Agile Development, Business Analysis, Information Technology, Product Development, Requirements Development, User Analysis, User Experience, User Stories

Gone are the days when you had professionals relying on the accumulation of knowledge alone. In this day and age of continual changes in technology, business, career and life styles,  there is an increasing emphasis not just on acquiring knowledge, but also on applying the experience and rich expertise. The focus has shifted from knowing to doing and sharing, from information gathering to using the right tools and methods and from just quantitative measures to insightful analytics. Like all other professions, this paradigm shift is quite apparent to a large extent in business analysis and product management areas too. In this post, I will touch upon the many facets that make up the emerging avatar of the new-age business analyst/product owner.

Many facets of the modern BA/ProductOwner

The traditional business analyst’s focus pretty much hovered on the requirements, documentation, functionality of the product. Also, the key lookout for the traditional BA has been one centred around the problem space, whether it has to do with the product, process, domain or business. The new-age business analyst’s core competencies are still based on the problem space and functional areas, their scope of influence has expanded further and beyond. This is thanks partly due to the continual changes in business, technology, ways of work and life. It could also be attributed to the “survival-of-the-fittest” theory and that the business analysts have to consistently re-invent themselves to keep them relevant to the changing and demanding times. New age_BUSINESS_ANALYSIS_Texavi_NBA

Realm and reach of the new-age BA

So what makes the new-age business analyst different from that of the traditional role? Interestingly, one school of thought identifies the BA as just another team player, there is quite another emergent thinking that is pitching the BA as a more responsible, leadership-oriented professional. From a mere documentation specialist, the realm and reach of the Business Analyst of today scaled up to that of the product owner and/or product manager. While functionality and features, problems and opportunities remain relevant and current to the new-age BA, the additional roles of release management, process improvement, increased customer and user engagement added a new dimension.

What make up a new-age BA/PO

Now let us try and assess the factors that make up a class act new-age Business Analyst. On the one hand, you need to be on the top of the product, process, business or domain, on the other hand you must also be able to connect well with “people”. A new age business analyst works her way very well through not just the product or process team members, but also key stakeholders, customers and users. Yes, it is true that the BA must be versatile and equipped with generic skills, it is beyond doubt that specialism and in-depth expertise add to the winning factors. In a nut shell, the new-age Business Analyst/Product Owner is versatile, agile, tech-savvy, responsive, responsible, and a leading-edge visionary.

In the next posts, we will look in detail the approach, tools and methods that shape up the new-age Business Analyst. Hope this post gives you enough food for thought till then. Until next, ciao!

Agile Development, Business Analysis, Information Technology, Innovation, Product Development, Requirements Development, User Experience, User Stories

Often times this thought come across to me as to what makes people choose their professions. Is it their interest, aptitude, passion or simply demand in the market? I think its not just one of these but a combination of all of these that make up the professionals that we are all today. From a doctor to an engineer, from an entrepreneur to a scientist, everyone has a choice to make and that pretty much defines how they get set into what they do as their career. Looking closely at an analyst or rather more appropriately a Business Analyst, its amply clear that the role does have specific requirements, demands and expectations. Not everyone would like to be a Business Analyst and not everyone would be a good Business Analyst. So, what is it that makes one a suitable New-Age Business Analyst? In this post, let us look at some of the key factors, skills and attitudes that are the qualities of the New-Age Business Analyst.

Business Analysis is an art and a science

Yes, its indeed the most under-stated fact that business analysis is both an art as well as science. One needs to have the flair for analysis, reasoning, communication, identifying problems and facilitating in creation of solutions. A good business analyst is passionate, enthusiastic and a continuous learner. On the other hand, there is also no denying the fact that to be a a better business analyst, you need to learn the right tools and techniques to hone your analysis skills. From the SWOT technique to various notations such as BPMN ( Business Process Modeling Notation) and UML ( Unified Modeling Language) almost everything can be learnt and mastered as a discipline on a scientific basis. I will touch upon the nuances of these tools, techniques and methods in the future posts.

The various avatars of a Business Analyst

First off, let us understand and define the various names, forms of a business analyst. From a business consultant to a product specialist and various other roles, business analysts have been known by different names. I have come across some roles such as Domain Expert and Functional Consultant too. You might notice that the Business Analyst as we know cut across different industries and verticals. This ranges from Banking, Manufacturing, Information Technology, to name a few. I give below a diagram which shows the numerous avatars of the Business Analyst. Though this is not comprehensive, it pretty well presents a picture to drive home the point that the Business Analyst comes in various packages – shapes, sizes, colours, names and forms. However, you will notice that the core work remains the same, which is what we will refer in the later sections of this post.

Identity of a BA

 

Focus Areas of a New-Age Business Analyst

The main areas that a new-age business analyst focuses on are Business, Product, People and Communication. Unlike the popular perception, it is not technology, nor projects that would interest a business analyst. As the name suggests Business is the paramount factor for a BA and up next is the product focus and product thinking. No business analysis is complete if it does not touch upon the people aspect. From customers, users and team members to stakeholders and management, business analyst has to cater to the various ‘people’ involved. And if you ask me to name that one thing that separates the New-Age Business Analysts from all other analysts, it is communication. I created the image below to represent the focus areas and priorities of the new-age business analyst.

Focus areas

You can notice that the following are the priorities for the new-age BA:

  • What and Why, over How
  • Problems over Solutions
  • Product over Project
  • Facilitation over Implementation

Hope this post helped you in understanding the basic skillsets of the new-age BA. We will discuss more on this in the upcoming posts on New-Age Business Analyst. Until next time, Ciao!

Agile Development, Business Analysis, Business Case, Information Technology, Usability Testing, User Analysis, User Experience, User Stories, User Studies, User-centered Design

Hurrah! It’s a joyous and proud occasion for all of us at the RSC and Rave. If you wonder why, well, RSC Publishing’s new content delivery platform, ‘RSC Publishing beta’ was launched today. Released as beta, which is bound to have further improvements, even as it stands today, this product is undoubtedly one of the finest platforms in the ‘STM publishing’ area. It is the culmination of various factors that resulted in the successful planning, execution, delivery of this platform. This is the combined victory for users, technology, agile methodology, collaborative team work and of course, sustained commitment and support from the RSC.

Refer http://www.rsc.org/AboutUs/News/PressReleases/2010/betaplatform.asp for more details on this.

When Taj Mahal was completed after almost a decade since the work was started, everybody who was involved in making it was excited and overjoyed to see it complete. This list included the persons who just carried bricks to the site. So also with the newly launched platform, everybody who has been part of the development project has a reason to smile today. With the beta launch, which can be equated to completing one pillar of the Taj Mahal, I think it is time for us to pause and reckon the project’s history. Being involved with the development of this platform from the beginning, I will try and give you a peep into how it all happened.

First, there was the Vision

The stakeholders at the ‘RSC Publishing’ had a dream, a shared vision of building a content platform that powers the Chemistry community with quick and easy access to the Chemistry content. Not just that, they envisaged that the platform delivers their content using superior technologies with the right user-experience. It all started with understanding their visions and expectations of the product and then we arrived at the unified product vision and roadmap.

Well begun is half done

As we discussed in the last few posts, in the software product development, if we align our processes to the users’ needs and their tasks, that product will be successful. The same happened with the RSC Publishing platform too. Right from the word go, they realised that ‘User’ is the engine that powers the rest of the product development. The team started off to gather intelligence about the users and arranged for some user studies in three different continents. Sound domain knowledge, being in the publishing industry for decades, added to the rich insights and contextual usage related data from the users. The end-result, a clear idea of what needs to go into the product and that exactly helped push the platform to the next stage.

Blueprint for the building

You cannot build a house without an architectural layout and blueprint. Similarly we cannot develop a software product without sound architecture and framework. When I say architecture, it does not mean just technical architecture. Task-flow re-engineering and information architecture also form part of laying the foundation for the product. Studying the existing systems and understanding the non-functional requirements helped build a solid technical framework, while user studies helped get closer to the conceptualisation of the structure of the user interface. Both these formed the foundation on which the entire application was built in the later stages.

Mantra behind the yantra

Can anything great be ever achieved without Technology? Definitely not, in this era of computers, and mobile phones. If Computer is the ‘yantra’ or machine, software is the ‘tantra ‘ that runs it. Here too, the right selection and implementation of technologies played a great role in ‘building’ the product from scratch. Because this platform is a content delivery product, RSC team selected a contemporary technology such as XML to help manage the complexity, volume and structure of content. Also, the selection of the content server technology played a critical role in storing the content effectively and delivering it faster. Also on the front end, superior technologies backed by integrated teams helped in shaping up a nice-looking and simple interface to the platform.

Go back to the user

It was good to have a clear understanding of the user needs and designing the product based on that knowledge. However, we cannot accomplish true user-centred design and development unless we close the loop by getting the product evaluated by users. It was again with the help of the key product owner and marketing team, we could arrange a few user tests and feedback sessions. These helped a great deal in correcting some issues which were not noticed till then.

Two teams – one goal

Hillary and Tensing could not have scaled Mount Everest individually. It is only by coming together and working together that they could achieve the feat. I think the Agile methodology’s paired programming concept would have been applied by them. In the case of the platform development too, collaborative team work has been the mantra for success. With dedicated and smart members working on both sides, RSC and Rave continued to leverage the  benefits of agile development methodologies. Continual interactions, empathy and collaborative working had proved to be the key turning points in this project.

There is only one way

And that is the way forward. With feet firmly on the ground, we are now poised to surge ahead with focus, renewed energy and the continued support from stakeholders and users. Now that the platform is in front of the users, we expect lot of feedback, comments and suggestions to come from the user community. The potential next steps are -addition of new functionality, changes to the existing features, usage of advanced technologies and fine tuning the overall application architecture for better serving the users. This would help us continue our march towards making the product better, quicker, simpler and a joy for the users and also for us, to be associated with the platform.

Here is the final score card, at the end of the play:

Users – 10 points, Technology – 10 points, Business – 10 points, Team work- 10 points! (On a scale of 0 to 10) victory to one and all. The game did not end here and now. It just began.