The Value of Business Analysis in Scrum

Copyright © Software Quality Engineering, Inc.
First published in Stickyminds, Techwell and Agile Journal, July/August 2011

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 analyst who 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.

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.

  • 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!