It’s the Goal, Not the Role: The Value of Business Analysis in Scrum

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Summary:
“Business analyst” is not a distinct role on Scrum or other agile teams. And yet, the goal for the team—to deliver high-valued product needs—requires strong business analysis skills. Ellen Gottesdiener and Mary Gorman describe the vital analysis work needed reach the goal, regardless of role.

In agile development, what happens to the traditional business analyst? Consider Scrum, currently the most popular agile method. In Scrum, there is no “business analyst” role. In fact, there is not an explicit role for tester, project manager, architect, developer, data administrator, user experience designer, customer support representative, or product trainer. Instead, Scrum has three roles: the product owner, the ScrumMaster, and the delivery team. Their collective goal is to deliver high-valued product needs continually. So, where and how can a business analyst contribute?

One possibility is the ScrumMaster role. Great ScrumMasters are facilitative leaders with a diverse set of analysis skills and strong communication and facilitation abilities. In addition, they have a sound understanding of the business domain. Business analysts and project managers with those strong skills are good candidates for the ScrumMaster role.

Another possibility is the delivery team. On some Scrum teams we’ve coached, the business analyst blends into the delivery team, participating and often leading the activities of planning, analyzing, testing, and demonstrating the product. Using Scrum terminology, that work is burned up and burned down, along with the work of design, development, and so on. 

The Business Analyst Is Not the Product Owner, Unless ...
The product owner role requires deep domain and product knowledge to guide decisions about what to build and when to build it. The product owner, in collaboration with the delivery team, explores and evaluates product needs to make those decisions. That’s business analysis work. 

The product owner may choose to explicitly and transparently delegate decision-making authority. We’ve seen this responsibility delegated to a business analystwho reports within the business or product management organization and has the requisite domain and product background.

Strategic and Tactical Work of the Product Owner
The product owner role in Scrum is crucial for success. The product owner is responsible for the planning, analysis, communication, and decision making to ensure that the right product is delivered.

 Strategic product owner responsibilities include:

  • Lead customer and product-discovery activities.
  • Create strategic product plans and define business value (product profitability).
  • Communicate the product roadmap and plans to internal and external stakeholders.
  • Develop and manage a lean, dynamic product backlog (also called “pruning” or “grooming” the backlog).
  • Select and analyze product backlog requirements to prepare them for agile planning workshops.
  • Identify themes for each planning cycle.
  • Lead or participate in agile planning and retrospective workshops.

 Tactical, day-to-day product owner responsibilities include:

  • Participate in product backlog grooming (e.g., work ahead, make ready, planning, agile analysis, and pruning workshops) to prepare backlog items for estimating and planning.
  • Specify acceptance criteria for each backlog item.
  • Review and approve user stories.
  • Attend daily stand-ups and the end-of-iteration and end-of-release demonstrations and retrospectives.

That’s a lot of responsibility—and it’s time-consuming, to boot. In addition, most product owners wear many other hats. In commercial software organizations, they may be product managers. Or, in organizations that develop software to support their internal IT operations, product owners may be mid- or senior-level business managers. No wonder the product owner needs help! 

About the author

Ellen ellensqe's picture Ellen ellensqe

Ellen Gottesdiener, Founder and Principal with EBG Consulting, is an internationally recognized facilitator, coach, trainer, and speaker. She is an expert in Agile product and project management practices, product envisioning and roadmapping, business analysis and requirements, retrospectives, and collaboration.

In addition to co-authoring Discover to Deliver: Agile Product Planning and Analysis with Mary Gorman, Ellen is author of two acclaimed books: Requirements by Collaboration and The Software Requirements Memory Jogger.

View articles, Ellen’s tweets and blogfree eNewsletter, and a variety of useful practitioner resources on EBG's website, ebgconsulting.com.

About the author

Mary Gorman's picture Mary Gorman

Mary Gorman, CBAP, CSM, and VP of quality and delivery at EBG Consulting, helps business and technical teams collaborate to deliver products your customers value and need. Mary works with global clients, speaks at industry conferences, and writes on requirements topics for the business analysis community. She is currently co-authoring a book with Ellen Gottesdiener on essential agile requirements practices.

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