In my experience, there has been a misconception that solid Business Analysts are pretty easy to find and are interchangeable within an eCommerce project. What I have come across is that finding very strong BAs that are difference makers on a project is not so easy; and having a great one is essential to overall quality on a project. There are many factors involved with delivering a successful project, and in this post I’ll review the main areas of a project where a strong BA can showcase his or her elite skills to help enable that success. For both businesses and consulting teams alike, there should no longer be the assumption that anyone available can sub in and play a BA role without compromising the project.
“Prescribe” Instead of “Gather”
The term “requirements gathering” has stuck in describing initial discovery and requirements definition stage of a process, and it is has a connotation that evokes bad practices. Many business analysts will engage with the customer and kickoff the project with focused sessions, asking the customer “what do you want this system to do?”, responding with “yes, we can do that”. A strong BA shouldn’t be a yes-man or yes-woman. Prescribing based on best practices and helping the customer prioritize is very important, and to do that, the BA must be able to ramp up on the customer’s business. Fast. From there, he or she will be able to run a meeting, ask the right questions, offer the right recommendations, document the important details that are discussed and provide the level of detail required to understand the true scope and needs for the customer.
This seems simple, but what often happens is a compounding set of issues. Taking down requirements without a knack for level of complexity, importance to the business or ability to clearly describe and constrain a requirement can lead to the following:
- Unrealistic scope to be pared down at a later date (See our related post about scope creep)
- Invalid and incomplete inputs into design and development – adding churn and follow up conversations
- Conflicting stories about what is actually meant by a requirement (scope ambiguity)
When implementing a commerce platform, a BA’s expert knowledge of the system and technical aptitude is an important input to this requirements process as well as the ongoing design and development process.
A strong BA that provides the most value on platform eCommerce projects will have progressed through an acquisition of skills as follows:
- Business analysis skills, to
- Domain specific business analysis skills (eCommerce), to
- Specific software business analysis skills (eCommerce plus SAP Hybris, for example)
Having the core skills of a Business Analyst like critical thinking, attention to detail, communication, etc. are skills that are foundational for any BA. However, number three (3) above is where BAs become differentiated. Being able to structure the scope and detail the functional design based on the capabilities and constraints of the platform is very important. Applying high level solutioning to the prioritization and overall coverage of requirements coupled with low level solutioning for detailed functional designs (say, product modelling or complex search facet requirements) is akin to the blueprint and foundation for a house. If that goes awry, the house will fall apart.
Excellent BAs will be able to find a solution to the business need that fits the platform capabilities – and help the customer adapt their business process accordingly where applicable. Too often solutions are documented without the right context of how a feature set within the platform is intended to be used. Not having the platform expertise and technical knowledge about the platform can lead to designs that require a fair amount of customizations; many customers are striving for minimal customizations and focus on configuration in order to align to a viable upgrade path.
Leaning on your platform expertise as a BA is important, so that you can be an advocate for the solution and help the customer understand the implementation and how to utilize the tools available. Lack of this detailed knowledge tends to hamper the excitement of the new solution for the customer.
Going the Extra Mile to Ensure Quality
Often overlooked is the significant value a strong BA can (and should) play during the testing phase of a project. Many times BAs will be asked to contribute to the testing of the application. Most of the time, test cases are written and executed per the requirements, but nothing further. Being able to find edge cases, troubleshoot issues and provide likely root cause to the development team is a tremendous asset. When testers simply enter a defect just indicating something is not working, there’s a significant amount of reliance on the development team and added churn with back and forth conversation.
Strong BAs will reduce this amount of reliance, and develop a strong alignment and cohesion with the developers in order to help solve problems. Is it a data issue? Is it always reproducible? Where is the likely breakdown based on what I know about the platform and context of the test case? Good BAs tend to assess whether or not the developed product meets the needs of the business, and will roll up their sleeves to try to find out if and why something is not working – leading to more context in the conversations with the customer about the state of the application.
While the above details the areas where strong BAs can make a difference, it is definitely not an exhaustive list. The intent is to draw attention to key areas where a BA’s ability should be challenged and showcased – and ones that excel should be highly coveted because the reality is that they are hard to come by. Not enough attention is focused on finding top tier BA talent in comparison to other roles, and in my opinion, that is a mistake.