How Agile Helped a Business Analyst Discover Her True Value: An Interview with Diane Zajac-Woodie


Diane Zajac-Woodie sat down to discuss her upcoming presentation at Agile Development and Better Software Conference West 2014, why the business analyst role doesn't get the attention it deserves, how the BA role can make a difference on agile teams, and her alter ego as the Agile Squirrel.

Diane Zajac-Woodie will be presenting a presentation titled "How Agile Helped a Business Analyst Discover Her True Value" at Agile Development Conference and Better Software Conference West 2014, which will take place June 1–6, 2014.


Cameron Philipp-Edmonds: All right, today we have Dianne Diane Zajac-Woodie, and she will be speaking at the Agile Development Conference and Better Software Conference West 2014, which is June to June 6. She is giving a presentation titled, How Agile Helped a Business Analyst Discover Her True Value. Diane Zajac-Woodie has spent the last six years, redefining the business analyst role as more than a requirements dictator.

Through open and honest conversations, Diane guides her business partners toward creative solutions that solve problems and eliminate waste. She shares the same approach with her technical teams, resulting in communication, cooperation, and continuous learning to ensure success. Diane craves knowledge almost as much as chocolate, and we make question asking an Olympic sport. Her recent passion is to free those mired in the status quo even if she has to pull them out one at a time.

Diane's alter-ego makes her thought transparent on her blog, anything to add to that?

Diane Zajac-Woodie: No, sounds good.

Cameron Philipp-Edmonds: Okay, because you are doing a session titled "How Agile Helped a Business Analyst Discover Her True Value", I'd like to ask you some related questions. The first question is: in your presentation you talk about how the BA role has fallen by the wayside. Why do you think the role isn't getting as much attention as it may deserve in agile methodologies?

Diane Zajac-Woodie: Well, I think the BA role is definitely one of the newest role in software development, relatively speaking. In the beginning, you have developers that was pretty much all we needed. Then we saw the need for testers, and have a separate skill set there, and created that role. And eventually people started to see this need for someone to manage all the requirements. So, frequently what happens I think especially in small organizations is that they see the role as dispensable.

As if you'll only had enough funds to have one role. You're going to be pick a developer BA. You're going to pick the developer, you need software to be written. With larger teams, larger projects, I think you can't afford not to have someone, especially focus, I'm making sure the requirements are being met, making sure the best solutions are being generated.

Cameron Philipp-Edmonds: Okay, and you talk about how they're going to pick a developer over someone in the BA role. What are some of the best ways of BA can really make a difference on an agile team?

Diane Zajac-Woodie: I think the biggest impact that BA has, is ensuring my communication is right happening. One of my favorite quotes is by George Bernard Shaw. He said that the biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place, and people have this tendency to make assumptions that understanding has occurred. I think it's almost funny, because if we were honest with ourselves, we would admit that we only half pay attention when people are talking.

We're constantly thinking what we want to say, we're not really paying full attention. Yeah we expect to have this full understanding with what other people are saying. I think we're all guilty of filling in the blanks with some of our own assumptions. We fill in what we think other people are thinking, and then that's how misunderstanding happen. A good BA is focused on helping other people, share their knowledge whether it's within the team, or project sponsors on a broader scale.

And along with that, comes this kind of affect of uncovering better solutions. Because if we're really listening to what other people are saying, and asking questions and having open dialog, we can really elevate the quality and just the number of ideas that are being generated.

Cameron Philipp-Edmonds: Okay, and in your presentation you cover some real examples of how the BA helped in agile team. All those examples, the agile teams were falling prey to many of the mistakes and pit falls the agile team can succumb to. Does a BA still bringing off the table, when an agile team is firing on all cylinders. What can a BA do to improve on a project that is already meeting and exceeding expectations.

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