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How Business Analysts Can Help Maximize Project ROI

Tim Morrow Tim Morrow  |  
Jun 04, 2019
 
In my career as a Business Analyst (BA) over the past decade or so, I've been involved with many different projects and project teams. Some have been wildly successful with a great ROI, happy stakeholders and project team…and some have not. The most successful ones have been done on Agile Scrum teams, so I'll be referring to that project structure throughout this post. 
 
As I've surveyed what made each of these Agile projects successful, here are the five most common success factors:
 
  1. Project goals and scope are clearly defined by the Product Owner (PO) and understood by the team early on
  2. Project team member roles are well-defined
  3. Well-defined backlog with the next 2-3 Sprints clearly laid-out with sufficient details
  4. Great communication and collaboration between the PO, Dev Team, Scrum Master and other Stakeholders
  5. Scrum ceremonies (Retro, Reviews, Stand-Up, Planning) are followed religiously, and continuous improvement is happening
 
If any of these factors are weak or missing, it can be like a small crack in a dam that slowly leaks before problems start bursting down upon a project team. 
 

Business Analysts Can Play Multiple Roles

As a BA, I've played several different roles on project teams to help ensure these five success factors are in place. As a Scrum Master, I've served the team by facilitating the various Scrum Ceremonies and helping to remove impediments. I've also played a more traditional BA role where it was my responsibility to elicit requirements from stakeholders, create a working backlog of user stories, and work with the Product Owner to prioritize the backlog to maximize business value. I've also played a Product Owner proxy role where I've help lead the dev team through a well-formed backlog by internalizing the business goals and priorities of the actual Product Owner.
 

Short-Term Cost Savings Often Lead to Long-Term Pain

On certain projects, I've been asked to jump in and help a project team that has already been sprinting for several weeks/months. These project teams are usually launched with only a dev team and no Scrum Master/BA/PM for various reasons (usually budget concerns).
 
Unfortunately, what I've seen happen time and again is that these project teams are typically mired in "requirements churn and rework" and major team frustration. One of the developers has usually been asked to play the role of Business Analyst to gather requirements and start to form the backlog. They are usually overwhelmed by trying to play this role in addition to their development role.
 
What typically starts out as a way to save money for the project, typically only costs more money in the long-run due to lack of dev team productivity (not knowing what to work on), rework and/or non-prioritized work being down due to improper or incomplete backlog grooming.
 
Having a well-formed and prioritized backlog of work items for developers to work on is essential to team success, and it’s one of the critical areas that a BA facilitates early on and throughout the life of the project.
 

Why Organizations Must Engage Business Analysts Earlier in the Project Lifecycle

To summarize, when a BA is not engaged early in the project lifecycle, the following things typically occur:
 
  • Poor Project ROI - When a backlog is not properly refined and prioritized, the dev team will often spin and waste time working on items that don't deliver maximum business value. This results in churn and rework that ends up costing the project financially.
  • Frustrated Team Members - We are all happy and most fulfilled when we are operating within the sweet spot of our role and skillset. When a BA hasn’t been properly engaged early on in a project, the BA responsibility often spills over to the development team.
  • Scope Creep - Typically, the BA is responsible for maintaining a tight connection and "pulse" with the Product Owner to ensure their business priorities and goals are being met. When this role is not present, assumptions can be made, and the dev team can drift into unprioritized or unnecessary work. A BA typically also serves the PO by helping them with estimates and timeline based on a prioritized baseline backlog. We can help the PO make strategic adjustments in the backlog to help maximize business value and stay on target with tight project deadlines and budget.
 

Engaging Business Analysts at all Phases Leads to Better Project ROI

BAs can help deliver value at all phases in the project lifecycle. A BA's skillset can be very helpful during the initial project scoping work to help break down, understand, and estimate the work and create a baseline backlog. This work sets the entire team up for success as they can better estimate a proper burn-down rate, project cost and completion date. A well-groomed backlog early in the project also sets the entire dev team up for success. BAs can also be engaged at the tail-end of projects to help drive product adoption and maximize the benefits of the newly delivered functionality.
 
Instead of seeing BAs as unnecessary overhead on a project, more and more teams are realizing the tremendous value BAs can play on Agile project teams.
 
AgileBusiness AnalysisScrum

 

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