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It’s the End of the Business Analysis World as we Know it? Part 5

FEATUREJuly30thBeing 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

Chapter 5:  Wherein the business analysts encounter the Scrum Master, Scott discloses his concerns about business analysts and Verna summons

The organization was quite dynamic.  Meetings were held in the hallways and corridors of the vast headquarters on a more frequent basis than in the meeting rooms. This might be considered by some to be an agile practice since the meetings were held not only standing up, but moving along, which meant that the meeting had to be completed by the time one or more participants got to their destination or their ways parted.

Thus it was that Brian and Ann attended meetings that morning.  Brian ran into Ann as he came out of the elevators after arriving at work, his black Swiss Army backpack slung over one shoulder and a cup of coffee in his hand.  Ann had had an earlier morning meeting with Belice Despacio who was assistant to the CFO. Ann was presenting the information she had amassed on the efficacy of buy versus build decisions on the Backbone project. She considered it her ‘kiss-off’ project for the organization.

“I don’t know about you, but I’ve been avoiding people like the plague these past couple of days trying to get things in order.” Brian greeted her.

“Me, too. You mean you haven’t seen Ken or Scott?”

“Not yet.  But it looks like the waiting is over.”  Ken came down the hall toward them.

“Shall we make a break for it?  If we run in different directions one of us will get away.” Suggested Ann.

“It’s all right, kid.” Said Brian doing his best Bogie imitation. “They’d find us wherever we went. We gotta stay here and face the music.”

“It isn’t even High Noon yet.”

“Well,” said Ken with a vacuous smile. “It’s the Last Brigade, or maybe I should say Lost Brigade?  I see that you have managed to infiltrate your business analysts into the projects anyway.”

“Nope,” said Brian continuing to walk. “There are no business analysts on the Backbone project. There are new developers who used to be business analysts and there are product owners who used to be business analysts.”

“And there are impact analysts working with the product owners,” added Ann.

“Why do I feel this is a trick?  Once a business analyst always a business analyst.”

“First of all,” said Brian, putting his backpack down and facing Ken. “There is no such thing as ‘once a business analyst’. None of us were born business analysts nor did we plan to be business analysts throughout school. We all gravitated or were inserted into the position and the profession. Most of us came from other disciplines like systems analysis or engineering for which we were initially trained. Both Ann and I have done some turns as project manager. Many of us came out of school as engineers or with IT degrees. So it’s not that difficult to move back to one of our former positions. Besides, you have a lot of former Java and C++ programmers working on your dot-net and C# programming projects.  Do we say the same thing about them?  ‘Once a Java programmer always a Java programmer’?”

Ken ignored Brian and walked away.  “Good luck in your new jobs elsewhere in the organization, Allen.  But remember, the New Order of Agile is taking over.  Two more divisions have decided to also go with agile. There won’t be any place to go soon.”

As Ken walked down the hall and Brian shouldered his backpack, Ann mused, “We were avoiding that?  I wonder what he really wanted to see us about.”

“I guess I distracted him.”

“O, well, looks like today is the day.  Here comes Scott, and he looks like he knows why he wants to see us.”

Scott looked troubled.  He came straight at them like a shark after its prey. Brian could hear the Jaws theme playing in the background.

“I’m glad I found you,” breathed Scott. “Can we go someplace to talk,” he said conspiratorially looking over both shoulders. “How about a cup of coffee.”  Brian stared at the cup of coffee in his hand and then at Ann and said, “Sure.  Why not? I’m not on the clock yet anyway.”

After they got settled in a corner table of the cafeteria with their coffees, Scott leaned forward, put his glasses on the table and pushed back his longish black hair. “What do you know about Scrum Masters?”

“It’s a Zen discipline arising from the sport of Rugby in which there is both a ball and not a ball and the less you try to score the more goals you make,” offered Brian.

“My, we are quick this morning, aren’t we, and only on the first cup of coffee,” commented Ann. “We know what a Scrum Master is, Scott. What’s your problem?”

“We drafted our Scrum Masters from our developer teams. We let them volunteer because we didn’t want to impose any management selection of roles on them. These are, after all, self-organizing teams.” He paused for acknowledgment, and receiving none, continued. “Those who said they would like to be Scrum Masters were sent to Certified Scrum Master classes at our expense. So we got a number of CSMs to fill the role for the Scrum teams.  Of course it was difficult. Most of the developers did not want to give up their coding to run interference for the teams. Many also felt that the Scrum Master had to indulge in politics and wanted no part of that. “

“I’m not sure I understand,” interrupted Ann. “What ‘politics’ are they concerned about?”

“One of the primary duties of the Scrum Master is ‘removing impediments to the development team’s progress’ * and another is working with the organization to promote and promulgate Scrum: ‘The Scrum Master helps those outside the Scrum Team understand which of their interactions with the Scrum Team are helpful and which aren’t’ And these things mean that you have to deal with the rest of the organization and that means politics.”

“Isn’t that what you and Ken are doing?” asked Brian.

“Yes. And we take seriously those edicts. And we are ‘leading and coaching the organization in its Scrum adoption’. But that is beside the point. And the point is that we don’t have enough Scrum Masters, and those we do have are not working as well as they should.”

“Didn’t they go to class and get certified?” Asked Ann.

“Yes. I said that. And the certification is two days of class followed by an exam. And it’s a fairly easy exam, too.”

“You passed it?” asked Brian.  Scott didn’t pick up the sarcasm. He continued: “And they tell you what to do, but there is no real training in how to do it. And, for example, in one of my teams a senior developer is somewhat arrogant and is shredding the new, young product owner. She has left the room in tears as a result of his questions.  And all he says is ‘there is no crying in software development’. And I have no experience in dealing with such things, since I am basically a developer.”

“Once a developer, always a developer”, chided Brian, only for Ann’s benefit as Scott was oblivious.

‘As I recall,” Ann tried to bring the conversation back to the point. “The Scrum Master also “Leads and coaches the organization in its Scrum adoption, causes change that increases the productivity of the Scrum Teams, coaches the development team in self-organization and cross-functionality’ *, and so forth. Those are high expectations for a developer, or anyone for that matter. Was your plan that they should be able to do these things with a two day class?”

“No. In agile it’s about learning. Each of the Scrum Masters would learn how to deal with people and learn how to play their Scrum Master roles.  But they are not learning fast, and some don’t seem to be able to learn, or want to learn. And I’ve had three tell me they don’t want the position anymore. And the others on the team see that happen and they don’t want to step in. And I think we are discovering that learning soft skills is not as easy as learning a new programming language or hardware platform.”

“It seems to me as though the Scrum Master job description was written as an inducement for organizations to bring in experienced, qualified consultants. I recall one of the tenets says the Scrum Master ‘coaches the Development Team in organizational environments in which Scrum is not yet full adopted and understood,’ and ‘Helps employees and stakeholders understand and enact Scrum and empirical product development’. So why don’t you just bring on the consultants?” Asked Brian.

“No can do.  I think we oversold the simplicity of the Scrum concept to Carl and Vince. And they won’t pay for consultants. They say the self-organizing teams should be able to handle it themselves. And they were willing to allow for a ramp-up time and the classes. And they expect that since the developers are able to talk directly to the business now that they should be able to do the Scrum Master roles as well. So, no consultants.”

“Yes,” agreed Brian. “It would seem contradictory to the concept of simplicity to have to bring in a high paid consultant to get things started. But what about the project managers?”

“Ken didn’t want any of them around. He wasn’t sure they could successfully drop their authority around the team. And even if they were able to stop managing and start coaching, the teams would still see them as project managers and that would make them ineffective. And, besides, Carl grabbed all the good project managers and assigned them to other projects in the organization and let the others go.”

Ann sat back and sipped her coffee. “Hmm.  OK. Sounds like a problem. What do you want us to do about it?  Offer suggestions?”

“Actually, I’m looking for advice, and maybe a little help.  One of the aspects of business analysts I have admired is their facilitation skills: they seem to be able to enable discussions and get people involved. And, like you two guys, you seem to be able to get things done when you’re on a project, especially outside the project boundaries, working with other projects and business areas.” Brian and Ann exchanged glances, both with raised eyebrows “And I am thinking that we might be able to co-opt some business analysts into being Scrum Masters. For example, Shelly. Shelly is able to make a meeting work well. I go into a meeting and have no idea why I am there. And even when there is an agenda, all it does is list the attendees and none of us know why we are there. But a meeting with Shelly always goes well. And when any of us walk out of a meeting that she attends we know exactly why we were in the meeting and always feel that we spent our time well. And, she, like, asks questions and gets the attendees to come to conclusions, even when the meeting isn’t hers.  And she seems always to be able to resolve conflict among the attendees if there is any, even among developers, and sometimes even before it starts.  And I’ve seen you two do this as well.”

“Well,” replied Ann.  “That could be arranged. We can send a few of our remaining available business analysts to Scrum Master classes and they can be Scrum Masters for your teams.”  Ann hid her delight at having this solution drop into her lap. 

Brian on the other hand had another question. “Scott, you seemed to be totally against business analysts.  And now you are singing our praises. What gives?”

“I am not singing the praises of all business analysts.  I’ve been in meetings with the users and your typical business analyst. And I’m there in the meeting for technical support and half the time I just sit there and daydream or wish I could open my laptop and do some coding. And the business analyst just sits there and takes notes. And whoever it is says that they are there to get the requirements and then records what the users tell them. Sometimes I have to ask questions when the users ask for something outrageous. And the BA takes everything down, you know?  And it all ends up in the requirements document. And the BA tells us, ‘it’s what the customer wants.’ I mean, we could do that, and we’d spend more time asking questions  And then later we find out that it’s not quite what the customer wanted because the user forgot to mention something or didn’t state it clearly. And the BA complains about the customer changing their mind or never knowing what they want.  And, I mean, we could do it, you know?  And, even if we did the same thing, which I doubt, at least we’d be getting the straight scoop, and getting it earlier. And the business analyst just does not add value to the exchange.  Present company excepted, of course.”

“Of course.” Said both Brian and Ann together.

So it was agreed. Shelly and Juan and a couple of others would start work as Scrum Masters applying their business analyst facilitation skills to ‘facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed’ *. They could use their influence, negotiation, mediation, and conflict resolution skills to support the teams and the projects as Scrum Masters. Scott and Ann would schedule them into Certified Scrum Master classes as soon as possible.  Scott agreed that both Brian and Ann would make excellent Scrum Masters, just as they might make excellent Product Owners, but they had been business analysts too long and the imprimatur of their role and their reputations in the organization would act against them in being successful as servant leaders, just as the former project managers would have run into difficulty. “And besides, there’s Ken standing in the way”, concluded Scott.

“Well, that’s it,” breathed Ann as they left the cafeteria. “Looks like we did it. That’s everyone accounted for. ”

“Except us,” said Brian hoisting his backpack on his shoulder.  “However, that is all the meetings, right?  Everyone who was looking for us found us.”

“Not everyone.” Ann was afraid to say the name. Just then Sandra, Verna’s Personal Assistant, rounded the corner and headed straight for them with Ken at her elbow. Ken looked like he remembered why he had been looking for them.

Was Ken in Cahoots with Verna?  Had he swung Verna over to the New Order of Agile Development?  Would this be the end of Rico?  And do we have to hear Scott say ‘and’ one more time? And where is Cahoots, anyway?  Tune in for the season finale where we find out what happens to the last two stalwart business analysts in the organization and finally meet Verna although like the Sopranos, the screen may go blank when we do.

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

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