The Role of the Business Analyst in IT Projects

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The Role of the Business Analyst in IT Projects


Over the years I have come across people who are performing multiple roles at once, including requirements gathering for IT projects. As part of the requirements session they take notes, but as they are rarely trained and experienced Business Analysts, they don’t ask the important questions. Business analysis is not just about recording the requirements dictated by business users, instead it’s about asking relevant questions, understanding the problem, and suggesting a better approach to fulfill requirements.

Business analysts play an important role in the success of Information technology projects. There are various developers and designers who don’t know the domains, or understand end user requirements and pain areas. The Business Analyst is the person who ensures requirements are accurately captured and understood by the project team. He or she also ensures proper test case coverage and delivery before providing any features to the customer.

Before understanding the role of the Business Analyst, let’s also understand the definition of Business Analysis (Reference BABOK).

Business analysis is the process of enabling change in an enterprise by defining requirements or identifying problem areas, and recommending solutions that deliver value to the enterprise. Performed as part of either the strategic or operational initiative, business analysis can be used to understand the current state of the organization, or identify changes required for the future of the organization. The various roles performing business analysis in an organization include:

  • Business Analyst
  • Data Analyst
  • Management Consultant
  • Business Process Analyst
  • Product Owner/ Product Manager
  • System analyst
  • Enterprise Analyst
  • Project Manager

The Business Analyst is responsible for capturing requirements from different sources in the organization, this includes the study of existing process, discussion with key stakeholder, tools, and analysis of data coming from various applications/ tools. They also need to understand the strategic goal and end user expectation, in order to bridge the gap between key stakeholders/ top management and end-user requirements. In order to complete these tasks, Business Analysts perform the following activities:

  • Understand strategic/ enterprise problems or goals
  • Change management
  • Formulate the organization’s strategies
  • Facilitate stake holder collaboration

Business analysis is the complete process and is not just meeting key stakeholders and capturing the requirements. The business analysis process involves the following stages (Reference BABOK):

  • Strategic Analysis
    • Understand company initiative
    • Understand short term and long term goals
    • Check if initiative is strategic, tactical or operational
    • Understand existing capabilities and changes required to meet future goals
  • Business Analysis planning and monitoring
    • Prepare and monitor the requirements plan. This is the most important phase of business analysis as it ensures all stakeholders are informed about the exercise, resources are available, and all stakeholders are coming prepared for the discussion. It is also good practice to share expectations with all stakeholders.
  • Elicitation
    • Identify suitable techniques
    • Identify stakeholders
    • Conduct elicitation & confirm elicitation result
  • Requirements Analysis and Design
    • Structure and organize requirements
    • Validate and verify requirements
    • Identify solution options
    • Transform needs into specific solutions
  • Solution Evaluation
    • Asses value delivered by proposed solutions
    • Remove barrier or constraints that prevent full realization of the value
    • Comparison between available solutions and custom solutions
    • Support maintenance and customization costs of available solutions
    • Possible ROI

Business Analysts uses various techniques to capture requirements. These techniques depend on the audience, including whether the audience is senior management or end users, and can include any or all of the following:

  • Brainstorming – enabling a variety of ideas and solutions to be generated.
  • Benchmarking – identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the organization compared to its competitors.
  • Focus group - eliciting ideas about specific products, services or opportunities in an interactive environment, with members sharing ideas, preferences, and needs, guided by a moderator.
  • Interview technique – systematically eliciting information from a person or group, either in a formal or informal way.
  • Document Analysis – reviewing existing documents to understand the requirements and problem areas.
  • Prototyping - allowing users to understand/ visualize their requirements is a very effective way to verify requirements.
  • Non-functional requirement – describing the required quality of the proposed application e.g. performance, security, usability etc.

IT Business Analysts use most of the above techniques in various combinations, but prototyping is the most effective technique to give overall visibility of the proposed application. IT Business Analysts use brainstorming, document analysis, and interview techniques to develop the proposed application prototype, and it can be challenging for IT Business Analysts to quickly understand the requirements, and produce screen sketches/ vanilla screens which convey requirement understanding. The intention of these prototypes is to give overall visibility and not to cover any specific technology or implementation approach e.g. as part of prototyping, a business analyst might show different tabs but in the actual implementation, there may be different sub menu items.

IT Business Analysts also needs to ensure coverage of different business rules and various scenarios to ensure the team understands the requirements, so that there will be minimum or no rework as part of the development life cycle.

Depending on project methodology, IT Business Analysts need to prioritize, document and obtain requirements review from stakeholders. For Agile/ Scrum framework, Business Analysts also need to have requirements ready for the next 2 to 3 sprints.

Summary

Having a dedicated Business Analyst on the Project will ensure minimum/ no rework as requirements are properly understood and transferred to the project team.

It is important to understand the organization size, culture, and presence across single or multiple locations in order to plan requirement sessions appropriately. Planning is a crucial phase and when carried our correctly, ensures stakeholder availability and active their participation at the meetings.

There are various roles which claim to also perform business analysis, but a properly trained business analyst will ensure effective requirements gathering, understand strategic and end-user requirements, address any gaps between strategic and end-user requirements, use the best techniques to capture requirements, and ensure effective requirements documentation and knowledge transfer among teams.

Over the years I have seen 90% plus success when a dedicated Business Analyst is assigned to a project, compared to a 40% chance of failure if there is no dedicated Business Analyst assigned. So while at the start it may feel like a dedicated Business Analyst is an unnecessary overhead, the role is essential to ensure a successful project and will pay for itself many times over.

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