Recently, I was engaged in a conversation with two talented analysts by trade: Christian Buckley and Michal Pisarek. The conversation was about the nature of a good business analyst based on Christian’s post entitled: You Could Say That I Am Pro-Business Analyst. I have no disagreements with what Christian has to say. In fact, I think he makes the following crucial points:
- A BA is not a “junior PM.” This is a problem at the vast majority of organizations I’ve been a part of.
- A BA should understand business and end-user needs.
- Every project begins with fundamental BA activities.
- A BA understands, documents, and helps to approve business processes.
All of this is great, but I think times are changing in what projects needs from business analysts. An article in Modern Analyst makes the following point:
BA and UX skill sets overlap more than they diverge. Traditionally BAs are thought to have more of a business, or stakeholder, focus and UX practitioners are thought to have more of a user focus. However, in practice neither can work in a silo: BAs must think about user needs, and UX practitioners must consider business needs. In fact, Ian Crew of IS&T Data Services who has worked with both UX & BA practitioners at Berkeley says, “To be successful at either BA or UX, you have to know a lot about the other.”
I thinks this is right on track, and I doubt anyone in 2014 would disagree with this sentiment. The article goes on to show a continum on the BA-UX scale, and you see how much overlap there is. Going back to Christian’s definition, a BA must understand end-user needs. The discipline of technology has matured to the point where we understand that the only way to understand this is with UX research. Now we need structured interviews, contextual inquiry, expert reviews, analytics analysis, and many other types of UX research.
I would never expect a business analyst to be an expert in UX research methods and methodologies, but I would expect them to be conversant on them; know the issues, challenges, and opportunities UX research provides; and potentially carry out these tasks on smaller projects.
In my company we currently have distinct capabilities for “UX” and “functional” roles like PM/BA. I would like to see that distinction go to the point where it is practically non-existent. As I mentioned, this is particularly true on small to medium projects where a UX or BA person can competently serve in the other role if needed.
At the end of the day, in my mind, the best thing a good BA can bring to a project is the ability to understand and speak the language of the business. On the other side, a good UX person should seek to understand the world of uncovering design opportunities and refining them by engaging with the business and end-users. As you can imagine, both of these people simply cannot live without the other, and I see more and more that each needs to come closer together.