Basically, you may be thinking, “Who says they are so critical to the project?” I do! And I'm pretty sure a lot of individuals who are deeply concerned with the success of the project they are leading or working on would say the same thing.
A good business analyst can make or break the project, in my opinion. I've one business analyst that the project customer liked so much that they paid an extra $100,000 in change orders just to have him work onsite at their location for the second half of the project even though the project was already running smoothly. Now that's customer security and satisfaction.
So back to the question, why are business analysts so critical to the project? And I'm going to approach this from the tech project angle because that is my entire background and experience. In my opinion, here's why good business analysts are so critical to the project...
Run the casual side of the project.
The project manager is going to be leading the weekly formal project status meetings and any quarterly or ongoing project review sessions. That's usually a given. However, the more informal leadership of the project team – oversight and daily management of the tech project team – and daily interaction with the customer side project team is going to happen mostly at the business analyst level.
Manage the tech team.
While a good project manager with a tech background can do a pretty good job as far as credibility and leadership in leading the tech project development team, the credible, experienced, and leadership-oriented business analyst can do it better. Team discussions, directions, conflicts, resource issues and resource forecasting input are all going to be daily activities for the business analyst role. The tech team will need guidance, direction and requirements interpretations on an ongoing basis – often daily on many projects. This guidance and direction and any decision making would be too far delayed if it always had to go through the project manager. The business analyst will handle this and keep the project moving forward through thoughtful, experienced, and proactive action and decision making.
Lead the requirements definition effort.
Good, detailed, complex requirements are the lifeblood of the project. While the project manager leads the project overall, it's the business analyst who will be reviewing detailed business processes, meeting with the project customer to fully understand those process, work with the project team and customer to turn business processes and high level requirements info detailed and documented project requirements, create functional design specifications and lead the project team into the technical design phase of the project. It's nice to think that the project manager is going to do that, but on most tech projects the business analyst will do most of that real work on the technical engagement.
Make key creative decisions daily on the project.
Yes, major decisions are going to involve the project manager as often as possible. The project manager is the one with the project success or failure target on their forehead. And communication is their top priority. But the business analyst in the trenches with the team and customer will be making on the spot and on the go decisions almost every day on the design and development side of the project that may never involve the project manager. Can you imagine how much it would slow a project down just to clarify a report field or design element on the tech project through the project manager? It's not logical, or necessary – especially if you have the right leader and experience in the business analyst role on the project.
Keep the project customer engaged and focused.
A disconnected project customer can actually be very damaging to the forward progress and success of the project. When the project customer disappears for long periods of times, it becomes difficult to get certain tasks accomplished. Status meetings become difficult if not impractical, requirements interpretations are difficult and if the customer isn't involved it may be impossible, and those ongoing daily decisions that must be made can be very frustrating and lead to improper forward progress if the customer involvement is zero. The experienced and leadership-oriented business analyst will keep the project customer engaged as much as possible throughout the project by recognizing this challenge and working to keep the daily communications open with the client on an ongoing basis. The business analyst may need to “make up” tasks to keep the customer engaged, but they will work with the project manager to do everything possible to not let the project customer disappear to other projects or their regular organizational roles when their availability is critical to the project's success and ongoing forward progress.
Summary / call for input
I've always said that the business analyst role can make or break the project. A great business analyst is – in my opinion – critical to the success of the project. The project manager has high level oversight of the project, but the business analyst is working with the team and customer daily to achieve overall project success and their efforts can't be incorporated successfully into any other role without the project suffering significantly. Too much communication, leadership, decision making, and customer engagement is needed from the business analyst role – especially on the big projects – to ignore the significance of this vital project team position. And on the tech projects, the more technical the business analyst is in terms of background and experience, the better.
Readers – what is your take on this? If you are the experienced tech business analyst, do you feel that I've covered this? What would you add or change about what I've projected here? What about project managers reading this – do you feel this is accurate or a good portrayal of your experiences with business analysts on technical projects? How critical does everyone feel this role is? Please share and discuss.