Sunday, August 21, 2011

Business Analysts in the mist.

One thing I've noticed since moving to Australia is the lack of business analysts within organizations I've worked at, or worked for. Occasionally a client will have someone who's title is BA, but the normal responses I get when asking if they have a business analyst is either "No" or "Not now, but we plan to hire one." Now in Canada, this would be sending little red flags flying, but it seems to be par for the course at least here in Brisbane. What really sends the alarm bells clanging is when I ask "who defines the requirements then?" If the answer isn't a B.A. or a client then prepare for pain. Usually the answer is either "The Developers/Lead Developer" or "Sales."

Developers generally makes for very poor analysts. Developers are technical, they don't grok business process, only software process. A developer can analyse how something should be done, but not what should be done. Salespeople are often even worse. Salespeople only worry about signing on new customers or upgrading existing ones. They have an excellent perspective on the extreme high-level of what should be done, but they don't understand either from a business perspective or a technical perspective how it could be done.

The best person to define requirements is the client. Now if you're fortunate enough to be using a methodology like Extreme Programming and the client has someone valuable embedded in your team, then there's no real need for a BA. However, the next best thing is a dedicated BA. Now this gets back to businesses that have someone who's title is BA, but isn't a BA. An excellent example of this was a large government organization client. When I asked if they had a business analyst, their response was that they had a whole team of business analysts! What they said was true, it was actually a small department of about 8 BAs that were under the same director, but not actually part of the software development department. Their idea of a BA's role was to go and meet with the client, understand their business processes, write it up in a document, and hand it off to the software developers to build, washing their hands of it. This meant that the developers had a document, some months after a project has started, then if there are issues or clarifications needed, well too bad, lodge a request with the BA department to get the documentation adjusted. Often the BA that did the original work was tied up in a new project so you get a new BA that has no idea about the project. Of course, this model made perfect sense to them. They needed to have a billable block of time to charge back to the client. Once that was done, they needed to be charging other clients. This was not only frustrating from the software development side of things, it drove the clients nuts. (Having to explain the same thing to two or more BA's, and being expected to *pay* for the new BA to get up to speed with the project.)

Most often what businesses call a BA is essentially nothing more than a clerk. Write down requirements so that we effectively have a contract that we can associate a dollar figure to and get a sign-off on. But what a BA is should be so much more than that. In Canadian teams where I've worked with properly embedded BAs, the BA was effectively a conduit to the client. Even within an Extreme Programming project where the client was in another province, the BA proxied for the client when the client couldn't send someone to our office. If we weren't sure about something, we asked the BA. If they weren't sure, it was their job to get in touch with the client and sort it out. They had the business knowledge, and were abreast of the technical details of how the software was being implemented. They were instrumental in giving initial feedback for UAT phases. In short, they started the project, and they finished the project. In XP the BA was the tracker and the client.

So if anyone around Brisbane works for a client/company that has a BA similar to what I describe above, count yourself as lucky and let me know. I'd like to get my picture taken with them because I'm thinking they must be rarer here than dropbears. :)

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