3 Important Responsibilities of Business Analysts in Scrum and Agile

Does your agile team practicing Scrum or Kanban need a business analyst? When do you know that your team is missing a business analyst, and what responsibilities do you assign them? What types of initiatives would benefit from adding a business analyst? Should business analysts be assigned to a single scrum team, or can they work across tribes or multiple teams?

These are some of the questions I get during StarCIO Agile Workshops and our Center of Excellence programs. It comes up as we discuss the roles of product owners, scrum masters, tech leads, and program managers - all roles that I have already blogged about extensively. It turns out that I've never written about business analysts, though I will tell you that the best teams that I've led had excellent ones.

Business Analyst - Agile Responsibilities - Isaac Sacolick

No two agile organizations, and scrum teams, and team leaders are the same. During StarCIO Workshops, when we sort out role responsibilities, there are always several important nuances specific to the organization's history, culture, and types of projects. Similarly, teams have to adjust responsibilities based on the goals and experience of team members.

And that's where the business analyst steps in - as a Jack or Jill of all trades, who fills in gaps and takes on a multitude of responsibilities. Here are the top three that I see business analysts filling on agile, Scrum, and Kanban teams.

1. Writes User Stories Everyone Understands

Some agile teams have a serious gap in writing smart user stories with pass/fail acceptance criteria and adherence to implementation standards. Some overwhelm the team with too many details (mile-long stories), and others underspecify the business needs leaving too much vagueness for teams to fill in the blanks.

Sometimes the product owner has great insight into the vision and customer value proposition but has little experience writing agile user stories. Passing the buck to the tech lead is generally not advised as it takes them away from their primary responsibilities of leading the team and overseeing implementation.

Enter the business analyst. When they are assigned to a single team, their primary role is to write the user stories for the product owner and understand the level of detail required to enable their team to succeed.

2. Fills Gaps Between Product Owners, Scrum Masters, and Tech Leads

Life is grand when there's an experienced team working with a seasoned product owner, a qualified technical lead, and a well-rounded scrum master. Most agile teams don't have these luxuries, especially in smaller agile organizations where people often wear multiple hats. Even when teams are fully staffed, there are times when leaders may be on PTO, at a conference, or transitioning to another team.

Business analysts are often the people developing the greatest trust with team leaders and members. When there's a permanent or temporary role gap, business analysts are often the ones who can step in and take on added responsibilities. Agile organizations may need the added flexibility to avoid hybrid work team burnout and help agile/devops teams optimize for hybrid work environments.

3. Facilitate Discussion on Business, Tech, and Data Priorities

Ideally, we'd like one product owner assigned to one agile team making balanced decisions in prioritizing new capabilities, defect resolution, technical debt reduction, and other operational needs. Unfortunately, this isn't always the reality because of the pressures they face from business leaders, sales, marketing, business operations, and different stakeholders demanding higher priority for their needs. This can create bad behaviors where product owners underinvest in technical debt and other operations needs.

The struggle on backlog priorities can lead to conflicts between the product owner and the technical lead. Now, debates on priorities are healthy, but unfortunately, it's common to see a divide between the product/business priorities and the technology needs.

Enter the business analyst, who, in my experience, is often the best person to facilitate the debate and compromises. Business analysts can win over tech leads by clarifying the urgencies behind prioritized business capabilities and also explaining technical sequencing, prerequisites, spikes, and debt reduction in business terms to product owners and stakeholders.

Business Analysts - The Agile Team's Unsung Hero

These three responsibilities are just the tip of the iceberg, and I have several other responsibilities attributed to some of the best and brightest business analysts. They'll appear in a follow-up post, or sign up to the Driving Digital newsletter, and I'll share them with you sooner!

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About Isaac Sacolick

Isaac Sacolick is President of StarCIO, a technology leadership company that guides organizations on building digital transformation core competencies. He is the author of Digital Trailblazer and the Amazon bestseller Driving Digital and speaks about agile planning, devops, data science, product management, and other digital transformation best practices. Sacolick is a recognized top social CIO, a digital transformation influencer, and has over 900 articles published at InfoWorld, CIO.com, his blog Social, Agile, and Transformation, and other sites. You can find him sharing new insights @NYIke on Twitter, his Driving Digital Standup YouTube channel, or during the Coffee with Digital Trailblazers.