Tag Archives: roles

What’s the BA role on an Agile team?

I went to a talk last night about the role of the BA, by Mark Price of Pillar. Here’s the impression of BA that I came away with.

First, Mark highlighted four of the 12 Agile Principles as being people-focused, and the area of influence of the Agile BA. They are the ones around:

  • Collaboration
  • Inspired People (Motivation & Trust)
  • Face to Face Conversation
  • Self-Organizing Teams

Specifically, what I heard him say was that the BA coaches people toward collaboration, including helping the customer be a real part of the team. The BA also understands intrinsic motivation, factors that influence communication, and how to shepherd small groups through Tuckman’s stages of group development, and toward real flow.

Let me be really clear here. To me, that describes the perfect job. But I have this nagging question that comes up. And maybe it’s the Fundamental Agile Question for me at this time: People pay for this? Really?

What’s the most important thing the BA does? Have you worked on projects where the role wasn’t filled? Is it considered dispensable, fluff, unnecessary expense? Or is it important for an Agile project’s flow?

GeePaw sez…

Short answer: yes, Angela, they pay for it. :)

Long answer: I’m not sure I would call that description a BA. It sounds more like just a coach. Certainly, my practice is focused around these actions at least 75% of the time. The rest of the work, usually a handful of technical problems, is, for me, the easy part.

The software industry is almost entirely captive to fear and failure. This produces a remarkable range of social pathologies.

Jerome Bruner once remarked that the role of the psychoanalyst is to help the patient find a story that allows her to become who she wants to be. That’s what a coach does, too. My most important activity, over and over again, is in bringing the group mind and the group heart to bear on the daily work life.

(Are these answers too weird or disjoint from their questions? Just re-ask me, and we can try again.)

Well, ok, but then what’s a BA, Mike? Just a domain/tech translator?

Well, no one on an agile team is “just” anything. Agile roles are very loose and floppy, like bunny ears.

BA’s can start as domain-tech translators. But the good ones quickly realize that the answer isn’t to spend your time writing down business procedures as if they were flowcharts, it’s bringing people together to solve problems.

I’m an external consultant, so I always start looking for a coach-after-me as soon as I arrive. The candidates — I’m saying 90% here — fill one of two “informal” roles on the team. One is the domain experts, be they called BA’s or SME’s or whatever. The other usual suspect is the #2 geek. (Not sure why.)

Hope that helps. But if not, I’m going to give it a rest, and let our so-far *awesome* comment-squad help us out.

How is a customer able to write a small enough story?

Kanban Development Oversimplified mentions this possible issue with story cards, and it got me thinking:

Product owners are often asked to break down stories to a level where a single story becomes meaningless. To keep track of what’s meaningful to them and other stakeholders, they often need to keep track of bigger items such as the features of the product and how many stories contribute to building up that feature.

I haven’t read User Stories Applied, yet — it’s definitely on my list. But can I ask this question anyway? (I wish I knew why I find this stuff so fascinating.)

If the customer writes the story, it should be at a scale a non-technical person can think about, right? Why would they know how to break it down into programmable bits? Why wouldn’t it be about features?

The Business Analyst has the job of helping the customer’s story make sense to programmers, and technical issues make sense to customers. Right. But I am still left wondering whether & how the size of a story that makes sense to business might match the size of a story that makes sense for a pair of programmers to tackle at one sitting? And how does that relate to the size that a unit-test will fit? (Not at all?)

GeePawHill sez…

The theory of the ‘customer’ and ‘the stories’ and ‘the planning game’ is one of the least happy aspects of XP as written.

To begin with, suffice to say that the interface between business value and geek joy is fundamental to our success. This is urgent stuff.

Let me identify two separate problems:

1. XP customering is a full-time job. It’s hard to be on the line with users and simultaneously on the line with developers. Among other complicated tasks, the customer has to represent the users to the team and to the board and to marketing. In her copious free time, yo.

2. XP customering requires bringing stories to the level of granularity needed by development, which is quite small. If you take a typical feature, i.e. a checkbox on the back of the box, you may be talking dozens of smaller stories to make it up. Breaking large features into small stories is a knack, and not everyone has it.

So what to do? I usually create a customer “sub-team”, composed of business analysts and testers and UX folk, and occasionally system architects or analysts. That group answers to the official titular customer. Their job is to work day-by-day with developers to identify and test the stories making up features.

Sidebar: It is imperative that we do the story-slicing and use the stories as independent entities when planning. If we don’t, we’re just doing our work by feature, and when shipday comes, we’ll have an entire feature missing from our product. (I just checked my blog. I don’t have the piece on the declining value curve yet. As soon as I do, I’ll come back and fix up a link here.)

Oh, and microtests. Microtests are way smaller than features and stories. A given story might have dozens of microtests around it. The micro’s are often aimed at things the story never even mentions.