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Five Trends in Business Analysis, Project Management, and Agile

Since 2009 we have enjoyed reflecting on what’s happened the previous year

in the world of projects and making predictions for the upcoming year. Here are some of the recent trend topics we have discussed:
  • The digital transformation
  • Roles that help organizations maximize value
  • Agile successes, challenges, and use beyond software 
  • Scaling agile 
  • BAs and PMs in the gig economy
Here are five industry trends that we have chosen for 2020:

BAs Helping Organizations Create Value-Driven AI Initiatives

Many organizations, around 72% according to Harvard Business Review, are finding that their AI initiatives are not meeting expectations,   There are many reasons for disappointing AI results, among them that many organizations:
  • Chase fascinating new technology with no clear vision of the business value (?) proposition
  • Focus on implementing the technology without considering how the organization will get and use the AI results
  • Mistakenly think that implementing AI projects will be easy
  • Seek to implement AI with antiquated and burdensome processes that do not support these initiatives
  • Ignore the immense cultural change needed to adopt AI technologies
Some organizations have turned to a role that is perfect for BAs and that can help organizations implement their AI initiatives. Although this role may or may not be called a BA, the work is definitely business analysis. This work includes:
  • Developing a business case to ensure there is value in undertaking the AI initiative
  • Reviewing the current state and recommending changes needed to existing processes, infrastructure, existing and needed data, and types of new roles and positions needed.
  • Recommending how to get everyone on board, given the enormity and difficulty with implementing this transformation. 


Product Owner Role Even More Challenging for BAs

An emerging trend is a recognition of the challenges faced when the business analyst (BA) plays the dual role of BA and product owner (PO) on Scrum teams. Here are some of those challenges: 
  • The PO role makes product decisions and sets backlog priorities. When there is no PO, a BA is often assigned as a “proxy” or “surrogate” PO. In this role they make decisions on product features and priorities. However, many BAs are finding that their proxy decisions are often overturned by the sponsor or other stakeholders causing rework and delays. 
  • The Product Owner (PO) role is accountable for quick and continuous delivery of value. The BA role is accountable for requirements. That is, for getting high-level user stories down to the details where they can be estimated and developed. This inherent conflict of getting it done quickly vs. getting it done right makes it difficult to play both roles at the same time. 
  • Some organizations understand the need for full-time POs on scrum teams. Because business stakeholders are unavailable, they assign the role to a BA. When the BA is accountable for the product, rather than being a trusted advisor, they end up “owning” the product and are often blamed if wrong decisions have been made.
We’re hearing more and more BAs speak out about these challenges and about the need for both POs and BAs on Agile projects. 

Putting a Little BA in Everyone’s Toolkit

Years ago, we watched project management evolve beyond the skillset expected of an individual with the title Project Manager (PM) into a core competency. It became expected not only of PMs, but of many middle managers even if they weren’t managing projects. 
In today’s product-focused organizations, we are seeing business analysis (BA) evolve in the same way. It seems that everyone is recognizing the value of enhancing their core skills with BA competencies. In today’s change-driven environments, where questions about what customers want and need are always top of mind, BA is used everywhere. So, it’s no surprise that we are increasingly seeing team members seek to augment their primary skillset with BA skills. 
Organizations are recognizing the benefits. They understand, however, that relying on just one or two individuals with the required BA skills is a recipe for gridlock. In addition to the obvious benefit of alleviating bottlenecks, developing fundamental BA skills in all team members also adds depth to their core skills. And we have recently observed workshop and conference participants, even those that do development work, become evangelists for adding a little BA to their toolkit. It does not get lost on them how some BA savvy is going to make them more effective when working with customers, product owners, and other team members. 

Digital Fluency and the Rise of the AI Translator

There are many ways for BAs to help organizations transform to the digital world and take advantage of AI and other digital technologies. Most of these ways require the BA to be a trusted advisor to the organization and help guide it in the right direction. However, to be a trusted advisor, BAs need to know what they’re talking about. They need to understand this complex world themselves. They need to be digitally fluent. 
Many organizations recognize that they need someone with this skillset to be successful. They are becoming aware of the importance of having someone who can translate the technical complexity of the AI world into business language. Someone who can help them articulate the results they want to achieve with their AI initiative. 
That’s why the title of AI Translator is receiving so much buzz. It’s a perfect role for the BA to fulfill, so look for more and more organization to use BAs in this translator role. 

Everyone But the BA Doing DevOps, But That Will Change

We’ve been writing about DevOps for several years, but it seems to us that its acceptance is just beginning to catch on. One of the main reasons that adoption has been slow is because many organizations don’t know what to make of it. They know DevOps supports continuous delivery, but continuous delivery is hard to define. 
Because DevOps means different things to different organizations, its implementation has been haphazard, and frequently does not include BAs. When we ask why, we often hear comments like, “Oh that’s just for Operations.” Or “Sure our organization has implemented DevOps, but it has nothing to do with us BAs.” Organizations understand that having continuous delivery of features does no good if implementing those features upsets the stability of the production environment. Which is what Dev Ops is all about. 
We think that organizations will soon recognize that BAs (and PMs) understand and are well-equipped to implement tools, foster collaborations, and facilitate cultural change, all of which are needed to support continuous delivery. So look for more and more organizations to include BAs in their DevOps adoption. 

By Elizabeth Larson, Andrea Brockmeier, Richard Larson

Andrea Brockmeier, PMP, CSM, PMI-ACP and PBA, is the Director of Project Management at Watermark Learning/PM Academy. 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.
Richard Larson, PMP, CBAP, PMI-PBA, Founder and former President of Watermark Learning, Richard Larson is a successful entrepreneur with over 35 years of experience in business analysis, project management, training, and consulting. He has presented workshops and seminars on BA and PM topics to over 10,000 participants on five different continents. Rich is a frequent speaker at Business Analysis and Project Management national conferences and IIBA® and PMI® chapters around the world. He has contributed to the BA Body of Knowledge version 2.0 and 3.0, was a lead author for the Needs Assessment chapter of the PMI publication Business Analysis for Practitioners: A Practice Guide, and was an author of the PM Body of Knowledge, 4th edition. He and his wife Elizabeth Larson have co-authored five books on business analysis.

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.