Skip to main content

Author: Mark Owen

A Business Analyst’s song

I am the very model of a modern Business Analyst

I’m a planner, a doer and a damn good strategist
I talk with stakeholders, end-users and management
From C-level to staff and also contaminant
I’m well acquainted too with the elicitation of requirement
Ensuring that between the parties there is always a good agreement
Although to make that happen is sometimes quite an achievement
It’s all done with a smile right up to the completion.

I’m very good at analysing, interpreting and modelling
To present the data, and the findings in a way quite compelling
In short, for a project, you need me as a panellist
I am the very model of a model Business Analyst

I work with teams – both agile and waterfall
And sometimes is the process almost unbearable
Often is it important all questions in depth to discuss
To ensure that the result achieved is without much fuss.
I’m good at observation, root cause analysis and can make a sequence diagram.
As well as run a workshop, interviews and a collaborative game.
Then I can conduct, coordinate and plan to understand.
Exactly what the sponsor, stakeholders or Product Owner really demand
Confirming that with the team, through a document, a backlog or a story board
So that work can begin, and any necessary changes can be explored.
In short, for a project, you need me as a panellist
I am the very model of a model Business Analyst


In fact when I know the difference between a use case and a user story,
When I know that CATWOE and Gap are two analyses of a different category.
When such affairs as office politics and stakeholder conflict
I know can the process of reaching a solution really restrict
When I have understood the concepts of the Business Analysis Core Concept Model
And know that Agile and Scrum are not a load of twaddle
In short when I’ve more than a smattering of Business Analysis Techniques
You’ll say never has a better Business Analysis had better critiques.
For my business analysis skills, though I’m plucky and mostly agreeable
And because of that I think you know that it is most foreseeable
That, in short, for a project, you need me as a panellist
I am the very model of a model Business Analyst

Is Agile a Cult?

Agile: a set of software development principles in which requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organizing, cross-functional teams.

Agile software development is insanely popular at the moment. It offers a responsive way of developing, and companies are adopting it at a rapid rate.

I’m not going to talk about the benefits of Agile – a simple Google search will tell you more than you need to know.

What I do want to touch upon is a comment that someone made to me – “Agile is too much like a cult“.

So, let’s have a look.  Is Agile a cult?

Definition of a cult

  1. A small religious group that is not part of a larger and more accepted religion and that has beliefs regarded by many people as extreme or dangerous.
  2. A situation in which people admire and care about something or someone very much or too much.
  3. A small group of very devoted supporters or fans.

– Mirriam-Webster

Which applies?

Looking at the above definition, it is obvious that Agile does not fit into the first explanation. What about the second one? (Or the third?)

The Cult Checklist

Michael D. Langone, Ph.D. published an article in which he describes patterns found in cultic environments. Let’s see how Agile measures up.

The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law.

I’ve got to admit that I have met lots of Agilist that are of the opinion that anything non-Agile (aka Waterfall) is inferior and wrong. In fact, any discussion on “Agile vs. Waterfall” can turn quite heated with those supporting Agile to be very  passionate about the “truth”.

Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.

Refer to my comments above.

Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).

I haven’t seen any evidence of this. (Unless you can consider the “weekend Hackathons” that are often held by ‘self-organising teams,’ as a debilitating work routine.)

The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry—or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth).

Nope … 

The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar—or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity).

Well, I have detected a certain “elitist” tone when Agile supporters talk about their passion. I’ve even heard someone say “We are Agilist – we don’t believe in …”. How well this fits the description?  You decide.

The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.

Definitely a polarized us-versus-them mentality. Primarily when discussing non-Agile development methodologies but, to the best of my knowledge, this does not cause conflict with the wider society.

The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).

It is true, however, not even relevant.

Related Article: 5 Lessons From Working With Agile and Waterfall Teams

The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members’ participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (for example, lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities).

I burst into laughter when I thought how Agile could fit this description …

The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.

Laughter again….

Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group.

Nope …

The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.

Not really.

The group is preoccupied with making money.

Aren’t we all?

Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.

See my comments above on Hackathons.

Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.

If this is happening, I feel that I have missed out. No one every encouraged me to live or socialize with other group members.

The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group.

Well, I know that the Agile “true believers” are unwilling to consider anything that is non-Agile. To even mention the phrase “fully documented requirements up front” would result in feeling the true wrath of the Agilist. (Note – this is not something that I am even recommending. It can be dangerous). However, most Agile supporters that I have met do not fit this description. (There is no fear of reprisals.) 

So – is Agile a cult?

Yes and no.

Looking at the Mirriam-Webster definition, Agile is something that people admire and care about very much (or too much). True Agilists are very passionate about the Agile methodology and often have disdain for anything that isn’t Agile. You see more Agile “groups” than with Waterfall (for example). And there seems to be a need to identify with each other, and promote Agile to both “non-believers’, and well as to those who already are followers.

However, Agile certainly does not have all the characteristics that Langone describes in his essay. There is no “mind control”, or strict, unquestionable, rules.

All-in-all, I think we can all sleep safely in the knowledge that our children are not going to be dragged off to some Agile compound somewhere.

Do those promoting Agile seem a little over-enthusiastic (albeit zealous)? Or is it just healthy passion for something that is a good idea? Leave a comment below.

The Pros and Cons of Using a Smart Pen for Business Analysis

For those that aren’t in the know, a digital pen (also known as a smart pen) allows you to capture what you are writing in an electronic format.

These pens use a variety of techniques to do this ranging from using a camera, to being connected to a computing device. Some also allow you to record a conversation taking place while you are writing notes.

I have used a digital pen in a lot of elicitation situations and, in this article, I would like to describe some of the lessons learned.


I use a camera-based pen. It is slightly larger than a normal pen and contains a small camera and a microphone. By using digital paper, the pen can track what is being written and store it. At the same time, it can synchronise the audio being recorded with what is being written. At a later stage, you can press the pen anywhere on the page (on which you have written your notes) and play back the conversation that was taking place at that particular time.


In any elicitation situation where I was taking notes, I would use the pen to keep a record of the actual conversation taking place. At the same time, I would take be taking notes.

After the session I would play back the conversation at various points to confirm that my notes were correct, or to expand on what I had written (you know that written notes don’t always capture everything that was discussed).

Using the an associated computer application, I was able to convert my written notes into a dynamic PDF that could be archived or distributed to others in the team. This PDF had the audio embedded, and the reader could click on any word to playback the discussion taking place at that time.


Often when you are running an elicitation workshop, you are up in front of everyone leading discussions, asking questions, prompting and encouraging responses. You can’t do this and write everything down. In this case, there is usually someone else who assigned this task (the scribe).

When I was in this situation, I was still able to use the smart pen. Whenever there was a change in the discussion, or a particular point that could be summarised in a word, I would write that on the special dot paper. After the session, I could still playback what was said at that point.


Using a smart pen has a lot going for it:

  • You can capture the whole discussion and tie it in with your notes.
  • The audio is synchronised to the written notes, so you can play back the conversation that was taking place at specific points.
  • You can share the notes with audio with other members of the team, or with the stakeholders (if desired), as part of your Work Product.
  • You are confident that you can go back over the audio to pick up things that were said, but not written down.


Using the pen has been very handy, but it also has its downsides. What follows are some of the lessons learned.


Before using the pen during any elicitation event where there are other people involved (workshops, interviews, active observation, etc.) ask if it is OK to record the conversation. Usually, people are pretty good about this and don’t mind.

However, it is important to reassure participants that you are using the pen merely as a tool to support the notes you are taking. And as a professional BA, you need to remember that.


Use the pen to capture the conversation, but don’t be lazy. You still need to listen actively, and write down the important points from the conversation.


You still need to validate that the stated requirements match the stakeholder’s understanding of the problem and their needs even though you have an audio record of the conversations. What is written, and what was said still might not be what was meant.


As I mention above, in a workshop situation you might just write a word of two and let the pen capture the conversation.

I’ve had situations where, after a series of seven one-hour workshops I’ve gone back over my notes and haven’t been able to work out which part of the workshop the squiggle on the page or that strange sentence I wrote (which meant something to me at the time – three days earlier) referred to.

When you are writing headings to describe certain parts of a conversation or discussion, write something meaningful so that, five days later it will still be clear to you. The discussions in workshops, or interviews, don’t always take place in nicely defined sub-sections.


This is a classic newbie mistake and relates to something I wrote above, Never, ever, just record the elicitation session with the intention of writing up the notes later on. You might have a three day workshop in between the time you recorded the notes and when you get to write. Remember – when you playback the audio, it will take three days to listen to it! (And this includes all those side-conversations, jokes, and irrelevant comments that get made.)


This is related to Ask Permission above.

Regardless of whether you have been given the OK by the session participants to record what is being said, be aware that a lot of things said during the workshop/interview/active observation session might not be relevant or are off-record. It may not be your intent, but you don’t want a situation where something someone says is used against that person later.


The pen can be used for several hours, but it won’t last forever. With the smart pen I used, I could plug a USB cable into it, and plug that into my PC, allowing the pen to always be charged while I writing notes. Useful, but it was not very handy.


The smart pen uses paper with microdots on it. This allows the pen to be able to map what is being written, and the location on the page.

Often this paper is sold in the form of notebooks, etc. Ensure that you have an extra notebook with you. You might never use it, but, then again, you might. (In my situation, I could print out the microdot paper myself, but read the next Lesson

Learned for more on this.)


Each page in the notebook has a unique, sequential, ID. This way, the pen can keep all the pages in the correct order. Don’t write your notes on random pages. It makes it difficult when it comes to working with the notes and audio when you are back at your computer.


As mentioned above, you can print out the microdot paper yourself. If you do this, you will have several loose sheets. These are handy if you want to put the sheets in a ring binder, but be aware that, as with the notebooks, each page is in sequential order. Keep them in the correct order (the page number is printed on each). This saves a lot of pain when exporting to a PDF.


The pen is an incredibly handy tool (with the later version offering even more functionality, as well as looking like a real pen).

However, for the purposes of Business Analysis I would not recommend using it.


As I alluded to in some of the Lessons Learned, being able to record the conversation taking place is valuable. But it also makes you relax.

It’s easy to think “Oh I won’t write that down – I’ll go back over the audio later.” WRONG! The idea of the elicitation session is to capture the main points actively, in real-time.

That’s part of being a good BA. Active listening, and active note taking. You are in the elicitation session to understand the message that the stakeholders are communicating. And you need to make sure that you have captured it properly.
Going back over a recording of a session, in my opinion, is of little value. The real value should be in your notes. If they need expanding upon or clarifying, that is something that needs to be done directly, with the appropriate stakeholder.

I’m not saying that a smartpen is worthless. But if you think about it, BAs have been taking notes as part of the elicitation process for years. How many have recorded the session?


My conclusion above is how I feel about it. For you, fellow BA, it might be a different situation.

In fact, someone pointed out to me that their handwriting is terrible, and they often can’t read their notes. Having the pen would mean that they could, indeed, dive into what was being said at the time the notes were made.

I can’t argue with this reasoning…


Have you ever used a smart pen? In what situations have you used it? What are thoughts on it? Do you think that I am wrong in not recommending it for BA work? Feel free to let me know in the comments.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.