Business Analysts? Who Needs Them?

by Roni Lubwama

Picture this….

It’s a Monday and, as is usually the norm on such days for Product Managers like yourself, it’s time to review the previous week’s sales. Unfortunately for you, the sales figures are grim, and they have been that way for a number of weeks now. This trend has to be reversed fast if the business has any hope of staying alive. The race to find a silver bullet is on.

Sifting through the debris that is the company’s cratered sales, you recall hearing talk of the competition significantly upping their customer enablement game. What does it look like? Who even mentioned it? You eventually find the source of this information and your worst fears are confirmed when you get a run down of the competition’s game plan.

The competition is indeed playing at another level in terms of their sales and customer enablement operations. They are so good that they make your not-so-bad operations look medieval. But what exactly are they doing? Two initiatives stand out:

  1. Focus on Mobility: after realizing that customers are making more transactions on their devices, the competition has developed responsive, intuitive, and user-friendly mobile apps.
  2. Customer Focus: the competition is utilizing digital marketing tools that keep the customer front and center of their sales operations. Round-the-clock merchandising, promotions and customer engagement initiatives are key pillars of this strategy.

The more you think about it, the more obvious it becomes why your business is carelessly frittering away market share. I mean, think about it: your business does not even possess an intuitive and user-friendly mobile app. So, why would customers choose your business over the competition?

You have pinpointed the gaps, but how do you bridge them so that your employer profitably stays in the game?

Given the gravity of the situation, senior management gives you carte blanche to stem the market share bloodletting. The first stop is with the IT folks. They set up a couple of project team folks with a brief to quickly equip you with the digital tools that will enable you have a fighting chance.

Your helmsman or helmswoman on this project team is a Business Analyst (or someone who performs this role) and their principal responsibility is to figure out the nuts and bolts of what you need. As an example, they are on the team to bring coherence to sticking issues like:

Justification/Rationale: why do you need a mobile app and why now?

Audience: who will use the mobile app?

Content: what type of content will the mobile app display?

Functional Specifications: what are the functional capabilities of the mobile app UI, usability, data caching, and social media integrations among other specs)?

Once the Business Analyst has these answers locked down – or, in IT speak, the requirements and specifications – he/she will then develop coherent requirements/specifications that will be transformed by software developers and quality assurance engineers into functional applications. Put another way, these functional applications (for example, the mobile app referenced above) are the tools that the Product Manager requested to be able to compete favorably.

This is a simplified description of how the development of an application or tool would move from conception to launch. Did I mention that a Business Analyst anchors this process? Yes, they very much do.

But why are Business Analysts even required? The Product Manager could just as easily order the mobile app from IT and, voila, it’s done. Actually, in the real world, that’s not how it works. Those who have tried the "voila" route usually end up with serious egg on their faces.

One key reason is that the development and deployment of software applications is a fairly complex multistage process with different actors contributing different outputs at different stages. Did I mention that many times these different actors have conflicting objectives and, left to their own devices, they will deliver products out of sync with what the end customer (the Product Manager) requested? Kind of like ordering a medium rare at your favorite steakhouse and getting a very well-done steak. It’s not a pleasant situation and, in the IT world, that usually means under-performing applications. In a word, we would have complicated the Product Manager’s already stressed out life.

This is why we need a Business Analyst to anchor the process by getting conflicting parties, stakeholders, and objectives on the same page, and overseeing end product delivery per agreed timelines and scope/functionality.

But, how do Business Analysts accomplish what appears to be thankless assignments?

By relying on well-honed technical skills. Even more importantly, they piggyback on finessed non-technical skills like communication, interpersonal, and creativity/problem solving skills to wrangle the troops and deliver end user expectations.

This is definitely not a role for the faint-hearted.

About the Author

Roni Lubwama has more than 20 years of experience working in sales, marketing, logistics, and IT for major global organizations such as Shell Oil, Rackspace Inc., and Acumen Solutions. Over the past 6 years, he has worked as a Salesforce Business Systems Analyst and consultant on a number of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) digital transformation projects and initiatives. He is a University of Edinburgh MBA graduate who also holds Salesforce consultant certifications.
Roni lives in Houston, Texas with his wife Sylvia and their boys Ethan, Rowan, Ryan, and Shane. As an avid reader, he spends time reading about politics, history, culture, technology, economics, and sports, and he travels occasionally to Kampala, Uganda to connect with family and friends.

This article was contributed by Roni Lubwama, author of The Inside Track to Excelling as a Business Analyst.