It’s the End of the Business Analysis World as We Know It? Part 3

Being the serialized story of Brian Allen and Ann Brady, business analysts, and their Adventures in the New Oder of Agile

Excerpted from the forthcoming book from John Wiley, The Agile Business Analyst due out the end of 2013

Blais FeatureArticle June4Chapter 3: Wherein the doomed business analysts are introduced to the Product Owner and Verna makes her entrance

At the lunch table Brian asked Ann why Helen called her to tell her about the impending cut backs.

“I’ve done work with her before. She asked me to collect information on the current projects and talk with the people on the PMO and other management groups to see where the cut backs might occur. It’s kind of an irony. I am going to be reporting back that I don’t have a project to be on. I’ll be basically firing myself.”

“No” reassured Brian. “That’s not going to happen. Listen. We are business analysts. We need to evaluate the information we have, gather the information we don’t have, assess the problem and define a solution. It’s what we do. Except that now we are doing it for ourselves and not some other part of the business.”

“We are a part of the business,” suggested Raj.

‘For now,” grumped Ann.

“Listen, Ann. If you need any help, It looks like we won’t be spending a lot of time in the planning stages of Backbone, so give me a call. In the meantime, I’ll go break the news to Jennifer, Jocelyn and Stan that they will likely be placed on one of the Scrum teams as developers. I don’t know how they will take it.”

“Better than the others who don’t have any team.” Commented Raj.

The next day Ann took Brian up on his offer and asked him to accompany her to talk to Pam one of the business managers who was designated to lead the Backbone effort and Dmitri, one of the senior marketing managers who was in charge of several of the new marketing efforts and web sites. They first met with Pam.

Pam was concerned. She had been told by Ken and her boss that she was to be the Product Owner and she did not really understand what a product owner was supposed to do. She was told that she would have to be available almost full time to the team and that she was responsible for the ‘product backlog’ and to talk to the team about what was on this ‘product backlog’. They told her that her job would be about defining what she wanted in the form of user stories. She was glad that Ann was there. Although Pam was the organization’s authority on internal operations, having worked her way up through the ranks in operations, she had depended on Ann to provide her the technical perspective in terms that Pam understood; Pam had worked in the organization a long time and tended to use the telephone and in person meetings rather than email. Ann called Pam her “favorite troglodyte”. Pam was not enamored of the idea that she would be dealing directly with the technologists.

“I don’t know what to do, Ann.” She looked pensive. She stared out the window of her office at the parking lot. “Frankly I would have wanted you to work with me, because we had already had a good relationship, but…”

“I know,” said Ann to Pam’s back. “Ken and cohorts are insisting on this product owner thing.”

“Oh, those nerds. No, it’s not them. It’s Verna.” The name brought a chill to the room. Verna! None of them had ever seen Verna. Or at least no one talked about having seen Verna. Or at least no one still with the company had seen Verna. Verna was the Vice President of Global Operations and some said that she was really the power behind the CEO. She was Vince’s prime competition for the top position when the current CEO steps down. There was a reverential pause in the room. Ann and Brian both instinctively looked over their shoulders at the doors as though the mere mention of Verna’s name would summon her as the Gods of Ancient Greece were summoned in the temples of Athens. The moment passed. Ann shuddered.

“Verna? Really?”

“Yes,” said Pam dolefully turning back to her desk. “And I don’t know how much time I can devote to writing this product backlog creation and rearranging business or what does Ken call it? ‘Grooming’? I don’t even know what that means. Do I need scissors and a clipper?”

“From what I understand, Pam,” offered Brian, “you need to write user stories that describe the functions and features of the system.”

“All of them? There are nearly four thousand people worldwide using this system for I don’t know how many different functions. There’s purchase ordering where I spent a lot of time, and vendor assessment, and inventory control, and updating the general ledger and, I mean, it’s big. I don’t have time to write these,” she paused considering a number of different pejorative adjectives. “user stories”. She pointed to a stack of blank index cards on her desk. “Ken left me these and told me to just write down all the features I would need on the system. He has got to be kidding. Do you know my schedule over the next weeks alone? I am in meetings in five different cities in four countries to evaluate local vendors. Then I am in meetings onsite for the evaluation of the new purchase order system that we are going to modify. All day meetings. And he wants me to be available to his teams? I’m going to be in Tokyo! That’s twelve hours’ time difference!” She was still standing up, but leaning forward with the palms of her hands flat on the surface of her desk and her voice rising. “Does he want me working twenty four hours a day so I can be available to his team whenever they have their stupid questions? If it weren’t for Verna…” She paused and sat down. Brian and Ann surreptitiously glanced toward the door. The chill passed. “I don’t know what to do,” whispered Pam to Ann. “If only you were not being replaced as business analysts. You certainly helped me out in the past.”

“I have an idea.” Pam leaned forward. “You know Summer. She worked on several of your previous projects with me. She has also worked in a number of positions in the company before becoming a business analyst: HR, communications, accounting, marketing, and so forth. She also knows the systems. Why don’t you let her take over as your product owner?”

“Can I do that?”

“She’d have to give up being a business analyst.” Brian reminded them.

“That’s all right. I’m sure she is willing. She has had many jobs, including as a manager, so she knows how to manage and handle authority.” Turning to Pan, Ann pressed on. “She certainly can create user stories or whatever is necessary for the product backlog based on her business analyst experience, and she knows enough to be able to clearly express those Product Backlog items, order the items in the Product Backlog to best achieve your goals and missions. Since she did a lot of the acceptance testing for several of the systems we have in place, she will also ensure the value of the work the Development Team performs. She also has the facilitation skills that all business analysts possess to ensure the Development Team understands items in the Product Backlog to the level needed.” *

“Sounds perfect.” Pam responded her mood picking up. “She can be the product owner for this initiative and report to me.”

“But she has to have full authority to make decisions on behalf of the product,” cautioned Brian.

“No problem,” assured Pam.

“Well, that was fortuitous,” breathed Ann as she and Brian walked down the carpeted hall from Pam’s office. “We have Summer reassigned now as a product owner.”

“Yes. And I believe Raj can perform the same role for Georgy in Supply Chain.”

“You are right! Quite a few of our business analysts can be Developers or product owners. The role may disappear, but the people won’t.”

“But we need to consider the rest of us. We can’t program and I for one am not in favor of giving up my analysis and facilitation roles to become a management type again. I have already been a project managet.” muttered Brian.

“Me, too.”

“I wonder why Verna in involved with this whole thing?” mused Brian and they both stopped walking and looked in front and behind them. The usual noise level of the corridors of organization headquarters seemed to turn to deathly silence at the mere utterance of the name. The both instinctively checked their phones to see if some ethereal message had appeared. Nothing.

“I don’t know. It’s strange.” Whispered Ann. “She usually doesn’t ‘get involved in things like this. I guess we see Dmitri next. We have to get this information back to Helen soon.”

“Wonderful. The sooner we get the information back to her the sooner we will be out of jobs here at the organization. The irony! Incidentally, do you have your resume dusted off?”

“No. I can’t stand to even think of it.”

“Well, Dmitiri won’t be a fan. He works for Vince and you know where Vince stands, and he and Ken have worked on some of the pilot scrum teams so he is an experienced product owner. Besides, I don’t think he likes business analysts in the middle either.”

As they entered Dmitri’s office, they heard him hanging up the phone. “Yes, Verna. I understand. They are here now.”

Will Dmitiri be the death knell for Brian and Ann and the other business analysts? Will they drown under the wave of the Agile New Order? Will Brian and Ann stop looking around every time Verna’s name is mentioned? Who is Verna anyway? Tune in next time when we hear Dmitri say, “It’s curtains, Brian.”, and Brian say, “We are doomed.”.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

* Adapted from Schwaber & Sutherland, “The Scrum Guide, the Definitive Guide to Scrum: the Rules of the Game”, published by Scrum.org, July 2011