What is the difference between a business analyst and a systems analyst in IT, and what mistakes do customers often make at the start of product development? Today Daria Yamnaya, Ph.D., Head of Business Development at Softvoya, shares her expertise.
What is a Business Analyst in IT? Describe their main functions and responsibilities.
Daria: In short, a business analyst is a translator between the business and the development team. The main tresponsibilities of business analysis are: identify the true needs of the client and formulate a solution considering any constraints. The quality of the solution significantly impacts the project, every user need can be solved in completely different ways from simple to complex, which affects the cost of the development.
A business analyst job description is to develop detailed technical tasks and work with the professional development team from conception to product delivery. Often business analysts weigh in on acceptance testing, business logic and compliance and effective implementation practices considering all constraints.
What knowledge and skill sets should a business analyst excel?
Daria: The most vital are systematic thinking and analytical mindsets.
Business analyst is a person who searches, observes and documents every operation, function, and individual element – how they interact, for example, at a watch and see it works: gears, screws, springs, understand how individual elements interact with each other and why the clock shows the correct time.
The second thing that is needed in business analysis is communication skills. A business analyst is that rare instance of a person who, having a systematic thinking and an analytical mindset, loves to communicate, because at least 30, and sometimes all 70 percent of his working time is communication: with clients, the professional development team, the ability to win people over, to negotiate, to extinguish conflicts.
Third, in addition to verbal communication, good written communication is important in business analysis. In our business, brevity is the sister of talent: the ability of business analysts to summarize each requirement as briefly as possible, to burden the team and the client with the study of a large amount of little informative documentation.
The fourth important quality is perfectionism: we are not talking about wasting time on making documentation attractively, we are talking about an irresistible desire to get to the essence of a need, function, requirement, which allows us to formulate simple solutions that ideally fit into the logic of the system, solving the formulated problem with minimal costs.
The fifth is business knowledge and understanding of the basics of unit economics. Each client wants to be understood at a glance and be on the same wavelength, thinking in categories: expenses, resources, income, costs, profit, monetization.
The sixth is learning ability. If the business analyst does not know the product domain, they must have a flexible mind and be able to analyze a huge amount of data in a short time in order to study it. Without knowing the domain, you can waste time inventing something that has been on the market for a long time.
What areas do Softvoya business analysts specialize in? Are there any narrow domain areas in which you have worked?
Daria: Our peculiarity is that we are primarily a product company. We have our own rather large internal product Upservice.com – an online office for small and medium-sized businesses, as well as outsourced projects. As a product company, we understand the pitfalls and can anticipate them by designing custom products.
Our specialization is the development of systems for B2B and C2B segments: CRM and ERP systems. A common feature of these projects is cost reduction. An example from CRM: companies can endlessly invest in advertising and attracting new leads, without thinking that it is much cheaper and more efficient to have a loyal customer base who will return for new purchases themselves and attract additional lead traffic by advertising your business.
Despite our specialization, we develop projects for other domains: equipment rental, car sharing, dating apps, bookmaker forecasts, tender platforms, etc. Our professional team is passionate about developing high-quality turnkey projects, so business analysts help сustomers from the idea to form a vision of the product, which will be in demand by the market.
Among the unusual projects, I’ll give an example of an application for brow artists. The purpose of this product is to sell cosmetics for eyebrows. You won’t surprise anyone with an online store, customers want an individualized approach. After analyzing how brow specialists build an ideal eyebrow contour depending on the anatomy of the face, we trained a neural network to build an ideal eyebrow contour based on a person’s photo. After that, comparing the ideal contour and the real one, the neural network offers suitable products for this person, which provides a personal approach to sales. Arriving at the store, you may not know what exactly to buy, while the neural network created by us adjusts the online store to your needs and individual characteristics. This increases client loyalty – they see that the store is focused on them.
A fairly common question: what is the difference and a gap between a business analyst and a systems analyst in IT (information technology)?
Daria: I do not support separation of these two roles unless it is vital. For example: a detailed study of the rules for exchanging a large amount of data between several systems is required. Such elaboration requires a lot of time, as a result a business analyst may not physically have time to form a technical task.
Initially, a business analyst job description is to be the mediator between the customer and the team, but there are projects where there is a mediator between the business analyst and the professional development team. The business analyst communicates with the business, forms user requirements and constraints, but does not go down to the level of functional requirements. Business analysts transfer the technical tasks to the system analyst. This is where the responsibilities of the business analyst on the product actually end, they continue to communicate only with the client at the request of the system analyst or to present solutions. The systems analyst describes the requirements in more detail, going down to the level of functional and non-functional requirements for the system and forms the terms of reference for the development team.
I adhere to the fact that we are looking for system analysts for our projects: as I said, the first business analysis requirement for an analyst is systematic thinking, the second is an understanding of technical issues. The business analyst job description is to understand how the system works. We are looking for system analysts who have good communication skills, preferably with business experience. Without understanding the business, we will not answer the questions: why this software and what benefits it brings, and without this it is impossible to design a good software. Of course, in our company we train employees, however, when a person does not understand the operation of the system and does not have systemic thinking, he will set unrealistic requirements for development and at the end you will receive not a whole high-quality product, but Frankenstein. We do not yet need mediators between a business analyst and the professional team, all our business analysts are both system analysts, who understand how the system works.
How different are the responsibilities and functions of a business analyst depending on the type of business of the company? For example, in IT (information technology) outsourcing, product companies, SaaS companies or those which are not related to software development.
Daria: In my opinion, many outsourcing companies want to have their own successful product, but not everyone succeeds, because this is already a level of business administration: it’s not just to know how to develop a product, but what product to develop, to whom and how to sell it, how to increase retention. This is a completely different perception: when you go down to the level of developing your product, a huge number of nuances appear, which you can then take into account at the start of any other outsourcing project. By building products, we learn from experiences and mistakes. This knowledge builds expertise, which our clients appreciate, as do their wallets.
As for SaaS companies, they require a different level of business administration and business analysts: you have a finished product, you know its modules and functions well. When a client comes to you, you clearly define their need in order to understand what product modules they need and how you can adapt them to the individual needs of the client. SaaS companies work with a specific product and can offer a cheaper or more expensive solution for a specific client. This is not the development of something from scratch, this is a domain, where the same template is offered for each client, which, if necessary, can be adapted to the needs of the client.
If we talk about companies that are not related to information technology, I would like to single out business analysts by processes who are engaged in the automation, setting and standardization of business processes. They may not be information technology related. However, any business will need to identify and describe its processes in order to survive in the market and scale. A business that has process standards is more expensive on the market, as evidenced by the actively developing franchise market. When business thinks about the scalability of its business, the first person they turn to is a process business analyst who can build a system of processes. It is worth starting with offline standardization of processes in order to go through the full PDCA cycle several times. Only after the offline process has been worked out many times and shows its effectiveness, I would recommend starting automation, otherwise you will automate a mess that will only bring losses and frustrations. You can automate, for example, in an ERP system, a CRM system, using chatbots, etc. If we talk about the production domain, this is the automation of conveyors, training of robots.
How to understand that the processes are currently fine-tuned in your company? It’s simple: you get a stable planned level of quality for your products and services that are in demand on the market.
For example: have you ever wondered why a cup of Lavazza coffee that you drink every morning for many years has the same taste, despite the fact that it is produced by different factories located in different countries at different times? This is the magic of structured processes.
In my opinion, the symbiosis of business analysts on processes with IT technologies is capable of revolutionizing, giving humanity full robotization of production.
Tell us about the role and functions of a BA in an Agile project and the principles of working with Agile methodology.
Daria: If you ask any business analyst which Bible they read, the answer is Wiegers, “Software Requirements”. The peculiarity of this book is that it formulates principles, rules and examples of describing business requirements in projects with a waterfall development model, when we have a long stage of working out a technical task, thinking through the smallest details. After the analyst submits the documentation for development, it is rather difficult to change something.
In Agile, we work in sprints. Each sprint we deliver to the client the result, value for users. For a business analyst job description, working in Agile and using the waterfall model is no different: if you do not have a technical task, the development team will not know what to develop. No one will definitely understand what kind of system is developed, which skills are needed, what it is capable of, how to work with it, how an additional function will affect it.
In Agile, a large product is divided into small pieces, into which a technical task is formed, but a business analyst must understand in advance what system he is building and to what end result we are going. Therefore, all our requirements are traced for compliance with the business goal – where are we going? are we on track? Maybe we need to reconsider our business requirements because we have deviated from our goal? The business analyst constantly asks himself these questions and translates them into requirements so that we go from iteration to iteration to the final planned goal, to the vision of the finished software. In Agile projects, the requirements may not be as narrowly detailed as in the waterfall model, but they should be sufficient for the development team.
What are the benefits of Agile? In a short iteration, for example, in one or two sprints, you can get a ready-made module of the system, go to your potential target audience, which you have identified for yourself, and show the project. This target audience is giving you feedback. Perhaps, by realizing that you are wrong, you can conceptually change a lot in the project early on: this is fact-based project management and business analysis.
Thus, your technical requirements never back off the market and is focused not on an imaginary target audience, but on a real one. You are not limited to the waterfall model and you will not face a situation when developing a software according to a technical assignment that is outdated, because the market situation changed a lot while you were developing the terms of reference and writing the code. When you develop an Agile product, business analysts can painlessly change the requirements and concept of the product, so you are more likely to get a product that is in demand in the market.
Describe the entire business analyst’s product development process.
Daria: A business analyst job description is to get involved in the project at the early stages: presale and discovery. Clients come to your company in different ways: some come with an idea, but the idea and the product are completely different things. The idea is high-level: the clients saw the business problem and he has a draft of the solution. As a rule, there is no clearly articulated vision of the software and understanding of the system at the level of functions and user roles. This includes the discovery stage of the project and business analysis: a business analyst at the Vision and Scope level helps to formulate and substantiate the product concept, to build the boundaries of the solution.
As part of vision and scope, a business analyst job description is also to carry out the selection of integrated solutions: we conduct market analysis, comparing the functions and features of the software being developed with the technical features of the integrated solutions and their cost. Based on the results of the selection, the business analyst prepares a feasibility study, with the help of which the customer can make decisions based on the facts.
After the business analysis and development of vision and scope, we describe the modules of the system, develop and detail the requirements in two stages:
The first stage of work is the formation of a technical task that can be passed on to UX designers. A common mistake of business analysts is that they describe detailed requirements for the interface for UX designers in the documentation: which buttons and fields are located where, which forms, what color, which user path in the system. This is a mistake: practice has shown that a UX designer can come up with an interface solution that neither the employers nor the business analyst thought about. UX is a professional in their field who should not be limited, otherwise you will receive nothing more than a copy of some product that is already on the market.
After the interface is developed and approved by the client, the business analyst job description is to proceed to the second stage: detailing the requirements and submitting the technical task to the professional team.
During the development, a business analysis supports the team, negotiates changes with the employers, and manages the changes. At the stage of software testing, the analyst actively communicates with the testers. When the feature is ready, the analyst can check the implementation against the business logic. Next comes the presentation and transfer of the product to the customer.
What is important for a client to understand at the start of product development? Tell us about common mistakes clients make when ordering software.
Daria: The first error is that the Product Owner is missing or incorrectly assigned by the client. A Product Owner is a person from the business side who has expertise in the product domain, understands the key requirements and can coordinate them with the team, managing project budget. They have the authority to make the final decisions on the project, since any development is labor costs that must be paid, so you need to understand how justified they are and how they fit into the allocated budget.
One of the most common mistakes is not understanding that the product is not only the cost of development itself, but also the cost of paying for the services of third-party applications, which can be significant. If you want to integrate with a third-party service, for example, email registration, then understand each automation has a cost. The same goes for SMS. Plan for monthly subscriptions. Business analysts help you choose the optimal solution: we prepare a feasibility study, analyze the market, determine which services are more profitable to integrate with and how much it will cost you. We help to reduce the expenditure part of the product. When you have an analyst with a market overview on hand, you can make the right and informed decision.
Be prepared for such expenses as: promotion, technical support for users, improvements to the requests of the target audience and new market trends.
If the product does not develop further, then it dies. At every moment in time, you are either moving forward or becoming obsolete. There is no static state in time, because it does not stand still.
An equally common mistake made by employers is making projects look better: the desire to add “pretty features”: animation, “jumping butterflies” and other functions for which the user is not willing to pay. This, as a rule, is accompanied by going beyond the boundaries of the solution. The business analyst guards the boundaries of the solution: sometimes the product really needs GIFs, and sometimes not. It depends on the product and its target audience. Therefore, you should not hang “bows and butterflies” on the product from the start. Build a skeleton and see how the target audience of organizations will perceive it, and only then, at the request of users, modify the software. There is a high probability of a mistake: when you go to unclaimed features, you will spend your resources (the planned budget and time) on “bows”, while you will not make the backbone of the system and will not solve the main need of users.
Tell us about business analyst tools for modeling business processes.
Daria: This question always concerns business analysts about processes that can be either related or outside of IT. I repeat: you need to start building processes offline and only after that move to automation, otherwise you will automate Frankenstein, and this automation will incur more costs for your company than benefits.
I have worked as a business analyst in processes for organizations for more than 14 years, including in large industrial enterprises and have tried many different tools: from a sheet with a pencil and draw.io, to specialized products: IDF0, BPMN, Flowchart. I have also used different methods: graphic, text, tabular.
Practice has shown: even the simplest BPMN diagrams are perceived by organizations as something that is not applicable to practice. Before starting the presentation of the process, you are forced to teach the business elements of the notation, explain to the client, for example: what BPMN is and its rules. However, your description of the process should be understood not only by those present at the presentation, but also by anyone on the street.
The most understandable way of describing processes for a client is a tab method. By presenting the spreadsheet to the client and stakeholders, you will avoid prior learning about notations and rules.
When we develop a technical assignment, business analysts proceed from the fact that it should be clear to the team, in the same way when modeling business processes for organizations. We need to give the business a tool that he can use in his daily work. The passport of the process must be clear to its target audience.
Thank you very much for the interview, Daria! It was a pleasure to talk and learn so much information about business analysis and business analysts from you.
Daria: Thank you!
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