Harnessing the Skills of the Business Analyst to Accelerate Transformation

"They've thought of everything!" exclaimed my husband as he finished installing new security cameras in the back of our house.

"What are you talking about?" I asked, perplexed at my husband's happiness after such a feat. 

He continued, "They provided all the tools I would need for the installation, a hook to hang the camera while I drilled, and user-friendly instructions." 

"Behind every great product is a great Product Owner," I proclaimed in response to his enthusiasm. “And it’s a lesser-known fact that Business Analysts make great Product Owners. Interestingly, there are many shared skills between the two."

In the race to deliver differentiated products to market faster, Agile transformations have surged in importance over the past several years. In fact, our research shows that 91 percent of decision-makers believe that Agile will have a medium to high impact on the success of their business in the next two years. As organizational leaders embark on these Agile transformations, the world around them is changing – full of new terminology, new delivery practices, and new roles. One of the fundamental changes brought by Agile transformation is the emergence of the Product Owner role. As described in the Scrum Guide, a Scrum Product Owner is responsible for maximizing the value of the product resulting from the work of the development team.

In seeking qualified candidates for their teams, leaders of Agile teams have an opportunity to look to their Business Analysts to fill Product Owner positions. These professionals already possess many of the skills needed to succeed in a Product Ownership capacity. In this blog, we explore three key areas where Agile team leaders can consider tapping into the Business Analyst’s skillset for Product Owner roles, unlocking new opportunities for the Business Analyst to drive the organization towards its strategic transformation objectives.

Opportunity 1: Communication

As Product Owners focus on maximizing the value of a product, they own the product roadmap and the product backlog of work. If improving product installation was next on the product roadmap, this would involve communicating effectively with business stakeholders to define the work required to achieve this, as well as clearly communicating this work to the development team. Business Analysts have an opportunity to leverage strong oral and written communication skills to ensure developers build the right solutions to meet business needs. To move into a Product Owner role, Business Analysts should not only bring the interpersonal skills to facilitate, present, listen, and negotiate, but they should also balance this out with the technical skills necessary to bridge shared understanding between business and technical teams. 

Opportunity 2: Analytical Skills

In order to properly define what is needed to maximize the value of a product, Product Owners are tasked with performing proper analysis. They need to identify gaps, dependencies, alternate scenarios, and risks. If the right questions are not asked, this could result in delays or even the creation of a wrong solution.  In these instances, Business Analysts bring expertise in requirements analysis, which can help to ensure the delivery of a successful product.

Opportunity 3: Managing Backlogs

Additionally, Product Owners have the authority to make decisions on prioritizing and refining the backlog of work. It’s a continuous, yet critical, process to prioritize and manage the items within the product backlog according to highest value. This ensures the items are defined and analyzed to the right level of detail so that they are ready to be pulled into an iteration for development. Business Analysts are well-versed in grouping user stories/requirements into Epics/Features/Categories as well as organizing them into the right size for planning with development.

Despite this breadth of knowledge on the user stories/requirements, Business Analysts do not have decision making authority on the work and must obtain signoff from business stakeholders.  Business Analysts moving into the Product Owner role would see the removal of the signoff barrier and the opportunity to own making decisions on the product and the backlog of work.  This would be much welcomed, especially if the Business Analyst is already embedded in the business area being served. 

Although Business Analysts make great candidates for the Product Owner role due to the ability to effectively communicate, analyze, and manage requirements, it’s important to bear in mind that Business Analysts are not required to become Product Owners.  Some organizations are happy to continue with both roles co-existing in a complementary fashion.  For leaders of Agile teams considering Business Analysts for Product Owner roles, they should look for those who have upskilled by earning certifications such as the Certified Scrum Product Owner® (CSPO®), the SAFe® Product Owner/Product Manager (POPM), or the Professional Scrum Product Owner™ (PSPO).