The blue ocean business analyst

Agile is about maximizing value to the customer by delivering great functionality at a reasonable cost, that helps him to win at his market. It is about helping him to serve his customers better. Gone are the days when the business analysts used to just note down what the end users asked from the system, and transferred them to the development team without any value addition. This shift in focus from conformance to requirements to maximizing value to the customer’s business opens up a plethora of opportunities for the competent and qualified business analyst.  The mind map provided below depicts the ‘business analyst’ at the center of the stakeholder map.

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Blue ocean business analyst

  • Determines the actual problem to be solved in the organization
  • Understands the business issues and challenges of the organization and industry
  • Identifies the organization’s strengths and weaknesses and suggests areas of improvement
  • Reviews and edits requirements
  • Documents the solution to the problem
  • Creative problem solving
  • Identification of process improvement opportunities
  • Feedback collection and sharing
  • Communicates functional product and business standards
  • Facilitates business community transition from problem state to solution state
  • Evaluation of alternative solutions
  • Product stakeholder management
  • Augmenting the change readiness of the organization
  • Product evaluations
  • Facilitation and moderation of meetings
  • Presentations
  • Effective communication
  • Enough technical knowledge to converse effectively with technical stakeholders
  • Conflict resolution between the business and the technical teams
  • Generating enthusiasm about the product
  • Facilitates decision making
  • Effective management of requirements changes
  • Effective tracking of product issues to closure
  • Leads the acceptance testing efforts

Development team is not the differentiation to the customer’s business any more. It is the availability of great business analysts who can identify those killer functionality,  that will differentiate his organization from the competition is the key to value maximization. It will even better if those great functionality articulated by the business analyst can move the organization from the bleeding red oceans to the blue oceans.

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Anatomy of a User story

Here is a sample product backlog (wish list of features) for developing an online course 

  1. The instructor should be able to deliver classes online on a 1 to 1 or 1 to many basis
  2. Online assessments and evaluation
  3. Discussion board
  4. Online payment facility

With this much information it becomes very difficult to estimate it, or to develop it. As a developer these are the questions coming to my mind immediately about the item No.1 which is ‘The Instructor should be able to deliver classes on a 1 to 1 or 1 to many basis’;

Clarifications required;

  1. Are they live classes or record and play or is it live classes with a facility to record and play.
  2. Can I use third party tools, or should it be developed from ground zero
  3. Can I use open source components
  4. Can it be just a slide show with voice, or should it be slideshow and instructor video side by side in a automatically synchronized fashion.
  5. When there is bandwidth crunch, can I switch off the video
  6. Should there be options for streaming high resolution, low resolution
  7. Paid streaming Vs free streaming (ad free, faster, offline viewing)
  8. For 1 to many, how many concurrent viewers
  9. Pass word protection
  10. Sharing option
  11. Renting option
  12. What is the acceptance criteria

This list can be quite a lot, and as an engineer I need clarity on these, else I will not be able to estimate the work involved. These are the first cut of clarifications required. During development I may have more functional / technical questions.

A user story essentially has,

  • The product backlog reference.
  • The description of the feature to be developed in detail, in a non technical language.
  • The conversations section captures the questions and answers that arises during the sprint planning meeting and throughout the development process.
  • Acceptance criteria – This section provides the acceptance tests, which will be run during the sprint review. These are defined upfront and documented, so that the engineer can proactively work to on the code, to ensure acceptance.

It is quite possible that a feature is accomplished with the help of multiple user stories. There can be a 1 to many kind of a relationship between the feature and the user stories. A user story must be something which can be declared as done, 1 to 3 days time. Larger user stories in smaller sprints reduces the benefits of ‘fail fast is success’ mantra of agile.

Writing the user stories upfront may appear to be a herculean task for the product owner. Here lies the great opportunity to include the development team also into story prioritization and development by conducting story writing workshops. This has the added benefit of functional knowledge transfer to the team in advance. I am yet to see projects where the entire user stories are written prior to the start of development. Here lies the benefits of Value stream mapping, release planning and sprint themes.

In engineering, what you get is what you ask. Investing time and energy to develop clear cut user stories is key to success in the agile world. The value of well documented user stories to ensure conformance to requirements is even higher. It acts as a medium of communication about the functionality across stakeholders. That is a good investment one can make to ensure success of your product.

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About Aby 

Are your stories ready CXO?

What is it that you really want?, and when will you say that it is done?. These are two fundamental prerequisites before delegating work to someone and this becomes the real cornerstone for success in the outsourcing world. Identifying the right features and having clarity on them is the foundation for delivering value to your business and to get the best out of your outsourcing partner quickly, thus maximising the ROI. Agile frameworks, especially the product backlog, user stories, value stream mapping and release planning are great opportunities for maximising the ROI and to ensure the alignment of your IT strategy to the organizational strategy. Agile frameworks provide great opportunities to the CXOs and their business analysts to maximise value, if they embrace agility before identifying the vendors, so that agility can be enforced from the contracting stage itself. Are you listening?.

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