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What do BAs “Do” within Agile Teams?

For the past several posts, I’ve been focusing on user stories within the context of agile teams-how to write them and the role they play in agile development. This month I wanted to switch gears a bit and talk about the role of the BA within agile teams.

The first point I really want to make is not BA role specific but focused towards the general role of the agile team member. You see roles need to become much less clear or constrained within agile teams. Sure, a developer is still a technical role and will be mostly writing code, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only thing they can and should be contributing to the team.

There’s quite a debate in the agile community about generalists vs. specialists as team members. Clearly the more general you are, for example a tester who can write or read code or a BA who can test, the more flexible your contributions are within the agile team.

The pushback within the community is based on folks taking this idea to its (unintended) extreme, for example developers who believe we’re asking them to morph into full-time testers or vice versa. So, in general, pun intended, you should not view yourself narrowly as a business analyst, but more broadly as a team member who has strong requirement analysis skills against an even broader back-drop of capabilities that you often bring to bear within your team.

So, what specifically is the BA role within agility?

It starts out the same as it does in your existing role. You are a customer advocate and liaison. You have tremendous experience in the analysis and capture of critical system requirements. You have broad collaborative and observational skills. Often, you sit down with a wide variety customers, stakeholders, and constituents and gather and define requirements from a wide variety of angles.

But within agility there is so much more you can do along the lines of the following:

  • Product Backlog Partner. Clearly the BA role focuses on requirement definition & refinement. Using Scrum as our terminology backdrop, it implies working closely with your product owner, customers, and team members to construct and refine the backlog. Remember, in the agile methods all work should be defined on the backlog, so it’s not simply feature-based. You need to be comfortable defining user stories that represent task work as well.
  • Fostering Team Collaboration. BAs often become a liaison between the product owner (customer) and the team. They foster an inclusive view that brings team members together to better design and build customer-focused solutions. The methods sort of oversell collaboration as a natural occurrence. I have the view that it needs to be encouraged and often championed. BAs can clearly serve as this champion of collaboration amongst team members. I’ve often seen BAs adopt a facilitative role within their teams, facilitating effective meetings, information sharing, and problem solving.
  • Driving Quality. Working with your product owner and testers, you help to define, refine, and even execute user story-centric acceptance tests. Often, you’ll view the execution of features from a more holistic, end-to-end usability view that is so important to the customer. Verifying that the software is as simple as possible while still meeting the customer’s usability and core expectations.
  • Maintaining a Value Focus. Taking a page from Lean Thinking, the agile methods are extremely value and cost centric. Often you’ll see Scrum teams that focus not only on priority to determine what is worked on first, but they also try and determine the value (ROI) for a given feature set. BAs can often help facilitate this value-based analysis between team and customer. They can also help guide the team towards Minimal Marketable Feature sets (MMFs) that implement predetermined value, delivering early and often.
  • Demonstrating Results. As a full-time member of your agile team, your true focus is towards delivering small slices of end-to-end functionality at the end of each sprint. Be willing to serve as a voice of your team in these demonstrations. Truly understand how the delivered software works and how to effectively demonstrate its value. Don’t be afraid to step into the limelight and demonstrate working code as part of each sprint review.

Often I think of the US Army recruitment commercial, “Be All You Can Be”, when I think of roles with agile teams. As an Agile BA, you should grow your skills horizontally and fearlessly contribute wherever you can within the team. Your teams and customers will value you for it!

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Robert ‘Bob’ Galen is the President and Principal Consultant of RGCG, L.L.C. Bob has held director, manager and contributor level positions in both software development and quality assurance organizations. He has over 25 years of experience working across a wide variety of software technology and product domains. Bob can be reached at [email protected].