Does Agile Make Business Analysts Extinct?

There is a clear link between business analysis and agile project management, and some think that business analysts as we know them could be facing extinction in the face of agile project management practices. Understanding this link can help you take advantage of this trend rather than fall victim to it!

This is the first in a series of posts on the relationship between business analysis and agile project management. Exploring the link between agile processes and business analysis can help to reveal exactly the business analysis and agile skills you need.

There is a clear link there, just as there is a link between business analysis and traditional waterfall project management. But the relationship is shifting. You can better position yourself for success by understanding that shift.

For the moment, just try an put aside your assumptions about what agile and business analysis are, and open your mind to some alternative ways of approaching it. It's actually pretty straightforward, but because it's in a state of flux, what you see in the workplace is not consistent, and thus can be confusing.

What is being said right now about the relationship between business analysis and agile project management? I'll provide one reference in this post, and others in future posts. There is no final word on this - just greater understanding.

Highlights of Agile versus Traditional Project Management
In traditional project management, the waterfall method provides a common way of looking at everything. In the waterfall method, everything in one phase is completed before moving to the next phase. In other words, ALL of the business analysis and requirements gathering happen before any project execution takes place.

With this approach, the challenges for the business analyst are many. Will the requirements remain the same over an extended life cycle project? Are the stakeholders capable of adequately conveying requirements as a whole, and really knowing what they want, before they get a chance to see anything? Indeed, these challenges are the very reason we also have agile approaches.

Business Analysis in Agile versus Traditional Project Management
In agile project management, a project is divided into very small and discrete units of work that will produce a complete deliverable. That deliverable will be a fraction of what is intended in the final product, but it is something and has been determined to bring value.

In this model, the business analysis and requirements gathering is drastically reduced in scope. At the same time,complexity is reduced, and interaction across stakeholders and developers is nearly transparent...and is the job of the business analyst. And in a short period of time, the full cycle for this small scope is delivered. It's like having a mini-project and executing a full waterfall cycle for each small, discrete bundle of features.

The distinctions above illustrate how the business analysis function is quite different between the traditional waterfall versus the agile project management approach. That's why some say that agile approaches are hastening the extinction of traditional business analysis practices!

To summarize the distinction, where traditional business analysis involves gathering ALL of the requirements, documenting, and vetting them prior to starting development, business analysis with an agile approach is just the opposite. Using an agile approach for business analysis means that you spend time analyzing a narrowly scoped feature in a very short time frame, and delivery of a final product happens in just a couple of weeks.

For a reference on this aspect of business analysis in agile project management, see Waterfall to Agile: The Role of BAs in Agile Projects.