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Business analysts: The Swiss Army Knives of a project team?

Ask anyone what a Business Analyst does, and we guarantee that you’ll get a variety of different answers. [Trust us, we tried it just a few months ago and that is exactly what happened!].

Given the sheer versatility of what they bring to a project from day-to-day, it’s little wonder we can’t neatly pigeonhole them. It’s as a result of their far-reaching versatility that our very own BAs are known as xDesign’s answer to the trusty Swiss Army Knife.

If we were to attempt to pin down some key elements of the xDesign BA, what would we be able to say for sure given that they bring so much to the project mix? 

Well, in this article, we’re going to attempt just that, and provide you with a kind of ‘BA 101’.    

The ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of the BA

The BA team at xDesign was created to align both business and technical understanding when engaging on projects. But, why is this important? 

Well, to ensure the successful delivery of a client project all stakeholders and team members must share a collective understanding of what needs to be achieved right from the outset - as well as the approach that needs to be taken.

What’s more, delivery teams need clear, concise and understandable requirements and/or information from the client to enable them to engage in successful development work. 

Enter the xDesign BA team.

Given xDesign’s heavy focus on people, the BA team has a huge responsibility to play when it comes to making the key elements of a project digestible, understandable and robust enough so that all involved are effectively ‘set up for success’. In essence, we work out the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of client asks (often before even they realise exactly what it is they need/want) and translate these into meaningful insight and data for our development teams. 

Joining a range of conversations 

BAs are a versatile bunch. This is mostly helped by the fact that we find ourselves in a wide range of conversations at all points in the software development lifecycle - sometimes even before the software development lifecycle itself has even begun. 

For instance, this process can start via collaboration with Product Owners or customers to map out what we call their ‘as-is’ and ‘to-be’ processes. This effectively allows us to access a deeper understanding of the client's user base and the stakeholders involved in the piece of work we’re looking to deliver. 

As part of our ongoing communication and collaboration with different teams, it's on the BA to ensure that backlogs are maintained and up-to-date, sprint ceremonies are carried out - this ensuring that the constant evolution of a product is taking shape continually - and that we’re documenting and updating user stories. Another vital role that’s played by BAs is in discussing velocity reports & burndown charts with Engineering/Project Managers to utilise the vast amounts of information being captured as part of an ongoing collaboration process. As with any project, putting thinking into tangible action is key.

BAs as Subject Matter Experts (SMEs)

As a result of being involved in so many conversations with stakeholders means that BAs can often morph into SMEs (Subject Matter Experts). This provides many with the opportunity to be a real contributor to a project by drawing on past project experience - leveraging it as a real tool of change for current and future projects. These skills are interchangeable and can have a big impact on avoiding similar issues or implementing brilliant features in a way that we know works. 

The role of a BA as SME doesn’t always end at the implementation of a product or feature, either. BAs are often involved in the capture or documentation of bugs that may arise within a product which can then be addressed by the development team to be rectified. There is even an element of involvement in writing training documentation and carrying out the training to the end users of our products due to the knowledge gained and understanding of how the product should work. 

Soft Skills: The BA’s secret sauce?

Although BAs can turn their hand to many elements as part of a project delivery lifecycle, there’s one secret ingredient in their armoury which they rely on heavily time and time again - soft skills. Without them, BAs would struggle to perform many of the things expected of them on a given project.  

The ability to communicate well with stakeholders of different levels and teams (particularly at the technical developer level both internally and externally); apply critical thinking and problem solving to respond to client requirements and challenges; keep a close eye on vital detail and project deliverables all fall in the bucket labelled ‘soft skills’. All BAs worth their salt will have these in abundance. In fact, they’re something of a BA superpower. 

A Swiss Army Knife

Put simply, BAs are the epitome of versatility. This is why people find it so hard to nail down exactly what it is they do. However, their contribution is huge and somewhat ubiquitous in nature. 

Without the efforts and expertise of the BA, digital projects wouldn’t even get off the ground in many cases - and even where end products are produced, it’s fair to say many would be way off brief without the input of the BA. 

As we’ve seen in this article, BAs contribute to so many elements of a project - from even before a project’s inception, to the final delivery and beyond. Using a wide range of knowledge and expertise, they’re most definitely the Swiss Army Knife of the project team. 

However, and most importantly, it’s the BA’s use of soft skills which can really drive delivery forward. In having a knack for making the complex simple, relatable and human, BAs are a key lynchpin in creating products that are useful, and serve an actual need in a crowded digital landscape.