Why business analysts are essential to your product development team
Plus, what to do if you don’t have them
What does a business analyst do? In simple terms, business analysts focus on bridging the gap between the IT and business sides of an organization, particularly within large enterprises.
Using data and analytics, a business analyst mediates information between clients and developers while making sure that requirements “make sense” and are understood by everyone involved. The goal of business analysis is to make the development process faster and more predictable.
However, the role is often misunderstood, undervalued, or both. This is particularly true with product teams that are operating on a lean budget — business analysts are seen as a luxury, not a necessity. Often, the role is a hybrid project manager, team leader, or quality assurance (QA) specialist.
This hybrid approach is often counter-productive. To provide the most value to a product team, a business analyst must stay focused and dedicate all of their time to maintaining communication between business and IT teams.
Not having a business analyst (or undervaluing them as a secondary role) could be harming your product’s design and delivery. Below, we’ll detail some of the inevitable problems that arise when product teams leave out this crucial role.
1) Unplanned costs
It can take a while for businesses to figure out what they want from a project, and time is costly. Even when the general scope of work seems to be set in stone, additional requests from different stakeholders can start piling up. This “scope creep” translates to more meetings, more requests, and less productivity.
On top of allocating tasks and arranging workflows, the burden of going back and forth and reimplementing changes falls onto your project manager’s shoulders. This inflates the scope and, as a result, the budget.
With a business analyst in place, the research results are laid out for all stakeholders in a clear roadmap with agreed-upon acceptance criteria and expected business value. Tasks like prioritizing backlog items and story mapping are covered in a timely manner, leaving the development team with the space and time to fulfill the more succinct, accurate project vision.
2) Unpredictable product quality
If business requirements are lacking critical information or contradict existing functionality, you can patch it with guesswork on your own. If you’re lucky, they fit. If you are not, incorrect assumptions are embedded into your software’s code. A stakeholder’s expectations shouldn’t be left to guesswork, and “winging it” can impact the quality of your product.
To prevent these seemingly innocuous, hidden bugs from creeping into your project, team members in higher positions (like a project manager or team lead) should be aware of all gaps in the requirements. From here, it’s safer to wait for clearer and more complete instructions, but it may impede your release schedule. Balancing out quality and deadlines will become challenging.
With a business analyst on board, there are regular walkthroughs and testing activities during every release cycle, ensuring the developed solution meets all of the specified requirements within the agreed timeline.
3) Missed deadlines
When the team escalates the aforementioned problem with poorly gathered requirements, it won’t just magically fix itself later. Without an experienced, dedicated person in the business analyst role, critical questions are often overlooked due to a lack of expertise or bandwidth. This can result in multiple revisions and feedback loops that can drag on for days, weeks, or even months.
To avoid these unplanned delays, you’ll need a dedicated expert with the domain knowledge to ask the right questions to the client or stakeholder, then process that information to the larger team. Sometimes, passing down a list of questions addressing the blanks to the team is enough. Often, it’s not. The information still needs to be converted into technical requirements that align with primary business objectives, strategies, and operational efficiencies.
When a project grows, it becomes more complex. As complexity grows, so do the odds that the project will veer off its intended course. In these situations, a business analyst is best positioned to step in and put the project back on track before more time and effort are wasted. By checking in with the project priorities, business analysts can resolve any speed and delivery inconsistencies.
4) Miscommunication between parties
If the person responsible for communication between business and IT fails to identify business needs due to a lack of expertise, knowledge of the product, or time limitations, gathered requirements will be mediocre at best. This can lead to a lack of understanding and — eventually — to a discrepancy between both groups, resulting in underwhelming project results.
If the requirements you have to refer to are consistently low in quality, one way to fix that is to allow the product owner or the project manager to step up and be their own business analyst during meetings between stakeholder groups. But since effective communication and resource evaluation require special skills and time, individuals in this role often find themselves lacking the bandwidth to concentrate on their own tasks while also wearing the hat of a business analyst.
A business analyst with enough knowledge of the product knows exactly what questions to ask to avoid contradictions and blank spaces in business requirements. Dedicating your time to “being your own business analyst” might be an effective strategy when the project is from a specific domain where requirements are unlikely to change throughout the project duration. But, if there’s a revolutionary idea or a problem to solve, clarifying product benchmarks and navigating the software development process is often an uphill battle.
What to do when you don’t have a business analyst in-house
Hire one! The key to being effective as a team is communication. The key to effective communication in software development is solid, well-thought-out business requirements. And the key to good business requirements is asking the right questions. With the help of a dedicated business analyst, you’ll get a better understanding of your position in the market. You’ll also be better positioned to improve your strategy so that your business process organization will bring out its full potential.
Final thoughts: Optimize your team with a business analyst
The role of a business analyst has always been crucial in IT teams — not only because of the precise documenting and transmitting of information they enable, but also because the role enables organizations to adopt the newest innovations and regulations. In the long run, investing in a business analyst will supercharge your resource allocation and minimize the confusion between the parties.