to think both creatively and critically—skills well suited to experienced BAs.

2. Digital Transformation: Profound Change for Business Analysis…or is it?

The “digital transformation” movement means we must change the way we handle business analysis and requirements. Or does it? Consider two trends commonly mentioned today.

  • Cloud Computing. Security is a bigger concern when storing data in the cloud than if it is on-site under “lock and key.” Considerations for recovering data must be employed over and above normal backup and restore. Access rights are also more complicated than with traditional applications.
  • Mobile apps. Mobile applications provide data for sensitive banking, investment, or insurance applications. Security is a bigger concern on mobile devices given they are, well, mobile. It is much easier for a thief to access a bank account from a mobile device than a desktop. Modern apps need to have “mobile responsive” features and usability.

What we conclude is that these two technical trends will continue to affect business analysis. The trend, though, is not so much with functional requirements as it is with non-functional requirements (NFRs). The two examples above feature important NFRs including security, accessibility, recoverability, and usability, including user experience. NFRs are traditional aspects of business analysis, and any profound effect on it is that we will need to pay even greater attention to them with digital transformation.

3. Freelance BAs and PMs in the Gig Economy

Currently 40% of the US workforce is part of the Gig or on-demand economy1 and that number is growing. Intuit breaks this on-demand economy into 5 groups.2 We describe these groups below and briefly discuss how they apply to the project manager (PM) and business analyst (BA). Here are the 5 groups:

  • Side Giggers (26%). These are PMs and BAs who want to supplement their existing income. Examples include PMs and BAs who take vacation, days without pay, or who work off-hours to do training classes or short-term consulting gigs.
  • Business builders (22%). BAs and PMs who are tired of working for others and want to be their own bosses fall into this category. Many of these will create their own companies and hire others. We can expect these companies to be based on the owners’ experience in project management and business analysis. Examples include consulting and training companies.
  • Career freelancers (20%). These PMs and BAs love their work, love working independently, and want to use their skills to build their careers, not to build a company that hires others. These folks usually establish themselves as independent contractors with their small own company, usually an LLC.
  • Substituters (18%). PMs and BAs who want to work in the gig economy temporarily. Whether laid off from their former organizations or for other reasons they view “gig” work as temporary while they look for full-time employment.
  • Passionistas (14%). PMs and BAs who love what they do and are primarily motivated by their desire for greater flexibility than is usually provided by a more traditional organization.

4. The shifting sands of the BA and PM roles

Many project professionals find their roles changing so rapidly that it feels like the earth is shifting below their feet. Roles are being combined (BA and PM or BA and QA) or being torn apart (formerly hybrid PM/BAs are now full-time PMs or BAs). In some organizations BAs thrive on Agile projects working hand-in-hand with product owners (POs), while in others become part of the development team doing testing because there are no BAs,. PMs become scrum masters as do BAs. Sometimes the BA becomes a product owner, but one without the authority to make decisions.

In addition, both BAs and PMs are working strategically, doing business cases and recommending enterprise-wide solutions. And more and more organizations recognize the importance of the business relationship manager (BRM), to maximize value and help set the strategic agenda.

So what is the trend? For the foreseeable future, roles and titles will vary widely from organization to organization. Equally certain is that both project management and business analysis work, both strategic and tactical, have always been required and will always be needed, regardless of the role or the title or the role.

5. Generalists helping teams to self-organize

If descriptions of job openings are an indication, specialization seems to have wide appeal. But breadth of capabilities will continue to provide the flexibility that organizations need to respond to the hyper pace of change. BAs who code. Engineers who do project management. It’s the number of arrows in the team members’ quivers that defines an organization’s competitiveness – and contributes to the team’s ability to self-organize. Not only do organizations need self-organizing teams, but the teams themselves also need the flexibility to pick up tasks that are ready to go, so the more diverse the team members’ skills, the more work can be done in parallel and completed sooner.

Although varied work appeals to many younger workers, this isn’t just about attracting millennial talent. Self-organizing teams provide the structure organizations need in order to react quickly. Self-organizing teams and the ability of team members to wear multiple hats and get things done as they see fit will continue to become the best way for organizations to respond to external influences. The self-organizing team is not a new thing, but it is going to increasingly become the norm.

Two bonus trends

  • Short business cases and quick value. The trend is to provide business cases on slices of the initiative, slices that can bring quick value to the organization, rather than spending weeks or months detailing out costs and benefits and a return on investment showing a multi-year payback.
  • Dev Ops3 This trend relates to the first and fourth trends, scaling Agile and the shifting project roles. BAs and PMs now find themselves participating as DevOps Engineers on Agile teams that emphasize collaboration not just between the customer and development team, but also among such areas as development, operations, security, infrastructure, integration, etc.

1 Forbes, January, 2016
2 Intuit Investor Relations, February 3, 2016,
3 Dev Ops is “a cross-disciplinary community of practice dedicated to the study of building, evolving and operating rapidly-changing resilient systems at scale.” Ernest Mueller, Aug 2, 2010 – Last Revised Dec 7, 2016. He attributes this definition to Jez Humble.

About the Authors

About the Authors

Elizabeth Larson, PMP, CBAP, CSM, PMI-PBA is Co-Principal and CEO of Watermark Learning and has over 30 years of experience in project management and business analysis. Elizabeth’s speaking history includes repeat presentations for national and international conferences on five continents.

Elizabeth has co-authored five books on business analysis and certification preparation. She has also co-authored chapters published in four separate books. Elizabeth was a lead author on several standards including the PMBOK® Guide, BABOK® Guide, and PMI’s Business Analysis for Practitioners – A Practice Guide.

Richard Larson, PMP, CBAP, PMI-PBA, President and Founder of Watermark Learning, is a successful entrepreneur with over 30 years of experience in business analysis, project management, training, and consulting. He has presented workshops and seminars on business analysis and project management topics to over 10,000 participants on five different continents.

Rich loves to combine industry best practices with a practical approach and has contributed to those practices through numerous speaking sessions around the world. He has also worked on the BA Body of Knowledge versions 1.6-3.0, the PMI BA Practice Guide, and the PM Body of Knowledge, 4th edition. He and his wife Elizabeth Larson have co-authored five books on business analysis and certification preparation.

Andrea Brockmeier, PMP, CSM, PMI-ACP, is the Director of Project Management at Watermark Learning. She has 20+ years of experience in project management and related practice and training. She writes and teaches courses in project management, business analysis, and influencing skills. She has long been involved with the PMI® chapter in Minnesota where she is a member of the certification team. She has a master’s degree in cultural anthropology and is particularly interested in the cultural aspects of team development, as well as the impact of social media and new technologies on organizations and projects.

Elizabeth Larson

Elizabeth Larson, has been the CEO for Watermark Learning as well as a consultant and advisor for Educate 360. She has over 35 years of experience in project management and business analysis. Elizabeth has co-authored five books and chapters published in four additional books, as well as articles that appear regularly in BA Times and Project Times. Elizabeth was a lead author/expert reviewer on all editions of the BABOK® Guide, as well as the several of the PMI standards. Elizabeth enjoys traveling, hiking, reading, and spending time with her 6 grandsons and 1 granddaughter.