Return of Key Trends Shows Business Analysts Staking Their Claim in 2014 (Top 10 Business Analysis Trends)

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Top 10 Business Analysis Trends in 2014This year’s top 10 business analysis trends show that in many ways, the more things change, the more they stay the same. In 2014, the focus will continue to be on delivering business value to the organization by leveraging the power of requirements at all levels through Agile and business architecture. Business analysts (BAs) will also continue their quest to take on new skills to meet a broader job scope and the needs of more multidisciplinary roles. Many of the trends identified this year have been building for several years and they continue their evolution amid the increasing convergence of the practices of business analysis and project delivery.

1. Business analysts and systems analysts will need to develop interchangeable skill sets.

With baby-boomer retirement in full swing, the need for crossover between BAs and systems analysts is increasing. More and more, we see BAs being asked to perform systems analyst functions and vice versa. The implication is two-fold: the system analyst needs to develop better soft skills and project-level awareness to be effective in eliciting requirements. At the same time, the BA needs to develop better technical competencies in order to be a successful liaison between business and IT.

2. Many will realize that being “Agile” is a competency, and not just a methodology.

Having an Agile skill set means being effective and efficient in getting the "right" requirements in quantity, quality and representation. More BAs are embracing Agile as a different and often better approach to managing a project as well as analyzing, gathering, validating and communicating requirements. But Agile is also a mindset and a framework, not just a collection of checklists and templates. Agile teams take full and involved ownership for the requirements, quality, business value, customer satisfaction and continuous improvement of the team process. The successful Agile BA will understand it’s all about the culture of Agile, not just the methods.

3. The role of the BA and PM will continue to overlap in small to medium-size organizations.

The cold, hard reality is that small and medium-size organizations need to broaden their employees’ skill sets, especially as it relates to BAs and project managers (PMs). In these environments, where resources are scarce, BAs need to gather requirements and deliver them through the project. Likewise, PMs need to adopt a “just do it” approach, sharpening their skills on elicitation techniques and developing SMART requirements—those that are specific, measurable, agreed-upon, realistic and time-bound. This will place inevitable demands on the split BA-PM function to retain the highest levels of objectivity in order to keep the roles separated and focused on the respective specialties of product (BA) and process (PM).

4. BAs will get in on the action early and often.

Bringing in a BA early on can yield significant benefits, particularly for mission critical projects. This is because BAs are able to provide vision for the product and a context to the project. In the process, they become much more vested in the team’s success and "take the journey" as a core member of the project team, not as an external stakeholder to it. Projects will benefit from this continuity and from increased opportunities to influence, persuade, and collaborate with stakeholders from the very beginning. This is particularly true when using an integrated project team (IPT) approach. Increasingly, IPTs are proving their worth, and getting the BA in on the team early can only ensure that the project gets off on the right foot.

5. Requirements management gets sophisticated.

Organizations will move away from creating huge, monolithic business requirements documents—you know, the kind that makes a THUD when it hits the conference table. It’s bad news for contractors because the louder the THUD the higher the price! But technology and new approaches to the progressive elaboration of requirements are changing all that. More often, documents are being managed and shared through web-based portals like SharePoint that allow for easier access, review and feedback. Agile requirements gathering, in which the specifications are laid out initially as broad system-level parameters and more detailed layers of requirements elaboration are left to the appropriate release and iteration level, will become the mainstream approach in many organizations. More importantly, the combination of new approaches and the right technology will allow requirements to be collected, managed and iteratively shared for better traceability, quality and customer satisfaction. In addition, the technology and methods are scalable so small and medium-size companies can enjoy the benefits as well.

6. Business analysis continues to emerge as a profession with a career path in larger organizations

In much the same way that project management wasn't a well-defined area of expertise 10 or 15 years ago, BAs face similar struggles today. However, a growing number of organizations are recognizing business analysis as a career path with defined tracks—junior BA, senior BA, Enterprise Analyst, Enterprise Architect, etc. Perhaps more importantly, BAs are finding other trajectories within the business management ranks because they are finally being recognized and rewarded for their knowledge of the business and what constitutes adding value to the business. In 2014 product owners will recognize the value of the BA and better understand their own roles in the combined process, resulting in improved results from Agile projects. In many organizations, senior BAs may even be used as proxies for, or may be assigned the actual role of, the product owner.

7. More project sponsors will learn about BA.

According to our research, senior stakeholders such as sponsors, decision makers and executives are more likely than ever to take a BA course. Why? We think it is because they are realizing that solid requirements are the foundation for a successful project. As organizations and systems become more complex and more highly integrated, the need to get the requirements right the first time becomes more important. This is great news for BAs because a more educated sponsor and more prominent role can only result in a higher level of support and a deeper level of commitment to the requirements process.

8. BAs become cool

As organizations and systems become more complex and highly integrated, the need to get the requirements right from the outset of the project becomes more important. As we highlighted among last year’s top 10 trends, the ability to communicate effectively will continue to be a BA imperative. This year BAs will increasingly recognize that their project and career success will be enhanced when they can have the crucial conversations around a project’s business value at the highest levels. The BA “cool factor” will be cemented by up-skilling the BA faculty for facilitation and communications with the CXO-suite through practice, training and mentoring. With the trending-up in mobile computing, big data and security all putting the BA front and center, there’s never been a better time to be a BA!

9. Enterprise Architecture comes back to life. Was it ever really dead?

Having highly paid enterprise architects on staff didn’t sit well with line of business management during the global recession. Architects made too much money, and their focus was too strategic and long term in an environment that was distinctly fixated on the tactical. Consequently, many of them were shown the door as the business turned to more short-term, fire-fighting concerns. In many cases though, that short-sighted approach has come back to haunt us. Now more than ever, organizations need people who know how to factor and plan for requirements in big data analytics, data architecture and data management—and these roles report directly to a CIO in many cases. BAs looking for advancement may well find their payday in the enterprise architect role.

10. There are plenty of cloudy days ahead, and those clouds are filled with apps.

As the greatest technology trend since the Internet revolution, cloud computing has become the new business platform of the 21st century. Cloud computing is here to stay, and with an ever-increasing number of cloud-based applications, so is the need for BAs who understand how to do the tough job of requirements analysis for native cloud applications. The promise of consolidating information at the enterprise level, low-cost and rapid modernization of business systems without capital-intensive investments in hardware and software, and the ability to leverage data storage via the cloud offer unprecedented business value for any organization. The Rolling Stones were wrong about getting off their cloud, so climb aboard and watch your career float to the stratosphere!

Stabilizing Trends of a Maturing Discipline

Looking at the trends for 2014 and their consistency in many areas from those of past years should be a sign of encouragement that BAs are carving out a distinct role, providing critical competencies and earning the recognition they merit in the organization. While the trends indicate numerous challenges, they also demonstrate that even if BAs haven’t yet met them all yet, they have clearly earned their place at the table.

Author: Peter Schmidt, VP, ESI International

Peter Schmidt, MBA, PMP, ACP, CPL is Vice President Client Services at ESI International. For any questions or comments, Mr. Schmidt can be reached at pschmidt@esi-intl.com or visit ESI International’s website http://www.esi-intl.com.


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