What Do Business Analysts Actually Do for Software Implementation Projects?

Everyone knows who the business analysts are in their organization, but not everyone knows what they actually do and what they are responsible for during software implementation projects.

By Thomas Wailgum
Mon, April 28, 2008

CIO — Anyone who has ever worked on a complex and lengthy software development project knows that the involvement of a business analyst can mean the difference between success and failure. And that involvement starts at the very beginning of a project.

Generally speaking, most business analysts "own the requirements processes," where they work with key line-of-business executives and users on just what it is they want from a new application, says Carey Schwaber, a senior analyst of application development at Forrester Research.

"If you believe that software projects succeed or fail based on the quality of the requirements," Schwaber says, "then you believe that software projects succeed or fail on the basis of business analysts, too."

Beyond gathering requirements, however, the other important duties inherent to the business analyst role (besides being a good communicator) are still not well-known today. In fact, according to Schwaber and fellow Forrester analyst Rob Karel, not many people, including business analysts themselves, have determined a standard definition (complete with typical skill sets, proper training methods and set career paths) for the business analyst position. Business analysts, for instance, are also known as: business systems analysts, business technology analysts, system analysts or requirements analysts.

"Everyone agrees on the importance of the business analyst role," Schwaber and Karel write in a recent report, "but few know exactly what it is that business analysts do."

Eight Business Analyst Responsibilities

Scott Ambler, the practice leader of agile development for the IBM Methods Group and author of several books on software project management and agile development, says that first and foremost, business analysts (or as he terms it, business systems analysts, or BSAs) are responsible for communication and collaboration between the business and IT.

"The most important responsibilities of a BSA are to act as a communication conduit between the stakeholders and the team," Ambler says, "to represent the stakeholder community to the development team if the developers themselves don't have direct access, and to translate the business needs for the team.

Ambler developed a list of eight activities that business systems analysts will usually perform on a traditional software development project:

1. Scope the system. At the outset of a project, business analysts may be the only "software development staff" assigned to the project, Ambler writes. And at this point, they work with key project stakeholders and business people to formulate and communicate the business vision for the project, map out initial requirements and the scope of the project.

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