How business analysis works in an agile organisation?

In a dynamic business environment, the agile framework is no longer an innovation but an informed and obvious choice. In order to meet customer expectations and offer competitive solutions, businesses have to fast-track product releases and adapt their software development process accordingly so as to maximise business benefits and minimise effort.

The agile approach is so effective thanks to the right selection of analytics tools. According to the Agile Extension to the BABOK Guide (BABOK – Business Analysis Body of Knowledge), agile business analysis plays a key role in providing insights and unpacking complex business problems. It throws a bridge between business needs and solutions, described at the required level of detail.

Business analysis in agile organisations

The only constant in life is change

Business analysis – benefits of using analytical techniques

When guided by agile standards, business analysis ensures coherence and facilitates communication between different stakeholders. Choosing the right analytics tools may have an impact on, e.g.:

  • Customer satisfaction – with a better insight into customer needs, teams can design and deliver solutions specifically tailored to meet customer expectations;
  • Better communication – many analytics techniques engage both business and tech professionals in a process of requirement discovery, which translates into a shared understanding of business goals and contexts;
  • Enhanced quality – a good analysis process minimises requirement inaccuracies and helps identify the most important goals;
  • Better team performance – transparent requirements allow teams to focus on the most important project tasks and reduce the number of errors and remakes in software development. In addition, a structured process and clear expectations improve job satisfaction, contributing to better team performance.

Business analysis – benefits for programmers

BABOK and the Agile Extension were created and intended primarily for analysts and business analysts, but tech teams, including programmers, can also benefit. Apart from the advantages discussed above, here are some benefits they can bring to the software development process:

  • Supporting decision-making – with a good understanding of the business requirements and context of the project, tech teams can make better decisions concerning software architecture, components and other technology aspects, while programmers who are aware of the overall business goal are able to propose alternative solutions to better meet the business need at an even lower cost;
  • Detecting barriers to deployment – many analytics techniques help identify deployment obstacles and problems at an early stage, so you can avoid or minimise the risk that your team will realise they cannot deploy a given functionality during a sprint;
  • Facilitating software development – by identifying deployment barriers and detecting relationships between different requirements, teams can plan out sprint backlogs in an effective way, e.g., they can decide the order in which functionalities will be deployed;
  • Knowledge-sharing – during, e.g., refinements, programmers may discuss available deployment options for a given functionality. They also get a chance to exchange tips on the code, components and other important development issues.

Three horizons of business analysis

The Agile Extension introduces the concept of the three horizons of agile business analysis: strategy, initiative and delivery. Each of these represents a specific level of detail, focuses on different challenges and requires corresponding tools. As experienced consultants, we assist our clients at each level of their agile journey. 

Business analysis at the strategy horizon

A strategy, or action plan, is the path an organisation will travel to build a strong market position. Business analysis is needed to set out this trajectory. The goal at this stage is to understand the broader business context of the organisation, help set out a long-term strategy and identify high-level targets. 

At the strategy horizon, business analysis is often preceded by a thorough assessment of capabilities, resources, strengths and the overall potential of a given business or institution. It is often best done through an audit of the whole enterprise or a selected element, e.g., an audit of the architecture or the software development process.

Strategy: analytics tools

At this stage, analysts cooperate mainly with leaders and managers and their toolkit can include, for instance:

  • Business Model Canvas – a strategy tool to visualise information about the key elements of the business model of an enterprise;
  • Value Proposition Canvas – a tool that helps to understand the impact of a product or service on clients. The canvas consists of two elements: a customer profile and a value proposition map. The tool can be used to understand customer needs and problems and adjust the product/service to market requirements;
  • SWOT analysis – a technique to identify project strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Its advantage is its low entry threshold and universal application.

Business analysis at the initiative horizon

At this horizon, business analysis focuses on dividing ideas and strategy goals into specific initiatives, or programs and projects. The role of an analyst is to translate goals into feasible initiatives, prioritise business goals, set the right direction for all initiatives and ensure their alignment with a broader business strategy. 

Tools such as the Product Roadmap, Impact Mapping or User Story Mapping will help visualise the scope of the project and put it on the right track:

  • Product Roadmap – a time-defined visual product development plan including, e.g., schedules, specific deployment stages and business priorities. The tool enables strategic planning and facilitates communication with stakeholders;
  • Impact Mapping – a strategic planning technique, which involves setting key business goals, identifying actors (people and systems) and specifying their actions and impact on the product. It helps teams understand how and why they are to accomplish specific business goals, thus improving team outcomes;
  • User Story Mapping – a method used to understand product functionalities and support product development, focused on end users and their needs.

Business analysis at the delivery horizon

At this horizon, business analysis focuses on making sure that the software developed by the team aligns with the roadmap and the priorities of a relevant initiative. Key activities at this stage include, e.g., requirement management and verification, as well as backlog improvement and prioritisation. 

In tandem with the project team, analysts define requirements in the form of user stories, along with transparent acceptance criteria, and often employ user story slicing techniques.

BABOK vs. Agile Extension to the BABOK

Both documents are complementary guides to agile business analysis, intended for use in slightly different contexts. BABOK contains a set of universal analytics tools and techniques that can be employed in any methodology. 

The Agile Extension, on the other hand, describes methods and techniques specifically adapted to agile environments. It does not exclude or replace BABOK but serves as its complement. In order to understand the totality of the approach and get access to the full range of business analysis techniques used in different contexts, it really makes sense to know both documents.

Meet agile business analysis in practice

The Agile Extension to the BABOK Guide is a guide for analysts working in agile organisations and its principles benefit the entire development team. The guide introduces the concept of three horizons, which reflect activities taken at different levels. The strategy level sets the direction, the initiative level translates the strategy into feasible tasks and the delivery level focuses on performing the tasks in an iterative and incremental manner. 

At Altkom, we have used the tools described in the Agile Extension to the BABOK in the service of our clients with great success. When performed at the three horizons discussed above, business analysis allows people at different business levels to join the project and support the project team in generating value for the whole organisation.