Author: Bruce McGraw

Business Analysts; The Unsung Heroes of Successful Projects

Business analysts are critical project team members because they help solve problems when the problems happen and often prevent them from happening in the first place. The project manager is free to focus on resource management and schedule compliance and the BA assures accurate collection of and compliance with the requirements of all stakeholders.

The International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) offers the following definition of the BA’s role: “A business analyst works as a liaison among stakeholders in order to elicit, analyze, communicate and validate requirements for changes to business processes, policies and information systems.” The BA’s work may include eliciting functional and non-functional requirements, translating business needs to developers and developers’ constraints to other stakeholders, and managing the customer relationship.

WOW! I bet they are also expected to part the Red Sea and feed the multitudes. Funny thing is, project managers are often misinformed of the BA’s true role in project success.

Why is the BA’s Job so Difficult and Challenging?

The skills required to be an effective BA are spread across such diverse skill sets that they may seem contradictory-logical analysis, understanding state-of-the-art software capabilities, excellent written and verbal communication, diplomacy, knowledge of best practices, attention to detail, and the ability to see and communicate a bigger business picture-it’s a long list.

Let’s consider just one of the crucial BA tasks to see why it can be so difficult and challenging-usability requirements. Usability goes to the heart of acceptance of a software product by the stakeholder group called “users.” According to the website Usability First:

“Usability depends on a number of factors including how well the functionality fits user needs, how well the flow through the application fits user tasks, and how well the response of the application fits user expectations. Usability is the quality of a system that makes it easy to learn, easy to use, easy to remember, error tolerant, and subjectively pleasing.”

Here’s what’s often being thought behind your back: Why can’t a BA just ask the users what they want, document it, and give the requirements document to the project manager? Well, believe me; it does not work that way in practice. One of the problems is that users rarely know what they want-at least not in sufficient detail to derive product design specifications. Users may find it difficult to imagine what their experience will be like without actually working with the software to accomplish their job tasks. Then they find all kinds of flaws.

Not to mention that human nature does not always like change and so people will look for details to complain about. Or, there may be multiple users with competing preferences. Here is how a BA can help ensure usability and acceptance.

  1. Identify the current process and any problems the users have with it
  2. Talk with users about their known preferences and wishes
  3. Create a concept of operations that walks users through the operations of the new software, document their responses, explain them to developers
  4. Create use cases, user personas, or scenarios that explain the varied users’ needs and tasks to the developers and project managers
  5. Use words and pictures to help developers and users communicate more effectively
  6. Maintain requirements compliance and give feedback to both the project manager, the users, and the paying client-facilitate continuous communication

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Bruce A. McGraw, PMP, is the Executive Vice President of Cognitive Technologies, Inc. (www.cognitive-technolies.com), a certified WBE/DBE consulting firm specializing in collaborative processes, and organizational effectiveness. This article was adapted from a post on McGraw’s project management blog www.fearnoproject.com. Contact: [email protected].