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Author: Lee Paddock

Start Up with a BA

When you think of the who’s who in a startup organisation you’ll often come up with a list that doesn’t include the title “Business Analyst”. But does this mean that there are no BAs in startups? Is it that there’s simply no room for this role in the small confounds of the windowless rented office amongst the pizza boxes, coffee cups, and static buzz of the young business?

Typically, when I think of the positions within a web startup, I come up with the following:

  1. CEO: Founder, Visionary, Product Owner, Business Development
  2. Designer: UI/UX Design, Product look/feel
  3. Engineer/Programmer: Backend product developer
  4. Developer: Front-end development

No mention of a Business Analyst…

Startups, like businesses of any shapes and sizes, must develop something that is aligned with what customers need so there must be an analysis of that need, backed up with a translation of the need in order to make it a reality. But where does it come from? Let’s take a closer look at the formative stages of startups with a couple of examples.

Take Brian Wong of Kiip as an example. He knew there was something in the structure of games that made them so appealing, so popular (dare I say ‘addictive’?), therefore so successful, and needed to dig deeper to find out what it was that draws the crowds in and keeps them entertained. After hours of deconstructing and analysing the DNA of games, his focus was drawn to one thing: rewards. Those little moments of achievement that start off easy and become harder and harder to attain as the game progresses – you want to receive more rewards and you’re hooked into trying to win them. Brian’s eureka moment came when he converted in-game achievements into real-world rewards, such as free coffee at Starbucks, and built the Kiip platform for game developers to deliver real goodies to their gamers.

Nick Swinmurn of Zappos had a hunch that people would buy shoes online and set out to prove the concept. He went into a High Street store, took photos of shoes, and posted them online at the same price as the retail store, and he found that people bought them. He knew that the real requirement of a shoe shopper was not to “go to a shoe shop and purchase a pair of shoes”, it was more simply “to purchase a pair of shoes”.

These two examples of innovation came about providing solutions to the “right” business use cases: how to turn virtual rewards into real-world tangibles, and how to deliver shoes in the size, colour and brand that they want. Brian and Nick played the role of Business Analyst in these high-level needs analyses.

After asking the right questions and identifying the real need of the customer comes the task of translating the vision into something that enables it; the product. Even startups (the highly successful ones) that were originally built by their founding CEO require a separate technical team to deliver the vision into the product. These CEOs find themselves playing the role of BA once more as they translate the requirements to their development teams. Presenting requirements may take many forms: sketches on whiteboards, post-it notes on kanban boards, some may document their specification in more ‘traditional’ formats such as use cases or workflows. CEOs also have to impart their concepts of design, functionality, and usability onto the team in order to maintain the look and feel of the vision and brand whilst meeting the needs of the business use case.

Looking further down the process of product development we find more examples of where the BA role is played out. Many startups seek feedback of their product early and often to enable them to adapt and deliver something that suits the needs of the market. Presenting an early prototype of the product provides the opportunity to elicit feedback and additional requirements in order to refine the product in the next iteration. Techniques all too familiar to BAs such as workshops, brainstorming, and interviews will ensure that feedback is as structured and insightful as possible, thus providing the best possible chances of developing specifications that will result in richer, more usable products.

Whatever the chosen model of development, be it agile, iterative, or waterfall, and whatever the mode of the business, whether startup or established, the need to translate requirements from the visionary, the clients, the end users, is a constant across businesses. Some people are fulfilling the role of a BA and they just don’t know it.

So is there room for a BA in startups? You might find the answer sitting at the desk with the title ‘CEO’.

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