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I’m Tired of Business Analysts Being Left Out of Agility!

I was at the Better Software & Agile Development Practices conference a couple of weeks ago. It’s put on by SQE and is one of the better software development-centric conferences in the country. This year they added an entirely new Agile Development Practices conference to run in parallel with the original. In keeping with that spirit of change, they also added some conference-in-a-conference sessions focused on agile testing, agile leadership, and something new this year-a two-day Agile BA track.

I didn’t realize they’d done that until reviewing the conference program while flying out to Vegas. And it struck me that it’s about time we start addressing the BA community more formally in our agile training venues and efforts. I used to think of testers and project managers as the two groups most left behind in agile evolution, but unfortunately I think the BA community has surpassed it.

I want to spend time in this post sharing some opinions and insights into the folks leading the way to assist BAs in their agile adventures. I hope you find the references useful.

People that Matter

So who are some of the folks making a difference in the agile community with respect to BA subjects? Ellen Gottesdiener and Jeff Patton come to mind as two thought-leaders who are making quite a difference. Ellen’s roots are more settled in traditional requirements management topics. She wrote what I consider one of the seminal works when it comes to running facilitated requirements workshops in the book Requirements by Collaboration. And she did this before much of the hubbub surrounding agility emerged in the community. To this day, it is incredibly applicable in traditional but equally in agile environments in running requirement workshops or User Story writing workshops.

Ellen is actively extending her reach into the realm of User Stories and agile requirement elicitation in-the-large or at scale, which is an oft missed focus in most discussions.

Another clear leader in this space is Jeff Patton. Unlike Ellen, Jeff has taken a new track into the space. He’s been focused on UI/UX design challenges and has translated that overall interest into User Story mapping and other broad-brush approaches for envisioning products via User Stories. This is an evolution from Alistair Cockburn’s Blitz Planning technique that helps to map User Stories across the depth and breadth of user interaction, business needs, and technical execution details.

An incredibly common challenge facing agile teams is seeing the Big Picture. Jeff Patton is leading the way in helping teams understand the broader landscape.

And what about Testing?

In the testing space, Lisa Crispin and Janet Gregory have written the definitive work on agile testing – Agile Testing. You need to keep in mind that collaboration is a key principal in agile contexts, so everyone works together. There’s a strong connection between the BA role and the testers on the team-mostly in the area of defining User Stories and refining their associated customer acceptance tests. I’d highly recommend adding this book to your library and paying attention to anything Lisa and Janet write about in the community, as both are relatively prolific.

One final point here is a trend to pay attention to. It’s the notion of Acceptance Test Driven Development (ATDD) and/or Behavior Driven Development (BDD). These approaches focus on crafting acceptance tests in tooling so that they are human readable and understandable, but still drive automated testing within your systems. It turns out that this combination creates a state of “executable requirements” that is incredibly collaborative and powerful from a BA perspective. A leading test voice in this space is Elisabeth Hendrickson.

So, Go Learn about Agile!

I often hear from BA’s that their growth opportunities are limited-often they feel stagnant in their roles with limited options for growth and advancement. It will take quite a bit of effort on your part and you’ll need to find chances to practice your chops, but agility beckons with a wide variety of opportunities. The thought-leaders listed above are a very good place to start…so happy learning!

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