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The Necessary Convergence of Business Analysis and User Experience

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.

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  1. Rahul Ajani

    You are right about the convergence! Recently I did a detailed research on the future of business analysis and I found out that user experience will gain tremendous prominence in software solutions, to the point that solution providers will try to win the competition based on their excellence in user experience. The book from Brian Solis ‘What’s the Future of Business’ talks at length about user experience and how it’s changing the business game! I believe that user experience will be, sooner or later, introduced as an area of study in business analysis. I have summarized the findings of my research here on LinkedIn: I hope you would like to read it. Do keep writing useful articles like this one!

  2. Liz

    I am a UX professional and I took a certification class in BA several years ago. I was interested un understanding the differences between what BA’s do and what I had been doing. There is an overlap. But I think the biggest difference in the two is that the BA has to be more technical, has to define all the data, and all the requirements in detail for a technical audience. The requirements are the focus. UX is more focused on the user experience and the design. I also noticed at the time that the BA was not very focused on the design from a usability point of view.

  3. Ben Laine-Toner

    Hi Chris,

    Interesting post. I have found that working with UX practitioners has been great in that what we create is greater than sum of their parts.

    In my present job I am a BA in the Digital Experience team which comprises BA, UX and QA; with the focus on delivering the best possible experience to the end user. Working with brands in CRM marketing, the digital delivery is designed for the user in all that we do, and this is our primary focus. The solution is designed to meet the business needs and marketing goals, but the execution is designed to meet those of the user.

    The dovetailing of what we do and how we work is vital to the success of the execution of the solutions that we create. The DX team was created as a way to bring the wireframes and requirements together into a single point of truth; and the process flow we use means that the BA writes the functional and nonfunctional requirements against the wireframes. This way, the BA can validate the wireframes to ensure that they work across not only the basic flows, but also the alternate as well as the exception; and sitting together means that a simple conversation can help to clarify or arrive at a better solution if needed.

    Additionally, the BA is able to add that finer level of detail to the picture than is covered in the wireframes through well considered requirements that go to add what I call FX, functional experience……which is the intersection in a BA and UX Venn diagram.


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